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Seattle is saying goodbye to its favorite purveyor of what is euphemistically called adult entertainment. The Lusty Lady peep show says it's closing its doors in June. And as NPR's Martin Kaste reports, the announcement has triggered a rather surprising outpouring of nostalgia and regret.
MARTIN KASTE: I'll cut to the chase: What people really like about the Lusty Lady is the marquee. Every couple of weeks, there's a new message up there and it's usually a pun, a body pun, stuff like squeezins greetings and happy nude year, and let's not forget Erin go bragh-less.
Most of the puns are groaners, but Seattleites seem to like them.
Ms. TRACY TIMMONS (Librarian, Seattle Art Museum): It's such a landmark.
KASTE: Tracy Timmons is the librarian at the very highbrow Seattle Art Museum right across the street.
Ms. TIMMONS: I'm also a bus rider. So I wait at the bus stop in front of the museum, and I'm often interested to see what their marquees are going to say.
KASTE: For instance when the museum showed the work of a certain Dutch painter, the Lusty Lady's message was: Gogh All Night. For a whole generation of Seattle kids, that marquee has been the highlight of school trips downtown. Charles Armstrong was one of those kids.
Mr. CHARLES ARMSTRONG: I think I was 12 or 13, and we took a field trip to the art museum, and the pun at the time was it was at the time "The Lion King" was out, and the marquee read: The Loin King. I thought that was hilarious.
KASTE: So hilarious, in fact, that Armstrong and a friend now run a website that tracks The Lusty Lady's ever-changing marquee. Of course, very few of the marquee's fans ever actually go inside.
I'm Martin Kaste. I work for NPR. Sorry, you don't have to take your gloves off.
Janitor Bob Lambert snaps off his latex gloves to shake my hand.
Nice to meet you.
Mr. BOB LAMBERT (Janitor, The Lusty Lady): Nice to meet you.
KASTE: And he gives me a little tour.
Mr. LAMBERT: Basically, what you do is you go in, you pick a booth that you want, you go in, you put a quarter in, and then this shutter will rise up, and there'll be four women behind glass dancing.
Unidentified Woman: (unintelligible) gentlemen (unintelligible) very sexy, hot potato.
KASTE: A quarter buys you 30 seconds, and as the marquee once said: All clothing is 100 percent off.
This kind of live porn used to be a mainstay in ports and disreputable carnivals but it's disappearing fast, another victim of the Internet. Pauline Hance says she just doesn't get it.
Ms. PAULINE HANCE (Front Desk, The Lusty Lady): It's not the same. As I keep trying to tell people, these are live ladies, right there.
KASTE: Hance works the front desk. She says she used to run around backstage when she was just three years old, when her mother was a dancer.
The Lusty Lady gets a lot of goodwill in Seattle because of an urban myth that the business is unionized and owned by the dancers. That's actually a different Lusty Lady in San Francisco. Still, Pauline Hance says the Seattle version is a good place work. To her, closing The Lusty Lady is like tearing down the Space Needle. And she blames the yuppies.
Ms. HANCE: In the '80s, this was the dive part of town. We had tattoo parlors and gay bars and strip clubs and peep shows. Anything an adult wants to do, you could do it here. And now it's the Four Seasons, and we have fancy chocolates on the corner. And it's not what it used to be.
KASTE: And that seems to be the real appeal of The Lusty Lady. In a neighborhood of matte steel condos and coffee shops with accents in the name, that dirty pink marquee sticks out like a welcome sore thumb. And now that the end is near, some of the people who like the marquee are actually peeking inside.
Unidentified Man #1: This is actually the first time I've ever been in, in my five years living here, but I'm going to miss the marquee, just seeing this downtown.
KASTE: These two guys, who for some reason don't want to give their names, have joined the procession of mourners to the doors of The Lusty Lady. They walk in in a jokey mood, but they come out again pretty darn fast.
Unidentified Man #2: You just want you want to wash your hands as soon as you leave.
KASTE: The fact of the matter is, The Lusty Lady is sort of like a pun: It's funny, as long as you don't think about it too much.
Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.
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