By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
If anything, the opposite is true. While we've been talking, there have never been fewer than four topless women in our field of vision. Not that Pennington has noticed. He is at work, after all.
"I'm more interested in what song am I gonna play five songs from now," Pennington says. "Or what kind of lighting am I gonna do for this next girl. The nakedness is in the back of my mind. It doesn't even register anymore."
He has a point. Sit behind the counter of the DJ booth for an hour or two and the sight of a pair of bare breasts becomes almost mundane. Do it four days a week for 10 years and they become as routine a part of the workplace as TPS reports and Styrofoam coffee cups.
Pennington does happen to notice the girl hovering outside the booth at the moment. She has long brown hair and long brown legs. But he's not really interested in either feature.
"What do you dance by?"
"OK. Where did Ryan run off to?"
"Oh, I don't know."
"Is that Ryan right there?"
"Yeah, that's Ryan. Am I, am I, am I next?"
"You are next. Yeah. One more song." Pennington looks over her shoulder. "Hey, you're onstage right now."
Ryan looks panicked. "What?"
"You're onstage right now."
"Are you kidding?"
Unfortunately for her, he is not. That's one thing no DJ jokes about, and Pennington is even less of a comedian than most.
Ryan scurries onstage just in time for the beginning of Shania Twain's "That Don't Impress Me Much."
While Pennington is busy giving Ryan a tardy slip, a man in a rumpled suit awkwardly approaches Natasha and gracelessly requests her presence in the champagne room. Pennington dutifully takes the order and flags down a waitress, changing the dance list and quickly cueing up a new set of songs in almost the same motion. He's a pro's pro.
"A lot of people are like, 'All you do is sit up there and pop CDs in,'" Pennington says. "Well, I wish it was easy. It's like any other job. If you don't play the right songs, the right types of music, if you don't do the lights like the girls like, you won't have a job here. That's pretty much what it boils down to."
"Let's keep the fun coming your way, ladies and gentlemen, 127 beautiful entertainers for you tonight. Truly one of our finest stepping out for you right now, you can see her on the World Wide Web at heathernicole.com, also featured onThe Howard Stern Show on the E! channel, partying with the likes of Randy 'Macho Man' Savage, Vince Neil, Hulk Hogan and, of course, my favorite, David Hasselhoff. Ladies and gentlemen, the beautiful Heather Nicole!"
Heather Nicole laughs as Sammy Hagar's "The Girl Gets Around"--and her first set of the night--begins. The women who dance at Penthouse Key Club know Jim Hickerson is good for a laugh. That's what they like about him. Well, most of them. A few think his smart-ass routine sometimes leans a little too heavily on the second word. But for the most part, they know that when Hickerson is in the DJ booth, they'll walk out onstage in a good mood, which means more tips.
"I say something stupid to her or make a joke or tell her how good she looks and put a smile on her face when she walks through that curtain," Hickerson says. He's carrying a few extra pounds underneath his polo shirt and Tommy Hilfiger jacket, and he's compensated for his thinning gray hair by adding a goatee.
The key is the DJ booth, which is positioned just behind the stage. One window looks out on the club, and another smaller window opens behind the curtain, where the next dancer is waiting to go on. This is where Hickerson, who's been working here for a little more than a year, earns his keep, where he gets his chance to turn a frown upside down. Yeah, he's a good talker and, sure, he knows what songs will keep the crowd and the girls happy, but that skill is the real reason Hickerson has rarely been out of work during his 20 years in the business.
Hickerson, 46, got his start as a DJ at roller rinks in Michigan. He moved to Texas to get away from the cold, which was the extent of his plan at the time. He found work through a buddy who had a lighting and sound business, and one of their clients was a topless bar in Lewisville called Wranglers. When the friend's business went under, Hickerson started working for Wranglers, figuring it was better than anything else he could come up with. He'd do something else eventually.
Eventually never happened. From the since-gone Wranglers, he moved to The Fare, back when it was still on Greenville Avenue, back when he needed an endless stream of Crown Royal and Cokes to keep his nerves quiet and the party loud. He gave that up a long time (and a handful of clubs) ago. These days, he's replaced the Crown and Cokes with a few Red Bulls to kick-start the night, some Arizona Iced Tea to keep the caffeine in his system and a couple of packs of Camels just because.