A woman's touch

If you ever wondered what happened to Pauly Shore, look no further than the Circus Maximus stage at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. That's where he stands at this very moment, dolled up in a pink suit and white T-shirt as he stalks the stage and says how he'd like to get a vagina implanted in his leg so "I can bone myself all day." Haw-haw-haw-haw, goes the liquored-up crowd, laughing itself into a stupor as the former MTV veejay and alleged movie star reels off his dirty-talk nyuk-nyuks.

Of course, such behavior is not uncommon in Vegas, a town where Andrew "Dice" Clay's name still casts a giant shadow on the Strip from a casino's marquee. But tonight, Shore is playing to an especially receptive audience full of strip-club owners, topless dancers, and the occasional porn starlet. As one hotel manager put it earlier in the day, while surveying the club owners and bethonged strippers parading through Caesar's for the 7th Annual Gentlemen's Club Owners Expo, "Dis is da ties and tits crowd."

"Las fuckin' Vegas," Shore muses with not a little appreciation, "the dirtiest place in the world."

Tonight is the highlight of the convention, the Exotic Dancer Awards Show, a celebration of all things nipple and nudie. It's the only award show in America where, in one category, the nominees include Heather Hooters, Kayla Kleavage, and Lisa Lipps. It's the only award show to feature among its entertainment former and current title holders of Miss Nude Galaxy, who take it off -- take it all off -- during their between-award routines.

But one person in the crowd does not laugh, doesn't even crack a hint of a smile. Sitting among their ranks is a woman who does not seem to delight in the onstage antics of the dancers or Shore, who is going on about how topless dancers are a frustrating gang of teases. "Fuckin' blue balls," he groans. "Shiiiiiiit."

Dawn Rizos watches through half-closed eyes, the way a child peers at a horror movie. This is hardly the impression she wants an outsider to have of her business -- the topless biz, long since renamed the more austere "gentleman's club business" by corporate men wanting to make their world seem less seedy. Rizos cringes at the comedian's jokes, silently apologizing to the reporter who sits at the table with her husband, Nick, founder and owner of Caligula XXI on Northwest Highway, and Sharon Furrh, who oversees the publicly held Million Dollar Saloon on Greenville Avenue and is the only other woman to operate such an establishment in the Southwest. This is not how Dawn Rizos sees her business; she doesn't consider herself in the dry-hump biz, to use Shore's junior-high term for it.

In her plain, unrevealing aqua-blue dress, she looks out of place among the scantily clad women chain-smoking and chain-drinking around her.

Rizos is here for one reason: to find out whether her club, The Lodge, has won the award for best topless bar in the country. It's an accolade that means the world to her -- extra business, further respect, and not a little admiration from the men who control much of this industry.

"I worked hard for this," Rizos says as she nurses a club soda. She is asked whether she is nervous.

"Nervous?" she repeats. She ponders it a moment. A small smile turns into a tiny frown. "No, not really," she insists. Her voice is soft, barely heard among the crowd's inebriated rumble. "A little scared, maybe. But I just don't feel lucky tonight."

Rizos did not win this award at last year's show, and she felt slighted, as though all her hard work had been ignored by the readers of the Florida-based publication Exotic Dancer, who cast the ballots for this honor. She wants this award as much as any actor covets an Academy Award.

In a couple of hours, Shore will read the list of nominees, and Rizos will find out whether her diligence has paid off -- and whether all the years of sacrificing her life to the topless business have been worth it. After all, Dawn Rizos never wanted this life, never expected it. She's the daughter of doctors and the youngest sister of doctors, a woman from Louisiana who, 16 years ago, became the accidental and, at first, unwilling titty-bar owner.

Almost two decades ago, she came to Dallas to attend Southern Methodist University -- and, more important, to escape the ghost of her father, whose sudden and unexpected death devastated his youngest child. Now, 37-year-old Dawn Rizos runs the toniest gentleman's club in the country, one that annually garners best-of accolades from publications that hand out such awards.

The Lodge is built upon the notion that you can indeed dress up a business based on taking it off; it's a place where impeccable women share billing with hand-rolled cigars, tender lobsters, and expensive wines. It's one more extravagant topless bar in a town filled with them, the spawn of the Million Dollar, the first classy joint of its kind in the state. Cabaret Royale and The Men's Club are among the best-known, and that's not to mention the nearly 40 other topless and all-nude bars in town, which range from the longneck extravaganzas at Caligula and Baby Dolls and P.T.'s to the dead-end establishments that litter Industrial Boulevard.

There is, of course, one notable difference between those establishments and Rizos' club: The Lodge is owned and operated by a quiet, attractive woman who comes to work each day, sits in her office, tends to the books, deals with the managers, obsesses over the menu, counsels the dancers -- and reconciles her job title with her gender. One hardly expects so masculine a place to be operated by a woman -- all those animal heads hanging from the wall, all those shotguns behind glass, and, of course, all that flesh bouncing up and down in every direction. Or maybe it takes a woman to know what some men really want.

Rizos is the mother of three canny children who know what Mom and Dad do for a living -- and who, for the most part, do not mind, despite the small amount of abuse they've taken from their friends and friends' parents. "Is your mom a slut?" They've heard the question, among many others, more than once. If it's not easy being the female owner of a flesh parlor, imagine being her children.

But, again, Rizos never wanted to be in this business.

A few days before the Vegas trip, it is suggested to Rizos that she has tried to transcend her business by getting involved with so much charity work. She sponsors the Lady Texans, a local women's wheelchair-bound basketball team; works with the Anita Martinez Ballet Folklorico dance company; feeds homeless children and participates in Toys for Tots; and does countless other volunteer work -- something she hardly speaks of, though when it's mentioned to her, she admits it is what makes her happiest.

She thinks for a moment, softens her big brown eyes, and says she never feels the need to justify or apologize for how she makes a living. The charity work simply makes her "feel better quicker than anything else."

Besides, she says with a tiny shrug, "I'm not a social climber. I really don't care. I don't need everybody to love me. Life is too short."

Dawn Rizos speaks openly about her club, perhaps because she has nothing to hide. Hers has been a most public business since The Lodge opened in spring 1996. Featured on two episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger, the subject of a segment on ABC-TV's 20/20, the centerpiece of a handful of magazine and newspaper articles on the booming booby biz, The Lodge has become a symbol of topless at its most tasteful.

Rizos is proud of her club, throwing extravagant steak-and-lobster-and-champagne parties each time The Gentlemen's Club Guide names it tops in the country. Each time, she invites her family to attend. On May 25, her older brother Bruce -- a local neurosurgeon -- showed up with his wife to celebrate yet another triumphant moment in his sister's career. Many families might have turned their backs on the sister or daughter who went into such a business. Not Rizos'.

Her mother even helped pay for The Lodge.

That said, Elaine Mickey still, after all these years, is not quite sure what to think of her daughter's business. She's at once proud of her success and a bit leery of it, hesitant to bestow a mother's approval.

"It's not a business I would want to make money in," Mickey says. "I couldn't do it. But I do not judge. I am not holier than thou. I have to accept reality the way it is. I love my daughter and my grandchildren. I just don't want them to have anything to do with it."

At times, Mickey has trouble reconciling her daughter's bucolic childhood with her grown-up present. She still can't figure out how Dawn, such a helpful and kind child, ever got mixed up in the topless world.

The daughter she recalls was a creative and compassionate girl who worked as a candy-striper, a gracious and delightful child who "never liked to hurt other people's feelings." Perhaps she inherited such behavior from her parents: Mickey was a prominent pediatrician in Monroe and, half a century ago, among the first women to graduate from Duke University's medical school. Rizos' father, Lorin, was a successful gynecologist. Three of their four children -- Bruce, John, and Jane -- would go into the medical profession. Only Dawn would not.

Mickey met her husband at the University of Colorado at Denver: She was chief resident of pediatrics at Denver General while he was finishing his residency. They would move for a while to New York, then to New Orleans -- all the while training and teaching.

Eventually, they decided they would never make enough money as instructors in New Orleans. They had a family now, the two boys and a third child on the way. So, in the mid-'50s, with Mickey pregnant with Jane, they settled in Monroe, population 100,000.

Dawn was born on February 15, 1962. Perhaps because she was the youngest, or perhaps because she was the prettiest -- "she was stunningly gorgeous," recalls a childhood friend -- Rizos kept to herself as a child. She always seemed much older and smarter than her friends. She would graduate from River Oaks High School in three years -- during which time she dated a man nearly 20 years older than she, a sign of things to come.

After graduation, Rizos attended Northeast Louisiana University in Monroe, but she wanted to get out of her hometown. She knew she couldn't go into medicine; it wasn't in her. Besides, Rizos admits, "my mother was like a role model that I just never could live up to." Her stay at NLU lasted a year.

Bruce Mickey, 10 years older than his baby sister, was studying at the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical School, so her mother shipped Rizos to Dallas, hoping her big brother could keep an eye on her. But tragedy struck when she came to look at SMU. One morning, when her father and mother were taking their daily jog around the levee in Monroe, Lorin died suddenly of a heart attack. Rizos returned home, only to find that she and her mother couldn't deal with her father's death. They rarely spoke of it, acting as though it didn't happen.

"It wigged me out," Rizos says now.

"It was very traumatic," her mother recalls. "It threw us all for a loop. I blame myself for not realizing Dawn needed help. I should have gotten her help. She was devastated. They were so close. She said, 'Mother, I always thought I could depend on my dad, but now I know I can't depend on anybody.'"

Rizos eventually enrolled at SMU and, as she likes to say, "did OK" during her first semester. But it was hard being away from home, and it was harder knowing that she could no longer call her father for advice. She hated being alone.

One night, Bruce took her to dinner at Goldfinger Greek Restaurant and Supper Club near Bachman Lake. She became enthralled with the place, how glamorous it all seemed to a girl from Monroe -- the belly-dancing, the floor show, so much shouting and opulence. She liked the place so much, she took a part-time job as a waitress at the restaurant, if only to supplement the meager allowance her mother had put her on -- perhaps to control a daughter who, by her own admission, "started sort of acting up."

In November 1981, while working at Goldfinger, she became enthralled by one of the club's bartenders and dancers, a larger-than-life immigrant from the small town of Nafpaktos, Greece, who was 16 years her senior. Nick Rizos was from a poor family, had nothing more than a second-grade education. He came to Dallas in 1971. By the end of the decade, he had saved up enough money in tips and wages to own his own establishments: In 1977, he opened Olympic Pizza, first on Preston Road and LBJ Freeway, with a second location at Greenville and Meadow later. He also owned JRV's Restaurant, a country-western club, on Webb Chapel Extension, and, in 1980, he and a partner opened the blues-and-jazz joint Fenders Bar & Grill on Northwest Highway.

Dawn Rizos doesn't recall whether it was love at first sight. She knew only that Nick fascinated her. "The usual people tend to bore me," she says now. "I can't help it." They were married in July 1982 -- seven months after Nick's divorce from his third wife was finalized in a Dallas court.

Elaine Mickey was against her daughter's marriage from the get-go. There was the age difference to deal with, not to mention a seemingly impenetrable cultural barrier. Even now, Nick's thickly accented speech is difficult to understand without subtitles. Mickey recalls that one night, Dawn called her about Nick and said she was afraid that if she stayed in Dallas, she was going to marry him. Mickey told her the family would bring her home -- anything to make sure she didn't make the mistake of marriage.

"I did everything I could to stop it, and her brothers did everything but take out a Mafia contract on Nick," Mickey recounts. "I think Nick was a father figure. He was someone who cared deeply for her, and she was looking for someone to take care of her. She doesn't remember saying this, but he came here, and I spent the whole weekend telling him why the marriage would never work -- you know, she wasn't ready, hadn't finished her education -- but my words were in vain. She said to me, 'Mother, I know you're strong, and I know you can take care of me, but let's face it, you're not a man.'"

The two were married in Monroe, and it was a good, old-fashioned Greek hoedown -- ostentatious enough to horrify all of Monroe, Dawn recalls.

As soon as they were married, she went to work at Olympic Pizza at the lunch buffet; eventually, she would manage the restaurant. But by 1983, the neighborhood surrounding JRV's and Fenders fell into disrepair, thanks largely to the opening of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport years earlier. The neighboring apartments were once filled with flight attendants working out of Love Field, but they migrated closer to the new airport. Once they left, the apartments surrounding Fenders became populated by low-income families, none of whom had much interest in going to an upscale blues bar.

Nick sold off JRV's and was in danger of going bankrupt because of a 20-year-lease he had signed on the building that housed Fenders. He tried everything to keep the club open, turning it into a country-western venue for a while, then a disco.

"Nothing worked," Nick says. "And I had a big lease, you know what I mean? So I came home one night and said, I'm going to open up a topless club. And my wife and my ex-partner were pissed off about it, but in order to survive, I had to do something. I didn't want to lose the pizza place. And I liked [the topless business] because it paid the bills. I didn't have a problem with it. Business is business."

But Dawn did have a problem with it at first. She threatened Nick with divorce and demanded he get out of the business. It embarrassed her, infuriated her. He spent weeks convincing her it was necessary to open Caligula XXI in the old Fenders space to keep Olympic Pizza alive. Deep down, she knew he was right: They were close to losing everything he had built over the past six years.

And by then, it was too late to do anything about it anyway. Nick opened Caligula without his wife's approval.

"You have to understand the Greek way," Dawn says, sitting a few feet from her husband in the couple's back yard. Theirs is a relatively modern two-story home deep in Highland Park -- all glass and 90-degree angles, built around a swimming pool and concrete deck that take up much of the back yard. Dawn has never cared for the house. Nick, of course, doesn't understand why she complains about it.

"It's taken 17 years for me to tell Nick, 'You have to talk to me before we buy this or buy that,'" Dawn continues. "I have a right to have some say in it. I think he's finally starting to realize I'm a person worthy of respect. He needs to be a co-parent with the kids as well as a partner in the business."

"What you mean?" he asks, sounding like a proud man who's being scolded. "I've been away from my house? I've been away from my kids?"

"No," she says. "You've gotten a whole lot better. It used to be you thought it was all my responsibility."

"Well, the woman's more responsible for the family anyway," he says, as though it should be obvious. "That's the Greek way."

"Yeah, whatever," she says, smiling slightly. "It's different across the Mediterranean."

Theirs is a relationship built as much on competition as it is on love. He has his club; she has hers. From this point on, never the twain shall meet.

For a long time, Dawn Rizos did not tell her mother the kind of business she and Nick owned. She didn't want to worry her mother, didn't want to make her ashamed, although Nick and Dawn were adamant about keeping Caligula XXI a respectable topless joint. The first time Mickey stepped into the club, she was shocked. She told her daughter the women dancing there would be pretty if they kept their clothes on.

"My mother was horrified," Dawn says.

At first, Dawn was determined to make Olympic Pizza successful enough that she and Nick could close down Caligula. They began opening more locations -- one on Northwest Highway, across from Caligula, and another in Plano. But the Northwest Highway location has never been profitable, she says, and the pizza parlor in Plano didn't last long.

So it was topless biz or bust: Caligula made too much money to close it. It became necessary for Dawn to accept the inexorable truth: There was money to be made in the skin biz. Dawn asked Nick only one thing: to change the name of the club. She had seen the 1980 Bob Guccione-directed film named for the Roman emperor and was appalled by its graphic orgies and incest. But Nick told her no. There was a club in Houston called Caligula -- also run by a Greek man, who had failed to trademark the name -- and Nick was hoping to trade on some established name reputation.

Still, no matter how much peace Dawn had made with the family's new business, she always told strangers she and Nick were in the pizza business. But over time, it became necessary to own up to the reality -- especially when various local topless bars began running afoul of City Hall.

In 1986, the Dallas City Council began regulating sexually oriented businesses, determining that topless clubs could not be located within 1,000 feet of homes, schools, churches, hospitals, historic areas, or other sexually oriented businesses. Caligula and some other clubs that existed before the regulations went into effect didn't comply with the city's ordinance; it's some 800 feet away from apartment complexes. A protracted legal battle kept the city at bay for years. But in 1992, the city began cracking down on clubs, sending in undercover officers who reported various offenses, real and imagined. Some clubs had their licenses revoked; Caligula's was suspended for 15 days.

Then, five years later, the council passed a tougher version of the ordinance in an effort to shut down a good chunk of the topless clubs, especially those on Northwest Highway.

That means that each year, Dawn and Nick must appear before a city-created board to renew their license. Since Nick's English is often unintelligible, it fell to Dawn to act as Caligula's spokeswoman. She had to endure the committee's jeers, being called a pornographer and worse. She knew what they were thinking, that she was nothing more than a pretty face behind which Nick was hiding. Surely, they hinted, she was nothing more than a dancer herself, sent to woo the committee into granting Caligula its license.

Still, she could handle the abuse from the city. What she couldn't deal with were the taunts and sneers aimed at her children -- the kids at school wondering whether their mom used to be a dancer, or hinting that the Rizos household was a den of iniquity. When he was in junior high, an older kid asked Stratis, who is now 14, if his mother was a hooker. He laughed it off -- though when Dawn hears this news, for the first time, she is not so amused.

"It was some high-schooler," says Stratis. "I said, 'No, and it's none of your business, either.'" He turns to his mother, who sits across from him in the family's den. "I mean, he asked if you were ever a dancer. I'm like, 'Hell, no, man.'"

"He didn't ask if I was a hooker, did he?" Dawn wonders, aghast at the revelation.

"No, Mom," Stratis says, covering his tracks. He, like his 16-year-old sister, Joanne and 10-year-old brother, Max, seems wise beyond his years -- slightly hardened, no doubt, by having to deal with the tiny jabs, the whispered rumors. "I'm sorry, Mom. I'm sorry, sorry, sorry." He smiles, as if to alleviate her fears.

It was especially difficult when the couple first moved to Highland Park in 1995; surely, the locals figured, nothing says "There goes the neighborhood" like having a couple of topless-bar owners living next door.

"I had this best friend -- like, I loved this girl -- and I was always at her house," says Joanne. "They always invited me over, and my mom in return didn't want to seem like I was inviting myself over, so she asked the girl over to our house. Her mom called my mom and said that she didn't want her little girl coming over here, because she thought it was an unfit environment for her.

"But she did say she was praying for us and all this other stuff, and I was hurt. That was like a really big reality check for me, because before then I was always accepted. I never felt different, but in Highland Park, I started thinking twice about my parents. It was like, What are they doing that's so horrible?

"I thought my parents were killing someone. The fact is, this is a nice Leave it to Beaver family, except we're in the entertainment business."

Finally, Dawn had enough. She figured if she was going to be in this business, she'd do it the right way -- and in the right place, far enough out of mind and out of sight to stay in business without having to defend herself before a committee of moral watchdogs. She and Nick found a piece of property off Northwest Highway that was perfect: the old Dallas City Limits nightclub, behind Mercado Juarez on Spangler Road.

"We thought back then the city was eventually going to close Caligula," Dawn says, "and we knew we couldn't make a living off the pizza business anymore. Now, of course, we know better -- there are three clubs opening up within the next year. But I always wanted something really beautiful, like Las Vegas."

Dawn wanted to create a place that was the antithesis of Caligula, which appealed to the blue-collar, neon-and-nipples crowd. She dreamed of a beautiful building full of leather and oak, an elegant safe haven for businessmen looking for a little fun and some guilty pleasure.

The only problem was, she and Nick were 24 hours away from losing the property -- until Elaine Mickey stepped in and gave the two enough money to buy the building.

"When my children need help, I am there, no matter what it is," she says. "I knew this was a good property, and even if they didn't do anything with it, they would make money."

It took nine months to complete construction, with Nick in the club every morning at 5 a.m. stripping wood, laying down rocks, nailing boards to bare walls. Dawn -- who is quick to credit her husband for building the venue, though she has since assumed all the day-to-day duties of running The Lodge -- was panicked until the club opened, afraid of how much money they were pouring into it. (Though Dawn will not divulge the exact price tag, she says it would cost $2 million to build another club just like it -- or $5 million less than The Men's Club's owners insist their building cost on Northwest Highway.)

In the end, The Lodge seems like a topless bar by accident; it could well exist without the dancers, who appear almost unnecessary in a building full of animal-head trophies and Arturo Fuentes cigars. It's as GQ magazine once noted: The Lodge is almost too sophisticated to be sexy.

On most nights, the atmosphere at The Lodge is low-key, like that of a country club full of men just off the golf course. Deer and rhino heads decorate the dark, wooden walls; in the so-called Library, there are glass cases filled with shotguns -- not to mention some of Lorin Mickey's old gynecology textbooks and a photo of a young Elaine Mickey. In the back room -- the Wine Cellar, a room for members only -- there's a humidor filled with expensive cigars.

It's as though Dawn and Nick have tapped into what it means most to be a Real Man: booze, guns, cigars, and breasts.

"Men come here because they want to be flirted with and be appreciated and to get whatever they aren't getting anywhere else," Dawn explains. "They can get all of that here and not actually have an affair with somebody -- but they can still feel naughty and go home and buy their wife some flowers. To me, that's a real need we are filling here."

On a slow Thursday, a dozen or so men sit at their tables in the Library, talking business with some buddies or watching a little football or baseball on the televisions scattered throughout. They pay scant attention to a woman slowly gyrating on a stage located beneath the television sets. A few sit at the bar with women, telling their life stories to beautiful girls, the kind who would never bother with them in The Real World.

"But only sometimes do you have to act interested," says one dancer, a seven-year veteran of the local club circuit. "You understand why these guys are here -- to feel better about themselves, their lives, to get something they can't get out there. And you know -- and hopefully they know -- this is our job. This is our business."

This is our business -- it's a phrase so many dancers use, repeating it like a mantra. That, they say, it what makes a place like The Lodge work: It's all about the business of fantasy. There is nothing real about it.

And it's an astonishingly profitable business. Dawn Rizos says the club nets around $115,000 a month -- $40,000 of it from the sale of alcohol, none of that coming from dancers' tips, which can range from a few hundred to a few thousand a night and are accounted for and taxed. No wonder, then, that after so much bellyaching by the city, topless bars still thrive in this town. There is too much money coming in to run them out.

Yet it's also a business Rizos likes to approach as though it were family. She gets involved when dancers have problems, either inside the club or out. She holds monthly meetings with accountants and tax planners, helping the women keep track of their money. Rizos has seen too many of them go through their cash, knowing they can always come back tomorrow and make a quick thou. She insists she wants to help the women build their savings accounts, if only because they will not be able to dance forever.

"I think she understands things from a woman's point of view," says Nikki Nanos, one of the club's house mothers -- meaning she babysits and provides therapy of sorts for the dancers in the dressing room. Nanos met Rizos two years ago, when she was a second-unit location manager for Walker, Texas Ranger.

Nanos, like Rizos, never expected to find herself working in a topless bar: She has her master's degree in acting from CalArts in Southern California and has worked in the theater and in video production. She directed Olympic Pizza and The Lodge TV spots before signing on as house mother, which requires her to hire and fire the dancers and provide them a shoulder to lean on.

"Men sometimes are so cold," Nanos says, "and I think Dawn tries to run this more as a family. With men, it's all about the money; let's just make the money. Dawn would rather have quality in here. She'd rather have 50 beautiful girls than 100 girls that could just come in here and dance if they wanted to, and I think that's probably the thing that makes this club a little different. She sees it not only as a business, but she's seeing it from a woman's point of view, and she's got that instinct that men don't have about women."

That also means Rizos is less likely to side with a manager in a dispute with a dancer, something one dancer says male club owners always do. "Because she's a woman," says one performer, "she's more likely to listen to both sides of an argument and be fair about it. Most men just think the dancers are wrong, because they're, you know, women. Not Dawn. She's fair."

The same dancer also says that Rizos helped her buy her house, acting as a reference. Many of the women at The Lodge say the same thing: Rizos wants only what's best for the women, even if it means getting them out of the topless dancing business.

Amy Dupree danced in Dallas for seven years, on and off, before quitting the business almost two years ago. She has since founded an organization called Amy's Friends, which is dedicated to helping women make the transition out of dancing -- helping them find jobs, getting them off their addiction to the quick cash that comes with dancing. So far, Dupree says, she has helped 14 women ease out of the topless business.

"You're not going to believe this, but two days ago, I found out Dawn called one of the women in my group," Dupree says. "She told her that she was very proud of the girl for getting out and making a change in her life. Can you believe that? I've never heard of that before."

Pauly Shore is about to announce the winner for Best Topless Bar in the Southwest, but Rizos is nowhere to be found. She and Sharon Furrh, her closest ally in the business, have disappeared to the women's restroom. Perhaps it's just as well, since Shore announces the winner as "The Lounge in Dallas, Texas." Several among the crowd correct him -- it's The Lodge -- to which he responds, "It's not like I'm getting paid a lot of money for this gig."

Since Rizos is not around, Nick begrudgingly ambles to the stage to collect the award. He scans the crowd, looking for Dawn. When he can't find her, he offers only this: "I'm not going to say too much. I'm Greek."

Sharon Furrh returns before Dawn and explains that it's no disaster that she missed accepting this particular award. "It's not the big one," she explains, referring to the Best Club award. When she returns to the table, holding the plaque, Rizos says only, "That's not the prize I wanted."

About half an hour later, Shore begins reading the list of nominees for Best Club. Rizos sits quietly, anxiously. Her butterflies are almost contagious. Finally, he announces the winner.

"The Men's Club, Dallas."

A Caligula manager sitting at a nearby table yells, "Bullshit!" For a moment, it appears as though Rizos' eyes are beginning to well up with tears. But perhaps that's just because the room is thick with smoke. She turns and offers a weak smile.

"Do you have to write down that The Men's Club won?" Dawn asks jokingly.

Nick smirks and grunts: "We'll get 'em next year."

After that, some former Miss Nude Galaxy takes the stage and begins undressing. It's time to go home.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky