A woman's touch

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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.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky