Branding is all the rage now. A company’s or person’s image, their public persona, is as carefully managed as is their actual product. Some firms make their living by cultivating reputations. I wish I had known more about this during my days as a college stripper before I was labeled as the loser of Thunderdome.
Like all stories, this one has a beginning before the ignominious ending is revealed. Rusty and I were looking for a decent paying gig to tie us over finals. Studying does put a crimp in the amount of time we could strut our stuff. One of the greeks (short for the Greek Houses, fraternities and sororities) had a themed event that they thought we “would be perfect for”. Consider that we are just hard working skinny white guys. There wasn’t much going in our favor aside from ambition and the willingness to shake what we had. The request for us, specific to the event, should have set off alarm bells, but the dollar figure dangled was enough to pique interest.
Back to the branding angle! Rusty and I didn’t have a brand. Yes, we were known for the Abba tribute strips, but having one set that featured the anthem Dancing Queen did not make for a brand. If anything we were the typical college stripping group. Translation: poor students working with what nature gave us. We would arrive in Rusty’s orange 1978 AMC Matador station wagon. Side entrance please! It was better than my collision scarred 1976 Honda Civic CVCC! Out of the spacious back seats would come our backpacks accompanied our JVC boombox, our big splurge of the cooperative enterprise. That thing stood three foot high. Add to this the skinny white guy angle, and I am not kidding about skinny, and we were a just a “boom, shake, and bake” brand.
The dance organizer, probably now working in Hollywood as a big time producer, had grand ideas for the event. A group of pledges had finished their shake-down. The greeks wanted to gift them with a down and dirty contest themed celebration. This wasn’t unusual, the part about our providing entertainment for survivors of the greek gauntlet. The weird part began when we were asked to leave Boomer, our pet name for our JVC sound system, at home. They also requested that we bring a set of clothes that we didn’t mind having ripped up. I’m sure our faces expressed concern, so the generous largess was again mentioned. They asked if we had seen the recent movie “Beyond Thunderdome”. We hadn’t, which probably was for the worst.
The night of the event arrived. Rusty and I arrived at the columned house. With Matador station wagon was parked a block over, we presented ourselves at the side door. Our hearts dropped when we saw that we would have company on the stage. Especially prime examples of the chips were also present. What’s a chip? Visualize Chippendale wanna-be. These guys were large, impressive in physical size at least. It as our experience that the nether regions were not as much. Rusty and I could hold our own. The organizer laid out their script for the night. High production values were in play. Aside from our regular show the greeks wanted a strip-off. Think the walk-off scene in Zoolander where the title character and Hansel employed the insight of David Bowie to determine who was the best. These were not unheard off, but they wanted it in the spirit of Thunderdome, wasteland warriors in de-clothing combat.
Rusty held his own. He and his opponents were equal in height. Rusty’s lack of bulk was compensated for in his wild beard, giving him the visage of Rasputin at his most mad. The chip was crushed as the other trait shared with Rasputin was revealed, unequal proportions manifest as the Tina Turner pounded out the words from “Out of the Living” on the greek’s superior sound system. My turn was next. I stepped to the “Thunderdome” with clothing that had been ripped to convey post-apocalypse men’s wear. “We Don’t Need Another Hero” began as the chip and I discarded our ravaged garments. He would remove one, then I would. Flourishes and menacing grimaces were employed. I attempted to emulate Rusty in his victory. Sadly my opponent had at least two inches of height on me, with his forearms as large as my calves. The strip-off began with gyrations as our costumes were shed. Shirt followed bandanna. Pants followed shirt and so on. I hoped and prayed that the final reveal would even the playing field as the fruits of our birth were on display. The moment came and went.
My brand was not the winner that day. With a ruler used to measure the win by a tip, I was not the one that left the arena. The consolation prize was not so bad. Pat, my friend from the “The Pats”, soothed my hurt feelings as I released my embarrassment. The night ended with yet another greek taking advantage of Rusty and my good graces. We trooped to the Matador and drove into the early morning. I was branded, at least for a short time, as the loser of Thunderdome. I still can’t watch that movie without flashbacks. I feel better now, content with the knowledge that I don’t need Thunderdomes to measure who I am. My brand is me, ready for the world to see.