Well-filled stockings Ho-ho-ho: Exotic dancers, decked out as Santa, do legwork for charity. And in the daylight, yet.


Hark! Garland wraps the dancers' swing on the Show Bar's stage. Outside on The Block, a merry barker wears a snappy, green Christmas sweater. And a "Toys for Tots" poster hangs under the VISA/MasterCard sign at Club Chez Joey.

It's that special time of year on The Block -- Baltimore's shrunken and storied "adult entertainment zone" on East Baltimore Street. And to celebrate the Christmas season, the folks who bring you this adult entertainment are helping the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve's Toys for Tots campaign.

"Some of the owners, operators and employees of the establishments will be dressed in male and female Santa Claus costumes," according to a press release from the East Baltimore Street Merchants Association. Yes, exotic dancers will hit the streets all this week, asking for donations.

"We sincerely hope that you cover this event and share in the fun." Listen, if The Block wants to raise $10,000 for Toys For Tots, then at least the press can do is tag along -- at a professional distance, of course.

Before taking a crowded limo ride with five exotic dancers fully dressed as Santas, we witnessed a crucial purchase; a purchase that if not made, would have threatened to undo this goodwill.

"I need a pair of white stockings," says a bartender from Crystal's to the helpful gentleman in the Gayety -- sort of an all-purpose shop on The Block.

"They're not for me."

"Listen," says the helpful gentleman, "I don't care who they are for."

Both men pick thigh-high stockings. The bartender, who goes by the name "no comment," trudges back to the Crystal and into the Inner Sanctum: the dressing room. Only the chosen few are allowed to see these metal lockers, two of which are tagged JUICY and SPARKLES.

Pulling Santa duty are two of the "girls" -- who go by the names Serene Collins and Maria Fell. It's too early in the morning to play Santa, they say at 11:30 a.m. The stockings help, but something is missing in the mirror.

"Put lipstick on ... something," says Maria, 21.

"OK," says Selene, 22. "This is what happens when you show up for work early." She passes out a picture of her 3-month-old daughter on another Santa's lap.

"Ho's, Ho's, Ho's," says a dancer, walking in on them.

"That's real funny. Real [bad word] funny," says Selene.

Maria pulls up her sweat socks; Selene finishes with her eye-liner. Their colleague, who skillfully escaped Santa duty, can't resist a parting jab. "They look like Santa's younger wives."

It's 11: 45 a.m. and show time. To the sounds of John Lennon's singing "So, this is Christmas ..." the Santas leave the Crystal for the limousine.

"Girls, remember, this is for charity. We're all in a good mood, right?" says the limo driver, Jennifer Ward, owner of the Stage Door Gentleman's Club.

The tan limo creeps and honks along Baltimore Street toward Howard Street. Five dancers (Santa's Helpers) and one Block bouncer (Santa Claus) jam the back seat. Everybody's all knees. Gloria Estefan's "Let it Snow" blares from the tape deck. A Santa's Helper appears nervous about meeting the public in daylight.

"You strip for a living and you're nervous about this?" says Nicole No-last-name-please.

The limo picks up its police escort. "At least, it's not the paddy wagon," says Serene, already jumpy from quitting smoking two days ago. At some point, Ward says, it would be a nice idea to actually wave to people and Santa, that goes for you, too. Santa, a k a Jason from the Stage Door club, finally rolls his window down, as a stunned citizen peeks in the limo.

"What the hell you want?" Santa says, but way under his breath.

"Put that window up before you get shot," Selene says.

Everybody, understandably, is in the Christmas spirit. "Is the limo bar stocked?" a Santa's Helper asks. No. We checked. Santa's Helpers then take turns surfacing through the sun-roof. Ward coaches them from the cockpit: "I want to hear more 'Ho, Ho, Ho.' And how about a Merry Christmas?" All right, all right. Santa's Helpers start waving and Ho, Ho, Ho-ing.

The circling limo returns to the The Block, where a flat-bed truck is the next stage. Before the Monday shift is through, about $2,100 will be raised for the toy campaign. But right now, about 25 folks gawk at one burly Santa and his Helpers, as they sway arm-in-arm to Gloria Estefan dreaming of a white Christmas.

A beautiful moment, in a way.

Pub Date: 12/17/96

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