Charles Rammelkamp

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore. His latest poetry collection, A Magician Among the Spirits, poems about Harry Houdini, is a 2022 Blue Light Press Poetry winner and has just been published.A collection of flash fiction, Presto!, will be published in 2023 by Bamboo Dart Press. Another poetry collection entitled Transcendence has also just been published by BlazeVOX Books.

The Original Garter Girl

My mother’s the one who deserves the credit.
It was her idea, emphasizing the garters,
then tossing them out to the audience,
the men clamoring for them like kids at a baseball game 
fighting for the home run ball.

I was born in Baltimore, 
Dad a house painter, Mom a waitress,
but we moved to Evanston  when I was a kid,
 where I took dance lessons, mainly ballet,
and I danced for the troops with the USO during the war,
then later got into burlesque,
performing at the Club 500 in Chicago,
which was where I became “The Original Garter Girl,”
having already changed my name 
from Elaine Nolan to Taffy O’Neill.

Like I said, it was my mother’s idea.
She came to every show, at the end of which
I’d bestow my garters to selected audience members –
presidents, movie stars, royalty.
I even sent a pair of scented garters to Queen Elizabeth.

By then, I was dancing all over the country 
and Mexico besides; in New York I headlined
at the Cinderella, Samoa and Nut Clubs.
Besides modeling for pinups, 
I also wrote a “Burlesque Backstage” column
for Man-to-Man, a risqué men’s magazine,
starred in Maurice Seymour’s Secrets of an Uncover Model.

Life was good, but in the 1970’s, burlesque began to decline,
and my mom and I moved to Hempstead, New York,
on Long Island, where we opened a real estate brokerage.
I even served on the Hempstead Chamber of Commerce!

The Protégée

I took the name Lily Ann Rose from my first name,
Lillian. Only fourteen when I took the train down to Boston,
even though my body said I was a lot older,
I talked my way into the chorus line
at the Casino Club in Scollay Square.
JFK even romanced me for a night once –
until he learned I was only fifteen.

Soon enough I got to be friends with Sally Keith,
the “Queen of the Tassels,” who headlined 
at the Crawford House. I drove her around 
in her gold Cadillac, leopard-covered seats, 
monogrammed doors even though 
I was fourteen and didn’t have a license –
Sally was such a shitty driver, she didn’t care.
Also got her in and out of bed 
when she drank too much =
Sally was always getting shitfaced.

The Crawford even had a cocktail in her honor –
The Tassel Tosser, brandy, anisette and Triple Sec.
We always wore Sally’s diamond necklaces for safekeeping,
the rest of her jewelry in a safe deposit box in the bank
after a couple of guys broke into her room at the Crawford House,
made off with furs and jewelry.
Sally made the front page, showing her bruises.
Her niece Susan Weiss said it was a publicity stunt,
but I call bullshit on that.
Another time when the Crawford House caught on fire,
Sally muscled past the firemen to make sure her stuff was ok.
The Boston Herald tabloid headline read:
Sally Keith Grinds Her Way into Blaze, Bumps Fireman.

But I got out of the business when I turned 21.
I was sick of the travel and all the trouble.
Once I got arrested when I raised the parasol 
I was using as a prop to cover my boobs
instead of lowering it, when the special bra dropped.
A “wardrobe malfunction,” all right:
Janet Jackson stole my act!

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