Bikini Thrill

What began as a spring break attraction is now a full-time profession offering money and acclaim. But there's no future in it.

On a sweltering summer afternoon at a Fort Lauderdale waterfront bar, DJ Crash blasts testosterone-driven rock 'n' roll through the PA system, in particular an old Styx song, "Too Much Time on My Hands." With a beer in his hand, a shirtless fat man in a porkpie hat dances along the catwalk that bisects the bar's outdoor swimming pool. Waitresses in short shorts navigate the crowd, carrying draft beers to the musclemen lolling in the pool, the bikers at poolside tables, the tourists, and the young hipsters shouting into cell phones above the noise of the crowd. A brawny man in his twenties, wearing sunglasses and an unbuttoned shirt that reveals a thick, gold chain, mouths the words of the chorus: "I've got too much time on my hands. Too much time on my hands."

Beneath an awning on the other side of the pool, about 100 feet from the crowd, Cynthia Harper, a sculpted, deeply tanned 28-year-old with bobbed blond hair, freshly applied makeup, and manicured nails, fiddles with the string that keeps her peach-colored bikini bottom on. Standing next to her is Renee Jaquith, who yawns.

Behind the women yachts cruise the Intracoastal. A captain toots his foghorn as he catches a glimpse of Harper, Jaquith, and three other women, most of them wearing nothing but string bikinis, in the shade. Two skinny guys wearing dirty jeans and sneakers approach one of the women.

"I just wanted to let you know that you have the prettiest smile of all the girls," one says. He's pimply-faced and in need of a shave.

Linda Zamora, who's wearing a lightweight black sundress over her bikini, smiles, thanks the man, then turns away. The men retreat to their barstools.

A moment later Gilda Perez, whose blond-streaked hair dips below her shoulders, approaches Zamora. Perez is 26 years old and a few inches taller than the five-foot-seven-inch Zamora. She's wearing a skimpy one-piece swimsuit designed to resemble the American flag.

"Remember me?" Perez asks.
Zamora nods vaguely.
Perez, it turns out, met Zamora two weeks earlier, right here at Shooters. She'd asked Zamora for the name of the doctor who performed her breast-implant surgery. Although Zamora thought the request was unusual, she gave Perez the doctor's name anyway. Within the next week, Perez made an appointment and got the implants. Today she's returned to Shooters to thank Zamora. And to join her as a contestant in this week's bikini contest.

As Crash lowers the volume, emcee Jack Scelsi grabs the mic and invites contestants for the Sunday-afternoon bikini contest to sign up at the DJ booth. Puffing away on a cigarette, the 48-year-old Scelsi is wearing shorts and a T-shirt that says "Rehab is for quitters."

"Get these kids outta here," he says to those adults who've brought their kids along. "Especially the little boys. They'll be spanking their monkeys before you know it. And look at all these perverts with cameras. Get those outta here."

Suddenly the contest begins, and Harper is first in line. After Scelsi introduces her, she pulls off her white T-shirt to reveal a peach bikini top bursting with flesh and silicone. She drops the T-shirt by her feet, which, thanks to a pair of stiletto heels, are the most covered parts of her body. Harper steps onto the catwalk, leaving the other women behind. From the back the sliver of peach spandex of her bikini bottom leaves virtually nothing to the imagination.

Three hundred men scream and whistle poolside. Harper looks a few of them in the eye, a technique that wins her some fans. "I'll take you anywhere you want to go, baby," barks one man. "Anywhere you want to go." Another man, wearing a red bandanna, announces: "I'm going to have a heart attack right here." Harper slowly makes her way around the pool, and when she returns to the awning, Scelsi introduces Zamora, a leggy, dark-skinned native of New York City who's also wearing a skimpy bikini and stiletto heels.

But next in line is Cary, a 22-year-old brunette who, compared to today's other contestants, is absolutely buttoned up. She's wearing rubber sandals and a blue two-piece that covers her entire backside.

"She'll win because she's from the crowd," Harper sneers. "She doesn't look like the others, and she's the underdog. These days suck, because you get someone who doesn't work out that hard and she wins because she's the underdog."

Harper's scorn, if you're familiar with her world, makes sense. She and most of the other women under the awning are "professionals" who earn all or part of their annual income by competing in -- and usually winning -- bikini contests. Every day of the week, these self-described "circuit girls" use their good looks and self-promotional savvy to strut around catwalks, stages, or parquet dance floors to compete for cash and prizes, which, on average, amount to $30,000 a year per contestant.

But, once in a while, an amateur steps in, appeals to the mostly male crowd's sense of fair play, and, after garnering the loudest applause, takes the prize. Today, as Harper predicted, the "new girl," Cary, wins. Plucked from the crowd and offering no particular skill, she gets to walk away with first prize: $250.

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