By Michael E. Miller
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"Ladies, we've got a special treat for you tonight," the DJ's voice bounds over the crowd. "He's won our Sunday-night amateur strip contest more times than any other contestant. Please welcome... Bernie!" As the first bars of Jerry Lee Lewis's "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On" trumpet through LaBare's sound system, Bernie Barker struts on-stage at the male-revue strip club wearing nothing more than a hot-pink G-string and blinding white tube socks. The all-female, North Miami Beach crowd erupts in shrieks and cheers. Holding two glow sticks out as an extended phallus, Barker strokes the sticks suggestively, pulsing and swiveling his hips. "He has charisma," remarks Belkis Carpintero, a 30-ish woman out with several friends. "He seems to be having a good time, unlike the other dancers, who just stand up there. I think it's great that he's up there."
A pretty blond woman, who looks to be about 25, rushes the stage, her hands cupping and pushing up her breasts, where a dollar bill has been wedged into her cleavage. Barker removes the dollar with his mouth. Then, to the squealing delight of the half-dozen women surrounding him at the foot of the stage, he tosses a glow stick into the audience and suggestively lowers one side of his thong, momentarily revealing a bright white flash of tan line. The song has changed. As a sultry female voice purrs "the way I feel is sexual" from the speakers, Barker launches into a rapid-fire shuffle step. Meanwhile, on the satellite stages, four buff young dudes with tiny briefs wedged halfway up their asses thrust their hips furiously, causing their packed and padded penises to wag like speed bags. Framed on two sides by men bouncing like pistons, Barker's own act begins to wilt. After the third song, a hip-hop tune that commands, "Move, bitch, get out the way, get out the way, bitch, get out the way," Barker acquiesces. The enthusiasm of the crowd has passed, the novelty has worn off, and Barker's time is up.
Despite his obvious lack of modesty, Barker is a man not entirely comfortable in his own skin. This is unfortunate considering that he spends much of his time wearing little else. Barker says he is the World's Oldest Male Stripper. He also says he has won more male strip contests than anyone. He asserts that tally to be 36 and has submitted a claim to the folks at Guinness so that he might be included in their famous book. His boasts are particularly compelling as Barker, who is 62 years old, began taking off his clothes for money only two years ago, after recovering from surgery to remove his prostate gland, where a cancerous tumor had formed. Now, on some Friday and Sunday nights, he can be found at LaBare, the strip club for ladies attached to standard T&A strip club Solid Gold at Federal Highway and NE 163rd Street.
"The money I make stripping doesn't even pay for my glow sticks and G-strings," Barker says. "But I really enjoy it. I do it to stay in shape and because I enjoy it." In a life jammed with stories, this is only his latest adventure. It's not even his first attempt at being listed in Guinness World Records. He's traveled the world over in search of love and attention, sometimes finding success, sometimes finding failure; like so many other such seekers, he's ended up in South Florida. He's held a kaleidoscope of jobs, none of which interests him now, and has entertained himself throughout by staying on life's edge. Barker strives to be what Tom Wolfe described as "a man in full": strong, competent, and overwhelmingly sexual. He hasn't been successful on all counts, but he's definitely enjoyed the ride.
"Some of these guys here wear elaborate costumes that they take off after they get on-stage," Barker says. "Not me. I just put on my G-string and dance." And that he does. Barker poses and preens, without the self-conscious posturing of the other dancers. It's as if looking cool hasn't crossed his mind. He jiggles and shakes, rattles his rolls, all the while convinced -- despite skeptical glances from spectators -- that he is one damn sexy man.
"He's flabby," says Beth Davis, another 30-ish female at LaBare that Friday night. "He's too old to be up there. He should leave the dancing to the young, good-looking guys. I didn't come here to see my grandfather naked."
Barker is aware that not all the women in the room are happy to see him. He knows he's older and will never have the six-pack abs and gladiator chests the other dancers display. So he tries to win the women over with seductive stares and slow gyrations while he slithers across the stage on his belly. In the contests, this strategy works well for him. "I can't imagine how I've won so many of these contests," he says. "Some of the guys I compete against are 25 years old. Can you imagine how it must feel for these guys to lose to a 62-year-old man? It can't be good for the ego."