The morning rain wasn't why we changed our plans of sunny patio fajitas to early afternoon drinks indoors. Anita Rae Strange was. Or maybe it was her alter ego Blondie, a stripper most famously known for crushing beer cans with her breasts at the city's notorious Clermont Lounge.
At the entrance of the extended living apartments on North Avenue where she lives, the 55-year-old African-American exits the building and steps into the sun at the exact minute we agreed to meet, wearing a conservative green dress, pink peep-toe heels, brightly colored makeup, and, of course, her signature blond hair (now a wig).
"Hi, honey," she says sweetly before kissing me on the cheek. "Can we stop by Walgreens first? I need to pick up some lashes." She then reaches into her purse and pulls out two "thank you" cards. "My mother taught me right," she says.
Walking into Walgreens, she picks up the store's deals circular and greets the women behind the counter with a wave. They wave back.
"They have nice jewelry here. And perfume, too." She wonders if the store still carries the dark chocolate-covered pretzels she likes. "Dark chocolate is healthier," she says.
As she sorts through the selection of false lashes, she describes a green pair she owns with long feathers that she plans to wear as a peacock on Halloween. "I'm a woman of many feathers."
Beyond stripping, she is also a poet whose work has been published in Creative Loafing, as well as two books, one that she says is archived at the National Library of Congress. She credits Charles Bukowski, Maya Angelou, and Allen Ginsberg among her favorite poets.
"I write a lot like Bukowski because he was so visual. You didn't even have to be there. You could just close your eyes and see. But he didn't rhyme, and that's what I liked. He had cadence. I have cadence."
At the counter, the woman asks how she's been. "My movie comes out this month at the Atlanta Film Festival," she says enthusiastically. "You're going to be a movie star," the woman responds. She smiles and thanks her before exiting.
One shot down and beer in hand, we now sit at her gay bar of choice just down the street from the lounge talking about AKA Blondie, the locally produced documentary about her life premiering March 25 at this year's Atlanta Film Festival, a venture she anticipates will act as a catalyst for a new beginning.
"I've been with the Clermont Lounge 33 years," she explains. "Jesus died for our sins when he was 33, so I feel like I'll be reborn and then my career in my new life will be different than the one at the Clermont Lounge."
The daughter of divorced parents, the Dayton, Ohio, native was raised by her grandmother before "destiny" brought her the Atlanta. It hasn't been an easy life for the aging dancer, who opens up a little more with each new drink about her need for cocaine; falling in love with a white, openly gay man who died of AIDS; and when she used to sell her body.
"That's it. I'm on to my next adventure. I'm on to enjoy life and to journey it with hope, my faith in God, and just keep going on. I love who I am and who I've become and I've almost lost myself a couple of times, but I have that faith back and now I'm stronger than ever," she says.
"I'm 55 and my body has gone through so many changes, but you can't let things get you down. And sometimes things overwhelm us and we go into drugs and alcohol, depression. I'm gonna keep on keeping on."
The revealing documentary, she hopes, will allow for her to be cherished and appreciated outside the strip club, and instead allow her to be herself. "If I do a show," she says, "it's going to cost $30 a ticket to see me dance. It's going to be a one-woman show where I get keep my clothes on and just hang out. Anita as Anita, not Blondie."
We all know who Blondie is, but then who is Anita?
"Anita is the boring one that doesn't drink or do drugs," she says. "She's kinda quiet and laid-back. Blondie is kind of, 'Woooo!' Wild and crazy! That's coming out now. After that last shot. Actually, I'm going to have to have another one. That one didn't do anything."
With my digital recorder still running, I offer to get her another shot and head to the bar. As she sits alone at the table, her voice is recorded singing along to the song coming from the bar's speakers.
"Don't you ... forget about me ... Don't ... Don't ... Don't ... Don't ..."
Back from the bar, we raise our glasses.
"Cheers!" she says.
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