Strip Mall

Photo by James BunoanNo one will tell you their name. No one will let you stay in their store for more than five minutes, except for the adult DVD place and the strip club. And no one knows quite what to say when you start asking questions, giving you that look you give the cop after he pulls you over and asks, "Do you know what you did back there?"

Well, we were asking what was it like to be part of what's come to be known as Orange County's most X-rated strip mall.

Claudius Galen would have loved this place: a dissectable representation of the corpus of a community, it couldn't be more convenient.

There's a heart and a brain—typically, a supermarket and a big-box store—and guts—Radio Shacks and $1 Chinese restaurants—and then there's fingers and toes, the one-of-a-kind businesses like the creepy pawn shop, the used blue-jeans place and the bagel/donut/yogurt store. You can learn a lot about a place by visiting its strip malls.

So then there's the plaza at 23600 Rockfield in Lake Forest:

Jolly's, a DVD store owned by adult actress Tabitha Stevens; a hookah lounge (not that there's necessarily anything intrinsically X-rated with lounging around with a hookah); and a head shop called Yoda's Lounge, where they're still smarting from the last time OC Weekly breezed through: "No, no, I remember you—you called us a 'center of sin' or something!" barked a managerial type. "Reporters ain't no friends of mine—sorry, bro!"

And then there's, like, five different places to buy booze, plus a liquor store that sells a lot of $1 airplane bottles every Friday night. And anchoring the southeast corner, Captain Cream Showgirls Cabaret.

They're a little sensitive to the press at Captain Cream, possibly because they've been tussling with the city of Lake Forest over dancer-patron contact, one former executive's tax fraud, and a recent lawsuit alleging that a stripper beat a patron with his own leather belt ("His 21st birthday was supposed to be a celebration," boomed The Orange County Register).

And they react to the term X-rated like it was a dirty word.

"This is a revenue-generating space," the bartender informed us. "If people aren't paying attention to the economy, we've lost 80,000 jobs a month since Bush became president."

We asked her to describe her political orientation while a girl slithered around a pole behind us: "Liberal."

And then we asked a dancer if she agreed that this was the most X-rated strip mall in the county. "People need to get their panties out of a wad," she said. "We're all adults here. And it's just topless."

True—we saw for ourselves. But underneath the toplessness is a sort of understated camaraderie, an auslanders-raus! Stick-togetherness that should make locals proud. It's a complex organism—that's organism—the Rockfield plaza, and it's not just a convenient one-stop shot to get drunk, buzzed, fed some great Italian food at Peppino's and (allegedly) beaten by a dancer on your birthday. In some ways, it's a family. A topless, FedEx-box convenient, cell-phone-service-providing family.

The dancers get discounts at Jolly's. Peppino's sends orders over to Captain Cream. Wahoo's sells fish tacos to . . . well, maybe not the Cream clientele, but probably to everyone else. Even Warren G supposedly stopped by one day—or so goes the rumor around the mall. And if you get past the superficialities, the Rockfield plaza is, in a lot of ways, the strip mall where dreams come true.

"There was this one couple—they met over there, then came over here," said a guy at TP Tailor's wedding-dress boutique, nodding toward Captain Cream.

"She picked a dress right off a mannequin, and they went to Vegas that night."

Really?

"Yeah," confirms another clerk. "Sugar daddies at Captain Cream."

 
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