She's a 44-year-old business executive who as a teenager went to Woodstock. "So, you know where I'm coming from," she laughs. When it comes to bedrock issues like freedom of expression, she's always considered herself philosophically liberal.
But she has a story to tell. A cautionary tale, if you will, about men and women and desire and risk.
She's willing to be identified, but I'm choosing not to because her story involves other people who probably don't want to. We talked Tuesday morning in her company's cafeteria and she began by referring to the movie, "The People vs. Larry Flynt" and how it got her grappling again with people's rights.
And then Mary, as I'll call her, got into her story. It has many plot points, but the key one came 2 1/2 years ago when a statuesque blond showed up one Saturday afternoon on the Corona del Mar doorstep of the house Mary shared with her boyfriend of 10 years. As the stranger talked the next four hours, Mary's notion that hers was a monogamous relationship was in tatters.
The woman had been seeing Mary's boyfriend for a year. She was an exotic nightclub dancer and also worked the private-party circuit where the bigger bucks come in. The woman told Mary she'd occasionally spied on her over the year, waiting in her car outside Mary's gym and sometimes following her. Chilled, Mary then recognized her face and, simultaneously, figured out the numerous middle-of-the-night phone calls when the caller would say nothing.
The tall blond was there to tell Mary that Mary's boyfriend wanted out of their 10-year relationship. Just one thing, she asked Mary: Would she stay mum about the surprise visit until she tried to get $500,000 from the boyfriend in exchange for some videotapes of the two of them?
In the ensuing months, Mary set out on a quest. Knowing that many nightclub dancers worked out at her gym, she was determined to meet some and ask about their business. What she learned disturbed her.
The women told her it wasn't uncommon for them to keep an eye peeled for the stereotype: the well-heeled guy with the nice car and a hankering for a good time. His marital status was inconsequential. Suddenly, Mary's long-held feeling that topless nightclubs were harmless diversions took a U-turn.
"I thought, 'My God, if this happened to me, how many other women has this happened to? How many others have been affected by this, losing a relationship--married or unmarried--because someone tried to take advantage of a situation? It was disturbing because I was confronted with the fact that I was very naive, that I was very trusting. But I come from a small town and have a tendency to trust people more. This is the big city. Dorothy isn't in Kansas anymore. You don't think something like this goes on."
This isn't Kansas. It's Orange County, home to a plethora of rich men and just as many exotic-looking women. It can be a highly combustible combination. This is a dicey subject, because any thinking person must concede that men and women in any office stray--including her own company, Mary said. But what unnerved her, she said, was how calculating the practice seemed to be among the dancers she talked to.
"A lot of them want to get out of the [nightclub] business, and they see that as a way out, but they're not concerned about who it might hurt in the process. If the guy has a girlfriend or a wife, they don't really care. Their reasoning is, he wouldn't leave her [wife or girlfriend] if he really loved her.
"They didn't tell me how they hooked a guy, but they did tell me they have a list of questions they ask a man right off the bat. Hopefully, he steps up to the plate with the right answers, and if he doesn't they move on to the next one."
The dalliance of Mary's boyfriend ended their cohabitant relationship. In addition, Mary said, he felt compelled to tell his company's executives that a blackmail threat might be coming from the woman. That never materialized.
He too has been harmed, Mary said. "The remorse he feels over the whole thing is devastating to him. Genuinely devastating. He's remorseful about the hurt it caused me, remorse in what could have happened to him. But I know he'll go back to a dance place. There's a side to him that enjoys that kind of entertainment."
The episode forced Mary to rethink her passive support for "adult entertainment" nightclubs. One "all-nude" club operates near her home, and she's followed its legal battles.
And so she grapples with rights: the club owners' and the public's. She likens it to smoking, where "we don't have the right to tell people they can't smoke, but we also have the right not to be exposed to smoke. To me, this is a burning fire. It's a smoke that has potential for more damage than what people see on the surface."
Mary and her ex remain friends, "but there's no trust," Mary said. Angry and betrayed as she was, she understands the allure. "These women have perfect bodies. I asked my ex why [he began seeing the dancer], and he was not able to talk about it. I asked why he got so involved with her and he to this day has not been able to tell me."
Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.