After 30 years in the business, Mary Thomas is ready to hang up her... uh... well... there really isn't much for her to hang up.
Thomas is dancer--she prefers the term entertainer--at Boise's Spearmint Rhino, a so-called "gentlemen's club." And while she has been a familiar face--not to mention legs and cleavage--to a (ahem) growing audience, Thomas is not a stripper. Boise's ordinance prohibiting public nudity keeps her in a bikini.
"You can see a lot more at a beach than a club," said Thomas.
But men in Idaho, California, Hawaii, Nevada and Oregon have seen plenty of Thomas for three decades.
Boise Weekly sat down with Thomas at a downtown Boise coffee shop to talk about her professional name (Kahlua), her personal life (two kids, three grandkids) and her daily dance.
Tell me what you were like as a young girl.
I loved sports. You name it, I lettered in almost every sport. My brother and I were raised by my mother.
How did you mother make ends meet?
She was a banker, a nurse, a secretary and bus driver. She drove a bus for boys and girls with handicaps. That included my younger brother, Frankie.
Did you look out for him?
I took him to his prom. All the girls turned him down and when he asked me, I told him, "I thought you would never ask."
What were your hopes and dreams as a teenager?
I didn't really have any. I became pregnant pretty early. I had my first child, a daughter, when I was in high school. She's 27 now. I have a son who is 26.
When did you start dancing or stripping?
I was 16.
Hold it; that's illegal.
I was doing private shows. I would call an agency and lie about my age. I didn't look my age and the money was good. I'm 46 years old.
What kind of money were you making back then?
Four hundred dollars a night or more.
But a private show is usually a bunch of guys and you.
I would bring a bouncer. I may be blonde, but I'm not stupid.
When you first danced in a club, did you know what to do?
My very first night, a woman by the name of Marilyn Chambers told me what to do.
Wasn't Marilyn Chambers a pretty famous porn star from the 1970s?
It was 1984 and she was just hanging out in the club that night. You can't get any better than that.
Could you look at the men while you were up on stage?
You really start sweating a lot at first. I needed to drink a Bacardi and Coke. And I really couldn't look at the guys, but within a week, I was good. I started dancing in California clubs.
Did you travel?
Did I ever. Clubs in California, Nevada, Oregon, Hawaii and Mexico City.
What's the most you ever made in one night?
Six-thousand five-hundred dollars.
How is that possible?
Would I know who these people are?
I won't tell you.
OK, it was one actor.
A club in Reno, Nev., 10 years ago and that's all I'm going to say.
How has all of this impacted your relationships with men?
Men have a lot of insecurity.
But can you understand that most guys couldn't adjust to what you do for other men?
That's their problem. Look, I have a rule: If you don't want me in this business, then take care of me for three months. We'll sign a contract so that I can go back to school and learn something else. Then, I'll pay you back.
Aren't some men dangerously obsessive?
That's true. It happens all the time.
What are the warning signs?
When you come in to the club, you're sober, maybe you're dressed nice. Swell. Next, you start drinking and maybe kick it up; that's cool. But when you're drunk, I can tell who you really are, good or bad.
Have you dated customers?
But it sounds as if your No. 1 way of meeting a guy might be at the club.
Pretty much; but right now, I'm not interested.
Have you ever been stalked?
It's rather scary. I had security live with me for six months, and I had to pay for it.
Do you dance on a set schedule at Spearmint Rhino?
There's isn't a schedule. Girls begin checking in at 3 p.m. and the last check-in is 9 o'clock. No other girls can come in and dance after that.
How long do you dance?
Anywhere from five to 10 hours, five or six days a week.
I must note that there are a few little ones nearby waving and looking at us from inside the coffee shop.
I have three grandbabies: twin boys who are 5 and a girl who is 4 years old.
Do you think most men who watch you dance know that you're a grandmother?
Are you kidding? I brag about it. I spend Saturdays with them. Lately, I've been teaching them how to play basketball and soccer.
What do the grandchildren call you?
Nana. Grandma is for someone who is old. That's not me.
Your professional name, when you dance, is Kahlua.
For 25 years now. I was Cinnamon, Terminator and then Kahlua.
Where did Kahlua come from?
I was in a Reno, Nev., club and the owner wanted me to change my name from Terminator. I closed my eyes, pointed to the bar and there it was: a bottle of Kahlua.
Isn't it fair to say that your success has been based on your genes?
It's the attitude. If you don't have it in your mind and heart, get out of the business.
Do you make eye contact with the men now?
Absolutely. I check everything out.