LENNOX, Calif.—Little League baseball and naked female dancers make strange bedfellows. No surprise. But even though there is room in America for the two to coexist, they went their separate ways here in the last couple of weeks when a struggling local chapter of the Little League returned a $1,200 donation from a local strip club.
“If I’d known this was going to embarrass anyone, we never would have done it,’’ said James Wallace, general manager of the Jet Strip gentleman’s club. “This is a poor neighborhood, with little or no industry. We’ve been here for years [since 1986], and we’ve always tried to help people out if we could, be a good neighbor.
“It’s just this time . . .’’
Lennox is part of Inglewood, home of the Fabulous Forum, the aging gem that was once the state-of-the-art home of the Lakers and Kings. The Jet Strip, a single-level building with neon lights along bustling Hawthorne Boulevard, is right around the corner from the public school ball fields where the Lennox Little League plays its games. It is by and large a Latino neighborhood, one with very little greenery, be it natural flora or the stuff grown in the greenhouses of the US Treasury.
Facing soaring field rental costs and squeezed out of the concession business for a variety of reasons, the Lennox Little League recently began soliciting donations, fearing that the upcoming season could be scrapped. The Jet Strip stepped up to the plate and submitted its donation, only to have it sent back a few days later.
“All of it in single dollar bills,’’ joked Matt Lauer, host of the “Today’’ show, when the popular NBC morning program discussed the story on-air last week. Lauer, it should be noted, is an unabashed fan of the Yankees, a team in the Bronx, which is a utopian New York borough free of moral dilemmas and absent risque businesses.
Roberto Aguirre, the Lennox Little League president, told local TV station KTLA that it “was a shocker to us’’ when the league found out the check was from the strip club, and said, “We will go some other avenue.’’ Presumably with a right turn on Righteousness Road.
For the record, this was not a sponsorship deal. Jet Strip submitted the check with no strings—G or otherwise—attached. The club owner wasn’t looking for a pat on the back or for the club’s name to be placed on the Little Leaguers’ shirts or splashed on an outfield billboard. He runs a business, felt that a worthy neighborhood league needed some help, and made the donation.
“This happened to us before,’’ said the soft-spoken Wallace, 64, the Jet Strip’s clerk of the works for more than 20 years. “In ’93, we came up with $5,000 for the Red Cross—all the girls here chipped in—to help with the Malibu fires. The Red Cross wouldn’t take it.
“But that was 1993. I figured by 2012, especially with the economy the way it is . . . it just never occurred to me that it would be turned down. It sounded like the league was in a desperate situation.’’
Word in the ’hood Friday was that other businesses and private individuals have stepped up in the wake of the flap, and donations have totaled about $7,000. Wallace believes Lennox Little League would have accepted the money but its board was pressured either by the county or Little League national headquarters to send it back.
“One of the local league guys thanked me, said he was grateful for what we did,’’ said Wallace. “But he was told that’s the way it is—you know, no alcohol, no tobacco, no gentleman’s clubs.’’
Meanwhile, life goes on here at the noisy edge of the sprawling Los Angeles International Airport. The Jet Strip and the ball fields that are either too good or too proud to accept its money are in the glide path of runway “25 Right.’’
Friday was a particularly beautiful spring day, with sunny skies, a cool and steady breeze, the splendor of it all interrupted only by the constant cacophony of traffic on Hawthorne Boulevard and the thunder of the massive jets that were nearly strafing the club’s roof.
According to Wallace, all the national media attention, in combination with a down economy, has brought a steady stream of requests (nearly three dozen) from folks happy to accept a donation. A local women’s ice hockey team, Bad Kitty, e-mailed a note to Jet Strip, praising it for its efforts to help the Little League and also asking if it could donate to the hockey team.
The women of Bad Kitty, wrote team manager Debra Lissebeck, “would be proud to represent the Jet Strip not only on our jerseys, but in any and all of our fund-raising and promotional events.’’ Hockey players know how to work the corners.
The common belief, said Wallace, is that strip clubs are impervious to economic downturns. Not true, he said, noting that in its heyday, the club made some $24,000 in annual charitable donations but has had to cut that in half in recent years.
“We depend on disposable income,’’ he said. “When you don’t have it, you’re not going to waste it at a strip club.’’
Another letter of thanks, said Wallace, came from a woman in the neighborhood.
“She wrote that she was 50 years old and just wanted to thank us,’’ said Wallace, who was a fight promoter in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles. “She also said she was available to work . . . blah, blah, blah . . . and that she could even dance if we wanted! Who knew?’’
A new baseball season is upon us. Hopefully, Little Leaguers here and around the world will get the chance to play what many Americans cling to as our national pastime. We also hold true the right to make a legal buck. It should likewise be OK to donate it.