Some nights, it's a black corset and assless chaps. On others, just a frilly pink tutu with matching panties. At one point during this year's Fetish Con after-hours party, he was completely naked.
Tonight, though, the Senator wears a red lacy teddy with a matching silk banana hammock thong that he has to, uh, adjust frequently.
Whatever The Senator ends up wearing when he visits the Castle, you can be sure it's not much. And that's exactly how he likes it.
"Hey, Mike," one slightly overweight girl in thick mascara and dyed black hair says, planting a kiss on his cheek. "Where have you been?" One after another, a small succession of girls, their breasts popping out of pleather corsets, stop on their way to the bathroom to smile, hug and kiss the man they call The Senator.
"I'll see you on the dance floor," he calls out to them in a thick Long Island accent.
He stands under the lone white light upstairs, leaning on the wall, clutching a Bud Light and smiling at the beauties passing by. He's basking in the limelight the way only a 54-year-old man in women's lingerie can.
"I think in my own little way this is like a what a celebrity goes through," he says. "Like a Paris Hilton."
It's safe to say Michael Ricardi -- aka The Senator -- is the most infamous clubgoer in all of Ybor City. As the Castle has gone from fringe Goth hangout to the best dance club in Tampa Bay, The Senator has reached an almost iconic status in the nightlife scene. It's commonplace for gracious hosts to warn first-time visitors, "Hey, there's this guy, he wears lingerie and has a hard-on, but he's completely harmless." (This is an actual quote.)
That is, if they haven't heard about him already.
But for as much skin as Ricardi shows, he keeps much of his personal life a secret. For one, only a select few know his real name. He declines to give specifics on which Tampa neighborhood he lives in and claims this is his first interview with a male reporter. ("I only give interviews to chicks," he says.) How Ricardi got his moniker is a bit of mystery, even to himself. "Whoever came up with that should get a royalty," he jokes.
But I do know this much: He's a single guy, no children, originally from Long Island, N.Y. He moved to Tampa in 1985, left and returned for good 12 years ago. He lives off his investments and, on the weekends, cruises the beach towns in his motorcycle. And he likes '80s pop music, especially the Smiths and Madonna.
Beyond that, there's just rumors: He was actually a Florida senator (not true); he is related to Sen. Ted Kennedy (not true, as far as he knows); he has orgies with the Castle's staff after closing (not true).
But instead of fighting the gossip, Ricardi welcomes it.
"The rumors are better than anything I could come up with," he says.
If you talk to Ricardi long enough and maybe buy him a beer, he might give some insight into his persona. Like the story surrounding the first time he gussied up, during a trip to Mardi Gras several years ago. He might even confess his style is in no way a sexual fetish but an attention-getter, something to talk about with the ladies between dancing and drinking. And he might share details about the first night he attended one of the Goth bar's dance parties.
"I didn't know anybody," he says of that night at the Castle 10 years ago when he first donned his outrageous fashion choices. "It's one of those things where you don't know how they'll react, but people were cool, so I kind of felt like I had a home."
Before long, Ricardi became friends with the staff and several regulars who looked after the outgoing Ricardi. In the years since, he has seen his favorite bartenders and dancers come and go, but Ricardi keeps on coming to the club two or three times a week, eager to meet new faces and perhaps make a new dance partner.
"Gorgeous babes walking around, everybody's cool, nobody has an attitude," he says. "This is what I imagine heaven would be like."
Thursday and Saturday nights are the best times to catch Ricardi in his act. Usually about 10 p.m., he parks in the club's employee parking lot and enters wearing jeans and a button-down. At first, he might hang out near the bar, chatting up the bartenders until the place fills up. Then, after a few Bud Lights, he disappears into the bathroom and re-emerges in one of his signature outfits. He flits around the room chatting, flirting, dancing and posing for photos.
Before the end of the night, Ricardi and I make our way to Czar, one of his newer haunts. At Czar, he's still a novelty to the more clubby girls who haven't seen him before and several dance with him. But one blonde, mid-30s in a short black dress, holds his attention. He takes her hands, sways side-to-side and twirls her around. When the song ends, he comes back to the couches and sits down. He looks a little winded.
"I used to go to after-hours, but you know I'm getting old," he confesses. "At 3 a.m., I'm ready to hit the bed."
With someone else, right?
"That's another rumor -- I get lucky all the time, which is not true," he says, smile fading. "I'm real conservative when it comes to relationships. I wouldn't want to hurt anybody or lead them on."
Ricardi senses the conversation may have gotten too serious.
"Let's just go have a good time," he says.
He shoots me a grin, grabs another Bud Light and flies into the pulsing crowd. The night is young, and the Senator still has some ladies to meet.
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