Category: Jewish Strippers On Heroin

Yes Sir I Have Arrived (Chapter 14)

On the Finch bus going west I sit with Elaine and thank her for what seems to be the tenth time for coming along with me to support me on my first night at Charlie T’s as Hilary is nowhere to be found.  Elaine’s never been inside a strip club, and after me telling her the stories about me and Hilary’s investigation, one would guess that she’d really be put off, but instead she’s agreed to be moral support. I plan on having her sit at a table close to the stage and tell her that I want her to be completely honest and critique my set. Walking into Charlie T’s with Elaine I feel prepared. The shoes, perfume, and my stretchy ruby slip dress provide me with enough security. My mind is on hyper-speed looking to find answers to the questions: Why am I not nervous? Why am I not shaking? I was totally nervous when I auditioned for Theatre school as the preparation alone of knowing two characters, two pieces, and understanding my three year post-grad stint depended solely upon my talent, or me displaying whatever qualities in those moments so the teachers could assess me, really had me on the edge. But now, I didn’t need to audition to work here – the stakes were not that high. Using improvisational skills I had learned since I took Improv comedy and drama from the age of 9 I would be doing what those theatre sissy’s couldn’t handle – studying characters by working alongside them and actually getting to be one of them.  This is my present rationalization: I am engaging in a real-life character study. I will master this character, I convince myself and put my new two-day old burlesque entertainer license in the front pocket of my green suede backpack. I will completely look, dress and smell alluring enough that I can convince these men I’m a real deal stripper. 

      The first thing I do when I’m entering the club is squint my eyes to try to see anything in front of my face.  Even though it’s ten o’ clock outside the cold November night is well on its way to darkness, I find the club darker than it was before. But out splayed in front of me, like that roadhouse strip club in a movie, I can’t deny the pride I feel as I have finally arrived at this soundproof, secret island. Too many of the days I wanted to scream, snatch, claw and dance into something this real, this dangerous, this risky, and now, I feel exactly like I am doing just that. My heart pumps faster and I cover it up by nodding to the last part of Pearl Jam’s EvenflowIf only they knew how I’ve been preparing for working by doing all my research in clubs they’d really respect my commitment, I think. Convincing myself that Danny was going to give me a warm welcome almost manifested the reality set before me. This wasn’t fictional but the reality that I choose to work in. All the characters were here like a few days ago as I find comfort in seeing the same waitress, bartender, bar-back, DJ and girls who I just shook hands with before.  Looking around I wonder how many girls were freelancing and how many actually held a place on schedule. Okay -time for a pow-wow to keep Elaine from taking off, I lean in,
“Okay – Elaine, before I go back there to change, I have to check in with the DJ so he can see my license.” I say loudly over Boston’s “More Than a Feeling.”

                         Nodding happily Elaine tells me she’s sitting up at the left side of the stage. If it was Hilary she’d be coming through the change room door with me, but that’s not going to happen tonight.  It’s not that I miss her, it’s just that I’ve adjusted the plan to accommodate her absence and now have an objective witness who can help to sharpen and direct my first attempt at a stage show. Who better than to have a photographer friend?
Confidently walking to the booth I feel  all the heads from the men turn and look my way, as if they all know I’m the “new girl”. That’s totally not self-centered for me to think that as I feel it. I slip into to the dark DJ booth where I find it somewhat funny that the size is just a little bit larger than a phone booth, and ironically enough there is a phone in here alongside a lighting board. Looking at the puffy Chinese face of Jeremy the DJ (who will forever be permeated into my psyche as the one who beats up on his stripper girlfriend Jelilah) cradling the phone on his shoulder, who I hope he doesn’t pick up on the fact that I already hate him makes me avert my eyes so I begin to look down at all the CD’s he has. Three huge leather bound CD books fan out like oversized albums, I take in a deep breath as I can’t even imagine owning one book that size filled with CD’s never mind three. Hilary and I still listen to tapes. He puts his pudgy hand over the receiver and asks me to get out my license. I give it to him and while he’s on the phone he writes down the number at the bottom of the clipboard, telling the caller to ‘get back to him in five as he has to take care of the freelancer’.  I accept my new identity as now the ‘Freelancer.’
“Hey, Okay so did you see Danny yet?” He asks me tapping his pen.
“No, I thought I had to check in with you first,” I quickly answer.
“Normally yes, but since it’s your fir-“ he pauses in the way Fred Flintstone does in the cartoon where the aliens take over and has him repeat in monotone: Yabba Dabba Do.  Jeremy’s automatic response has him turning on the microphone, “Thank you Christina, she’s something else eh boys? Don’t be shy, you can get Christina or anyone of our sensational girls over to your table for a private dance. Drink specials al night. Enter to win a car from Labbatts Blue – just ask your sexy server for a ballot, and here next up we have another gorgeous girl – Wild Cherry. Let’s give her a warm welcome.” He looks out the window, presses some buttons on the CD player, clicks off the mic and writes down my name.
“Athena with an I?”
“No, A-T-H-E-N-A. I can’t picture where the ‘I’ went in so I don’t say anything. It makes methink about why someone would choose to become a strip club DJ, and how much High School he’s done.  Out to my left I watched a curly-haired brunette get on stage in a shiny red bell-bottomed pantsuit and bounce around the back bar to “Love in an Elevator”

“I’m assuming your freelancing and not on schedule, right?”
“Yeah, I’m not sure about going on schedule yet – but tonight I’m definitely freelancing.”
“You know you have to give me the ten dollar stage fee now, and freelancers are also required to do one stage show – sometimes more than one if I’m short of schedule girls that shift.  You need to tell me what you’re dancing to.”
I took out my three CD’s (Romeo and Juliette Soundtrack, Garbage, PJ Harvey) and showed him the order as I marked it on the discs. He didn’t compliment me on my organizational song listing skills, or say how much he liked the film Romeo and Juliette.
“So, tracks one, six and nine right?” I nod. “Don’t forget to pick this up before you go tonight, I don’t keep CD’s overnight. Always keep your ears open for your name, but chances are you won’t go up for another hour.”
That is perfect, I think, as that way I can put more make-up on and settle in. I didn’t think Elaine would want to sit for an hour, but at this point what was I going to say to her?
“Thank you Jeremy.” I say in a voice that I believe is more mature than the average stripper. He nods back at me. I pass a girl with short red hair and white sarong on her way to see him and she smiles at me.

Back in the office I still believe it resembles an office found in a mechanics garage. The Sunshine girl I had previously noticed was still there. It’s funny to me how I was just here once, but the fact that I have returned, and am here now, proves that I didn’t imagine any of it.  Danny was wearing a suit again, and this time jumped out of his chair to shake my hand.
“Good to see you! Did Mark drive you in? Have a seat.”  He looked excited and straightens his tie. I sit across from him watching him search through papers beside the ash tray.
“Hey, yeah, well I took the bus in tonight.” I am not going to tell him that I can’t yet reason paying the ten dollars for the DJ and another ten to get driven one way as that was a luxury for the girls who’re already making money. I am completely bedazzled by the signs of women’s prosperity all around me. If they could afford these nice costumes, and shoes and to get their nails and hair done, then they must be doing really well here.  He gets up to close the door.  I now begin to feel amused at this entire ‘signing up’ process. Maybe I should be leery of what I’m signing myself up for, a voice in the back says,
“These are just to make sure that the name on the license matches up with the girl on the floor, and if you’re even thinking at this point of going on schedule, and I pay you then we may need to get your SIN number.”
“But, if I work here tonight, I don’t need to give you my SIN right?” If my SIN was involved there’d be a record of me working here – and I definitely do not want that. I fill out the sheet with my address, birth-date, and sign the bottom. Nothing really scare me other than writing: zero, under the place asking me if I had any piercings or tattoos.  I wondered how many other girls had left that part blank. I didn’t want to joke around with Danny or make it too casual, as he needs to know that I take this very seriously.
“Do I get a lock from you for the lockers?” I ask him, handing him the sheet. He looks it over as I wait anxiously to change and hit the floor.
“Nice choice of name – Athena.” I get goosebumps by the way that he says it – and so readily accepting of my false moniker.  All part of this work world.  Come in, give your music, pay your fee to work – the concept alone is so utterly strange to grasp. I think about how many other people I currently know who pay to work and accept that rule with no questions asked.
Danny escorts me across the floor, as he nods and winks at the dancers. I feel as if there’s a big sign around my face reading: NEW GIRL! NEW GIRL! And I just want to get my make-up touched up and avoid these men (potential customers) seeing me without my costume on in my everyday winter coat. I don’t want them to be able to identify me by my vintage coat out in public as that would really be shitty.  I wonder, why doesn’t this club have a door from the outside that leads into the change room, why the inconvenience of a long walk from the front entrance?  I see Elaine and she waves at me.
“Is that your friend Hilary?” Danny asks me. He must really need girls to work here, otherwise why would he remember her name.
“Uh, no Hilary can’t come until next week” I make up an excuse as I really want to tell him, “Yeah she’s kinda pre-occupied with her newest drug Heroin. But doncha worry nothin’ cause she’s just a regular ole lush like me.” Instead I continue to tell him unnecessary, albeit helpful information like how she did get her license with me and will be coming to make an appearance soon, but Elaine is my moral support for my first evening on the pole.
“Okay Summer….hey Summer,” Danny tries to get the attention of the pasty-skinned brunette behind a circle of skinny strippers. Now if anything I am nervous. The girls wobble, lurch, teeter and mince around this depressing gum-ball pink colored change room.  Tall lockers line the walls along all three sides with one wall covered by a mirror and counter and to the left pay-lockers.  These are the same looney-lockers which exist in shopping malls, and make me panic as I don’t think I have a looney on me.  A red-head pulls out her orange key as she avoids being run-down by a black girl trying to rush out the door.
“Come on girl please move, I got to change for my second song!” She throws down a hand towel the size of a place-mat and a shiny blue purse.
“Shit, if it’s your second song that means that I’m on soon too,” a bleach blonde with terrible roots pipes up.
Danny’s male presence is somewhat accepted and cancelled out in the changeroom with half-naked, half-dressed dancers. I like him. He’s comforting to me at this time the same way your mother is on the first day of grade one.
“Summer, can you please take a sec and help out the new freelancer Athena in finding a locker to use eh?”
In the same manner a father would leave his daughter when she’s gone to sleepover camp, Danny tries to untie me with a helpful stripper to be a ‘buddy’.


“Move, move, sorry…” The dancer I just saw hit the stage as ‘Wild Cherry’ bursts in this tight space and is completely naked aside from her scuffed white stilettos holding two sweaty glasses of white wine which she plunks down on the counter, wine sloshing over falling onto the pile of her shiny red costume.
“Hi! I’m Athena, howzit going?” I greet her as I apply lip liner.
“Are you always going to talk that way?” she confronts me turning to focus her gaze on my hair. I immediately recognize her assessing my tresses from years of clubbing experience and become self conscious immediately.
“Oh, I just wanted to…I just…” oh shit, I think, why did I just do that? In barely seconds after Danny exited I have not remained invisible or established street cred in a positive manner.  Why didn’t I just follow the ruse of not talking to another stripper unless she speaks first?
“Scootch over Kat, “ Wild Cherry slurs pushing into a drunk girl with a short bob of blonde and glittery pink halter top on. She slings her silver mini-backpack into her locker where there’s more sparkly spandex than the entire Pride Parade.  I couldn’t be distracted or make another mistake, I have to be focused, forget everything and apply my make-up with out interruption, I think.   My eyeshadow goes on with focus as Kat wraps herself in a cheap flea-market fuzzy blanket and complains how “fuckin’ freezing-ass cold” she is. I am now exposing myself to a certain lower class Canadian dialect as I hear their comments,
Shit, I seen buddy at the bar and no ways is he coming out with me tonite
Nobody gonna take my regular – I gots half an hour and half a bottle of blue before my next set guy.”
I keep applying my blush deeper and another girl chimes in about how hot the lights are on stage and how she’s slipping every, “which fuckin’ way to Sunday cause some dumb bitch wore too much lotion on stage tonight” Now my black liquid liner which requires patience and adept focus is applied as a shooter tray is placed on the counter and a girl with sweat dripping from her forehead and chest asks everyone for a baby wipe and some rollies as her friend is here with the ‘seriously good hydro’.  Four girls who are fussing in their lockers with perfume and cigarettes commiserate with the plan on chipping in to getting some of said hydro, and one of my eyes is almost dry when another girl comes back with a cooler and yells about how: stupid this shit hole club is for never bringing in enough men!.  I feel comfortably detached as I observe their chaotic routine feeling entirely removed and loving every second of it.

Compared to the dressing rooms in movies and in Markham Theatre where I’d performed for the last four years in Arts High School, these girls have a bum deal. Here I smell and feel chaos – true chaos where they’re packed in and have no other alternative then to be prickly, cramped and annoyed leading to some unavoidable confrontations and complaints about personal space. What they need is really proper lighting, I think, and how tragic it is to do my makeup in a dingy mirror with a single, fixture-less light bulb hanging down.  On the positive side: at least the mirror went across the entire wall, but who can imagine these third-world, barely adequate conditions exist behind the swinging change room door? Definitely not me.  Do not show that this phases you, the voice inside my head tells me. The space we have behind the Have-A-Java counter isn’t much bigger than this, I reason.  Somehow with the girls swooping in crying about customers, lighting up cigarettes and joints, and yelling at each other about who’s set was up next, I manage to get my black g-string on, short-shorts, and sheer black top. I shove everything in my back-pack and bend down to find my own Loonie-locker. I start to open the ones that aren’t locked and to my surprise every single one of them is stuffed to the capacity with some other strippers stilettos, costume bags and crap. I’m taken over by a surge of frustration and panic as I feel the heat before the tears begin.  NO, you can’t cry like a baby Annie. You just need to pull it together and ask if someone can share their locker with you. Gazing up at the tall, gawky blonde chatting with the implanted dancer I just chicken out. Taking my backpack and coat with me I leave the change room in my costume and quickly zoom across past the tables focusing straight ahead at the office. I knock on the door and Danny opens it knowing just by a quick glance-over why I came.
“Okay, usually Athena there are plenty of available lockers, and that’s why you may have to get here earlier next time to just get one, okay? But for now, since it’s your first night I’m going to let you keep your stuff in here. I got no problem with unlocking the door to let you get what you need.” He becomes my savior and I thank him while spraying myself quickly one more time with my drug-store score of: White River Musk. I am also grateful to be out of the noisy change room and somehow blessed with a quiet, private, suite of my own.  Not bad, I think ready to take on the floor for a first shift.
I try to move around the tables in my new ridiculously high platform mary-janes as naturally as possible. I’ve been doing this for years, I try to convince myself. Watching how the other girls glide into places at tables with customers I see them laugh, touch their boobs, and somehow make conversation, I take a breath and re-assure myself that I can attract someone to come to my table to get a table dance with me using improv. One of the shooter girls from the back of the room makes her way over to me.
“Good Evening doll! What club are you coming from or are you new on schedule or just freelancing for tonight?” She asks me through a perfect pair of glossed burgundy lips.
“Hey, I’m just freelancing tonight, but if it works out I’m thinking of going on schedule”
“Did you go up on stage yet? She asks balancing her tray on one knee.
“No, I go on in about thirty minutes or something,” choosing to withhold the fact that it will be my first time.
“I’m Anastasia,” She holds out her hand which has incredibly polished long nails in a shiny pearly-pink colour.
“Hi, I’m Athena,” every time I say my name I feel more and more in character.
“Cool name, like that a lot.” She nods and her short cropped brownish black hair falls to the other side. “Okay so hon, here’s how it works…when you sit with a customer and you’re talking and stuff, if you see me coming up act all totally surprised like, and I’ll offer you guys a shooter, so hold off him getting you a second drink when you see me coming up, Okay?” Second drink? I hadn’t even had a chance to snatch a customer to get me a first, and now I was pre-occupied with another pressure added to simply getting my customer to buy a lap dance from me. Her shooter tray featured a coffee-coloured shooter which I’m sure I’ll love, and more than that makes me want to ask if she’ll throw me a freebie but I don’t dare.  She picks up her tray with expertise and smiles, “thanks”
“I think I’m up to dance soon so I’ll see you around,” Feeling better having talked to one of the staff I go out further on the floor to check on Elaine.

“Oh my God Annie, you look so good!  Wow…this is totally surreal…I seriously can’t believe you’re going for this. Do you think they’d let me take photo’s in here?” Typical of Elaine, so clueless.
“Probably not for privacy reasons.  But can you just imagine if you could – that would be the best art piece ever. Look at my mary jane platforms, don’t they rock?” I ask her trying to stay calm.
“For sure! Okay so are you going around to actually talk to these guys?” Elaine’s eyebrows twist and she turns her head to the direction of perverts row.
“Yeah, but I still have to listen for the DJ to call me up to the stage.” As we talk there’ s waitresses moving around tables, men drinking and eating with some girls and people yelling for the shooter girl to take a shooter out of another girls bra. It’s busy and I am overwhelmed with what to do next.
“Okay Elaine, so when I’m done on stage I’ll get dressed and sit back here with you.”  In my palm I clench my little change purse. I really want a drink but don’t know where to sit. I don’t feel ready to be with an entire group of men at one table so I focus on the loaners. Most of them are sitting in perverts row, but if I approach them, I don’t want the girl on stage to blame me for taking away the attention off her. Taking a deep breath I try to feel out instinctively who’d be receptive enough to a newbie such as myself. Moving to the back I spot Olivia with a black guy who’s having an intimate talk with her.

“Excuse me hon, coming through!” The barback Rick is moving a huge box of empties through to the kitchen .
“Sorry,” I move out of the way and then hear a voice say, “That was a close one eh?”
“Yeah,” I see a guy with glasses and a Pink Floyd shirt sitting at a two-seater alone. Could this be my first taker? He seemed to look like the guy who’d never left his parents house. I think he’s harmless enough and approach him.
“Hows it going? I’m Athena,” I put my little towel down and have a seat.
“Are you new? I don’t think I’ve seen you before,” he says sipping a blue.
“It’s my first night here.” Shit – why did I say that?
“Where’d you work before?” he asks assuming that it’s my first night working in this club, not first night dancing.
“No, I mean it’s my first night dancing ever.”
“Really? That’s so funny. I am always having the newbies sit with me. I’m Donny.”
“Hey Donny, that’s a great name.” I try to keep up my veneer of cool and not share any of Annie with him.
“So didcha pick the name Athena cause of the Who song?” he asks, I want to keep the focus away from me and on him.
“I didn’t know that the Who has a song called Athena, cool… do you like rock?” I can see a waitress coming up behind him like a great shining godess.
“Hey yeah, but who doesn’t love rock? I love rock and roll, put another dime in the juke“ Donnybegins to ruin the Joan Jett song for me forever and I want to hug the curly haired waitress for saving me.
“And how are we doing Donny?” She rests her hand on his shoulder.
“Good.”
  “Can I get you another Dry?”
“Sure, and Athena do you want something?” Bingo – I want one of everything, and quickly.
“Thanks! How about a Mike’s Hard Lemonade?” I wanted to jump up and get it myself at this point.
“Okay – I’ll be back in a jiffy. What’s your name again?” She asks
“I’m Athena, I met you here before with Mark,” I say thinking it would be stupid for her to recall me previously with clothes on.
“Okay….yeah…welcome to Charlies!” She genuinely smiles and heads over to the bar area. Donnie shifts his gaze to her tush and I’m watching the girl on stage and the whole moment is surreal as I’m not acustomer any more but have finally crossed over to the other side. 

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EMBARKING UP THE RIGHT TREE (Chapter Thirteen)

I feel the warm air rising up from my bedroom vent as I hold my hands on top as homeless men do over huge oil can fires in movies. As the heat flows back into my body, the scenes from last night form like Sea Monkey crystals into my consciousness. Sprawling out like a gummy octopus on the broadloom I grab my white, eyelet pillow and rest my poor pounding cranium. My shift at Have-a-Java isn’t until 3:00, so I’d have plenty of time to lie here recovering from my guilt, shame and anger. 
 I go over last nights events in a mini-monologue: maybe last night was a test. Why had I mixed my booze? There was no sense in asking these questions, like there’s no point in asking why my mouth tastes like someone has left a gasoline-and-vodka soaked pinecone in it, and yet ….still, I do. Why? It’s Martinis. Proper Martini’s in Martini glasses with olives. Last night was my first official night drinking a Martini! That makes sense. After our work party I left with Taylor to meet his friends at another bar. I hate olives, but I drank it anyway. God…again…why? It only figures that after a work dinner I’d latch on with the one person who’s as much fun to be with as Hilary. Could I be attracted to Taylor? I question…maybe. He did look great last night; much cuter wearing a non-work shirt.

My index finger gets pulled up to my teeth as if they are magnetically charged. Biting on my nail I grind it up into a paste so I can swallow it. The whole process is soothing for me. I try to remember more about last night. Taylor was kind of wasted too. I begin to chastise myself. Everything would be so underhandedly brilliant if I didn’t get trashed last night and blabber on about mine and Hilary’s plan to strip. I panic slightly, did I hit on him a lot? My mind clicks on the expression on Taylor’s face in his apartment. I could see myself opening my shopping bags and pulling out the slips and shiny, lollipop-red, slut – length, negligees from Eatons and The Bay wanting to get a reaction out of him. When I told him they were to wear stripping I remember him saying stuff like: “You can’t be serious. Please tell me you’re joking.” Did that impress him? Holding onto a little sliver of nail between my teeth, I bite down on it, experiencing a little more relief from the sound.
 I think back to last nights work dinner and me picking a seat between Laura and Jenny. Rolling slowly onto my back, I can picture myself with both of them when our pesto-sundried-pasta came to the table. I try to hear pieces of what I may have said. Certain shards of our conversation slice my brain into clarity. Like I told Jenny how much I respect Courtney Love for stripping and then making a huge name for herself in Rock and Roll. I’m not sure if I told her or Laura that I was planning to strip. I remember being really chummy with my manager Georgina at the table and getting the waitress to bring her Long Island Iced Teas.

I was making sure that she didn’t suspect that I was going to leave my job with her and Tom and start stripping. If I wasn’t so anxious about this plan, I wouldn’t be drinking as much, I reasoned all this and more feeling embarrassed of my actions. Why was having all my co-workers, and boss in the same place so stressful? This was supposed to be my week to try out my new job, and still continue to work at Have-a-Java during the day. What if Taylor tells someone? I contemplate calling Taylor that very second and then I realize I don’t have his number. 
 Curling on my side like a shrimp my eyes focus on the shopping bags at the foot of my bed. My badly attacked fingernails reach out to the bags for my goodies. Using them as a distraction from my horrid memories, I look down at the lingerie we bought. Everything appears so dangerously beautiful to me. I hold the shiny ruby red g-string as if it were a gun, turning it around in my hands looking at the way it reflects the light in my bedroom. As I feel the slip I remember the acting exercises we used to do in Drama. We learned to use props to form a character. Costumes can give you so much to actualize a real, believable, rocking character. I start feeling resentful. All those classes, auditions and plays for what? Maybe those techniques will be useful to me now as a stripper, I hopefully pray. Carefully cutting off the tag, I take off my mud splattered bells and put the g-string on. Ewww!, I reel back in disgust, as my pubic hair sticks out from the sides. Am I going to shave this craziness, or get waxed? The idea of waxing scares me as I know it involves someone dumping hot wax on your crotch and then quickly ripping it off before you can scream. I don’t even know how long that lasts too. I turn around in front of the mirror and see how insanely large my bum looks wearing a g-string. It feels like I have a wedgie stuck up there. Now I know why I have always stuck to wearing “Bubbie underwear” all these years. These do not feel comfortable at all. Good thing I can take them off on my third song on stage, I think in relief.

If I owned a stereo that had a CD player in it I could put on my new CD’s, I reflect, but instead I only have a crummy tape player. Plucking a Nirvana Live in Bancock bootleg tape out from my shoebox I press play. Hearing it start on the song Polly, I stop and flip it over, making a mental not to share that joke with Hilary later, as that’s the song some kids played when raping a girl in a trailer park somewhere in the states.

Dun Dun Da-Dun, “Hey Wait! I’ve got a new complaint!” Kurt’s swollen vocal chords move me to dance in front of my mirror. My nausea and head-achey feeling is immediately overshadowed by my motivation to watch myself naked in front of the mirror. My arms become goose-pimpley from knowing I will soon be doing this on a stage in front of strange men for lots of cash. I will make a lot of cash, I promise myself. My lips need coating of what I’d call: Lustful Disguise: the perfect rock n roll red, and swing over to my white wicker make-up table to put some on. I need to feel like Courtney Love or Debbie Harry. My slept-in mascara smudges brilliantly, giving me that effortless smokey-eye affect, I admire my eyes, and my gaze goes downwards towards my lips. A little pot of silver glitter amongst the make-up collection sticks out and I dip my finger in it to apply it to my bottom lip to give it a disco-ball shine.

Tossing my head back and forth like I saw the girls do on stage, I get myself hyped up. Trying to imitate the way the other strippers had moved on stage feels phony to me, so I allow the song to move me in ways I’d never explored before. Lip-synching Kurt’s words I’m filled with newfound strength, I only wish I had a guitar strapped around my neck and a mic in front of me. Getting excited I start to find other songs I could practice to. Just then my phone startles me with its ringing. Breathlessly, I manage to say hello as it falls from my hands. It feels like I’m caught stealing cookies from the pantry. I hear Bubby Esther’s voice and for some reason I become angry.
 “Bubby! I … how are you?” I ask hoping that this call will be quick. 
 “Annie, I miss you, what are you doing? Did you eat lunch?” Her questions normally wouldn’t agitate me this way, but at this second I wished I didn’t have her on my phone. Pushing aside my feelings I try to sound alright.
 “Bubby, I miss you too, I was just putting make-up over my bad skin, it’s still not that good.” 
 “Oy, Mamalah, did you call that doctor’s number, let me give it to you again – Doctor…uh…uh…Sher-something-Stein … hold the line, I’ll go find it.” The loud echo of her receiver thudding against her kitchen counter rings in my ears. I can almost see her food-encrusted receiver as she always talks and eats. Picking it up again she spits out his name, “Doctor Sherman, he’s good. He’s very good…a specialist who for sure will help your face.” She’s more enthusiastic as I hear it in her sing-song voice. Thinking quickly, I know the only way to get her off the phone would be to tell her I had just sat down for something to eat, or that I’m starving and have to prepare something to eat. Wanting to get back to my planning, I rush all my words,
 “Okay bubby please give me the number tomorrow. I’m going to toast a bagel. I’m so hungry, I feel like I’m going to pass out and should have something to eat before I go back to work. I love you and I promise to come visit soon!” I finish up hoping that I don’t sound too cold

“Okay, Mamalah, go eat, go eat, but when you come I’m going to make the most delicious barley soup for you, and it’s very good for the complexion.” She makes the soup sound magical in only the way she can.
 “Thank you Bubby – I love you, bye!”
 “Okay Annie, love you!” Hanging up I push away my guilt and dial Elaine’s number hoping that her answering machine picks up so I can just leave her a message. I feel like cheering when it does. 
 “Hey hon, I want to apologize on behalf of Hilary yesterday – you know how she can act weird sometimes because of stuff, and there’s something that we’re planning that I do want to talk to you about but maybe I’ll get a hold of you later on cause I’m heading out to work – bye!” I also want to call Hilary and tell her about my getting a little too drunk and possibly blabbing to the others about our plans, but I just can’t right now. When I could tell her is the question. Completely loosing my dancing-fantasy mood I clean up and sort out my back pack for dancing. Putting that new world away in the corner of my closet, I begrudgingly get my black polo shirt and cords on for work. 
 The entire subway ride downtown I sweat and itch at my skin as I’ve already convinced myself that my secret got out. Playing the scenario in my head I see the news spreading like coffee beans spilling from the bag when it tears. I see Laura whispering to Sandra who laughs, “Oh my God! Annie is going to start stripping? For real…that’s so crazy.” And of course, Tom and Georgina will know all about it. I imagined their disapproving and disappointed glances directed towards me. Would I say that I was drunk, and simply talking out of my ass, or would I cover up with pointing out the incredulousness, “How could you even conceive that I would do that, totally ridiculous. Really, isn’t it obvious by my lack of fake boobs?” I’d laugh too. 
 Okay, just go in there and hold it together, I think. I see Tom pouring Toranni syrup in soda water. I cheerily greet him. 
 “Hey Tom, are any of those Eye-talian sodies for me?” I pronounce Italian the way he does hoping that he’d laugh. He gives me a weary attempt at a chuckle, making it hard for me to guess if he knows. 
 “Sh-shure, you may need a drink after last night.” Jenny says laughing. Kevin looks up at me from the bean bar.
 “Annie, I didn’t know if you were going to make it after that last one.” Both of them are shaking their heads. I feel myself blushing.
 “Yeah, talk about ringing in the holiday season with a bit too much cheer, I try to joke.
 “Well, we all had fun, and I also woke up with a killer hangover,” Kevin pats my back.
 “Y-y-you get ho-home okay?” Tom asks me refilling up the espresso machine.
 “Sure she got home okay…”Jenny says winking at me and exchanging looks with Kevin.
 Maybe they don’t know. Maybe they just think I was drinking a little bit more than them, and that’s the worst of it. Heading into the back room I bump into Taylor.
 “Hey T! I hope that you’re not…” He interrupts me and puts his hand on my shoulder. I continue talking feeling embarrassed from his gesture.
 “I’m sorry about,” I try to think about the right way to explain my behavior last night and get cut off.
 “Trust me I have a hangover the size of this fridge, and I just want you to know I don’t care if you’re going to strip, or whatever. I can’t stop you but at least do it with a friend.” He uses the same tone of an older brother making me feel somewhat looked after. 
 “I’m guilty of drinking a lot last night, but please, please don’t say anything to the others about me trying stripping.” I wait for his expression to change, and when he smiles I feel better. His smile is genuine and Taylor is a good guy, and I don’t doubt that he’ll keep our talk private. 
 “Okie-Dokie,” he jokes breathing out heavily while tying his apron on, “I still think the dancing thing is totally unbelievable but if it’s worth anything I know you’re going to go through it no matter what I or anyone else tells you, and be smart about it.” I hear what he’s saying but have to respond with another explanation.
 “It’s just to see what it’s about. That’s all. We’re cool right?”
 “Yeah.” His smile makes my stomach flutter, and again I wonder if I do have a crush on him.
 “On a side note, my friends thought you were hilarious,” he says and I roll my eyes and give him a goofy grin. If there’s one thing I truly enjoy it’s how much a group of strangers appreciate my drunk humor. 
 “Right on,” I consider telling him how hot he looks without his shirt on, but am interrupted by the door opening and being accosted by Tom’s ugly head. He brusquely directs us, “L-l-lu-look, I’m g-g-gonna get stock from the storage room and when I get back I n-n-need you to focus on cu-customers, okay?” Taylor nods a “sure thing Tom,” as I too agree and silently fume about again being told what to do. Tom chooses to work the evening shift when he could just as easily go home and not be missed. I can’t be the only one who thinks we get more done without him slowing us down. 
 Taylor and I start working behind the counter. Every time our sides touch or bump slightly I look at him and smile. The chat we had made me feel better, so I start joking around with Kevin and Jenny.
 After a few customers had cleared out and we’re back to replenishing stock, I approach Kevin and ask him what I was really like at the party. 
 “An animal. Total animal.” He tells me in his best Schwarzenegger accent. Slight panic comes back and I want to grill him like cops do in detective shows, but Jenny’s ears perk up and she slides between us to make me feel better, “Hey, she wasn’t that bad. You were just loud, and then you said the waiter was hot, but he really wasn’t at all. You didn’t do anything that isn’t already what we’re used to.”
 “Did you think I said anything else that tripped you out?” I ask while casually fixing some paper bags under the register.
 “You just had fun, and I was glad you didn’t go home alone after cause Taylor offered…you know we always got your back.” She tilts her head. For some strange reason I toy with the idea to reveal my plan with her later today and just as quickly as the thought pops into my head, I push it away knowing that if I tell anyone at work, not only would everyone be talking about it, but what if I didn’t want to leave Have-a-Java cause I don’t like my new job? 
 “That hot waiter wasn’t half as hot as Kevin,” I say covering up my relief with a joke. 
 “Shucks, lil old me?” he fakes a bashful look and grabs the J-cloth throwing it in the air playing hackey-sack with it.
 “Tom and Georgina didn’t care that we were a little wild eh?” I ask Jenny while I slip a rice krispie square in a bag for later.
 “I don’t think they care, they’re leaving after tomorrow for their vacation, and guess who they put in charge as manager? Ground control to Major Taylor” We all look over at Taylor, whose the only one out of us that bothers to wipe the seats down. 
 “Hey that’s right, so T, now that you’re the temp manager, will you gimmie a raise?” Kevin puts out his hand. Now here’s a perk – no Tom and Georgina for a few weeks. There must be a God, I think. 
 “Annie the ph-phone’s for you.” Tom says shooting me a glare. I watch him leave with his milk crate in hand to go out to the storage room. 
 “Sorry Tom,” I half-heartedly apologize. “Hello?”
 “Annie? It’s me, Carrie – can you talk?” she asks anxiously. By the sound of her voce I guessed that she’d already heard from Michelle that Mark showed me around the club. 
 “Can’t really talk now, but I think I’m going to start at Charlie T’s tonight” I tell her in a whisper looking over at the gang busily doing their jobs. We exchange some more words and I hang up the phone feeling excited and ready to never think about cleaning up the bean bar again.
As soon as I unlock the front door I hear my parents arguing. Their voices carry from their bedroom all the way to the front hall, busting through my mothers theory that everyone would get their privacy in this new place, as no door was thick enough to soundproof their yelling. It sounds like they were mid to near finishing this fight by the way their words sped up. I decide to not head upstairs into the noise, but stay safely inside the kitchen where I plan to grab some juice. Just then I hear my fathers feet heavily pounding down the stairs. Each time he steps down I think the step will crack under his weight. He calls back to my mother,
 “Just shut up willya? You live in a fantasy world.” He’s heading to the kitchen which only has one entrance and a balcony on the other side leaving me without an alternate way out. I feel trapped when I see him blurt out,

“Your mother doesn’t understand shit. We can’t afford to live this way. She expects money to fall off the fucking trees, so we’re bound to lose this house.” Feeling anxious I take in his stature. From his beet red face to his ugly army-green overalls and Teva sandals he wore as slippers I can’t help but see him as a grown figure of a cartoon Ogre. Whenever he gets into fits of rage or arguing with my mother, he starts talking to me as if we were comrades, which the truth is I can’t tolerate being in the same room with him raging mad or not. Forcefully pulling open the fridge I watch him grab the big container of orange juice shaking it furiously to let out his anger. As the juice fills his special frozen glass he always keeps in the freezer, he spits out,
 “You want some advice? Marry rich.” He swigs back the juice. I try to hide as there is nothing that is more disturbing and unpredictable than my father in a bad mood. 
 “Move!” he shouts at me. Why I stop at that exact place in the room, I don’t know and just scramble to get out of his way like a fly but I’m too late and he swings his arm towards me like an ape, pushing my body away from him so he can get through. Some people say they just don’t know what their force is capable of when they’re driven by rage, but he definitely does and just doesn’t care who’s in his path when he gets on a rampage. Rubbing my right side to prevent a bruise, I push all my feelings of hurt, fear and anger to the back of my stomach, as now I really don’t have a choice. I need to start dancing to get out of this hell house. He swipes again at my head and I run up the stairs. Whenever I tell my mom to leave my dad, she talks the same old story about not being financially able to. The real deal is obvious, she’ll stay with him as long as she gets to live in the house she wants. Our stupid furniture-less house. I call Mark’s number.
 You’ve reached Mark’s pager. Key in your number and press the pound sign. I keyed in my number thinking how I only knew one other person with a paper and that was Carrie’s ex-boyfriend who sold weed to club kids. Pulling the backpack with the shoes, license and costumes out of my closet I decided that I’d wear my hair up, maybe after curling it with my mom’s rollers. My phone rang and I jumped for it.

“Hello Mark?” I anxiously asked. 
 “Hello?” Instead of Mark it was Hilary. I didn’t expect to hear from her, but I feel relieved in a way that she’s calling me. 
 “Hilary, hey, are you at home?”
 “No, I’m still downtown at Kendal’s – who’s Mark?” 
 “Remember I told you about him? Michelle’s brother who showed me around the club and is a driver? I think I’m ready to go in tonight, but …I’ll wait for you if you want to come to Charlie T’s with me tomorrow evening.” As much as I’m pissed that she’s over at Kendal’s, I still want her to come work with me the first night. I hear her breathe slowly and then clear her throat.
 “Hilary…what’s going on?” I ask in a panic.
 “I’m really super high. I’m so high it’s insane.” Great, fucking great, I think. Without trying to act as if I’m not angry about feeling abandoned by her, I still can’t help but hate that she did heroin again. 
 “Thanks a lot Hilary. Thanks for leaving me to do this on my own. What were you thinking?” I hope that she feels guilty, straightens her shit out and comes back up here from the city.
 “What?” She is spacing out.
 I understand how easily she can be overtaken by her newfound obsession to try and keep trying heroin, but didn’t anticipate that she’d be staying with Kendal all the time and doing it when we had plans. I didn’t anticipate that this new drug obsession would carry over so long. 
 “I will work with you, sure I’ll go to that club with you – but not now. Not while I’m in the city with Kendal. How about we do it next week?” She says this in a voice that is totally not hers. Maybe I’ll just settle for that, as it’s easier than once again telling her how hurt I feel about messing up the big plans. 
 “Yeah, sure, we’ll start next week. Are you going to be in okay condition? I ask her choosing something a television character would say in my situation, rather than discussing my concern for her ‘using’ with Kendal and practically leaving this planet. 
 “I’m totally okay, are you?” she asked sounding like she meant it.
 “I’m…” my eyes locked on a rectangle, green and purple Guatemalan print coin purse I got as a birthday gift from a high school friend. I see it lying beside my shoe-box of tapes. Plucking it up I unzip and zip it up again, back and forth, finding comfort in the motion. 
 “I’m going to call Mark to arrange for him to drive me, and then you can come with me the next time I go okay?” I get cut off hearing my call waiting beep knowing it’s Mark. “But Hilary, you need to be at your house, not downtown cool?” I tell her trying to quickly finish up to get to the other line. 
 “Hello Annie? It’s Mark.” I could hear his voice coming through a phone from a busy street. 
 “Mark, are you driving girls tonight?” I ask him hoping that he would take me home after my first shift. 
 “Yeah – are you ready to go in?” he asks me. I don’t know if I want him to take me there. Really, I’d just need a drive home after. 
 “Yeah, but I’m going to just need you to take me home when my time is done, I’m going in on my own, now without my other friend who also wants to do it.” Hoping that he’d be okay with that, I pause.
 “Okay, yeah, I’ll take you home tonight at 2:30am. It’s fifteen normally, but ten for your first big night. Don’t forget your license and to check in with the DJ. I’ll tell Danny you are coming in tonight to freelance.” Mark’s voice came through calm and clear helping me to take in these details easily. It was a refreshing change from all the chaos around me. 
 “Yeah cool. Thanks – see you later, bye.” I hang up knowing that I had to try to make money this way. I was focused on my eyes shadow and blush to put in a makeup bag for tonight. There was something pushing me on, filling me with a defiant confidence. Repeating to myself, that I don’t really need Hilary by my side to try freelancing one night shift, I got ready. 
 Even though, I repeat this thought, another message came clear to me; take someone else along. Taylor’s words of bringing a friend prompted me to call up Elaine. So after calling her and getting her to bring me a Mickey of Smirnoff when she meets me at Finch Station to grab the bus, I was really set. Moving back to my closet I reach into the pocket of my winter coat and take out the rhinestone purple daisy ring she gave back to me. Slipping it on my finger I feel like a female version of Hercules. Hey Ho, lets go.

The Bare Necessities (Chapter 12)

“Annie, make sure it’s locked.” Hilary says choosing a needle from a few she has in her blue velvet jewelry box. 
I ask her, “Why do you need to do this now?” When we get into the change room in the lingerie department at the Bay I see how she tosses the pile of slips and bras aside to get something from her purse, which I knew wasn’t vodka as we already discussed how we’d take a booze break today so I could drink at the Have-A-Java Christmas party.  After she puts down the spoon and breaks off a filter from her smoke I know something is up. Bending down I pick up one of the needles like I would a pencil, uncap it and examine how the teeny silver point is slanted. It’s hard to imagine this piercing through skin, muscle, and veins without hurting. 
“Whoa, these are just like the ones that Kendal had,” I say watching her remove her baby-pink long john shirt with a white snowflake pattern to tie the sleeve around her arm tightly. She’s not wearing a bra. She’s comfortable enough with this to shoot up topless. I debate if I should reprimand her as the lingerie saleslady no doubt could already be suspicious of us just sharing one change-room or I can just watch this drug procedure pretending as if I’m okay with it.  Opening up the tiny envelope she taps a little heroin into the spoons cradle with as much attention to detail as she’s put into untangling my necklace or rolling up a wayward cassette tape.  
“So…I just found out that you can pre-make needles and they’ll stay fresh for twenty four hours, only I didn’t really get a chance before I left the house, so I figure I’ll just do it now.” She tells this to me without dividing her attention from liquefying the heroin. 
     Somewhat less miffed I ask her, “Are you sure that nobody will know you’re doing this?”
“So sure,” she says as her mouth acts like a third hand much like Kendal’s had to when pulling up the needle’s orange plunger while her right hand holds it in place on her left arms victim vein.  Deciding to watch her stick herself with this needle while trying on push-up bras, I examine how her blood gets sucked into the tiny glass tube and sucked back into her arm again. When the crimson drop rises in the inside of her elbow she just licks it off. I’m actually impressed with Hilary’s new ritual of gathering all the apparatus in one place without losing anything and wonder how much longer this procedure will take. 

Opting to try on a bra while she’s occupying herself with achieving her goal, I search through the pile and pull out a shiny, lavender push-up one and adjust the straps.  Seeing how good it makes my boobs look in the reflection I ask her if she digs it. I try to get her attention by tossing a black negligee her way. Her face is looking sallow. I can’t figure out what to make of all this. I’m feeling scared in a way that never happens when we hang out and I don’t know how to deal with my fear. It’s a friends responsibility to make sure that another friend doesn’t do shit that stupid, I think, and it’s not easy to convince her to stop trying to perfect this process. I feel my chest and throat tighten and it’s so uncomfortable I want to shake her and yell. I can’t hide my fear so it shifts into anger. “You’re not going to puke again are you? Cause that really makes you look gross.” I tell her still trying to feign detachment. Rising quickly she plucks a ruby red slip dress from her pile. The color matches her new shoes perfectly.  Still topless she pulls it on and starts to take off her cords, “No…no…I’m not going to puke. I am already way past that stage. It only happens the first six or seven times and that’s it.”
  “Okay,” so now I know she’s done it more times behind my back. That’s not good. I see how her skinny frame is flattered by the cut of the slip dress and understand why waifs got popular in fashion. 
  “That one kicks ass my friend, definitely a keeper.” I compliment her choice feeling slightly sick. 
  Agreed. It only makes sense to steal the co-ordinating g-string too.” Hilary picks up the g-string ripping off the tags. I watch her watch herself in the mirror push them into her purse. As we continue to try on g-strings over our Bubby underwear she checks her eyes in the mirror every minute or so to see if her pupils were pinned as much as I check to see if the fit is flattering. 
“Are you okay” I ask.
“It’s just like I’m normally. I don’t show any physical signs of change, other than my pupils and I’mmuch more relaxed, totally different than booze.” She pulls out her compact to get a closer look at her face. 
 “And the whole point of doing it is?” I wait for her to answer me with her eyes half-open. 
 “It’s letting me stay relaxed so I’m not obsessing on my hair falling out or thinning and I really don’t focus on it or my weight so much. I’m not going to get hooked, fuck, I don’t plan on giving drinking up for this.” Her tone shifts to her regular voice instead of a quieter-slur, “Annie…don’t worry. Let’s  share these outfits. Okay? Cool?”
 “Yeah, cool. I just wanna pay for the bra and g-string and other stuff first.” I tell her pulling out my wallet. 
We walk out of the department and I’m now curious how it feels to be high on heroin. Because of my unbridled and inflated fear of needles I now I’m a huge chicken and won’t ever try it. I can’t even talk myself into getting my belly button pierced or a tattoo for the same reasons. I can watch Hilary’s behavior alongside remember addicts I’ve read about in biographies and seen in films, but never actually ever truly know.


   “So what are you feeling now?” I ask.
“Literally like I am floating inside a tank. Just wait till they all get a load of me,” she responds in a voice that seems distant, even with her walking beside me. 
 “Do you want to keep thieving costumes, or do you think it’s time to go out to Yonge Street to buy music?” 
“Let’s do music now!” she answers knocking into my shopping bags. 
“HMV or Sams?” I ask her distracted by the sweet aroma from the Kernels stand.
“HIV” she says the nickname for the best selection of alternative CD’s anywhere in Toronto. We push against the big glass doors. I watch her lean into the door and then the door half-way opens and she strangelystruggles like she can’t do it. I watch some lady behind her look frustrated trying to exit. 
“Annie!” I hear my voice being called out by my girlfriend Elaine. Some people question whether or not you can ‘sound’ Jewish. Elaine’s word inflections make most of her sentences sound as if she’s asking a question even if she’s not, and if you ask me – that’s pretty Jewish. Turning around I watch Elaine catch up to us with her school bag across her chest and her camera around her neck.  
  “Hill…wait..it’s Elaine,” by the expression on Hilary’s face I can tell she’s not thrilled to be running into her. They both attend the same alternative school, and she too schleps from Finch downtown like us. Being a year younger than her, Hilary figures she takes it upon herself to act rude as if she possesses some superior maturity. Ironically enough my other friend Carrie acts this way to Hilary, so the cycle continues. She greets us with a huge grin on her face. 
“Hey!” I hug her and Hilary nods. “Are you taking photos for school?” I ask her noting the old-school Pentax
“No, I’m just helping out a friend with shots for her band and stuff. In no way was she as wild and fun as you and Hilary were when I got to do a shoot with you guys.”
“Yeah, that was a pisser.” Hilary says. Elaine reaches out to touch her purse.
“I love your tapestry bag so much, I’ve been meaning to say how much I like it when I see you outside at school in the afternoon having a butt. This year is hard eh?” If only Elaine knew what was inside it. Trying to connect with her but slowly failing I watch how Hilary sheepishly smiles as they talk,
 “School…whatever…I wouldn’t know cause I’m skipping today.” Hilary searches for her gum.
 “I really like our History teachers, wasn’t one of them in a band or something?” Elaine asks her. Hilary shakes her head. 
“I think you’re right Elaine he was in a band and you know what I was remembering when I went there? I remembered how I was so happy to be in the smaller classes. You’ll definitely get opportunities to do more artistic projects there than at a regular high-school.” My intentions are to try to somehow encourage her to keep pursuing her art. Looking down at my shopping bags she asks,
“What’s with all the stuff? You’re early holiday shopping?”
 As soon as she said that Hilary’s foot flies into the back of my ankle. I can easily pick up on the inconspicuous sign that she wants me to keep my mouth shut about stripping, glad that she didn’t kick harder. Hoping that Elaine doesn’t think that I’m being rude on purpose I blurt out,
“Well…I saw something I really wanted at World of Shoes, and it kind of started from there. You know how that goes right?” I lie. 
 She nods then her eyes go big, “Oh My God, you fully reminded me – I have your ring. The one that you left behind months back at the studio when we did the shoot. They found it under the make-up table.” Elaine reaches into her back-pack and hands me the purple rhinestone ring shaped like a daisy. It feels good to slip it on my middle finger. 
“Thanks hon!” feeling stupid about not telling her what we were up to, I decide that I’ll just call her when I get home. 
“Do you guys want to grab a tea with me?” she invites us and Hilary grabs the bottom of my jacket pulling me in her direction. 
“Sorry Elaine, we can’t we’re going to HMV. Call me later!” I say feeling so dumb walking away.
“While you’re there you should check out a CD from a band called Helium. You’ll love it!” she calls out. Once away in a reasonable distance I turn to Hilary and tell her how un-necessary her rudeness really was. Foraging through her tapestry purse she pulls out a broken cigarette throwing it on the ground. 
“Okay, first off we kinda need to talk more about who we’re going to say something to about what we’re doing and who we’re not saying shit to.” Hilary says adamantly. I have already made up my mind that I want Elaine to know. 
  “Yeah, okay.”
“Unless we have a good sense that they’re not going to make a super big deal out of it, and they’re probably cool to begin with. SO with her…I go to school with Elaine and that’s not cool.” Hilary pulls out a black lighter with a wad of gum stuck to it. I ask her what bugs her so much about Elaine. 
“I’m not bugged, as much as fucking annoyed by how hard she tries to be and dress different with her vintage pants and layers of purple or blue mascara and eyeliner. Just watch out with who you say anything to, like the people you work with at the Have-a-Java or whatever.” As she speaks I focus on the two sharp pencil tip points of her pupils. Because her eyes are so clear and green they really stand out. It doesn’t take a doctor to understand that she not only changed physically, but psychologically after shooting up. 
 “Okay, I agree to use discretion, and not reveal your stripping, even if I’ve revealed mine.” Crossing my fingers on the hand holding the shopping bags, I try to breathe and feel better about my negotiation. She seems pleased with my promise.  Now we’re going to get our stage music and I’m so excited  as music was the best part of trying this out. The freedom of being able to choose which songs to dance too was a big deal.

 “I want to dance to that P.J. Harvey song they played in the movie The Basketball Diaries,” I tell her. 
Right…Down By the Water.” She says flipping through the P’s. “here” she effortlessly pulls it out. Holding it’s skinny CD case in my hand I hear the ghostly lyrics being whispered in my ear: Little fish big fish swimming in the water come back here man gimmie my daughter.

“It would make the perfect third song, doncha think?” I ask her. 
“Yeah, I think I want it as my third song.” She says possessively. Of course she’d stake her claim on the one cool track that I really wanted solely as my third song. I try to convince her to pick something else. Maybe another track that we heard during our investigation?
“I thought you wanted to use Radiohead as your third song. Or you could pick a Hole song…” I think about how essential this choice is as both of us know how scary the idea of taking off all our clothes is so wanting the comfort of known music for this step in our stage shows makes sense. Looking down at other CD’s she exclaims,
“Oh you know what I really wanted was something from Tori Amos or Fiona Apple for my third song.”She says. I let out a sigh of relief and look around at all the CD’s I would love to buy, hoping that I’ll make enough money soon so that I can just walk in and do just that. After I pay for our CD’s I ask her if she’s interested in coming to my work dinner with me knowing that my bosses wouldn’t mind at all. In fact they said we could bring a date. I also ask because maybe she wouldn’t feel the need to get high again. 
“No, I think I’m headed back toward Finch and getting my homework and other shit done.” Her initial high seemed to be slipping away and the old Hilary returning. 
 “Cool, okay I’ll keep the bags and call you tomorrow.” I was getting swallowed up by the groups of commuters coming out of offices. 
“Yeah, I’ll probably call you tonight,” she called out to me. I wasn’t sad about the way our shopping excursion went, but I wasn’t happy with how things went either. There was something about her shooting up that divided us. If we had shared a mickey it wouldn’t have been that way at all. Reviewing the day walking down Yonge I passed Le Strip on my right side and it occurs to me that I can actually legally work there now. It wouldn’t be my first choice but now with our new licenses we are able to work in these places that were taboo and unknown before a week ago. Again my thoughts turn to Hilary’s heroin use – would she be shooting up at the strip club we work at? I wondered why everything always rolled along so perfectly and then she has to do something to fuck it up. The resentment towards her begins to build up inside me and I knew that I would have to start depending on myself more now rather than our friendship to provide me with serious inner strength to try stripping. The license was paid for, as was the shoes and costume, so I had to do it now. Looking at my purple rhinestone daisy ring I think that I’ll wear it on stage. I need to feel comfortable, and I’ll let them see my body but never will I take this ring off. The bags feel heavy and so does my head. I want to find somewhere to lie down and rest before the Christmas party but don’t know where to go. It’s the first time I feel this way and I don’t like it at all. I can’t wait to start drinking. 

Hunting and Gathering (Chapter 11)

Hilary wants to know what exactly was the deciding factor which reeled me into agreeing with getting our freelancing license,  I can only say that it’s enough people telling me I’d have to start out waitressing before bartending and I really couldn’t stand working in place doing that. Also, the strip club Charlie T’s is super close to home – only a  45 min bus ride switching buses at Finch station.

We bounce up and down as our eastbound bus pulls out of Eglinton Station.  (I start giving her the goods, in public, but quietly…)

“Check it – Charlie T’s is sooo perfect, it’s totally not like those clubs downtown, and nobody is depressed … but super focused and normal.  The club has these puffy, soft, brown love- seat couches in their VIP –  which is also off to the side and totally private – so like if you did dances you won’t have to do them on the main floor in front of everyone.”  I say all this in sotto voice as more people pour into the back of the bus.

“And it’s close to where we live. That’s funny,” Hilary says happily pulling out another stick of Juicy Fruit from her purse. She has a fetish for Juicy Fruit, where she tends to molest the entire pack mercilessly at any given time and chain-chews until it’s finished.

She chomps away as I tell her more about driver Mark, manager Bruce’s cratered skin and the Tweety Bird chick, She interrupts me, “Wait! What number are we at?” craning my neck I try to see out the windows, it’s just after ten -thirty and the November morning sun is piercing through the sky, I stand up to make my way up to the front telling her, “I’m gonna ask the driver to just let us know when we get to 3266.”

“Wait, we’re at 3242, so it’s got to be soon.” She shields her eyes with her hands sliding herself out of her seat, tin foil wrappers falling off her lap onto the floor earning her several dirty looks from the passengers, especially when she doesn’t pick anything up. I feel protective of her and give them the hairy-eye.

Jumping down of the back steps into the street we stand in front of an impressively new building covered in mirrored glass. Metropolitan Toronto Licensing is written on the sign in official looking letters. We read off the front directory: Taxi drivers Licensing and Burlesque Licensing Third floor.

“Wow! Burlesque is such an old-school word!” I comment in awe, as a montage of hands covered in satin gloves sweeping rose-petal pink feathered fans across my mind allows the history to come through.

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There’s some pride in taking on an art that was once in an era, far, far away from neon g-strings and pole tricks. I feel like I’m responsible to uphold a tradition as excitement and panic move through me. I push the elevator button reflecting on how I’m buying my ticket to becoming one of the many unknown women who have legal rights to work at any strip club in the city.

When it comes time to take out my wallet and pay the fee, I still have trouble in reasoning spending one-hundred and eighty five dollars. It’s less difficult for me to justify spending money on shoes and clothes for my stage-show and lap-dance costume than on a piece of paper. Hilary looks over at me and senses my pain. She does a good job of letting me know about the two hundred – plus! which I’ll be pocketing in my first shift working. Having her next to me repeating these facts several times reminds me of Dustin Hoffman’s character Raymond in the Rain Man scene where he repeats comfortingly to himself, “Gonna make it back, gonna get your money back, doncha worry – you’re gonna make it back.” I take the crisp, new bank-machine money from my wallet.  We stand in line behind a handful of East Indian men including one short back guy wearing an eye patch. I pseudo-whisper, “They are definitely getting Taxi licenses.” Hilary nods.

“For sure, good thing that my dad gave Darlene some twenties,” she says pulling out crumpled bills from her tapestry purse, back pockets and winter coat. Once at the counter we were asked to present a piece of I.D., give our social insurance number and sign a few forms. It’s as simple as opening up a bank account.

“Present these pink papers to the ladies on the second floor, and they’ll take your photo.” The fat man behind the counter directs us. Hilary asks in surprise, “photo?”

“Yes, it’s necessary for any persons wishing to obtain their Burlesque Entertainers license to get a photo I.D. taken, and another one in four years time should you wish to renew your license.” By his expressionless tone, I take it his job isn’t particularly exciting.

“Annie, did you know we’d have to get our photos done for our license?” she asks me rummaging around in her bag.

“I didn’t know, but I don’t think it’s a big deal, unless…you think that it’s weird?” I tell her putting my I.D. back. She takes out her cruddy blue Cover Girl compact to start the inspection and touch-ups.

“No, I’m okay. So now where do we go? Up?” we slowly move to the elevators.

“Let’s face it, we look mah-vel-ous” I try to comfort her in the same way she helped me shell out all that money at once, “and we’re paying a lot for this pic, so think of it kinda like…a head shot.” My reasoning makes her a little more irate.

“Oh no way, it’d be the farthest thing I want to compare to a head shot.” Her mood shifts quickly, “although it is funny if you think about Chorus Line- and – ” cutting her off I break out singing like Ethel Merman, “Who am I aaaa-neee-wayyyyeee….am I my resumaaaayyyy?” to which she joins me in a notch louder, “Or just a license of a person they don’t know?” We sing in the elevator on our way to the third floor.

“What do they waaant from me…” my voice fades as the doors open to a floor exactly the same as the one we came from, only brighter. Fluorescent lighting sets off a counter that stretches across half the room. Taking note of all their cramped cubicles with computers and filing cabinets, I reflect how I wouldn’t want to be stuck behind a desk for all the money in the world, but I’d take my clothes off and sit on strange men’s laps in a nano-second. They try to make their work atmosphere as cozy as possible with photo frames, plants and a child’s first snowman drawing. The early signs of Christmas are also evident by the tiny gifts under the tiny tree on a corner table. How come everything in the office is miniature? I wonder.  Walking up to the counter still zipped in our jackets and scarves we lean up on the grey ledge as if we were at a bar. A pudgy Filipino lady in a rose-patterned sweater smiles sweetly at us.

“You girls are so cute!” she exclaims, getting the attention of the woman beside her.
“Us? Aw shucks, we are only cute until you get us wet – like Gremlins!” Hilary says winking at me – we know they’ve no idea what Gremlins even are.

“I’m ready for my close-up Mistah Deville!”  I sweep my scarf across my neck mock-dramatically. The other lady behind her laughs moving closer to us.

“Okay girls please come through the side doors and Susi will get you to stand on the line. If you want to take opp your jackets you can.” She is also on the plump side with short wiry black hair and a face as round as an Inuit in National Geographic. Both of these ladies remind me of the Filipino live-in nannies all my suburban Jewish families hired. You always see them pushing a stroller in the mall during the day wearing the mothers Roots-reject hand-me-downs.

The process of getting our photos done isn’t as daunting as I’d anticipated, if only for the reason that all these women are such a supportive audience and genuinely interested in our shtick by asking us about our schooling and where we grew up.

“We can’t be that much different from the other girls who want their licenses, are we?” I ask roses-sweater.

“Well yes, both of you are dipprent from the other girls because they hap to do this work to, to- “ her sentence gets finished by the other lady.  “they just hap no other choice.” She says waving her pudgy hand in the air.

“Or…they are not so funny, and maybe didn’t go to school like you girls.” The wiry haired one says passing papers to the other lady.

“I’m not that smart,” I retort, “But I’m smart enough to not do this job forever, this is only in the meantime so that I can make some money to live on my own and eventually go to Theatre School and stuff,  there’s no way I’d dance like they do because it’s a last resort.”  In defense of my intelligence, I feel the need to say this to her.  I didn’t even want think about the reasons for Hilary doing this at this very moment.

“Did you tell your parents?” She asks Hilary while fishing out more papers on her desk.  Hilary’s eyes widen,

“My parents? No way…they’d flip out, flip out of the window onto a trampoline come back and murder me flip out. I’m doing both of them a favor by keeping it a secret.” She follows her to take her photo. When it’s my turn to go I decide that I’m not going to show my teeth.
Hilary leans her head on my shoulder and we sit on faded blue chairs to wait. Another lady shuffles in from the back and passes her two 6 by 4 inch laminated cards.

 “Whoa! Could these be any less inconspicuous? I couldn’t fit this into my wallet even if I owned a wallet to get it   into.”  Hilary holds it at different arm-lengths.

“Who knew we could look this pretty with so little prep-work?”  I comment.  At this moment I decide to bid farewell to the women who were so genuinely kind to us, “okay lovely ladies, seriously thank you for the photo shoot. Next stop for us is going downstairs to the taxi licensing department so we can pick up some future customers…”  I try to sound as if this whole stripping business is pretty much all light-hearted to both of us. Reaching out to see Hilary’s license I look at her smirk, thinking how it all says: I know, pretty funny hey? She still resembles a young Carly Simon.  The first Pilipino lady calls out to us, “You girls stick together okay? And be care-pul!” She’s saying this like we’re going trick or treating.

Back outside in the cold sunshine, we wait for the bus to take us back to the subway. Looking down at the official block letters that spell out my entire name, I feel embarrassed. My last name has always been on my shit list, with its complicated pronunciation prompting so many public school teasing sessions in class and recess that makes me think about my stage name and all the possibilities I can pick from.

Hilary is squinting and deeply inhaling on her Du Maurier. I turn to her and ask what her dancer name will be.  The wind starts to blow hard on our faces.  She pulls her coat together and hunches over her shoulders.

“Right, the name thing. I was thinking about that yesterday. I’m reading this novel right now and the main character is this young, wealthy woman named: Carris.” She looks at me. Not wanting my expression to reveal that name as something I did not find sexy I just fake smile. That name doesn’t suit her. I wanted her name to be total stripper nonsense like Silver or Roxy.

“Yeah, totally good choice, and original too. That doesn’t seem to be like those typical ones we heard like Kashara or Savannah.” I convincingly tell her.

“Totally! Who are you going to be?” She waits. Looking at the road I could see our bus behind a sea of cars. There really was only one name I wanted.

“I’m going to use the name Athena. Cause in my old Improv comedy troupe there was a girl who was a really pretty hippy –chick who was totally free-spirited and effortlessly stunning. Her name was Athena.”  I believe that if I give myself a name after a naturally pretty girl, I’ll always feel that way when I hear it called out I reason.  I also think it’ll sound cool announced by a DJ’s smooth voice:  “Gentlemen put your hands together for Athena, who will do another Nirvana set, that’s Athen-ahhh, and next up we have Carris, who’s name is like Ferris, except it’s not her day off…hey now!”

   “That’s a great name. It suits you.” Hilary said releasing a bunch of random change into the fare-box from her finger-less, magic-mini gloved hand. The driver doesn’t care and that’s wonderful. Hilary and I grab our seats in the back and discuss how we’re going to act in Charlie T’s – From the second we hit the floor we will be in character, especially when we’re on stage and doing private dances.  But no matter what – we’re never, ever telling anyone who we really are.

“It’s the girls who are totally themselves at work, who probably get all majorly fucked up over shit, so our acting skills become our edge. We seriously can’t have anyone knowing anything about us ever.” She says with conviction.

“I agree totally Hill, and I like your point about not talking to any of the other girls unless they talk to us first.” My fingers go to feel some new pimples that sprouted up on my forehead. My mom says to keep my hands off my face, but when I’m thinking that’s the normal place for them to be.

We confidently stride through the subway station to get to the southbound train excited to start shopping for costumes at the Eaton Center.  The entire hall smells deliciously of creamy, sugary, cinnamon rolls tempting me to buy one. I’m stopped by a new awareness of how I’m going to be dancing naked, and should start to be conscious of what kinds of food I’m eating. Just thinking about eating pasta at our staff Christmas party tonight worries me.

“I’m going to that Have-a-Java thingy tonight, free drinks, food, shit like that – I’ll probably not have a lot to eat.” I wait to see her reaction, as in the past she didn’t approve of me monitoring my food, observing any signs I could show for god-forbid an eating disorder.

“And…I just realized that I’m going to have all the bags from our shopping this afternoon, unless I give all the stuff to you to take home.” Hilary didn’t like what I was telling her.

“What? No way…you’re taking home all my costumes and keeping all of it at your house. You know my mother goes through my shit, my purse, my room on a daily basis.” she says this and stops to throw me that look. There’s the look that I get from her which makes me give in and I do.

“Okay, I’ll shlepp all our shopping stuff to the party with me, and you’ll buy the LCBO.” I tell her making sure I have gum in my purse. Running her tongue over her front teeth she begins in a Cockney accent, “Right…interesting option guv-nah. We’ll see about that after lunch.”

On our way out of Dundas station I joke, “Do you think they’ll give us a discount at the “World of Shoes” if we present our licenses?”
“Oh my God they should” she says.
The store is a monolithic eye-sore as the entire front is flanked in enormous blue letters “WORLD OF SHOES.” We enter through a silver turnstile that leads into an entire two floors of cheap, trendy footwear. We discussed this before – there’s only one pair of shoes that we want and that is the pair that Kashara wears.

Between pleather, vinyl and fake-snake-skin boots that were suitable to prance and sashay on any stage or Jarvis, were the ruby-red and royal blue shiny platform mary-janes. We try them on and get a pair in each color knowing we can share each others shoes.

They only cost $24.99 each and after, happily swinging our bags we make our way across to Eatons where we pass perfume and makeup women hopping from customer to customer to get a sale.  Once up the escalator on the third floor we begin to hunt for costumes in their expansive lingerie department.

There’s more than we fathomed and the pieces that we want are easy to wear if we decide to just use them for normal things if stripping doesn’t pan out. It doesn’t appeal to us to get trashy, cheap shit as we want to rock bras and slips the same color as our shoes. We take shiny ruby red and blue satin g-strings, tiny t-shirts, short-shorts, slip dresses with push-up bras and anything lace. Our arms are laden down with the sleeping costumes. Once we enter the largest change-room and plunk ourselves down on the broadloom, peel off our jackets, we let ourselves breathe.

I appreciate the muted, private quality in being surrounded by the small four walls of the cubicle. Sitting on the grey bench that feels as if someone wrapped it in nubbily material completely  unaware it would be in the change room of a lingerie department,  I start to unzip my bells. My legs look nothing like the strippers legs do – black lights or not. They are chapped, dry, hairy, and totally chubby compared to their smooth, shiny, tanned, show-pony gams. Hilary hadn’t taken her clothes off yet.

“Maybe we should start with the bras first.” I suggest.  Appreciating the versatility of Papillons stretchy bra slips, Hilary isn’t excited about my choice and is pre-occupied with something else inside her tapestry bag.

“Dah-link….don’t steal them bras without trying them on first,” I joke trying to get her attention.
“Yeah, really.” She says detached. My eyes land on the baby-blue velvet jewelry box. It seems obscene sitting on the broadloom next to a plastic water bottle and her lighter. I know what she’s planning to do when she pulls out a kitchen soup spoon.  Her eyes quickly meet mine, “I’m just going to take a sec to give myself a fix and then I’ll try on the stuff with you.” She rests her spoon on the slip. Did she say “fix”?  When was this junkie lingo added to her vocabulary? She didn’t even ask me if that’s an okay thing to do here, never mind while I was naked trying on my first stripping costume pieces which was really enough to handle right now.  I see the needle and how she knows all the steps to take.

“Did this fix cost you, or is your very best friend Kendal giving you free samples?”  I wait to hear what she’s got to say as the white packet is pulled open and tanned-sand colored flakes fall like snow into the spoons cradle, not a sound or word comes out from her mouth.

Charley T Are You For Me? (Chapter 10)

My feelings of insecurity are quickly assuaged entering this suburban strip club by strippers with average sized chests wearing jelly bean colored push-up string bikini’s and sarongs, making it a day at the beach under the black light. As much as my eyes wanted to fixate on the girls the stage was hard to ignore. Something about the way it juts out from a mirrored wall in an octagon shape with an enormous brass pole makes it farcical to me. How could anyone not look at this stage? It was the Titanic. It was a fire-station. It was the Washington monument of stripper poles. Where was I? Here was a strip club that seemed out of an 80’s movie set in a town that had one strip club and they were going to cram it full of dark wood, sofas, mirrors, neon and flesh. After all the after-hour clubs and raves I’d attended over the years I’d never seen a place that made me intimidated and excited the way I was in here. We head over on the left side to a huge chocolate brown oak bar with men sitting on bar-stools and a curly brunette bartender in a tight tank top. Taking a moment I try to visualize myself in her place. Could I be like her? Would I eventually get muscular arms and a “don’t fuck with me” expression? How can a single woman herald so much power and presence with one bottle opener? I watch the bar-back, a short pot-bellied man heaving boxes of empties out from behind her. He reminds me of Popeye as he smiles when looking at me.

“Hey Rick! Howzit goin’?” Mark greets the sailor.

  “Hey Mark! It’s goin’ buddy! Who’s yer new girl friend?” he asks in a sanded down voice from years of smoking.

“She’s the new bartender, so you better watch out.” He jokes passing him.
“Hey Mark, why couldn’t I be the bartender here?” I ask him as we sit down at a table in the back.

“You wouldn’t make as much money as you would dancing, and I’m pretty sure you’d need to work your way up by waitressing first.” He tells me and lights up a smoke.
Television sets broadcasting the hockey game are suspended in every corner of the club. There are a few sets to the left of the stage and the far right corner playing porn.

Again I’m perplexed by the playing of porn. Do these men really need both a live naked girl up in front of them on stage and ones on the screen, not to mention the game as a mass hub of entertainment stimulus? I scope the room to the sounds of Prince’s Raspberry Beret. To the right of me there’s a raised area with two large pool tables. A muscular blonde girl in a Budwiser bikini starts sticking her tush out holding a cue really getting into the game while two men in jeans and cowboy boots watch her, sip beer, and seem content. She plunks the cue down beside her and puts her hand on her hip looking very much like a tribal queen.  I scan the crowd tonight and see how there are so many average-Joe type guys in windbreakers, toques, baseball caps, and lumber jackets eating wings and fries. It pretty much looks like a regular bar or restaurant on a Thursday evening aside from the half-naked girls and dim lighting.

  Mark introduces me to a girl who could be any twenty-something selling me trendy co-ordinates at Le Chateau.  She has very short auburn hair and a tiny black t-shirt with a red heart on it. She briefly shakes my dry, un-manicured pedestrian hand which is almost always stained brown from the coffee beans in her soft, feminine cool palm. She lights up a Matinee Menthol which is pulled with finesse out of the pack. My eyes are drawn to the white tips of her acrylic nails accentuated by the dark black velvet of the towel she’s holding. The towel has Tweety Bird on it and when I say I like it she pulls down the back of the neck on her shirt to show me her Tweety Bird tattoo.

I’m impressed by her devotion to this character as much as I’m impressed at how well her demeanor and posture is.  The tattoo is a necessary external adornment to play this part after the investigation downtown and now here proves. I’ve never wanted to go through the pain enough to have something on me permanently. I like to wipe-out and annihilate something quick if it doesn’t work for me after, maybe like this job.

Mark explains to Olivia why he’s brought me in tonight. She lays her towel on the seat and rests one of her black knee-high boots on the chair beside us beginning to explain the mechanics of this club.

“Okay, so the easiest thing is to remember when you work is how you need to walk around going table to table, and always take the time to approach customers yourself. If I just did my stage shows and waited around for them to approach me about private dances then I’d never make money. By being attentive and responsible you go for what you want as long as they’re not some girl’s regular customer or already sitting with another dancer.” She turns her head over her shoulder to blow smoke away from the table nodding as she speaks. There’s something truly enlightening about the responsibility that is given to you to just go for what you want when you want it.

“So are they called table dances cause they’re done at the table?” I ask.

“Very rarely but sometimes you have to, if like say the customer wants to show you off, or the DJ announces that we all have to stand where we are and table dance – they do that here. Mostly we all do them back there in the V.I.P area or those grey seats off to the side there too.” She points to the same small grey bucket-shaped chairs they have at Jillys.

  “But when you’re doing a dance you sit in their laps or-“ she cuts me off quickly, “No, you don’t sit in their laps. That’s where you can get in trouble with licensing. I just pull up the chair across from them and sit on that or stand. That’s mainly why I carry around a towel, cause really I don’t know who’s bum was on that chair before me and that’s how girls get zits on their bums.” Olivia butts out her smoke and shifts her weight in her seat.

“Ewww, that’s nasty!” Mark teases her. A short, pudgy waitress with curly blonde hair sets down two cokes in front of us. I guess they’re free cause there isn’t any booze in them making this a completely sober investigation for me.

“What’s nasty?” she asks us in a strong South African accent.

“Olivia telling us about the bum zits that the girls have.” He says tossing a few loonies on her tray.

With one hand on her waist she says, “never mind the chairs, that stage and pole must be completely covered in germs. Some girls don’t even bother to wipe it down before they start and practically hump it.” Olivia and the server begin to discuss the merits of anti-septic and baby wipes.  Involved in their own conversation Mark’s attention is drawn to the dancer on stage. He chin waves to the brunette girl dancing to Aerosmith.  These are the tiniest, tattered, barely-there shorts I have ever seen and how they don’t disintegrate when laundered puzzle me like a lot of these new things.  She unclasps her orange bikini top and does a full spin around the pole tilting her chin back at him and mouthing the words: can you drive me tonight?” He gives her the thumbs up sign. Smiling, having received the confirmation she turns on a scuffed white heel.  She has legs that are so picture perfect they resemble the kind that are photographed for calendars.  Remembering the girl we watched at Le Strip and how she’s able to just spread her legs open and have any guy in the audience stick their face there I waited to see if this dancer would do something similar. Mark tells me that her stage name is Diamond and she just had a baby girl. The DJ’s voice announces, “Could she be any sweeter? I can’t think of a more precious stone then a diamond, can you? This little cutie is coming back for one last song, so catch her after and get a dance. Next up we have sensual Dayyyyee-nuhhhh.”

It never occurred to me that some of these girls have to work to support a baby. Diamond walks down the side stairs on the stage carrying up a fake fur blanket. She spreads it out on stage as if she was at the beach.  The pattern was Winnie the Pooh with butterflies around his head.  Waiting to see if she was going to open her legs without her orange g-string, I pretend to act interested in Mark and Olivia’s conversation. I keep stealing glances up at the stage to observe how her g-string doesn’t come off until mid-way through the song, and to my relief she’s keeping her legs shut.

A tiny Indian girl with eyebrows painted on so severely they resemble the Count on Sesame Street, slinks over to the table and cheerfully introduces herself as Jasmine. Turning to Mark she asks him about the weed he had on him yesterday. I’ve come to understand that most of the girls who work here smoke and probably smoke weed.

“Nice to meet you Annie. You have to come and work here – there’s seriously no better place around to be at for your first club.” Jasmine leans in and I smell her fruity-scented perfume.

Mark tells me that Jasmine’s boyfriend Jeremy is one of the DJ’s. When she walks away from the table he also adds that Jeremy is a fat Chinese dude with a horrible temper. Olivia laughs and says, “Hope you come back to freelance here hon, I’ve got to jet now and get ready for my set.” She leaves in the direction of the stage entering a doorway beside the open window to the kitchen. I guess that’s their change-room by the way girls come in and out. Most of them are smoking and smiling which is a really good sign to me.

Mark and I head to the office so I can be properly introduced to the manager. The office is sandwiched between the DJ booth and front entrance. The first thing I notice beside the immediate change in lighting is the Sunshine girl centerfolds taped up on the imitation wood-paneled wall, a comical surprise.

The Reading Salon

Bruce the manager has his shoes resting up on his desk, and is a victim of horrible pock-marked skin, which reminds me of my childhood nemesis’’ mother who used to scream at me from her Audi. I didn’t want to stare at his skin, but instead imagine my skin becoming that way someday and feel sick. I stop fixating on it, and focus my attention on his impressive grey suit and lemon yellow tie. He has reddish brown hair and a huge smile. He is the youngest of the managers I’ve met so far. Maybe the suit is his way of gaining more authority, I guess. Bruce begins to pitch the benefits of working at Charlie T’s to me while I notice how his eyes become bigger and shiner taking my focus away from his cratered cheeks. This guy could really sell. Considering I can talk anyone into purchasing that extra slice of chocolate chip banana cake at the Have-a-Java, I figure Bruce could have sold the House of Hair the whole cake, and a year supply of beans. He was testing my ability to stay focused and on my game.

“So Annie once you get your license every thing is legal, I can give you whatever days you want to work on schedule. Mark is a very reliable and responsible guy to drive you to and from the club.” He fiddles with his tie, eyes staying focused on mine without even blinking.

The Sunshine girls look out, happy, sexy and free from financial worry.

“Are all these girls dancers here?” I ask Bruce.

“Yes. Yes they are.” He laughs and doesn’t finish with, “and you also can be a Sunshine Girl one day if you loose 20 pounds!” I guess now would be a good time to let him know I probably wouldn’t be coming back alone but with my best friend Hilary.

“My friend Hilary would be interested in trying this place out too.”

“If she’s as pretty as you, I’m the luckiest guy in the world. You’ve got great teeth, white eh? You don’t smoke I bet.” He fixates his icy blue eyes on my mouth. His comment genuinely flatters me, and I can see how easily any girl could be charmed by him if she wasn’t street smart.

“No, well, I do sometimes.” My gaze shifts to a pile of crumpled papers on his desk covering one of those big calendars covered in names and numbers.  The ashtrays seem to look as if they’re holding down the calendar in case a huge gust of wind blows in, although there’s no windows in here but a crooked ceiling fan with a thick layer of grey fuzz covering the slats.

“What if I didn’t want to start working on schedule right away? What if I just wanted to come and try it…freelancing?” I ask trying to not sound un-sure or worse un-committed to this lucrative position.

The Reading Salon“Well, Okay, there is the freelance option, but think about it this way Annie: if you’re a schedule girl you’ll get paid for dancing on stage, where if you’re just freelancing we collect ten bucks from you for DJ fee and we don’t pay you, but all the money you make from private dances is yours solely, and we don’t take a cut from that like other clubs do. It’s up to you if you decide you’d like to tip-out the bouncer and that other stuff.” He smiles leading up to filling a pause, “Did Mark give you the tour yet?” he asks me reaching out to rest his hand chummily on Mark’s black bomber jacket. It was a gesture that tells me that they both get along. Either that or he’s grateful that Mark brought me in as young ‘fresh meat’.

“That’s cool. I’ve pretty much checked out the whole club, except for the change rooms and VIP lounge and stuff.” Anticipating his invitation to get up and take a gander at the rest, I’m surprised at how he didn’t react, instead opening up drawers searching for his smokes.

Smoking and chatting both of them walk out of the office with me following behind. I observe them interacting with the other strippers before we leave. Somehow I take the signs of how comfortable and happy the girls are when speaking to them, either getting or giving hugs and high-fives as assurance of nothing really creepy going on here. I evaluated the place on my way out; Charlie T’s doesn’t have the same seedy or deviant character behaviors I noticed in the clubs downtown.  So what if the manager reminds me of a used-car salesman? I wasn’t going to be working alongside him as much as the variety of ordinary Joe-Shmoe’s that frequented the place every weeknight.

Mark and I talked some more on the drive back to my house. I told him honestly about my doubting this business.

“Why? Look, if you know that you’re a good dancer – I did get to see you shake your thang at Sneak’s…then you’re more than half-way there.” He flatters me and I feel good.
“Thanks”
 “…and according to Carrie and my sister you have a long history of clubbing in Toronto, so there shouldn’t be any problem with you making shit loads of cash.” For the first time that night I catch him sneaking a peek at my chest. Pretending that wasn’t where his eyes land I tell myself it would be the norm if I start working as a stripper. Too busy with imagining all the things the money could buy me, I didn’t ask about whether the guys could touch during the private dances, and is that the worst thing a girl has to deal with other than being turned into a sexual object.  As it stood now, I haven’t really appreciated or found the worthiness of my femininity  other than getting complimented on my small waist size.  Can I really capitalize and profit off my boobs and tiny waist?

“Let me call you later this week and let you know what’s up. Thanks again Mark.” As I step out of his Honda I wonder what life would be like getting out of this car over and over again on many other week nights like this one. The only way I could work there is with Hilary, I thought.  I’ll call her in the morning.

Synchronicity City (Chapter 9)

When Hilary and I have a disagreement, I usually cave in and let her win. She appoints herself with a mental gavel and adjudicates the discussion. According to her, my defense has too many holes in it. My weakly formed arguments get wiped away like spider webs in the basement.  Having a disagreement can take us into hours of back and forth bickering, making me feel tired and beaten up when we finish with no grace on my side whatsoever.  I think that telling her it’s stupid to pay one hundred and eighty five dollars for something which I may never use, is a valid enough reason to wait on registering for my license to dance.

Shutting my bedroom door, even though I know nobody can hear me on the third floor, I continue to listening to her side on the phone. My cord is unnecessarily long reminding me that I also haven’t invested yet in a cordless as it coils around my dresser and bed, mapping out where I’ve been.  A cramp forms my neck as my shoulder while holding the receiver under my ear. Sometimes I let the phone dangle over the balcony, hoisting it up every so often hearing her  voice carry on speaking, she unaware that nothing but air is listening.

“We can take the bus there from Eglinton Station, it’s totally easy… let’s go tomorrow! Or Thursday, are you working tomorrow? If you are we can do it Friday…” her words are launched from a position of strategy. For me to see her bigger plan also means committing to stripping which may not be the best idea right now.

I attempt to convince her without raising my voice, “but Hilary, I just paid over two hundred dollars to get my friggin’ bartending license. And I want to be sure that this is something that I would do. I don’t know if I should or I shouldn’t.” the cord unravels from my waist.

“But you already said you would,” she states with finality. The concept of changing my mind isn’t acceptable to her. One of Hilary’s favorite past-times is accusing me of what she’s convinced to be a completely blasphemous contradiction. Conversations with her where I change my mind always end up with her responding: If there’s one thing I just can’t stand it’s liars. I try to calm her down,
“I said I don’t know if I would strip. I just don’t know.” I semi-plead, “Come on man, let me have some time to think on it.”
“How much more time?” she asks pissed off.
“I don’t know, I few hours, days…whatever,” I say.
“You’re being this way because…why?” Hilary curtly questions.
“Because Y-O-U, and now I have to go, bye!” I’m proud of my clever retort. She doesn’t say anything for a few seconds, and then in her best imitation of an emotionless goodbye, she hangs up. I hang up and relief hits me with my first sigh. This is a good time to play some music, I think.
I wasn’t in the mood for the Velvet Underground, so instead I put on Sonic Youth. Kim Gordon’s permanently dissatisfied voice soothes my nerves. If the song was a person, they’d be hugging me.

Just then the phone pulls me out of the song with its shrill jangling ring. Figuring it’s Hilary I swing at the receiver, “Hello?” I bark.

“Annie, it’s me again, just listen…” Moving with the phone back out onto my balcony I hang it over the railing.  The cord evenly wraps around the rod iron bars. With the momentum of the de-coiling the receiver thuds against them and I fixate on watching it. The predictability of her persistence is exhausting. For a second I wonder if she cares if I even respond to the point she’s going on and on about, or it’s just enough she has me on the other end for her case. Holding the receiver five inches in front of me I speak into the mouthpiece, “Look Hilary! My skin is beginning to break out, so I don’t really need any more stress. Please, Hilary, do not keep pushing me on this one!” I sacrifice my chance to hang up on her dramatically, to hear her response.

“Hey, hey okay, just calm down.  Just think about having all the money you need so there’s no problems. Just money. That’s noooooo stress ever. Money in your pocket and all your stress go bye-bye. Byeeee-byeeee!” she is saying the last bye-b ye in her Sweedish accent. Hearing  her launch into a character pulls me out of my frustration, and quickly reminds me that I don’t need to take everything so seriously. It’s not really her I’m irritated at, it’s my weakness. Even me being upset at her for being so pushy in this moment moves us both into laugher.

“Okay…okay  – I’ll totally think about it more. I know I said I’d do it. But seriously, now I totally have to go,” I say in a nicer tone.

“That’s much better. Cool. Bye-byeeeee for youuuuu!!!”  she finishes and hangs up.

A Rolling Stone magazine cover picture of Courtney Love taped to my wall distracts me. Courtney’s slightly slanted ice-blue eyes stare at me with a mocking power accusing me of being weak.

I’m not weak, I think, just hesitant. Part of me knows it would make sense for me to strip, move out on my own and start my own band. How will I know if it is the right decision for me? The phone rings again taking me out of my head. I don’t say hello, instead sigh a whiney hello in the receiver, “Okay, Hill, what now?”

“Hey, It’s me Carrie,” Carrie is my bohemian Jewish girlfriend who lives in an old split level house on College street in the city.  She is also a graduate of the alternative high school Hilary and I go to, which I would never have known about unless she went there. Being a huge fan of Alternative rock, she always invites me out to clubs or concerts. The only thing I didn’t have in common with her is a past history of following the Grateful Dead. Her sense of humor is rich and smart, making her someone who accepts ideas out of the norm. I stretch myself out like a starfish on the carpet,

“Sorry, Carrie, oh man,  I’m going through some stuff right now, most of it with Hilary.”
“Oh no, is she not eating again?” she asks sarcastically. Carrie sees Hilary in a whole different light, never taking her shtick as seriously as I do.
“No, not that…it’s about us talking about different ways to make money, and that in turn leads us to certain places…” My voice gets cut off and swallowed up into the call-waiting void. It beeps on her end, creating a vacuum for my words on my side. It happens more often on her end as she shares the phone with her roommates. It frustrates me every time.
“Call waiting, right?”
“Oh sorry…that’s a call for my roommate. Listen – just come down to meet up with me and the gang at Sneaky Dee’s tonight. We’ll talk then, so come for around 10:00 okay?” she hurriedly finishes.

toronto_condo_sneaky-dees-sign-661x298

“Cool, oh-okay bye!” I hang up excited with the plan to hang out with her.  Getting up, I start to put together an ensemble that won’t look too slummy, but doesn’t show I care too much either. Reflecting on my wardrobe, I decide it can really use some new pieces. The possibility of having enough money to go on shopping sprees in Kensington any time I want makes me giddy. I pull out my blue velvet faux-fur lined vintage winter coat as the thin leather jacket won’t cut it as the fall weather turns colder.

For the past year Carrie’s Wednesday nights are spent at Sneaky Dee’s upstairs.  One of her roommates, Johnny, joins us, as well as the next door neighbors, Michelle and Lonni. The trip involves them going down the street a block and crossing over. I reflect on how sooner than later I too will live in the city. The pudgy balding doorman waves me by with the group assuming I’m of age as well. In the space upstairs we hear everything from Electric Avenue to Ruby Soho.

The best part of the crowded dance floor is how the majority of the crowd is older than me. Taking in the local downtown kids in vintage dress shirts and bellbottoms I give myself credit for choosing a Beck-inspired polyester shirt with cartoon print.

After my second Killer Kool-Aid, I tell Michelle and Loni about the investigation Hilary and I have started. Michelle suddenly becomes excited, “Oh My God! You really need to meet my brother Mark!” she exclaims running the tip of her pierced tongue over the rolling paper for a massive joint. We’ve been in the ladies room for less than two minutes and she’s already finished rolling it.
“Why?” I ask hoping that they’re not about to light it right in here cause there’s too many factors for getting caught. She smiles, tucking the joint away in the front pocket of her cowboy shirt.
“He’s a driver, and he used to be a stripper!”
“He’s a driver?” I can’t see the connection. What was a driver?
“Who used to be a male-stripper. The women are vicious I hear, even worse than the men are.” She raises her thick, dark eyebrows. Lonni is all about me going for it.
“Let me know where you end up dancing and I’ll visit.” She says high-fiving me. The duo are funny together, and I appreciate hanging out with them more as the night carries on, getting a much needed break from Hilary.

Mark shows up at the bar half an hour later. His reason for coming in tonight is to buy some weed off his sister. They both start joking around about something funny that happened when they got baked last Wednesday. Before I saw Mark I thought his nose size probably reflected his penis size. My imagination starts in and I try to picture how he looks naked with many lacquered talons peeling off his Speedo.
“So Annie, does that sound like a plan?” Mark asks me, and as I nod I see him break out into a huge grin.
“Yes, a plan. What?”
“I just asked if you wanted me to take you into the strip club that I drive girls home from,” Mark fiddled around looking for a lighter.
“How I missed that, I don’t really know. I’m sorry…” I trail off. The two drinks I downed fast were making me look stupid. I felt perspiration under my shirt.
“The club is at Finch and Dufferin.” He said over the Soundgarden song Black Hole Sun.
  “Perfect! I live 10 minutes from there. I better give you my number.” I move towards the bar to get a pen and see them nodding at each other.  When I get back to the table Carrie comments, “How’s that for synchronicity? That club isn’t in the city – it’s practically in your backyard.” She stacks her cup into mine.
“Yeah, that’s something I never knew about and he’s pretty cool too.” I smile looking over at him.

The next evening Mark came to my house exactly when he said he would. On my way out the door my mother asks if I’m going to Hilary’s. She rarely gives me a hard time, so I figure I should tell her I’m going to check out a strip club in the area. Then again because I didn’t want to have that discussion yet I decide I have to be leery and wait to tell her.

“I’m going to grab a coffee with Michelle’s brother Mark.” I slyly tell her getting my arm caught between the lining of my vintage jacket and sleeve.

“Ohhhh, is it a date then?” she asks while drying off the pans. That’s when I feel bad for my mom. If only she knew I could care less about dating some guy, and that I’m much more concerned with finding a good strip club where I can make bundles of cash off men.  Maybe non-entrepreneurial eighteen year old girls get excited with the promise of some ‘sparks flying’ between them and a guy. The only connection I want with them is that they are going to pay me; that’s what I deserve.
I call out, “No, I’m just getting to know Mark and what he’s all about. I won’t be home too late.” I leave without hugging her. On my way opening the car door, I rationalize what I just told my mother. It is kinda like a getting-to-know-you deal. I didn’t say anything that far from the actual truth.  More importantly, I’m taking the initiative to get to know what the biz is on his end, as he may become my future driver.

Mark didn’t creep me out like most guys in their late twenties do, instead I feel safe around him. Maybe because he takes such a mature approach about giving me details about the club, without asking me invasive questions about my life. More than twice he says to me, “All girls should strip. If I was a girl, and pretty with an outgoing personality I’d do it for sure! You guys have it so easy. Guys really are so dumb.” Nodding his head slowly he seems fairly convinced of these facts. It didn’t even hit me that I was doing part of the investigating without Hilary until we were halfway there.  I begin telling him, “actually Mark, it wasn’t originally my idea to try stripping. My best friend Hilary and I investigated all the other clubs downtown, and I’m comparing the club you’re taking me to those. She should really be here, but I didn’t get a hold of her all day. She’s hanging out a lot with another friend who lives in the city.” I stop myself about going into too many details about Hilary incase I would be introducing her to Mark in the near future. I also didn’t know if her and Kendal were getting high on smack all day for sure either. I didn’t want to think about that happening at all.

“Hey, those clubs in the city can be pretty crazy. Trust me, this place is far from that. It’s so low key for a strip club. You’ll see how laid back the vibe is.” He tells me as we pull into a gas station.
“How far are we?”

“It’s ten seconds to our left” He points towards the Golden Griddle, the very same Golden Griddle where my family had eaten breakfast buffet just a month earlier. The area is mostly occupied by huge, rectangular cement buildings. It’s what you’d call an industrial area, with a lot of Auto Repair places.  Recognizing the area solely on places my Bubby and Zadie had taken us to eat at, I’m baffled at how I could have missed noticing between visits to Mandarin and Swiss Chalet.

Pulling in I see the sign with the big eye-catching purple T with a Charlie’s Angel’s type silhouette resting her heel up on the side of the T.  The black capital letters underneath the sign read: COME ON IN TO SEE JELLO AND MUD WRESTLING!

“Is that true?” I ask Mark in partial disgust mixed with amusement.
“Yeah, on Sunday’s the girls wear bathing suits and wrestle in chocolate pudding, but don’t worry you won’t have to do it unless you really want to. Shit…someone took my parking spot. Okay buddy, I’ll go here instead.” We pull into a spot beside one of many pick-up trucks. The actual thought of some girl pulling on my hair in a ring gets me more panicked then being naked in front of strangers.
Appreciating being driven to a club, rather than schlepping by TTC with Hilary allows me to adjust to having him by my side rather than her. He goes ahead and pulls open one massive faded royal blue wooden door for me. It leads into a dimly lit alcove with two payphones against the right wall with a framed picture of a big breasted woman beside them.  The poster reads: Feature Dancer of the Month: Heidi Mellons. By the size of her boobs I guess that she must really rake in the dough being that abnormally large. If all the girls have huge implants here, I’m totally going to lose out I figure. I take a deep breath and we go inside.

More Research Is Needed: Jilly’s And Filmores (Chapter 8, Part 2)

Instead of having to scam mister streetcar driver with old transfers Hilary and I do our slithery step shimmy up through the back doors as they stay open when the passengers get off. We slide into the back seat putting our feet up. Just as we pass the Eaton Centre I look down to see if I recognize anyone from the Have-A-Java. 
 “Are we there yet?” Hilary asks as we head over the bridge after the Humane Society. I anticipate seeing the tacky, airbrushed drawings of Poison video vixen-type women with puffy eighties hair inside neon pink frames outside Jillys. It’s kinda funny to think I would finally get a chance to go inside Jillys for the purpose of job possibilities.

We move into the dark, airless, smoky room with a neon Labatt Blue sign hanging over a pool table. The entire bar is small, but split up into two levels of seating where we choose table near the stage. It’s hard to accept the Jillys tiny rectangular stage as the proper place for a stripper to dance on after witnessing the airport runway sized platform at For Your Eyes Only. A tiny woman in a zebra print skirt clips up the stairs past the DJ booth to fix her bangs in the reflection of the back mirror and struts over to twirl on a pole on the far right edge. Maybe this was Canadiana kitchy, I muse. If Bob and Doug Mackenzie came to Toronto this is where they’d be for sure. 
 “The queerest of the queer….the strangest of the strange…” her choice of dancing to a Garbage song makes it more fun to be here. 
 It only takes a few minutes for an older, brunette waitress wearing a low cut lace tank top to approach us. 
 “Justa bout to clear up your table, so how are youse ladies doing this evening?” she dumps the cigarette butts from the table into a soup can on her tray. Hoping that she’s not going to bug us for our I.D.’s. I launch into my sales pitch for us being in here. 
 “We are feeling mighty fine thanks for asking, uh…we’re also kind of interested in maybe working here. I’ve heard fantastic things about this bar, and it’s our first time, so we should have a drink and check it out.” Did I say that with a slight twang? By the smile Hilary shot the waitress, it led me to believe I just did.
 “Sounds like a plan, so what can I getchya’s?” she looks at me and I order Tequila Sunrises for us. 
 “Ever since that course you think you’re some big-hot-shot-jazz-era person at every bar doncha?” Hilary starts with me.
 “Well, if we worked in a hole like this for sure we’d have to slam back something harder then usual.”
My eyes scan the room and take in the shabby décor of Jillys, from the potted plants to the mirrored wall – it’s too bizarre to be true. 
 “For my stage shows, I’m totally going to dance to this song,” Hilary announces as another Garbage track, “Stupid Girl” starts to play.

Nodding my head I see some guy dressed in the same way Eugene Levy’s SCTV character “Bobby Bitman” dresses.
 “Hill – check this guy out,” I motion my chin over to him. With his dark afro-like hairdo, yellow tinted glasses, polyester suit with pointy collar and gold necklaces resting on his hairy chest, he’s our first strip club cliché! I watch our waitress approach him from the side and point our table out to him. 
 “Annie, just wait and see, I betcha he’s the manager. Be cool.” Hilary directs me adjusting her sparkly scarf and tightening her ponytail.
 “Good evening girls. I can just tell from the vibes over here that you’re not here to just check out the show, but more interested in working here, am I right or am I right?” speaking just like a salesman on a mission, he moves his thick gold ring covered fingers around in a circle to encompass the area of the bar. Sizing him up I feel how he seems too ridiculous to be sleazy. I’m impressed by his warmth which ironically enough is just as genuine as the gold he’s sporting. He leans in closer to Hilary’s side of the table reaching out his hand for her to shake. She shoots me an expression which I read to be: how cool is this freak?

“My name is Steevie, and I’m the manager here at Jillys. Very pleased to make your acquaintance.” Noticing Hilary’s cigarette he produces a Zippo lighter with the playboy bunny symbol and does a flicking movement. His Zippo is low on fluid, forcing him to shake and retry a few times before a full flame appears. I like how his jewelry tinkles like chimes over the music every time he shakes his lighter – could I see him as my boss?
 “So whaddya Astrological signs?” he asks us. 
 “I’m a Cancer,” Hilary answers smiling, sitting straighter and smoking happily. 
 “I’m a Capricorn.” I reply, hoping that he’d tell us something about the club, rather than get personal.
 “Wow! Well, look at that. Now you know that’s a deadly combination, fire and earth, probably starting trouble together…or it could be balance each other out in someway. Either way, you both look like good girls. Where do you work now?” He is getting personal so I try my best answer, “She’s finishing up school and I’m pouring coffee.” 
 Hilary quickly intercepts, “So Steevie, how much are the private dances here?” 
 He shows us the areas which he refers to as their V.I.P’s off to the side. There are two small sections behind the large potted plants with shabby, grey upholstered chairs and tiny tables. My focus immediately goes to the chubby black girl doing a lap dance for a man wearing what resembles a TTC driver’s uniform. I watch her trying to move around his stomach in a g-string. Feeling unsettled again, I don’t want to stare too long, instead focusing on one of Steevie’s gold rings in the shape of a lions head. 
 “All kinds of girls work here, very happily, and we have a lot of regulars and are always attracting more customers,” he reminds me of a waitress pushing dessert at a Swiss Chalet. It’s the way he’s trying to get us swayed by how popular the club is and not focusing on how shitty their V.I.P area really looks. 
 He clears his throat to finish explaining, “So each song is ten bucks, but when it’s really busy you can do very well here. It helps to be on schedule too, and you being pretty, and smart girls may want to consider working the day shift.” 
 Day shift? We never considered stripping as something we’d try during the day, nevermind how bizarre it seems to actually go to one of these places in the day. 
“Okay, so like, is there any touching allowed?” Hilary asks cocking her head.
Steevie steps back, “What, what…you girls undercover cops or something? Nah…you know lap dancing is prohibited here, our girls don’t have any contact,” smiling he shakes my hand, “So you come back when you get your license Capricorn, I’ll take good care of you,” leaning over to Hilary he shakes her hand and winks at her too. 
 I watch him go behind the bar and pat the back of the bartender and mumble something to him nod and walk away. He probably has to meet so many people and deal with tons of crap from customers and strippers I haven’t a clue how he keeps up such a genuinely happy demeanor.

Nearly knocking the tin ashtray onto the ground Hilary gets up, “Well I godda take a piss, and then we’re getting the hell out of Jillys.” A stripper with pink and purple extensions holding one of those little metal box purses teeters to the left of her. She looks drunk, but it’s hard to distinguish between drunk or high in this lighting. 
 Once back outside we deeply inhale and cross Broadview to wait for the westbound Queen Streetcar, I ask Hilary if she was looking at how the girl was dancing in their awful VIP and if maybe all the strippers have to be either drunk or high to work there, or any of the places for that matter. 
 “Oh my God for sure, the guys have to buy them drinks, that’s the policy I think. They can’t not get drunk, and I bet you there was more than one girl who’s on smack – for sure.” 
 “Are you sure? Maybe they just smoked up.” I say in disbelief. 
 “Maybe,” she says shrugging her shoulders.
 Could I see myself in a skin tight mini-dress with a glowing marijuana leaf pattern sitting at a table at Jillys? I asked myself this question while I was waiting for Hilary to finish in the bathroom. It was while we’re waiting for the streetcar that I make up my mind that I probably can’t do this, but another part of me knows that’s a lie. I can do this, and for the right amount of money I could do this. 
 Hilary keeps complaining about where the streetcar is and suggests we hop in a cab to save time.
 “Where to geerls?” there was Punjabi music blaring out of his radio and the smell of a heavy incense throughout the cab making me guess we couldn’t light up.
 “Dundas and Jarvis please, “ Hilary tells him the main intersection for Filmores and lights up a smoke.
 “Okay but do not be smoking in here please geerls. I just washed cab.” 
 Hilary begrudgingly puts her smoke away telling me to roll down my window for some, “god-damned air”
 As we jerkily bumped along I remembered a girl I grew up with in Public School who was mean to the core. Talia Zimmerman had lots of money and a mother who’d frequently pull her navy blue Audi up to the side of the schoolyard yelling insults and other random nonsense out the window to any of the girls Talia had pointed out as being a pain in the ass for her to deal with. Her mother was her heavy wearing rock-star sized black sunglasses even on a rainy day. She had skin to match her soul – pock marked and ruined. I can’t recall what I did that day to earn my turn to be chosen by her in front of my peers but I do remember what she yelled my way: “you belong on Jarvis, you know that? Go work on Jarvis!” Afterwards I asked my mother what the hell that meant, and she explained that most prostitutes worked on Jarvis. The irony being now here I am years later considering the possibility of working on Jarvis, in a strip club that has a hotel.

I hand the driver the six dollars and exit the cab. “Annie, before we go in lets make sure we get a chance to talk to the owner, or manager guy again, okay?” Hilary opens her compact checking out her lipstick. I apply another coat of mine and make sure my hair looks good. If there was anything redeeming about this investigation it is a much needed reprieve from my hair-loss obsession. 
 “Let’s hope we get free drinks this time too,” I add as this excursion did not involve our usual hidden mickey.

As we open the door to Filmores the first thing I notice is how the air isn’t filled with smoke or cigar-smell like Jillys. Stepping in to a large pink carpeted room we hear the shouts of a few burly guys and people laughing. Putting ourselves near the centre of the room, I start looking around the place for a bouncer but don’t see one. “Lousy lovers…pick their graves but they never cry out loud.” The lyrics to Hole’s version of “Gold Dust Woman” blares as the stripper on stage is totally serious about doing this song justice. She’s wearing tiny gold short shorts and white platform heels kicking her leg as if it is her God given right to dance at Filmores.

A man in his mid-fifties with a noticeable belly approaches
our table. He’s wearing something my Zadie Archie used to wear, a button up shirt under a nice lemon yellow v-neck sweater. Similarly to my Zadie he has a calm and gentle manner when speaking to the waitress, and I hope that he’s the manager. 
 “What would you do ladies like to drink?” he asks like someone who’s just answered our prayers.
 “Long Island Iced Tea’s please.” I order and give him a toothy smile. He tells the waitress to bring the drinks and add them to his tab. He sits to Hilary’s right and starts telling us about the club’s history and how they’re in the process of cleaning up after the whole lap dance fiasco got out of hand. Hilary doesn’t waste any time,
 “So does the conventional or typical lap dance involve the stripper to move around on some strangers lap without any clothes on?” she asks him without any editing. I’m am impressed with her gutsiness and wait for his response.
 “Okay, so you want to know the truth? It’s not hard to find girls doing that very thing in maybe, Brass Rail or someplace but here at Filmores we have a strict no-contact policy. That is why the dancers use the stools, and we have the licensing commission come in so often that we really can’t afford to take any chances,” he leans back and seems happy to share anything that will help our inquiry of this business. Maybe he too had to go through this more than once a week, but I am really not thrilled about the stools he was referring to. They had them lined up in front of white upholstered chairs which were all empty. They have a VIP area that’s totally out in the open, as opposed to Zanzibar. I wanted to ask him about that, but Hilary was already asking him where we get these “licenses”.
 “If you don’t have your licenses don’t worry – you can both work here on special terms where I know you’re going to buy your license right away with the money that you’re going to make in your first shifts. I can get you girls on schedule right away too, and that way it’s all going to balance itself out nicely.” He speaks slowly and calmly. 
 He didn’t seem to be trying to scam us, I think. As I sip my cocktail I tell him how we’re concerned at how much money they cost and if it’s worth it to invest in it initially without knowing if the business is right for us. Hilary shot me a look which I read as: ‘Do not get him to doubt our commitment and not buy us another round’ 
 “So how much would we make on a regular night here?” she speedily asks.
 “Uh, well anywhere from one forty to at least one sixty.” Pausing he searches the room for someone, but not a specific someone, just a girl that could maybe do a better job of convincing two grunge suburbanite Jews that there was plenty of cash to be made at Filmores.
 “Hey Helena…”a stripper wearing a neon green and orange spandex shorts and halter top outfit turns around and cautiously comes over to our table. Looking up at her Hilary asks her politely about her costume, and where she’d find something like that to work in.

“Costume lady…some stores on Yonge,” Helena answers in an accent which is clearly Eastern European. Judging from her gold necklaces and pointy eyebrows I guess maybe Russia or Hungary. The manager puts his hand on her hip, and she doesn’t flinch. I wondered if I’d let my manager touch my bare waist, and rationalize how it’s all part of her world. If Tom even looks at me funny I get pissed. 
 “These two girls would like to know if they’re working here, how much approximately would they make on an average night – at least one forty right?” 
 “Oh For Shoore. Tonight I make eighty dollars already and eets only eleven thirty?” she glances down at her little gold watch and I prompt her, “you’ll make more right?”
 “Yeah, for shoore. It’s still not that busy yet.” I see her scratching at her tanned, cellulite-free thigh and notice she’s sporting a black leather pouch-band with a zipper velcroed around her right ankle, instead of a purse. She goes back to the floor to continue her business, and I assume that meant somehow trying to get a guy to go with her to their VIP for a no-contact stool show. 
 “So I have to see how things will turn out for you two. Are you girls going to come back to the club tomorrow? I’m in my office as early as four o’clock most days.” He pats his back pocket for what I think is a business card, but pulls out a matchbook that says Filmores with a tiny picture of a topless lady. 
 “Thank you for the drinks, and for answering our questions,” I feel as it comes out I’m authentic about how I really mean it. 
 On our way to Dundas subway I ask her if she thinks he genuinely cares for our well being. 
 “Look, where that guy is coming from he’s scared about being busted again by the cops, and he could have even thought we were undercover reporters or something. Did you even take a look around at how dead it really was in there compared to For Your Eyes and Jillys?” again Hilary’s analysis of a situation presents a much more realistic and absolutely viable explanation for almost everything I had overlooked due to my preoccupation with not being creeped out by their manager. We walked in silence for two blocks until I ask Hilary what’s on her mind.
 “I was just thinking how we could just get our licenses and totally start tomorrow,” reaching into her purse she pulls out her pink knit cap. Fixated by loose tobacco and wrappers falling from it as she shakes it out, I wonder what it must feel like to be one of her many possessions that come from various areas of her bedroom and purse. Pulling it down over her head makes her resemble a movie star from the sixties. 
 By the time we’re halfway home to Finch Hilary is ready to have a cigarette and turn this into a smoking car. We have always smoked on the way back from an excursion to a dance club, but make sure it’s always the last car furthest away from any TTC people. I take the opportunity to discourage her doing it as it’s been a long night and I didn’t feel like running if we get caught. 
 “Come on Hill, please don’t light up, look we only have five more stops to go,” I plead with her tempted to rip the smoke out of her hand. She pauses and looks me directly in my eyes. 
 “Okay fine. I’d never do something to get us caught but I’m going to light this shit the second the doors open.” Putting her feet up she let her cigarette ready hand rest on her leg. 
 “Can you imagine how we’d feel after a shift at Filmores? You’d probably have to cab the ride back home and that’s a long-ass trip Hill, not to mention how much that costs.” I say hoping to break the mood.
 “Yeah, that’s a potential problem. That and competing with Russian strippers that know how to work a stool dance.” She said and I laughed. I liked that there was the possibility that we wouldn’t ever go through the whole process of getting our license and try working at a club. The more I laugh and picture us trying to wear those shoes or outfits, the more I just can’t conceive us carrying out this plan. And… if Hilary’s not lighting up her smoke when the doors at Finch open is any indication of how chicken-shit we are, I can now relax and give searching for a bartending job another try.

More Research Is Needed, For Your Eyes Only (Chapter 8, part 1)

Today I’m distracted at the Have-a-Java with images from last night’s investigation playing in my mind. Smoothing out a fresh layer of wax paper in the basket for the raspberry squares I see a redhead twirling around the pole at Las Vegas. When removing the soggy garbage from the condiment stand I see the muscular stripper swinging from the trapeze. Did that really happen? I know in reality it did, but the booze gave this new territory a dream-like quality.

When I take my break I mull around the food court in a half daze. I catch myself looking over at two men innocently enjoying their spaghetti lunches. Could these guys, who probably work in the office tower next door have ventured out to the Brass Rail last night? Is that why they are laughing, or is it just them sharing a work related joke, I question.  While chatting with the bald man behind the Mr. Greek counter I also find myself curious if he as well would be the type to walk into Le Strip on any given night and lean across to smell her fingers.

“Hey! Where’s your sister today sweet girl?” Because of his accent sweet girl comes out like: sweet geeerl. I tell him that Jenny isn’t working and see his mustached co-worker laugh along with him. I guess it helps to smile and giggle as he rewards me with an extra helping of mousaka. I smell its salty-sweet aroma through the container moving up the escalator past other potential strip-club frequenters. Relieved to be sitting inside the relatively empty Have-A-Java I pour myself an iced tea and dig in.

Back behind the counter I listen to Tom’s list of duties that have to get done before closing. I half-assed begin to wipe down the back shelves, waiting for my shift to end.

“One large skinny non-fat hazelnut latte please.” The business woman orders wearing a navy pinstripe jacket and skirt. I compared her required work outfit to that of the girls working at the Zanzibar, again becoming distracted by my thoughts. I almost have to stop myself from saying to her: “Come on lady, get real with me…aren’t women merely creatures who’re acting in costumes society expects us to wear?” Just like a power suit’s purpose is to convey the illusion she possesses important authority, the stripper’s black Uma Thurman wig is also to deceive her customer into believing she’s exotic.  It could also be compared to Laura’s outrageous need to always put an accessory from her Raver wardrobe on even when working behind the counter as these accessories give her an instant recognition. That and she’s never going to leave home without donning platform sneakers and spiked collar.

Laura and I get into the later part of our shift when I start to share a memory with her competing with her oversized wallet chain clanging against the metal fridge door.

“You know Laura, when I was younger, like eight or nine I would play dress up at my Bubby Frieda’s,” I paused waiting to see if she wanted to hear more.

“Okay, and?”

“And…I actually loved putting toilet paper in her huge double D bra and wearing her old faded dresses from the sixties with a fur coat on top. I’d put a white straw sunhat over my kerchiefed head  and convince myself I looked like a Bible saleswoman.”

“Why a Bible saleswoman?” she leaned over to push the cups in.

“I think the idea came from me hearing the expression:  ‘door to door Bible salesperson’, you know? So I had to take this character out for a test spin and Bubby Frieda encouraged me to sneak out the side door with a big navy encyclopedia in hand and go around to the front door and ring the bell. My heart was beating faster in anticipation that my Zadie Archie would answer it. When he opened the door he didn’t see me, but instead a strange woman wearing a weird outfit asking him if he wanted to buy a Bible. I’m serious, I knew he wouldn’t catch on that it was me for at least two minutes! I would crack up laughing, especially when I’d see my Bubby’s expression behind him.  But I did take some secret pleasure in the fact that I had almost tricked him. You know how we all are when we’re little right?” As I finished telling her the story I realize that I just shared a childhood memory with Laura to build up to how I love dressing up and convincing someone I was really someone else and maybe that was going to help me with this new world.

She put her hand on her collar to adjust it, “he couldn’t have been that fooled and probably recognized all your Bubby Frieda’s clothes and wanted you to feel like you were tricking him basically, you know? Grandparents are really good like that,” Laura surmises and goes over to serve overly happy Disney store employees at the end of the counter.

Truthfully, I really did miss my Zadie. He was a tall man who wore plaid shirts under v-neck sweaters even when sitting around the house. Jovan musk was his signature scent and I’d know he loved to describe his teenage memories before the War.  I loved Listening to the lilt of his Polish accent and his ice blue eyes. My Zadie’s heart attack was devastating to my Bubby and she never forgave herself for not taking better care of him, but I knew it was just his time to go. His spirit usually appears in my dreams once a month and I feel so happy to hug him and have him next to me.

I don’t call my Bubby today, I can’t talk to her cause she’s going to ask me again what I want to do for my 19th birthday, and I really don’t want to get into thinking about next month already.

When my shift is almost over I begin thinking about which club we’ll start looking at tonight and if maybe I should get us another mickey. Tom creeps up and startles me, “L-l-looks like your friend is here.”

Hilary stands at the end of the counter fully make-upped without any indication of hangover.  She adjusts her  sparkly turquoise scarf and leather jacket then mimes smoking , but not like a normal cigarette but a joint.

“Wha-wa-whacky tobaccky eh H-H-Hilary?” Tom chuckles and does some lame fake-pot smoking moves. Observing  them mime-mimic  back and forth is very entertaining, but I need to  rush this along so we can head out.

Once outside of the mall she pulls used transfers from her purse and passes me one of the best to get us on the streetcar.  We get out at Bathurst and walk down to King Street where  Eyes Only is located.

“This place is enormous,” she says, and I agree staring up at the mammoth brick building that’s hard not to miss.  For Your Eyes Only is definitely not Le Strip. The front entrance has a red carpet leading up to the door with a coat check and partition surrounding the main seating area. The white leather chairs and round glass tables make me feel like I’m in a Hollywood bar in 1978. The stage is at least two times the size of Zanzibar’s. I think it’s a perfect place for us to work, and I haven’t even sat down yet.  Thanks to my extra stash of twenties from Bubby Frieda, we order seven dollar Fuzzy Navels from the tall, pencil thin waitress. A brunette woman I guess to be in her early twenties wearing pink velour short-shorts is doing a close dance between a man’s legs. I see him as someone’s divorced dad, for some reason. Maybe it was his tan corduroys and haircut. After the Prince track, “When Dove’s Cry” is thankfully over she still remains moving in on him closer guiding his eyes to where she wants him to focus.

“He must be paying her tons!” I whisper over to Hilary.

“Why else would she do that?” She rhetorically answers while searching her purse for something.

“Annie…I can’t find a light,” she whines.

“Hold on, I’ll get the waitress over,” I search for her beside the bar.

“Wait…I think I’ll ask one of the dancers for one. Bon idée, oui?” Hilary winks at me.

“Aye captain…do you think she’d know?” tilting my head I motion to a tall stripper who looks like a real dancer. I admire her silver halter two-piece that seems spray painted onto her torso stopping just below her tush.  Her dominant stance in her presence lets me know that she’s got respect for herself where she doesn’t have to do this job.  She’s not a runaway or pimped out girl. Immediately I begin to fabricate a story in my head about her: she has professional dance training and does this to pay the bills between boat cruises.

Raising an eyebrow Hilary pushes back her chair and approaches her. As the Madonna song, “Deeper” comes on I observe them talk and smoke. The dancer keeps ashing her slim cigarette in a tray belonging to another girl and guy. When her focus is on Hilary the aforementioned girl is stopping to shoot them a polar bitch glare. Just watching Hilary speak to her so easily makes me feel proud, not like yesterday when she was a bad drunk around the Brass Rail doorman.  My attention is diverted by the stage show.

The short, muscular, dirty blonde stripper looks as though she’s put together real choreographed moves. Maybe she’s also a professional dancer. Could For Your Eyes Only be a club that demands a certain quality of talent in order to work here? This thought enters my head along with not picturing myself siding down their pole on an expansive stage wearing nothing but a negligee and heels, instead for the first time I wonder whether I had what it takes to actually do this. With complete seamless fluidity I watch her take off her bra.  I’m puzzled as to how un-fazed she acts undressing in front of strangers. Does she make the decision to not be limited by the fact that she’s dancing in a strip club putting in all the moves she’s picked up in Jazz class over the years? On the other hand, by the unfazed reaction in most of the club where most of the men are not focused on the stage, but instead on the strippers sitting across from them, or on their laps, she’s not really doing anything really risky. Just like the girl on stage utilizes her dance training background to her financial advantage, Hilary and I can definitely use our acting and improv comedy skills in a strip club. I sip and let thoughts twirl around in my mind, I feel like I’m getting closer to a level of comfort in these places. Consumed by my revelations I almost didn’t notice Hilary sauntering back to her seat. She grabs her glass, pulls out the straw and gulps it up, pausing to spit out an ice cube.

“Okay, drink up, we’re leaving kemosabe.”

“What? Why? What did you end up finding out?” assuming she got a tip on a more lucrative club from her source.  Leaning in she directed my focus to the rooms behind me. Twisting around I see an Indian stripper with an older fat guy in a grey suit both behind glass doors. The little room reminds me of the smoking lounges in the airport. The couple looks cozy with a bucket of champagne chilling between them. Her hand is on his stomach almost like she’s rubbing it like a Buddha for good luck.

“Looks legit enough, right?” she says, and I agree waiting to hear the rest. “Apparently they’re working out a deal so she can go with fatso and fuck him back at his hotel room. No kidding! That girl told me that ninety percent of the strippers here just don’t do private dances, like they’re total call girls.” Hilary stops to see what I’d say.

“Prostitutes? Really?” I ask her putting my jacket on reluctant to go. Part of me wants to see the other girls on stage, but another part of me feels like I’m out of place as every girl in this club is working an entirely other gig.

Weaving through the tables, we leave on the sly. I don’t remember Hilary putting down any change to tip the waitress, and an image of the bouncer grabbing us saying: “hey! Come back here! You didn’t tip the waitress,” flashes in my mind. That wouldn’t happen, but what I could see happening was that all those talented women getting sick of doing the menial, degrading floor dances and wanting some real cash. Shouldn’t there be a decent balance? I didn’t know enough yet to assume anything, but by the expression on Hilary’s face I could tell that she wouldn’t go back there. When we had our discussion on things we’re definitely not doing if we stripped, prostitution didn’t even enter the equation.

“Wow, that place is totally high scale hooker,” she says hurriedly walking towards Bathurst Street.

“Totally!  If going to some hotel with these guys is part of this business, there’s no way I’m going to get involved with that.” I said watching her light a smoke with a match, one hand clutching the matchbook.

“Yeah, and I’m going to need more booze, how bout you?” she asks me trying to protect her match from the wind. I notice the pack came from the club and has the same lettering.

“Hey Hill, don’t leave those matches lying around your room okay? All you need now is Darlene getting on your case about cleaning and coming across a pack that says, For Your Eyes Only.”

Laughing we get on the Queen West streetcar while the back doors are open and head to Jillys.


NEXT WEEK CHAPTER 8 PART 2: Jillys and Filmores

THE INVESTIGATION: 
PART 2: ZANZIBAR, LE STRIP & BRASS RAIL (CHAPTER 7)

Zanzibar is much bigger than Las Vegas, and pretty much looks like what I’d imagine a strip club should with red stage lights, red vinyl booths and black lacquered tables. The colour scheme seems as suitable as chrome and turquoise would be for a 50s diner.  Even the customers matched the standards of the bar, as I’m thinking about how Tom would probably pick this club, a man with grey hair, glasses and mustache turns around and to my relief isn’t my boss.

“Before we sit down, let’s talk to a waitress,” Hilary points to the cocktail waitress dressed in an old-school black leotard with fishnets, white button up shirt tied around her chest with a pink bow tie. All she needs to complete her look is a cane and hat and she’s ready to do Chorus Line. Her brown hair is tied back in a high pony-tail and just to throw off the look, she wears heavy-rimmed glasses.

“Just so you girls know, Zanzibar has a strict no contact policy for private dances – cause of licensing and there’s a designated section in the back called the V.I.P.” she tells us while loading up her tray with bottles of Coors Light and wet glasses. We ask her about costumes. “No, the club won’t give you costumes or shoes, I recommend that you sit down and chat with one of our dancers who are freelancing tonight. I have to go deliver these.” She expertly balances her tray while gliding off, her pony-tail waving to us good-bye.  I didn’t quite understand what she meant by ‘freelancing’.

We sit down on red vinyl chairs in front of the stage to watch a muscular black girl with shiny skin perform tricks on their hanging trapeze. We’re silent watching her swing back and forth to “Killing in The Name” a Rage Against the Machine song that always gets the crowd going at Catch 22.  Her body-builder-contestant-type frame takes the focus off the fact that she doesn’t have huge boobs which demystifies the idea that you need a big rack to strip. Whether it’s the fact that I’m watching a topless girl seductively swing around on stage, or the fact that we’re the only women who aren’t working tonight, I start to feel anxious. Looking to my side I notice how my partner in crime isn’t fazed at all.

“She’s totally Grace Jonesey kick ass,” Hilary mouths at me and bobs her head to the song. Surveying the scene around me I watch girls in bikini tops and g-strings standing around booths and one girl in a rhinestone strapless mini-dress sitting beside a customer. All of these women are our age or maybe a year or two older.

“Gentlemen it is time to put your hands together for Terrifying Tatiana who’s coming out to do one more song. Next up is Crazy Daisy, so stick around as all of our sexy ladies are available for private dances.”  The D.J.’s voice sounds like a radio announcer from Q107 from the (tacky?) delivery and deep kick of testosterone combined. My eyes are drawn to a man in a business suit stand up to follow a negligee adorned stripper with what seems to be a picture perfect Pulp Fiction Uma Thurman black bob, but when I see it from the other angle I realize it’s a wig. Her metal-black lunchbox purse sways back and forth.

“Can you imagine how much money these guys need if they want to come into one of these strip clubs?” I ask Hilary. The waitress returns to us to find out if we got a chance to talk to a ‘freelancer’ yet.

“I think we’re on our way out, but thanks again for your help,” Hilary tells her butting out her smoke. Quickly I ask her about the freelancing comment. She explains how not every girl is a house girl, as some travel from club to club like free agents.  I imagine a tour-bus delivering them.

“Good luck!” she wishes us raising her tray.

Our next destination is Le Strip – where Kashara works. Walking south on Yonge past Dundas we pass the famous Burger King where the cops surrounded us on Halloween. The area is busy with kids and people coming and going, all oblivious to where we just were. I revel in that secret, and begin to launch into a tour-guide character’s voice to entertain us. Attempting to mimic the tone of the Zanzibar’s D.J. announcements I enact my own performance, “Ladies and Gentlemen welcome to the shitty part of Yonge Street where you can waste your money seeing Phantom of the Flopera, or you can take your hard-earned loonies and save them for the lovely ladies awaiting you inside Le Strip. Oh yes, it’s practically an institution, what with it being the oldest strip club in the city.”

“Is it?” Hilary challenges me.

“Oh yes my friend, one can see by the vintage signage and oak wood fire-proof door they want you to appreciate its authentic historical antiquity.” We make our way up the narrow stairs lit up by the same little light tubing they use in movie theatres.
“Annie! Don’t touch the railing!” Hilary warns me, all of a sudden super germ conscious.

“Okay…” I push the door open with my hip when we get to the top. Unlike the other two strip clubs this place has rows of attached seating set up like in a theatre. The stage juts out matching the level of the front seats and has blue lights setting off a background photo-mural of the Toronto skyline at night. Maybe this place truly is a Toronto institution we should have known about, I simultaneously deeply fascinated and saddened by, reflected upon.

Dark oak wood wainscoting runs all the way through the room with three television sets stacked on top of one another playing porn that has a woman swallowing a huge dick. I am trying to look and not look.

“Why do they play porn when there are real naked girls on stage?”

“I don’t know, but should we stand in the back here or sit down in the back row?” Hilary asks and then moves over to the seats slinging her bag over.

As Debbie Harry croons, “Once I had a love and it was a gas, soon turned out had a heart of glass..” some older stripper’s grayish -blue legs were totally spread eagle on stage and some customer in the front row practically falling over into her crotch. She sticks her fingers inside herself and pulls them out to shove them under his nose.

“Oh my God, I’m totally not going to do that,” Hilary says with more than a hint of repulsion.

“Me neither, forget it,” I half whisper as a girl passes me by.
“How can that Katara chick work here?”

“It’s Ka-sha-ra,” I correct her and as I scan the room for her, she appears on stage, not in sandals but a platform pair of ruby red mary-janes. Her Miss Piggy legs stick out of her pink booty shorts that are half-swallowing her tush. She didn’t look that much different in her face than when she came into our store, but after my shock wore off I nudged Hilary.

There she is! That’s Kashara on stage.” Hilary’s eyes widened. For lack of a pole, the girls make use of platform black boxes to lean against or prance around. We had used similar ones in our drama classes for our scenes. The strange thing about those cubes was that with just a hint of physical or verbal suggesting something could convince you it was a boat, car, or a prop on a strip club stage if you mimed a pole. Like those boxes Kashara was morphing into a stripper. After her set she came out and I approached her. Her face was relaxed about me bringing Hilary here to watch her show. I explained to her, “We’re sort of investigating, and we really don’t know anything about the business, or – “ Hilary interrupts, “what exactly is a lap dance?” Kashara tucks her hair back, takes an inhale and smiles with amusement.

“What happens in a private dance here, is we have a token-system where the guy has to pay first at the counter and we turn in these tokens at the end to get our money, but he can tip us if he wants, and we go into a booth thing that’s like a little room with a bench and that’s where the private dances happen.” She fiddles with her hair and then moves her hands to her pack of smokes lighting one up.

“Can the guy touch you?” I hesitantly ask.

“There’s strictly no touching, but that doesn’t mean some wont try. Like last week this old guy stuck his finger in me and I freaked out and got him taken out,” she exhales nodding without an inkling of embarrassment. I figure maybe she just doesn’t know about the other clubs and how they have real stages with poles.

Before we take off, where did you buy your shoes?” I point to her platform mary-janes.

“Oh… you know at the corner? The World of Shoes? They may have these in blue also,” sticking her leg out we admire their metallic shine. Impulsively I give her a hug. She smells like Impulse body spray and gin.

“Please come in the Have-a-Java to say hi to me anytime, and please don’t say anything to Gavin about us coming here. I’m not sure if I’m going to tell anyone I work with that I maybe want to try this out,” the word ‘stripping’ isn’t something I can say aloud to her.  She agrees to keep my secret and waves goodbye trotting off to the back to change. Moving down the stairs as fast as we can we make noises exclaiming, “Ew! Ew! Ew!” for each step we land on. Tumbling back out on Yonge Street we venture north.

“That was soooooo not classy,” Hilary laughs while lighting a smoke. I stick my hand in my backpack to fish around for our mickey.

“Well…I need a stiff drink after that captain,” I say in my Sean Connery accent.

“Yeah… Yesh… me as well.”

Both of us duck into a door-way to have a few swigs before our next club. Hilary and I get to a familiar point in our evening where we know enough to reign in our drinking. That peak hour of being a few degrees under drunk has already passed for me, and more often than not I sober up just when she’s fully wasted, so it doesn’t surprise me that when reaching the enormous, gold-plated shining squares of the Brass Rail sign she starts slurring her words.  Holding onto the black sides of the vestibule towards the entrance we cut in front of two men in trench coats. Now I thought I’d see some really big perverts here, but underneath their trench coats were their business suits.  The doorman is also wearing a pretty nice suit, and he starts smiling at both Hilary and me when we approach him.

“Hello Ladies, unfortunately we’re at our full capacity and won’t be able to seat you right now,” his large arm could easily smack the both of us into next year if we mess up, I reflect keeping an eye on Hilary.

“Okay, but what if we just want to ask the manager a few questions about working here?” I ask trying not to stare behind him.  Hilary shifts her weight back and forth anxiously trying to see what kind of girls work here.

“Do both of you ladies have your licenses?” he asks us as I try to make up an answer while hearing  the song Sister Christian, “You’re mo-tor-ing, what’s your price for flight… in finding mister right…”

“Wh-what lie-shunse? Lie-shunse to be sexy?” Hilary slurs, and I worry about his perception of us has been ruined by her comment. Maybe he’s immune to inebriation from working here.

“You girls need to get a Metro Toronto License to work here. You won’t be able to work here without one,” not only did we turn from ladies into girls, but he stopped smiling and instantly got serious.  Like a marble rolling out of a netted bag, a stripper pops out of the crowded bar wearing a pair of leather chaps over her g-string.  Her eyes curiously look over Hilary and me under a well-worked in cowboy hat.  Watching the tassels on her little brown fringed vest wave at me she smoothly spins and puts her hand on a man’s back. There is something sweet, and yet untouchable about that girl which is conveyed in the ten second peek that I’m able to catch a glimpse of her. Nudging Hilary I want her to see this cowgirl, but she’s got other things on her mind – her bladder being first.

“Come on Annie, I need to pee,” she whines and starts pushing her way into the bar. The bouncer sticks his meaty arm out to block her.

“Can’t let you in. Would be a definite fire hazard. Come back when you guys have licenses.”

“Thank you!” I call back dragging her across the street to the Taco Bell. Once inside their washroom we know that we have to see the other clubs, but can’t handle the shlepp across town. Tomorrow is another day.

The Investigation: Las Vegas Strip Club (Chapter 7)

Hilary and I begin to invest time in seeking the perfect strip club the way some people search for the perfect car.  Before our nighttime journey it was intrinsically necessary to spend some prep time in one of our all-time favorite hotel bathrooms. This particular bathroom features a fantastically chic peach powder room lounge complete with Fantasy Island wicker chair in which to relax.  Both of us hop up on the marble white countertop and fix our make-up, drink and laugh, pretending to be snotty English tourists.

“Right then…” I began in my best Cockney accent, “it’s like this mate, we are going to ask the dodgy strip club managers all the brass tacks about how much money we can pull in nightly working as strippers, and do we need to dance all the bloody time or can we take periodical breaks, right?”

Hilary picked up the improv doing an accent sprung from the loins of Julie Andrew’s and Basil from Faulty Towers’ love child,
“D-o-o-o they supply us with such costumes and shoes or is it up to us to purchase those tawdry things? What indeed is the word dicky bird? Me eyes look like mince pies!”  She finishes coating her eyelashes for the third time. My vodka-induced buzz makes its way into my bloodstream to annihilate my fear.  Drinking more and fixing our lipstick becomes our best layer of protection for any potential danger. Personally, I rather look slightly blurry eyed with perfectly lined lips than some girl who is too scared and inexperienced at taking off their clothes for cash.

On one of my many downtown clubbing excursions I remember passing some strip clubs. Turning my head away after getting an eyeful of half-naked women in daylight made me wonder if the pictures outside told the truth.  The startled faces with forced sexy pouts of these women led me to imagine their personal histories. I’d think they were all runaways – simple women with no choice in the matter with pimps and abusive boyfriends forcing them to take their clothes off for strange dirty men all day long with no say in the matter.  Staring at one particular blonde with her finger in her mouth the thought occurred to me that maybe a small group of them enjoyed being exploited. Could they feel pleasure from being blessed with such sinister fantasies?

My thoughts are interrupted by Hilary’s continuing queries, “ Where would we keep our things and money? Do they take some of our money ?” Hilary applies a thick coat of her signature color Toast of New York Lipstick. Fumbling for the lid the entire lipstick drops to the ground.

“Omygod…ohmygawd!!! Oh ma gaaaadddddd…do you think it’s still okay?” she walks to the stall grabbing a streamer of toilet paper. She imitates Homer Simpson, “it’s still good, it’s still good, it’s just a little bit dirty…but it’s still good.”

I laugh, “Okay Homie, let’s hit Zanzibar first, or the one beside it.”  I sling on my suede backpack over my black vintage seventies leather jacket.

“Uhhh…Let’s just get out on Yonge and then we’ll decide,” Hilary adjusts her shiny purple shirt collar so that sits on the outside of her coat, framing her neck in regal club fashion.

Our reflection shows a tall brunette with raspberry lips and a smaller underfed sidekick resembling a young Carly Simon with swingy red ponytail.  Swaggering we push open the bathroom door and exit our fine drinking facilities to the sounds of honking horns and early evening weekday ruckus on Yonge Street. In a booze haze my immediate future of stripping brimmed over with infinitely good things, and every one of my actions were executed in lithe, liquidy movements which are finally free from scrutiny by the judge in my head. Wearing boots with a platform heel gives me the height I need, feeling the part. On my adult stilts I step out onto the stage of the street.

Under the red neon glow of the Sam the Record Man sign we head towards a dingy head shop where we remember seeing a strip club. Grateful Dead  posters and Pixies shirts are crammed in the window of Flashjacks, and there to the left: Las Vegas Strip.


“Ahhh…Las Vegas, I’ve always wanted to go to Vegas,” Hilary happily slurs.  Admiring the mural on the wall leading up to the main entrance, I take extra care in going up the stairs.  My eyes follow the peeling flesh-colored paint on the garish cartoon showgirls in a Robins Egg blue bodysuit. Beyond the mural stands a man at the door whose appearance resembles the weather-worn paint. Watching the mound of fur on his stomach peep through his shirt buttons I tell him we’d like to go inside as we’re interested in work. I try to establish stripping from the onset as an honest, ordinary job.
“Great, eeeyyyahhh…so do you’s have I.D?” the door-man asks me through his five o’clock shadowed voice with no surprise or admiration for our quest.  Cockily I pull out my Ontario Health Card. He passes it back to me and still with no expression asks for Hilary’s.  Being the only eighteen year old I know whose mother still hangs on to her Passport for ‘safe keeping’ Hilary shoots me the look.  Immediately, we launch into an improvised dialogue to get the bouncer distracted. Hands on my hips feigning frustration I reprimand her,
“Hilary, I told you not to leave your wallet in the glove compartment.”
“Well, it’s the only friggen place that the damn kids don’t get into!” she exclaims letting out an exasperated sigh after leaning her head into one hand shaking it back and forth. Taking a more self-depreciating tone she continues, “It’s hard to remember things, I’m still a wreck after he walked out on me – you know that bastard will get his!”

The door man rolls his eyes and opens the door. Happy to once again successfully act our way into a better reality, I make a mental note to somehow get her some great fake I.D.

The Reading Salon

I’m disappointed at the size of the club as it’s really just one big room. Looking up I note how most of the room is lit with pot lights and wall light attachments that resemble the type found in medieval restaurants. Probably the creepiest part is the ketchup-red carpeting that should have been in somebody’s rec-room and not a gentlemen’s club.  Looking at the stage I think how it’s only by some demented mind that they’ve decided to not have anything inside resemble a casino, or Vegas, and yet the stage was designed to resemble a carousel –to evoke which Vegas club? Circus?

“Pour some sugar on meeeeeaaaahhhhh!!!!!!!”  rings in our ears as we quickly grab seats at a table on stage right. A few men scan their eyes past us, clothing seemingly deeming us invisible. How is it that each of them can sit at a table alone and take this all so seriously? I start studying their faces like those on the subway exchanging glances that aren’t meant to be acknowledged.


Over the music a female voice scratchy enough to convince me she smokes every moment she isn’t on stage asks a fat guy to our right if he, “needs some love, baby.” Turning around I wasn’t sure what to check out first, the chick on stage or the girl straddling the guy beside us. Motioning with my chin I direct Hilary’s attention to the big boned Asian stripper straddling on a man’s lap. If I was the guy I’d be lusting over her extraordinarily shiny long hair.  Falling between her butt cheeks, her incredible mane lands in a picture perfect v-shape.  It resembles (hair you see in paintings of) those women riding horses under waterfalls.

“Hill…her hair totally reaches all the way past her tush,” I hiss over at her. She looks back at me half-nodding stunned.

“Oh my God, is that a lap dance?” I’d never seen anyone move their butt side to side on a stranger’s lap, so I guess that’s what it was. Whatever Hawaiian Barbie was doing didn’t faze any of the other onlookers or the waitresses who sashayed by with cocktails like it was no big deal.

“So is it?” I asked Hilary expecting her assessment would be much more accurate than mine.

“I don’t know but there’s no way in hell I could do that,” she says. For fear of looking like newbie pervs, we turned back to watch the stage.  The Def Leppard song  playing reminded me of public school: “take me highah…take me luh-owe….”

Half-posing, half-dancing the skinny, mulletted stripper wraps her bony fingers around the smudged gold pole like tinfoil on a Hershey’s kiss. She reminds me of those rocker girls that I’d see up at Wasaga Beach with a tasseled black leather purse and Guns and Roses tank top.

“Whoa!” We all let out a gasp when she hoists herself upward swinging upside down. Her white pleather boots stick to the pole as she un-clasps her purple bikini top.

“Annie, I really don’t want to hang around here, you?” she asks after the purple bikini top is untied and tossed to the side.

“I want to go too,” I agree pushing my chair back. We move out in the same fashion a Bubby and Zaidy might leave a deli when they’ve been disgusted with the food. Poison’s “Every Rose Has its Thorn” accompanies our exit. The door-man ignores us completely too caught up by a potential paying customer in a red lumberjacket.

“Oh my God. This is 1996 not 1986! Does every strip club play rock hits from the eighties? And I know that girl was giving him a lap dance…Hilary aren’t those illegal or something?” I am seriously worried about the finer details of the job description and decide we need to talk with some of the strippers to get the full picture.  Hilary frantically searches her purse for a cigarette to calm me down,
“I hope not. I have no fucking idea, but if that is what that was I wouldn’t work there for anything man. That my friend was totally a bottom feeder place or something. That must be the place where strippers have to transition to hookers fast with their clothes and booze in the same paper bag.”

“Yeah, a greasy paper bag,” I add moving down the street to Zanzibar.  Maybe we can expect a more upscale venue judging by the pictures of women in Penthouse-worthy poses, which are designed to entice men into the club. There’s no doorman to ID us, so we hurriedly push open the black doors into the music.

Con’t Next Week: ZANZIBAR & LE STRIP

Overall Inspiration (Chapter 6)

Today wasn’t starting out very good. From the moment I forgot to take an umbrella to the second I became drenched by the rain I wished I never had to leave my room to come to work at the Have-a-Java. When I did arrive in the safety and privacy of our tiny back room my hair was a damp mess that would be more suited to a bichon frize.  While fixing my hair, my concentration was broken by a lanky Jughead Jones type with glasses and curly brown hair swinging open the door.

“Hey! This room is for employees only. The bathroom is in the mall,” I told him forcefully.

“Oh, uh, I’m sorry. I’m new here. My name is Gavin, it’s my first shift.” He reached out a long, freckled pale arm to shake my hand.

“Sorry Gavin, I was just – you wouldn’t believe how many times some random customer will just open the door and assume that it’s a bathroom. I’m Annie.” Walking back out to the front I introduced him to Kevin and Laura.

“Really nice to meet everyone. Tom said he’ll give me more paperwork to fill out when he gets in later.” Gavin said eagerly with both hands wrapped around his messenger bag strap.

“You’re truly going to enjoy working here ,” Laura said sipping what I’m sure was her fourth white hot chocolate of the day.
“Great, yeah so I’ll put my new work shirt on and be right back,” he said with nasally prominence.

“There’s clean aprons back there, too.” Laura told him smiling. Once he was in the backroom we all looked at one another to compare opinions.
“Nice guy, now time for my facial,” Kevin said opening the dishwasher to release a pillow of steam.

“I think he’s sort of nerdy, did you hear his voice?” Laura said moving to make a fresh pot of decaf.

“I don’t think he’s nerdy…” I began but had to cut it short as the House of Hair people came in looking exhausted.
“Okay guys…let’s do this,” Kevin said like we were stars in an adventure movie.  We started our practice and flow of passing cups, switching up barista, and training Gavin. It was more fun to work and train someone as it was an excuse to go slow.   If it was the ultimate perfect day we wouldn’t have tossed off Gypsy Kings to put on Smashing Pumpkin’s new double CD album.  We would have played Nirvana. When the phone rang Kevin nudged Gavin to pick it up. “Just like I taught you.” Kevin smiled like Jack Nicholson’s Joker – not the T.V. show from the 50’s version.

“Hello, Have-a-Java, first mate Gavin speaking, please expresso  yourself ” He paused and then handed me the phone.  Incredulously, I tried to not break out laughing, and wanted to just say, “You forgot the Bean to Bean connection…” But didn’t as I knew it probably overwhelmed him just to be around us larger than life characters and listen to us, as we all love working here, but are in our late teens, in school or trying to elevate status.

“Nice work, Gavin” I patted him on the shoulder. “Hello?” As always I expected it to be Hilary, cause there were a few other friends who I gave my work number to, but she’s my Jewish best friend that makes it important that I always listen intently no matter where you were so it was my Zen practice of sorts.  So I added, “Who’s been painting my roses red?”


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“The queen, the queen, who’s always been, and now we’ll lose our heads!” she played along then let out an exasperated sigh, “I’m trying to get this essay done, but I keep getting distracted by stupid shit and wanting to go out for smoke breaks, and watching shit on TV, and then I’m coming up with the ideas for us to get serious cash fast and I’m tobacconated but brilliant.” I guessed that Darlene wasn’t around as she banned Hilary from smoking anywhere near the house – God forbid the neighbors should see.

“Really? That is your reason for interrupting my important work here?” I questioned hopping up on the back counter and sticking my feet to rest comfortably in the shelf – a total pet peeve of Georgina’s.

“At least you don’t have to write a comparison essay on the post-war paintings of Picasso. So listen, I wanted to ask you something.” She said cracking and chewing the enormous wad of gum in her mouth.

“What?”

“So I was re-watching the movie Showgirls for the billionth time and I think we can start stripping. It’s totally acting and we rock at that. Look how so many famous women were strippers at one time, there’s Courtney Love and…

“Nancy Spungen” I instantly knew.

“Do you want to start finding out what we have to do to start stripping with me? Can we agree to just research what we have to do and then understand that we can totally do this.  Annie? Do you want to?” She was asking me in the same manner that she’d invite me out to dinner on Queen Street west during the week. She pushed the proverbial  envelope of rebellion and everything my parents preached not to be involved with as we’re better than that. So I can say all of it truly appealed to me.

That evening I took my time getting ready for bed, folding my laundry while listening to Pavement’s best album, Slanted and Enchanted. Mouthing the lyrics, “I’m trying, I’m trying, I’m trying I’ll try,” in the mirror but really thinking about calling Hilary to talk more about ways to make money.  My thoughts were broken by the sound of the front door opening and car-keys dropping on the counter. My mother’s soft footsteps padded up the stairs. Going over to open my door in case she was coming to say hello to me, I tried to make out the conversation she was having with my dad. Sometimes I could forecast a fight by certain words used like: bill, mortgage, hydro, and payment. My father yelled something about him not caring and how my mother should fuck off and take a hike. Would a million dollars solve their martial problems? I wondered.  Shutting my door I turn up the volume to avoid hearing the rest of their argument. It didn’t take long for my mother to make her way over to my room to request I turn it down. Her face seemed to mask the effects of fighting with my father, but her slumped over body revealed something different. Hugging her made me feel something I had forgotten – something like what it felt like to be younger and safe. Why do I feel like I have to protect her? I thought closing my eyes and inhaling her scent.

The Have-a-Java mid-day rush was especially depressing to me that afternoon not unlike the non-arts portion of the arts high school student body trying to be artistic. It seemed that every customer I served looked to their coffee or muffin as medication that would alleviate whatever workplace misaligned misery they forced themselves to endure. After the rush Jenny left for the bathroom leaving Gavin and I behind the counter. I started emptying out the delicious smelling and pleasantly aromatic garbage. Gavin  leaned over the frosted empire of delicious treats in the desert case and chatted up a red headed chubby girl with a round and homely face. It wasn’t so much her faded blue jean overalls and yellow striped t-shirt that set her apart, but it was how she was wearing white sandals, as if it wasn’t the first week of November and barely eight degrees at night. She caught me staring over at her and met my unforgiving caffeine slaughtered bloodshot eyes. Looking back at the garbage can, I tried to not have her think I was scrutinizing her footwear. When she left Gavin approached me.

“So, I guess it’s pretty obvious.” He began in a nasally whisper, cocking his head to the side.

“What?” Switching the Hazelnut carafe, I wiped the drip tray imagining me doing this in the future, but with beer from the draft taps.

“I just wanted to thank you for giving me privacy in a way I don’t think Laura or Jenny would, and I want to tell you who she is.” He took a breath, “Her name is Kashara and she’s a stripper at Le Strip.  That’s it and it’s really no big deal but I’m trusting you to just keep this between us – cool?”

“Are you being totally serious? That girl is a stripper?” That chubby, ordinary girl was someone who took off their clothes and had to convey some sort of sexiness? I didn’t know what to think or say.

“Kashara, her name is Kashara and yes I’m serious.” He repeated her name more than once like it was the most important thing about her other then she’s naked for a living or just naked in general, alongside being chubby, plus naked, plus a teenage girl. Could someone that young be a stripper? At eighteen my idea of a stripper is some tall broad in her mid thirties who resembles one of the Charlie’s Angels. When I told him I didn’t think that someone so young would be stripping, he told me that he agreed until he went to see her work. Of course when I wanted to find out more we were interrupted by customers.  Jenny returned from the can and we started to joke around like always, but I was the one holding a secret which was something I realized I really wasn’t my forte. But unlike a lot of my promises, this time I kept my word not to spill the espresso beans on Kashara leaving me dazed the rest of my shift. By the time we spilled out the last bit of ‘Cinnamon-Butter Cream Cup – Hazelnut – Almond Joy Brew during our closing duties, I was sprint-running out the door in the same spirit of an adorable gay-leaping musical theatre student when he runs into his friends to meet up with Hilary at the punk show. She would flip out over my story.

By the time Puss Pie had launched into their third song at the bar, Hilary and I were good and drunk. We weaved through the crowd to the booths in the back of the room where it’s guaranteed to be dark and a little bit quieter . We hung out with some local punk girls with fancier barrettes smoking their boyfriend’s  joints.  Keeping a lookout for security I pulled our Mickey of Smirnoff out from my backpack and took a hurried swig. Passing the bottle over to Hilary, I told her the news about Gavin’s new girlfriend Kashara and how coincidental is that considering you just pitched your idea about trying stripping and here a real live one comes into the shop.

“Where’s Le Strip again?” she asked.

“Why would I know? Across from Papaya Hut maybe… I think where that ghetto gold jewlerry store is across from the Eaton Center on the Yonge Side.
“You’re the expert Miss Hillary more booze please.”

Passing the vodka to try to get the wheels turning right now and the fearless behavior off the Punk Rock ciriculum was all the time we pleasured ourselves sick with fantasy conversation about the money.

“They’d have to give us $500 at least just to show up,” we’d imagine in delicious laughter, as there was no chance we would go through with this.”

“Okay, Annie. First, we need to seriously investigate as many clubs as we can like Le Strip and Brass Rail and whatever  other clubs we can think of, I want to completely understand what we do exactly to get the money – like if we have to get fully naked on stage or not and what happens with your money cause I’m  expecting some kind of retarded kick back to the club.” Exhaling Hillary pulled her smokes out and prepared to have another. There’s something really going on if she’s chain smoking I’m thinking. I don’t know why I checked her purse when the smokes came out for that bag of needles. I’m now monitoring to see if she let’s the ash build up beyond the respectful amount before flicking it into a tin ashtray surrounded by beer bottles, cups and burned straws attached together discarded art that only provided minutes of happiness for the lighter wielding sculptor.

The Reading Salon“Right so, what do we say to the managers there?  Hello pervert!  We want to try stripping?” I ask her still picturing Kashara’s chubby body and mis-matched-seasonally-disturbing-poverty -cover-up -hillbilly style earning her the least likely to be nude and get paid for it award.

“Not exactly cause we have to pretend like we have some idea of what we want. We need to write down our questions.” Hilary lit another smoke and I saw her flick away the ashes. She wasn’t high on herion, her eyes weren’t pinned so basically we were just both drunk and high from second hand weed smoke.

“Hilary, I have never been in a strip club in my life. Ever. What is a table dance? Really? Can you see me dancing on this table?” I laughed and hoisted my boot on the table pretending to get up. The girl beside me jumped closer prepared  to give me a boost.

“What the hell do I know? I don’t think we actually have to dance on a table…but a table dance is beside the table or some shit like that. We’ll find out when we start our investigation.” She said butting out her smoke and taking another swig from the mickey.

The band stopped and there was applause. Her crazy eyes met mine and possessed by vodka we scream-sang our agreement,
“YYYEEEAAAHHH!”

#HumpDay PSA: Modern Bitch

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It Took Me Years To Slow My Roll

Walking home it dawned on me just how slowly my body was moving. The pace was slower than my usual brisk gait but more than the recognition of the languid rhythm, was the clear waves I kept feeling of how this is a luxury for myself. I’m treating myself to moving slowly. Here is some cruise controlled stroll and this time I didn’t condemn or criticize myself for walking at the regular old pedestrian lazy stride.

I was a person who had all the time in the world. Techno music filling the the small courtyard of the townhouse complex where we lived. Beats shoot out of my neighbor’s window and waft over my head. The music reminded me of me on E, me on K, me on C, me on G, me on Rev and me on Weed. Then there’s me on camera dancing at the time lapsed videos of dancing with clubbers. I don’t know what other amphetamines I did, but I was always speeding along cause there’s never enough time when you want to squeeze work in a day, work out, work at your art and work your gig. This was my speedy world between the ages of 19 – 26 and the hiatus from speed lasted until I was 30 and it came back with a requirement: to look glamorously thin and be speedy.

At 19 I took an on-camera acting course with Cayle Chernin. We were asked to do an exercise that involved me doing the thing that I’d say scared me the most to do on a stage: sitting still and listening. No character and no dialogue allowed. She instructed us to get up in front of the class and listen to one of our favorite songs, and not be conscious of the class or camera’s eyes. I thought it was a stronger choice to really listen super intently and ferociously rather than passively. The actual assignment suggested we be in the moment and not pre-plan. Courtney Love’s version of Stevie Nick’s ‘Gold Dust Woman’ blared out of the speakers and into my ears immediately bringing about a swelling, all enveloping self-consciousness for no good reason at all. Rather then the powerlessness of being still on stage, I tried to feel as if she was empowering me with these lyrics.  When the song disaster was done Cayle asked me why I chose that song. I didn’t realize that she kept the camera rolling to capture my response. I talked a bit about seeing her live, the way I love her band and the spin she puts on covering other’s songs. Then she played back me listening and me answering her questions. The blonde girl on the screen was speaking super slowly. Not only was I speaking very slow I used ‘dude’ and ‘man’ more than once. I sounded  stoned on weed.

“Now here is the real Amy. She is far more interesting than the person who was listening to the song,” she said.

Could this be true, as in my disbelief I didn’t want to accept that the real me was a hippy.  I seriously came across as a slacker pot-head no different than anyone I’d avoid at a club who wasn’t speeding along. There was an ingrained belief in me that I’d never make it as an actor if I was a lazy slacker.  It was then I vowed to hide this mellow side of me who wouldn’t and couldn’t hustle or succeed. Instead I pushed all gears forward at warp speed to a more dynamic version of me.
When I travelled the next year to California, I met a drummer who lived out of his VW van. While he was smoking me some weed, he posed the question; “Don’t you ever just sit still and relax dude?” Wasn’t I fooling him into thinking I was dynamically on the move towards celestial speedy far off places never to be conquered or beat? What the hell dude?

That same year at the Chez Paree in San Francisco, Diamond sold me one of her infamous ‘pot brownies.’ Quickly I shoved the cellophaned chocolate contraband in my locker to enjoy after my shift. Determined to bring in a substantial amount of cash I zipped around potential customers tallying up all the greetings and exchanging names as ground work. There was never a night where I actually had time to sit and rest on the burgundy vinyl couch off to the side. Usually the girls who weren’t as busy or driven to hustle sat there – or so I thought. If there was something to challenge my money-making methodology and strip-club belief system it was what presented itself to me that evening. It came in the form of one ‘pot brownie’ as I ingested half just out of boredom and then came back out onto the floor. Settling myself on the couch between Anastasia and Siren, something occurred  to me. Siren would look at the men noticing who they were looking at and then she’d slowly slink past the first few tables, say something to one of them and suddenly he’d be up following her to the back VIP. Anastasia followed Sirens lead in choosing another direct hit, someone I’d usually choose to work on for a few songs and then the both of them went in the back. Could it be that I was moving too fast and quickly gliding past the men when I was on the floor not letting them make any eye contact with me?  Did I even want to be seen here? Therein lay my conflict. This evening I was physically unable to move fast thanks to the weed and I moved so slowly, I greeted slowly, I spoke slowly, I took it all in this new dimension, or so I believed.  Not so slow that I looked like invalid, not slow enough to raise concern from onlookers I felt my drag.

Spying someone looking over at me while I was talking to one guy, I just looked back and nodded then made my exit. (I made the connection and needless to say I made my connection and goal done.)

Thankfully, this incident didn’t lead me to become a regular pot-brownie abuser, although there were enough girls on any drug you could dream of for me to try and try again. I drank my wine and was grateful that my eyes were opened to the awakening that drug provided to understand how I went against the rhythm of the club and my ego wanted to believe in just one year of hustling and stripping I’d learned everything there was to take the show on the road. I would have to put in more years and more hours to actually gain a sense of something more than just how to earn illicit dollars during stupid hours.

The following year during Theatre School class in Vancouver at Studio 58 I wasn’t comfortable experiencing emotions and feelings on stage apparently, as I later learned from my teacher Wendy. My teacher would shout, “Stop the scene!” and my partner and I would create that instant panic in the air one especially fears with any theatre school teacher’s correction.

“So, I’m asking this question directly to you, Amy and not your partner. Did you let it land?”

“Yeah, I mean Yes. I did.” Was she asking me if I heard the dialogue before I spoke?

“No. Did you take the time to be affected by what your partner was saying to you? Did you allow the feeling to sink in, so we, your audience can be taken on the journey along with you?” She waited for my honest reply.

We started the scene again from the top and I simply couldn’t let it land. At the moment when I’d begin to feel affected, I’d quickly blurt out my line. She told me to write it on the back of my hand, and to start giving myself time to do so.
Was I deserving of that time from others?  Something else inside me knew that I rather not be noticed, and to not be or become affected by what others do or say, on or off stage.  This felt safer. Later on in the year I’d get yelled at again for “massaging the emotion” as I was languishing in the luxury of slowly letting it land.  Balance had to come from practice.

The following year I was in a club dancing in Toronto. Only flashes of light would illuminate the faces and arms around me as we all connected on some level with the assistance of E or weed or booze, but chemical drugs helped me absorb and let the music land. Was I present, or was it my hyper-consciousness in altered states creating an entire other self who could let it land? One night, blends into three nights and four days and I’d watch the sunrise from patios of strangers apartments worried that I’d never get back enough time to make up for my clubbing vacation.  I’d pack work, rehearsals, shows, hostessing and meals somewhere into 24 hours without stopping. I figured the time to move slow and relax was when something happened that was good enough to grant me the strength to just rest. I never could though.

That time never happened. My life slowly became a rain-soaked newspaper – all the exciting or important headlines and images which could have been preserved were dripping, discarded, bleeding ink, blurring it all. So there wasn’t any slowing down, never, and all that was done to get somewhere else far more exciting in a rush was never experienced fully in the moment.

Some of us are going to take the time to get older before we slow down, and that’s alright. Accept where you are in whatever pace you’re moving, that’s your rhythm. I only wished I’d been less hard on myself so that I could have taken the time that I needed to just breathe and be.

Somethings Cooking (Chapter 5)

Hilary and I sit side by side on the edge of her bed. Smack in the center of her lap is the bag of needles as casually as a bag of Twizzlers.

“Wow, that’s a lot of needles.”

“Yeah,” she picks up the clear plastic bag with black writing on it. She holds it up, shakes it, and tilts her head, “So weird”

“So weird,” I agree.  “Yeah,”

Hilary tosses them back into her tapestry purse. “You know how you get them?”

“How?” I shift back and try to absorb the fact that she’s going to do this.
“You have to go to Shoppers and tell the pharmacist you have diabetes and cause you’re a diabetic they have to give them to you for your insulin.”

I nod while so many things are happening in my head. I now know the last few days she wasn’t at home she’d been over at Kendal’s for sure and there were more things she learned about heroin.

“It’s way too expensive a drug. Unless Kendal is planning on letting me have as much as I want for free, I wouldn’t start using it.” She told me again the way someone would repeat a story for security. Meanwhile, I marveled at how she could still look so pretty with her unwashed hair in a dirty bandanna.

Feeling disappointed I suggest we just stick to cleaning her bedroom. Hilary went on about her mother and then into how her father blows up at her for every little thing as well.

“At least he doesn’t hit you” I said quietly sticking a stray spoon into a glass under her bed.

“Yeah, well once he practically threw me across the room. He can get really mad, but he doesn’t lose his shit that often.” Hilary  started moving a pile of clothes while I organized SPIN magazines in a basket. We cleaned in silence for a while then agreed to take a break and head downstairs.

Blintz
Blintz

Darlene was in her kitchen preparing blintzes with all the ingredients tidily collected on one side of the counter. I could hear the two of them break into a discussion about Hilary’s studying habits.

“So what if I don’t graduate this year? Some people take two years to do their OAC’s,” she told her mom. Pulling out the chair she was resting her legs on I sat down only to have her mother put me on the spot.

“Did you tell your mother where you’re going and what time you’ll get back? Especially if it’s a school night?”  My eyes fell to focus on the puffy mushroom pattern on her oven mitts as I carefully crafted my answer to help Hilary’s case.
“Actually, my mother is so preoccupied with going to Doctor Marko all the time that I hardly see her anymore.” I began nibbling at my index finger nail. Doctor Marko was a new-age chiropractor that my mom went to on orientation night to learn more about his work, and since then has practically gone to his office every day. She couldn’t live without the adjustments which seemed pretty useless to me when she’s offered to let me try him out. I could imagine her lying on the mint green adjusting table with her eyes closed, shutting out everything around her.

“Well, I hope she benefits from Dr. Marko’s treatments, as he didn’t do much for Hilary at all.”

“Thanks Darlene.” Hilary got up and went to the freezer to pull out some popsicles.
“Hilary, I can’t find our video. Can you check upstairs to help me out?” I ask her as she picks up on my lie and nods her head.

“Sure. Why don’t you stay here and tell my mother all about how your parents could care less about what the hell you do in a day, or two maybe three days, cause they…oh I don’t know…trust you?” She even picks up garbage bags from under the sink to show her mother that she is really making an effort to clean.

Darlene moves her rolling-pin over the sheet of dough.

“So Annie, are you planning to keep on working at the Have-A-Java full time until you go back to school?” She turns to wash her hands.

I looked at the flattened out dough and tell her about my failed attempts to get accepted into the National Theatre School in Montreal. She consoles me and suggests the option of bartending on the side when I’m not auditioning for plays. I find myself being less and less focused on what she’s saying and more interested in the strips of dough she’s cutting for the blintzes.  After giving her questions the requisite “uh-huh’s” and “Yeah’s” in agreement, I ask if I can slide the tray in to bake. Her look is similar to the teen at the soda pop and popcorn stand at the movies Hilary and I go to when I ask for another cup. There was something important about me doing a normal activity at this very moment like helping her mix up the cheese mixture. Darlene’s fingers were adorned in gold and diamond rings. I watched each stone reflect the halogen lights in a pierced rainbow white burst as she opened up the plastic wrap from Daiters. One day, I believed, one day I wanted to go into any Birks and pluck out the ring or bracelet of my choice, nevermind wait for some dumb guy to buy it for me.

“Did you wash your hands?” Darlene critically assessed my stubby chewed on fingernails. I told  I had when in actuality I just handled the toxic insanity of Hilary’s room a mere ten minutes earlier. It wasn’t that I liked being unsanitary, I was just uncomfortable with admitting that I didn’t know better than to handle food with dirty hands, what with me working in the food industry. Stuffing the pockets of dough she had made, I studied how Darlene would fill each one and then curl the edges.

“And if you lay them down this way, you can put more on the tray. See?” Her blintzes were like tiny bolsters lined up. Her instructions reminded me of Kendal’s lesson on how to prepare the perfect needle. Much like Darlene was showing me the fine art to the perfect blintz both took pride in their interpretation and personalization of their craft. Of course, no one has ever overdosed on a blintz.

I woke up the next day feeling like the night before was a movie. Being in her home made me feel so lucky to have the cleanliness and privacy of my own suburban bedroom. My shift wasn’t until three, so I decided to lounge around the house in my flannel pants and t-shirt.

Pouring a bowl of Chex I could hear my father’s footsteps coming down the stairs.  Each step his foot landed on seemed to feel the immensity of his weight. His heaviness always entered a room before he did. Instinctively, I busy myself to leave scrambling to get my spoon and bowl out of there.

“Wait a minute!” Get back in here!” he sternly commands.

“Why? I am going upstairs to eat my breakfast dad.” I tell him feeling vulnerable in my pajamas.

“You left a mess of cereal and milk all over the place. Get in here and clean it.” By his beet red face, I could feel that rage coming from not only my mess, but a lifetime of disappointments he’s directing my way.  Setting my bowl down on the counter I grabbed some paper towel.

“I don’t mind cleaning up, but do you have to go so crazy?” wiping tiny milk droplets I ask him.

“Yeah, I do. You make me crazy. No don’t use that! Use a J-cloth” tearing the paper towel out of my hand he thrusts the J-cloth into my palm. I felt like throwing it at him, instead move to wipe away the two pieces of Chex on the counter. Taking a long shot I throw the J-cloth into the sink.

“There. Are you happy?” Reaching to get my bowl, I notice how it’s all gone soggy. Feeling my throat tighten I’m not sure I want to eat it. Why does my dad have to be such a maniacal abusive jerk? He could have asked me to clean up without yelling.
“Wait a second. Get back here.” Even though I am eighteen, right now I feel like I’m eight.

He’s holding the paper towel in one hand and pointing at the J-cloth in the sink. My eyes focus on how red the bottom of his neck is.

“You didn’t clean up properly. Do a better job right now.”

“No! I’m going to go upstairs and eat my cereal. I can’t clean anything with you yelling at – “his body lurched forward yanking at my left arm pulling me towards the counter. I barely have a chance to let my cereal land safely as my body gets pushed into the ledge.

“Clean it now!” His fist pounds down inches away from my bowl making the salt shaker fall over.

“No! Don’t fucking touch me!” My voice is wavering and I don’t want  him to see me cry. I half stumble and half run out of the kitchen hearing him swear and insult me. His loud voice manages to violate my space like his body as I quickly go up the stairs. Slamming my bedroom door I wish my mother was home to see him treat me this way. Sadly, that thought was futile as I knew it wouldn’t do any good knowing that she’d seen him lose it a hundred times, and still nothing stops him from being the unhappy, crazy, abusive ogre that he is.

Staring into the mirror I think about this morning’s intentions for my day. I didn’t want this to happen. I could hear him make his way upstairs and slam his bedroom door. Looking at my wrist I predicted a tiny bruise from the red welt where he yanked me. Like all the times when he hit me or yelled at me I’d go back in my mind and try to understand how I could have avoided that scenario.

Taking off my pajamas I stuffed them into my hamper, alongside my embarrassment.  Putting my deodorant and a change of clothes in my backpack I felt the immediacy in having a plan to move out of my house. Maybe Hilary would have some ideas.

The Nooner

I went to AA and CA meetings in Toronto when I was twenty-four and then stopped. I went back at twenty-six, and by being back I was at a meeting every day and was ‘working the program’ with a sponsor. I would make it a habit to hit this one meeting at noon on Mondays Wednesdays and Fridays at University and King cause it was about a five minute walk from my work and was important for my lunch routine.  I’d come back from the meeting to my receptionist job and feel sort of the same way I’d used to feel going to the bar to sneak a drink, as here I was doing something clandestine and private away from everyone else, yet this was helping me stay focused and on track opposed to turning my day to mush.  This meeting, like a lot of meetings, is in a church. AA is not a religious program but the meetings are almost always held in churches. This AA nooner had more men then women usually, and they tell you to not focus on guys when you’re new to the program or even not-so-new cause that’s not why you’re there. Your primary purpose is to stay clean –not pick up guys or girls. I sat down at the round tables in the center of the room across from a guy my age in a white Hanes T-shirt fresh out of the package, faded light blue jeans, trucker belt and construction boots who wasn’t hot, or really good looking enough for me to steal glances, but there was a type of attraction which I wasn’t able to understand until he opened his mouth to share later.

The usual order of events at a meeting began with announcements, and reading from the book other then the Big Book called the Twelve and Twelve (twelve steps and twelve traditions). This afternoon we were discussing step five and everyone gets a chance to read a paragraph about what this step entails. Yes we admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being (usually our sponsor) the exact nature of our wrongs. This is like confession.  When the reading starts, it truly depends on the group – it can be dry, or pleasurably comforting. This particular group became annoying really fast as they are completely unaware of the volume required to be heard in a big room, so if you’re sitting all the way across the three large round tables there’s no chance you can hear. Who wants to sit through someone’s gravelly whisper? Members usually don’t chime in with a request to, “Please speak up” or “I’ve heard grade One students read better than you so hurry this up , please…for the love of a Higher Power!”

Is it apparent I lack patience? Or better yet to use the ‘lingo’ of AA’s fifth step, one of my character ‘defects’ is that I am inpatient and intolerant of others.

The chapter was done. We could now open the floor to share.

Usually they recommended keeping the sharing to under four minutes each when there’s more people than usual in the meeting. If you have a ‘burning desire’ to continue sharing – please don’t hold it in and find someone to speak with after the meeting.

The first member to share was a middle aged man with glasses and a trench coat over his suit. He spoke intelligently about where his inner dilemma lay:
“My family is creating a new resentment inside of me as they keep telling me that I made them really angry when I was drinking and messed up things in a month so irreparable that I’m even wishing I was still out there drinking. It seems like even my recovery is an inconvenience to them.”

I thought about the characters in the novel THE INFORMERS by Brett Easton Ellis. He was a middle class father, who had just gone through rehab needing to gain peace of mind by finally taking his fifth step. His writing a list of his character defects was more like: “a novel than a mere coupling  of pages.”

Next a woman who wore glasses and loved yoga shared her experience about knowing when something was about to take place in her life that was definitely not God’s will and more her will. She said an excellent way to figure out if the thing you may act upon is from a spiritual place is to tell your sponsor as clarity will come when you tell someone you trust.

I felt sad that I’d never develop an intuition, or that my intuitive abilities were hijacked temporarily by alcohol and cocaine addictions.  Often when I started to feel sorry for myself I’d just look over at this one particular member who used to huff glue, smoke crack and drink to feel as if I hadn’t destroyed everything in my brain and ability to express myself clearly.

Then the guy across from me in the white t-shirt leaned in to share.
His eyes were something else. They were blue, clear and bright and it became more noticeable the more he spoke.

One thing I knew from my years in and out of AA meetings was that the transformation when someone’s illegal and shady life ends an enormous change transmits through their eyes. Bright clear shiny eyes are the bonus prize.

“Hey I’m Jimmy and I’m an Alcoholic” he began,
“Hey Jimmy” we all responded.

He started speaking using lots of hand gestures that reminded me of both kinds of guys, the one who is outside the Dufferin mall kicking it with his homeboys and the other who’s pure Italian College street bar hopper. I guess it was the part where he was telling us he spent the last nine years in jail and was just released March the 28th  and is now twenty-eight. When he arrived at his new apartment he couldn’t help but turn the light on and off for five minutes just to watch it a thought hit me:
What if this is a guy who wants us to believe he’s Jimmy, but he’s really an actor who’s created this character, written this entire monologue, memorized it and is saying it as an exercise for the Theatre School he’s enrolled at? This may be true, I believed, but this was some really talented actor. I actually had to fight my urge to whisper my suspicions of Jimmy being a performer to the girl next to me.

If anything I realized how come so many people used to ask me the question:
“Are you for real?”
“Come on dude, Is she for real?,” motioning their cigarette in my direction or the neck of their Molson’s to the person next to them at the bar.

So here I am asking myself, Is he for real?
“I’m really glad to be here today. I know that I am trying to deal and change so I really need AA. I kinda have to learn to feel and express all these things I really couldn’t do when I was locked up. If you were around the other guys you really couldn’t be sensitive or show any emotions, but trust me when I say you get to see them alone in their cells, and everyone is reading Cosmopolitan and crying.

So yeah, I got a call from my sister who invited me for the family dinner so we could all be together again and meet her new boyfriend, and his father is a judge of all things. So I’m sitting there and like: “Hello Mister Right.” And my sister tells me I shouldn’t freak out about something she wants me to know, but it’s hard to promise to someone that you’re not going to freak out , or be angry when you used to freak out and get mad and do….stuff all the time, you know. So I promised her that I’d be cool and she said that she may be getting engaged to this boyfriend, and he’s a cop. Yeah, so I’m sitting at the dinner table and there’s a judge on my left and a cop on my right and then there’s my dad, who’s a psychiatrist.

After I got through the meal, I go home to my new place, and I’m just so happy to see the sun come up, and hear the birds chirp, like I wouldn’t have cared or appreciated those little things before, and man… I love hearing the birds.

It’s hard to explain really why I was so happy to be able to have my own light with a switch I can control, that I just stood there for five minutes turning it on and off, just watching it. My apartment is like a rooming house where I have a microwave at the end of the hall. My sponsor came over with a bag full of microwave dinners and I have to learn to use a microwave now. I have to learn all these things about living on my own now, you know? I even have a television set and make a point to turn on the news. I watch the Premier of Canada, cause I didn’t know who it was but it’s like he hadn’t changed cause they’re all the same anyway so It really don’t make a difference.
Money is also a funny thing now, cause before when I was nineteen I had no concept of money. I had big rolls of twenty dollar bills, and I’d be all (mimes taking the money off of the roll) how much is it? Here take this. I wouldn’t even wait around for change. Now I’m just blabbing on here, but now it seems like I never have any money which is even more strange, as that’s the problem with it, cause you make it, but you don’t ever get to keep it cause you pay for a few things and it’s gone. Now I have to pay rent, bills, for food and then it goes. I work construction, that’s where my job placement is and I can’t stand my boss at the site. My boss is a total alcoholic cause he’s such an idiot, and I get so annoyed by his attitude. I’m all hey, he shouldn’t mess with me cause I’ve got access to concrete and nails and stuff.

 This woman came up to me after a meeting last week she finished crying and said her son is just like I was, and do I have any advice to help her cope and I thought, what can I say to this lady to make sure that he don’t end up dead or in jail, you know?

(Pause) Thanks for letting me go on like this, everyone looks happy today and the weather outside is beautiful and I’m glad to be here.”
Well, had this monologue ended at the Church Street AA meeting everyone would be clapping heartily, but when I looked around the room nobody else was as thrilled or as entertained as me – or they simply didn’t show it.

This reminded me of my escaping the jail of strip clubs and adjusting to a new relationship with money, responsibility and relationships. Time is frozen when I spent years in dark, dingy bars working every night and sometimes doubles. You don’t know how trapped you are until you get to a chair in a nooner and hear someone else share with experiences you can really relate to.

He also reminded me of a character right out of a Judith Thompson or John Patrick Shanley play.

When it came to putting change in the basket I dropped in a Loonie thinking show was well worth it, and then I got out the free movie pass I’d been keeping in my purse to give to Jimmy.

“Here Jimmy, go see a movie for free. Any day you want.”

He took it, and looked at me, “Yeah, I guess I can do that now, eh?” I smiled and made my way back to work.  The afternoon sun shone down, as I was enraptured in intense giddiness and comfort. Here’s this guy who’s now courageously living.

Do you know how lucky you are? I felt like shouting to the business drones with briefcases and blank faces making their way down University.  Really, do you know how lucky you are? Jimmy is baffled at how a microwave works, but he’ll never loose that clarity in his eyes if he stays sober.

The following Saturday I went to a nooner at The 519 Community Center on Church. Jimmy was there. He sat in the back. When he spoke he said that he picked up and used on Friday night. Yeah, I had been there before too. The disappointment. The realism of coming back and just feeling like whatever beautiful chain of sober days was not worth anything and how it may have just been a dream.

Approaching him outside I let him know it happened to me all the time. Up close I could see his pale skin and yellow teeth. His eyes didn’t look the shiny anymore, but by seeing the way he looked at me I knew he appreciated what I said. He lit up a Players and started to talk to the guy beside him. I didn’t know where to go so I just made my way down the street. Turning my head and taking a last glance behind me I could see how Jimmy is attractive, but only if I was looking at him from a distance.

 


Misery Loves Lunch (Chapter 4)

By the time I get to the Eaton Center I’m just another creature in this massive aquarium. Stopping off at the counter in the Bay I fiddle with the latest samples that are promoting someone in marketing’s idea of the “Grunge” look. I debate picking up some heavy studio fix for my face as controlling my outside appearance is always easier than controlling my happiness.

As I approach the Have-A-Java the scent of Kings Blend wafts over the tables and I’m glad it’s not too busy so I don’t have to push my way to get into our tiny broom closet sized back room. Sandra is changing out of her uniform, and I am staring at the back of her grey sports bra.

“Sorry Sandra, I’m just putting my things away.” She turns towards me combing her thick, healthy brown hair in the magnetic mirror we have on the fridge.

“No worries. Are you just starting?”

“Yeah. I hope Tom isn’t going to come in tonight, he’s so annoying,” I mumble.

“Are you alright?” she tilts her head, “you seem sad Annie.”
Tying on my apron I put on a false smile to avoid my painful reality.

“Everything is great, seriously I better get out there.” Her puzzled expression doesn’t prompt me to continue. Once behind the counter I pour myself a large iced tea and try to round up Taylor and Jenny to share the events of the past two days.

“Okay guys you’re totally not going to believe this,” they stop moving finally focused in anticipation when a mall regular interrupts with somewhat of an exaggerated desperation to get something “that will give me the strength to face another five hours of retail hell” As I patiently wait for him to decide between a Beany-Freezie or Italian Soda I watch my captive audience disperse. When another customer pops up like a gopher in an arcade game Taylor’s attention is distracted in administering their caffeine fix. It seems like I never get to talk with Taylor and Jenny anymore. The days go by and all that’s exchanged between us are a few Georgina and Tom imitations and work-related comments. I chalk all this up to Tom telling us to quit socializing so much.

Then the strangest thing happens: the importance of having them know about my experience at Kendal’s fades. It then occurs to me that maybe they’d seen crazier things and didn’t need to share with me. I continued to do what we do on any regular day without even noticing that neither of them approached me to find out the rest of my story.

I call Hilary to see if she can meet up with me after work.
“Hello… hello?” Darlene’s voice echoes in their kitchen. I hang up immediately, avoiding chit chat with Hilary’s mom.

Calling back an hour later her dad answers.

“He-Hey Hello is Hilary around?” I stammer like Tom.
“Is this Annie?”

“Uh, yeah.” I hear him cover up the phone and tell Darlene it’s me looking for Hilary. She replies with something I can’t make out.
“Okay hold on.” By the tone of his voice I guess that they’ve been fighting or something. While my parents were happy being entirely out of my life, hers never knew when to back off.

“Annie?”

“Hilary” I hear a loud thud from the other extension being hung up. “Hey can you come over tonight? Maybe bring a video or something?”

“Sure thing… is everything okay?” I ask her knowing it obviously is not.

“Yeah, everything is peachy. I hate my life and my parents want,” she pauses, “to lock me up… UNTIL I’M SIXTY!”
She yells the last part for emphasis and I hear Darlene shout, “You’ll be gone WAY before then!”

“I’ll be gone tonight!” Hilary barely covers the phone as she yells back. Her father picks up the other extension, “Over my dead body you’re going anywhere.” He hangs up.

“Hill! Hill!” I try to reel her back in,

“What? Oh, can you also bring me gum?” I really don’t like it when I have to bring her gum cause she eats it so fast there’s never time to ask for a piece. I reluctantly agree.

“Multi-colored ones, yeah that’s the ticket. Rainblow.”

“Fine, Rainblow. See you after work.” I turn to hang up.

“Hey wait…” she pauses.

“What?” I anticipate another candy request.

“Hey wait…I’ve got a new complaint!” she starts singing Nirvana’s ‘Heart Shaped Box’ imitating Kurt’s raspy voice to get me to sing along. “Heyyyyeee wait,” I sing a little, looking over my shoulder at the line up of customers, knowing I really have to hang up now. She pleads with me to stay on the line. Tom comes in and makes his way over to me.

“M-m-maybe y-you should cut your calls at work Annie,” he says without putting down anything he’s holding but making it apparent that I’m doing something really bad.

“Sorry Tom” I whisper into the phone, “wow thanks Hil,” knowing her laughter is from Tom’s voice and hearing the whole scene play out. We’ll laugh more about this later on, but right now I feel embarrassed. Only five more hours to go.

It’s finally my time out of work and swinging a Blockbuster bag with the video Showgirls and five packages of Rainblow gumballs I make my way up to Hilary’s house. She’s about a twenty minute walk up from my place but it always seems shorter when I’ve got my Walkman. Turning up Dinosaur Jr’s raunchy guitar riffs I increase my stride. The sound keeps cutting out cause there’s something wrong with the cord. Pinching the nick in the cord temporarily fixes it, but if I move my thumb slightly the sound goes off again. After 3 minutes of agitation I reach the breaking point and turn it off.

Left only with the background sound of cars whizzing past my thoughts turn to summer memories of Hilary and I crashing parties. We may have set a record for showing up and destroying bathrooms. I remember the time where we shaving cream assaulted everything from the inside of the medicine cabinet to the guest towels. The last thing I saw before we were asked to leave whats-his-face’s party was his cat plastered in red lipstick kiss prints rendering him somewhat wounded. Maybe what we needed to lift our spirits was another club outing where we could destroy a public bathroom.

The Reading SalonThe air gets colder and I notice how some of the houses have their Halloween decorations up already. I walk through the chain link walk-way through to the enormous terra cotta and beige brick homes that line the street of her neighborhood. If I grew up with parents who could afford seasonal vacations to Whistler and Miami I’d never complain, I muse. The kids who grew up on Meadowvale lane got that and more – from overnight camp to anything in the mall they’re the ones I envy. If they wanted piano, dance, art, and singing lessons they got driven there and picked up after. These teenagers had crazy house parties and got their own car at sixteen without even touching their Bar-Mitzvah savings. Nice life. Leering at two girls my age with plaid coats and pom-pom toques getting into a white Side-Kick jeep.  I imagined them driving to the mall to pick up the latest Sonic Youth album to say they had street cred.  What I lacked in money I at least made up for in vintage know-how and alternative club night passes, I rationalize as I watch them drive away.

Approaching Hilary’s house I see the apricot colored balloon curtains in the living room window. Hilary’s house is just as impressive as the others on the block with an immaculately designed front garden her mother designed. If keeping up appearances are so important to Darlene, I wonder why she doesn’t even care if the neighbors hear them yelling at each other all the time. The ruckus travels through to the yard from their heavy oak front door.

“I just asked you if you know where it is. I’m not asking you to find it!” Hilary shouts. The midget scarecrow her mother festively decorated the porch with stares up to me with defeated button eyes. Fixing its straw arm from looking askew I hear Darlene yell at her to stop leaving her things lying around everywhere; a common theme in their argument repertoire.

“Hilary!” Darlene’s voice carries from upstairs.

“What?” she shouts back.

“I’m not going to move your things for the one hundredth time. Not now and really not when Vicky comes to clean. You haven’t even been here in the last three days, so don’t start yelling when your stuff gets moved, cause that’s exactly what’s going to happen.”  I pause, this was news to me. I didn’t know that Hilary had been gone from home at all, but it made sense as I hadn’t really spoken to her much in the past three days.

Hilary greets me at the front wearing her comforter around her like a shawl. She rolls her eyes at me and I know how to enter quietly.

“I just don’t care.” She pushes textbooks off the bench in the front so I can sit to take off my boots. In situations like these I don’t really want to encourage her defiance, as I know most of it really is an act – from both of them. Untying my Docs I say hi to her mom. She holds a carrot in one hand and frantically gesticulates with it the same way Hilary would.

“Hello Annie, how are you? I see that Hilary called you over to help in the search and clean up crew. I hope there’s a math textbook in that bag and not another video on Jim Morrison.” Darlene stands five feet five wearing her pink fleece vest zipped up over a long sleeve basic from the Gap. Her short dirty blonde hair is cut in one of those wash and go mom styles that always looks good tousled. Striking eyes like Hilary’s, she reminds me of the mother in the T.V. show “My So Called Life.” Nothing really gets by Darlene whose had her stamina tested more then once as a Toronto high school teacher. She lives up to the super-mom stereotype keeping a Kosher kitchen and still looking attractive after preparing a five-course Shabbat meal. One would get the impression of her doing it because she has to live up to some standard, but I believe she actually enjoys it. The smell of roast chicken awakens my appetite as I get a whiff of her cooking. If my mother was as on top of things as Darlene, I would never be as unhappy as Hilary, I think.
“Annie, maybe you can get her to wash the clothes she’s wearing. Look at her, she’s becoming a female Pig Pen.”

Hilary did look as if she was coming back from Woodstock, with multi-coloured paisley skirt over red long-johns and stringy hair held back with a blue bandanna.

“Ma!” she whined, “enough! I just want to be loved!” leaping over to Darlene Hilary throws off her comforter revealing a soup stained t-shirt. Hugging her mother, I watch Darlene’s arms stay limp at her side as if to show Hilary she didn’t believe this was a sincere move. I decide to start the distraction.

“Hey Hill, how about we play the ‘clean up your act’ game before watching the movie?” picking up her blanket and throwing it over my shoulder I nearly fall back. Darlene starts to untangle from Hilary.

We clamber up the huge winding staircase passing her dad’s framed black and white portrait enlargements of The Beatles and Rolling Stones. Keith and Mick’s never aging smiles greet me.

“Aaaaghh Sid I look like a hippy!” I yell up at her in my best Nancy Spungeon imitation from the film Sid and Nancy.

“I know!” she says ripping into the gumballs. “I just couldn’t find anything clean, or really anything that I felt like wearing.”

Her bedroom was in complete chaos. It was ten times worse than what normally would be considered messy by her mother. How could her room turn this insane? I try to push past the piles of clothes. There were mounds of shirts, pants and dresses everywhere. Maybe under one of those piles would be an extra pair of earphones I thought, making my way to the center of her room. My foot stepped on a fork sticking out from under a clothes pile. Looking down at her cream colored broadloom I could see hot chocolate stains resembling blood after a crime scene. The wicker shelf that held her art supplies in a somewhat organized manner now lay on its side like in the movies after a robbery. Jars of drying paints, crusty brushes from decoupage glue, molding clay and wires were scattered around it. On the other side of the room her bed had been stripped of all sheets exposing a mattress covered in a spilled bottle of green glitter. Glitter seemed to appear on every surface from her pillow to her nightstand. The bed skirt slowly unstitched itself from the top all the way down, sagging in a way that looked like a woman’s dress after an attack. One entire wall of her room was made into a huge mirrored closet which Hilary hated so much she began to decoupage wallpaper flowers on it.  I wanted to at least open the window for air but the bamboo blinds looked as if they would split away from the rod if I adjusted them. She had woven in pieces of wire with clay angels and somehow didn’t predict how that weight would pull the blinds down. The clay started to crumble making their cherubic cheeks look skeletal.

God bless this mess. I push aside a handful of Juicy Fruit wrappers and crumpled up Archie comics with my foot. Torn pages of comic books were balled up protecting discarded wads of gum.

“Yes Hilary. I’d say this is enchanting. You really have outdone yourself.”

“I know, Vicky would have to be on some serious crank to want to clean this shit up,” she said while rooting around in one of the piles on the floor. Vicky has to be the most dedicated Pilipino housekeeper in the world to work for her family, I thought. Picturing her with a vacuum in this mess made me laugh. We started imitating Vicky reactions unaware of Darlene coming up the stairs.

“Oh my God. Do you know what that smell is?” she pops her head in the French doors staring at me sniffing at the air. Pulling over her fleece vest over her mouth she enters the room like a chemical war zone. Hilary starts, “smell? What? I totally don’t smell anything. Look Darlene, I just want to be alone with Annie.” Her mother now having tracked the invasive scent bravely lifts up an overturned wicker basket pulling a Druxy’s paper bag out of her tapestry purse. As she unrolled the top down, Hilary jumped up for her purse in a way that told me there’s more to discover then a moldy old tuna lunch.

“Okay, hey now, do you mind?”

“Howzabout that? Tuna. Nice Hilary.” Darlene gesticulates with the bag in the same manner she used her carrot earlier making me realize utilizing intimate objects for emphasis to punctuate your point works very effectively.

“I’m sorry, I’ll Lysol or something okay?” Hilary reaches for her Secret deodorant spray pushing the nozzle. Darlene and I start coughing. Plucking a red turtleneck and pretending to fold it I try to not laugh. Darlene stayed calm, “You’re going to have to get things straightened out before your father comes home.”

“That’s fine. We’ll do it, okay? Just go,” she glared at her mom.

“You’re unbelievable.” Her mother told her shaking her head. Worried that they’d start fighting more, I picked things up as fast as I could move. Pulling out a thick Guatemalan style cardigan I dislodged a half empty smaller glass mickey. Sometimes we’d buy a smaller one to go with our bigger one if we thought we’d need extra vodka. Watching it slide down the clothing pile like a kid on a toboggan it thumped down beside my left foot. Looking back up I watched to see if Darlene had seen. My left foot shot out to bring it closer to me so I could conceal it behind the pile.

“Don’t worry Darlene. We can do it in thirty minutes. Piece of cake,” I convincingly give her the thumbs up. Darlene backed out yelling something about garbage bags. Hilary grabbed an eyelet throw pillow and whipped it at the door. I let out a sigh.
“Honestly Hill, I didn’t think I could get away with hiding this mickey but she didn’t seem to notice.” I picked it up and tossed it to her.

“Thanks.” She fake fumbles the perfect catch. “Funny, I forgot about that one.” She still has her tapestry purse clutched under her arm. Coming to the bed she opens it and started rummaging around.

“What’s going on with Kendal? Is that where you were hanging in the past few days?” I knew to ask her now before her mom came back.  Taking some clothes over to the bed I sit down beside her. There’s nothing to say now, as she presents a clear plastic bag in her purse holding several needles with orange caps. She looks at me and widens her eyes. “I’m so lucky. I would be fucked if she found these.” She spits out a wad of gum and looks for a piece of comic book to put it in. The sad thing about Rainblow is the gumballs begin as beautiful bright balloon hues of perfect colour, but when all mixed together inevitably turn gray.

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Red’s Corner (Part 2)

Tommy’s face was always red. He had brown rocker hair with puffy bangs and thinner wispy parts in the back. He had white business cards with a black font reading: Master Tim – Bartender. Tommy was the quintessential New Yorker from the 70’s who wore the same outfit, tight black jeans, white t-shirt and black leather vest with a gold zippo in front pocket for easy access.  Even with an owner who was fussy, and always gave Tommy a hard time, he had the final say on anything that was changed in the bar. He was Red’s Corner. His presence behind the shiny, dark wood bar rail was huge. He’s who you want to greet you in a bar when you’re 20. He’s the person that you wait for to serve you these cocktails that you’ve waited your life to experience while hustling up customers to take back next door to the Chez Paree, cause it’s illegal to serve alcohol in the gentlemen’s club.

Red's Corner
Tommy would start, “Heeeeeeyyyyyy, girls – no joke, why don’t you give your boss Steve free dances? He’s the one who gave you a bar next door to spend all your hard earned money at and get smashed, eh? Why don’t you offer him a quickie in the back next time you see him, do it for the simple fact he’d be a hell of a lot happier and stop riding my ass for stupid shit.”

The Toilet at Red's Corner
The Toilet at Red’s Corner

A Hustling Heaven Historical Landmark: The Chez Paree (Part 1)

It’s a slightly drizzly evening in February when I begin my investigation in San Francisco’s Union Square. I decide to take a chance and follow my intuition by exploring the neighboring area around my hostel. I’m 20 years old but don’t look a day over eighteen and now owned a brand new pair of black velvet stiletto’s which were hidden in my campers backpack in a hostel.

The neon can-canning Leg catches my eye – how couldn’t it? The enormity of the structure was comparable to the neon yellow, green and red sombrero above a Mexican burrito joint on lower Broadway – neon works – especially for night crawlers like myself. CHEZ PAREE it reads in a neon green old timey font going down the leg and boot (high heeled of course).  Any female body part lit up in bright, glowing glory stands out for me as an indication for possible employment. Below the frilly skirt can-canning leg was the entrance with red velvet curtains letting you know that whatever is going on in there is good.  It seemed to date itself back to the twenties, when these establishments were offered as “gentlemen’s clubs” proper. Sprinting back to my hostel with the can-canning leg behind me, I feverishly scrounged for my hidden black velvet stiletto treasures.

I came back into the rainy night hoping that my hair could withstand the dampness, and not give a poor first impression for whomever I’d need to audition for. The doorman Big Al, teeth missing, with a leather jacket and cap, tells me it’s a 20 dollar entrance fee for men (return entry as many times in one evening) and that they stay open till 3am. Behind the curtain I am surprised as to how everything is suddenly a different world from anyplace I’d been before and it’s all inside one room.

There’s a counter to my left like a small bar where a heavy-set brunette woman in her 40’s is leaning on her right arm talking to a white shirted dude with a curly black pony tail who is making her laugh. Music plays, an eighties song I can’t remember the name for.  They decorated the walls with paintings and Parisian posters of “Les Filles De Dance!!!” and Varga images in Martini glasses all to resemble the better days of burlesque.  When I first got my license to dance last year it read: Burlesque Entertainer. Having no idea what they meant by that archaic term, I researched and discovered that at one period in history women made money by stripping alone, and not by lap-dancing. Now there’s no way someone wants to watch anyone just strip. Before I could see if this club has a good VIP area, the woman and man at the bar asked me what I wanted.

Napkin from The Chez Paree“Yes – I am looking to work here. The girl on stage is stunning, as well as the way you’ve decorated the club.” Moving in closer I extend my hand.

“You have beautiful teeth” the woman who’d be later known to me as my manager was Linda and the other manager was Danny. Linda usually did night shift, while Danny did day – more girls came at night and she was all about keeping the place running smooth and gave me the impression nobody would mess with her.

“Just come back with your shoes and costumes to try it out and pay me the fee and we’ll be alright” She said.

Now all I had to do is pay the $147 stage fee to work there and buy grips for the bottoms of my stilettos and I’ll be all set.”

Yes, that seemed to be 4 times the amount of stage fee that I was accustomed to paying – but because at the Chez Paree the lap dances weren’t $20 a song but a minimum of $100 a song. If you were caught by someone charging less “it’s your funeral” Linda told me. She’d be happier if we charged $150 a song, “After you wait to the third song to approach them please, I can not stress that enough,” she expressed. I liked her a lot.

Next door was the bar Red’s Corner that the owner Steve bought cause it was illegal at the time to serve alcohol in gentlemen’s clubs in the city. The bartender’s were his daughter Samantha, whom you’d always tip generously and Tommy a man in his late 30’s who came from Brooklyn and always wore a leather vest over a white t-shirt. He was so exposed and in the know to all the daily and nightly gossip of the girls and club he could talk to you without you needing to provide back-story on anyone and anything about the Chez Paree. He started off conversations with, “Yeah, Yeah, Okay sweetheart listen I know all of that and then this. Sure there’s something you can do or say but you know what…I’m not going to be surprised or entertained by anything Sabrina or Kitten say about Linda cause they can bitch and moan but at the end of the day…guess who’s boss? It sure ain’t Tony fucking Danza or them. (pause) Wanna another wine spritzer without the spritz?”

Later that week I go to a bar on the other side of the Tenderloin that is written about as the ultimate dive hip-hop bar in the SPIN magazine’s underground guide to U.S.A. I treated this as a true reference book to what was cool.

It’s in Bar Deco where the owner and bartender Jules introduced me to the Dave a punk rock kid that lived above the bar. He was my age and worked at Nordstoms in the back doing stock room cause he was much too hardcore to do retail. I ask if I could stay with him instead of the hostel and of course give him some cash now and then too and he agreed. He told me, “Just so you know I live with another guy Ian who smokes crack. I’m not saying that to be clever or seem edgy, he is actually addicted to crack cocaine.”

Not even batting an eye I chose this over paying $28 a night in a hostel.

Dave stops at the bodega to grab “Gutter Punk Cigarettes and Beer” he tosses my duffel bag my way and I catch it feeling how heavy everything I needed was and wondered why we didn’t cab it the 3 blocks.

“Onward and forward to the Groin of the Loin!” Dave exclaimed with cigarette dangling and duffel bag slung over his shoulder. I got excited as now I’d have company to stay with and the best part was that Dave didn’t give a rat’s ass where I worked, or where I came from he just did his life while I did mine.

“Why do they call this hood the Tenderloin?” I ask him as we pass homeless men, women, and scattered dirty children’s toys that are from the discount section and fall apart fast. There are more black bag ladies here then anyplace I’ve been before in my life. There are dealers, addicts, users, pushers, handlers, pass-off boys, and yet I felt safe. What made me feel un-safe was coming across someone mentally deranged with no physical boundaries as they’re the grabby, jumpy energy of unpredictability. I could walk to work easily but I wasn’t sure about coming home alone at night. I just have to try it and see how it goes.

“You got to love Chinese right?” He asked, “There’s an incredible place around the corner with killer Moo Goo Gai Pan and Egg rolls.”

“Absolutely” I was easily distracted by the homeless woman who dumped the contents of her shopping cart onto a blanket: magazines, books, shoes, sweaters, about the same types of things I have in my duffel bag but mine were new and not all I owned in the world. Back at my Bubby Sarah’s house I had left my world behind in boxes someplace safe and cozy I could always return to, but wanted to explore California starting from San Diego working my way north through Los Angeles, staying in hostels, doing poetry on the beach, meeting DJ’s and high fiving artists while I just plodded along until this town, San Francisco as I instinctively knew would be my kind of place to work and thrive in.

Jack MacDade enjoys a beer on his 21st birthday at The Chez Paree nightclub.
Jack MacDade enjoys a beer on his 21st birthday at The Chez Paree nightclub.

Arriving back at Bar Deco he unlocks the apartment entrance and tells me that he’ll give me keys when he gets them made tomorrow. We walk up two flights and once inside I realize how small this apartment is. Dave has a bed in the kitchen and I’d be sleeping in a sleeping bag on the living room floor. The entire living room wall was plastered with the same clown poster over and over again.

“When Ian comes home I’ll introduce you and we can get some dinner, cool?” Dave told me that Ian kept his crack pipe in the bathroom hidden behind the toilet. I don’t think I tried to find it the entire two weeks I stayed there.


End of Part One. If you enjoyed this instalment please leave a comment below. Thank you for reading! 

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NEW THINGS TO TOUCH AND TASTE (CHAPTER 3)

“Heeeyyyy guys glad you can make it out to my place,” Kendal’s words were that of genuine gratitude and happiness, but her face seemed to tell a different story. Her long, thick, shiny, black healthy hair was all shaved off. How could she shave off all that hair? I was shocked. As a result her head looked much smaller and unaccounted for her body. What is wrong? My eyes transfixed on her tiny head and big eyed presence. Dirty fingernails curled around the door-knob.

“Hey Kendal, I haven’t seen you in for-eh-vah!” I go to hug her, but she pulls her shoulders away from me and turns around. Following her, Hilary and I make our way up the poorly lit stairway. Kendal has a single pea-soup green dyed braid in the back of her head. I turn behind me to Hilary shutting the door like she’s totally hunky-dory. She shows no sign of being effected. I start telling her about the lady we saw and then get distracted with the wood trim in the home. There on the door way I recall acid lime green trim and along the fireplace in the main living room complimenting the bubble gum pink walls. I have the flashback all the way to when I was in this apartment a year or two ago and it had inflatable furniture, Sesame Street dolls lay on top of purple fun-fur rugs. It completely suited the Raver’s living in it when Laura from the Have-a-Java crew took me.

“Hey guys?  Are you listening? I was here before…what a trip!” I share my excitement.

“Dude, they seriously messed up the beautiful natural dark wood by painting right over it.” She points to the lime green on pink fireplace to emphasize her point.

Curious to see if there was still a small, metallic blue colored room off to the right side I head to the back of the hall. Just as if it were a dream, I open the door to a tiny room I stood in before.
Laura’s friend Tina had made it her designing studio devoted to her many costume creations which she’d always tastefully showcase at a party or after-party. In this room I remembered her samples of colorful textured prints creating a border.  Now the here was completely spirit-less with dirty shirts and pants spilling out of stuffed garbage bags. Backing out I head towards Kendal’s bedroom.

Hilary is sitting in the centre patting a grey kitten. There isn’t a spot for me to put my foot unless I want to step on her clothes. Kendal pushes aside bowls and plates to make some room for me.

“Really guys… there were bonna-fide club kids living here. I’m serious.” I get an unimpressed response of silence. Kendal stares off into space like a crazy old lady on a bench. Her eyes somehow disturb the balance of her face, making me uncomfortable. Hilary is unusually quiet. I feel the need to speak again cause I’m really not digging what’s happening.

“Totally about living in the artistic process Kendal,” I lie. Her space is strewn with jars of paint, brushes, sketch books, and cups of grey water. What look like parts belonging to the inside of a car or machine were heaped in a pile on the other side. I see her clothing half-shoved, half-folded inside red, green and blue milk crates like the ones we use at work. The mattress looks lonely lying on the floor without any bed-frame or sheets. I try to act nonchalant and pick the cleanest looking spot to sit down on. A mans amazing but tinny voice sings out of her dented yellow stereo.

“Stephanie Says, Stephanie Says…” 

“Who’s this singing?” I ask Kendal half expecting her not to hear me. She turns around to reach for something behind her and brings out the cassette. The cover has a banana on it: The Best of The Velvet Underground.

So this is what they sound like, I marvel. Hilary didn’t respond when I called her attention to the band. She nods her head totally preoccupied with something else. I start to worry cause she never gets this quiet if she’s just buzzed.

“Is everything cool… Hill?” I reach out to her knee, but she changes the way she’s sitting to be slightly closer to Kendal.

Kendal lights a red candle placing it on a dish in front of her lap. She clears her throat several times.
Groping inside a milk crate beside her she holds out a needle the size of a small pencil.

“These are really easy to get from the drugstore when you tell them you’re a diabetic and you really need them for your insulin.”

Whoa, hold on here. Kendal does heroin? Hilary didn’t tell me we’re going to Kendal’s to sit around and watch her shoot up. As much as Hilary might want to see that, I knew in the past few months she’d become more and more vehement about looking for a chance to try Heroin.  She once said that if she could experience what most of our icons claimed was ‘the hardest high to kick’ then it could provide some insight into their souls.

But I couldn’t just stand up and leave. If I got out of Kendal’s apartment this buzzed without Hilary I’d be alone in this creepy area. I shoot a look over at Hilary which she totally pretends not to see, instead her gaze is on Kendal’s needle. Maybe because Hilary was interested in trying heroin Kendal assumed I was as well. It’s just typical of Hilary to only think of herself and take me along convincing me that Kendal wanted to see me, when she hadn’t even asked me about work or what I was doing.

Kendal’s hand shakes slightly as she pulls the needle down, and takes a spoon from one of the bowls surrounding us. Wiping the spoon on her black, frayed sweatshirt bottom, she places it beside the needle on the floor. In her hand I see a tiny packet the size of a stamp. Unfolding it open she starts coughing again, tapping out an amount the size of my pinkie nail into the spoons cradle. Deciding that I’d watch her demonstration I lean in closer. Smack doesn’t look yellow, I observe, but it doesn’t look pure white either, it’s kinda like a mushroom color.

“Okay, so now that you’ve put the tiniest amount in the spoon, you take your neeeeeedle.” She trails off picking it up and sticking it into a baby-blue plastic cup that she brought down from one of the milk crates. I watch her stick the needle into the cup and pull the orange plunger.

“Aaaand that’s the water to cook your junk,” she lifted up the needle to hold it above the spoon and pushed on the plunger.  A tiny thread of water shoots out of the needle onto the spoon.

“If you didn’t have a candle, you could just use your lighter.” She looks into the flame coming from the candle. Like kids watching a science experiment, Hilary and I observe how the water in the spoon began to bubble after a few seconds.

“You see the tiny bubbles forming? Now at that point it’s cool to take your cigarette filter and break it in half and drop it in.”

“Why?” Hilary asks.

‘ “Wait, you’ll see,” she pulls out a flattened pack of Du Maurier’s taking out foil, unfolding it to expose the broken filter which she dropped into the spoon. The white cotton drinks up all the liquid. It’s magic!

“Now take your needle and stick it in the cotton.” She holds the spoon in her shaky right hand, and pulls the plunger with her teeth while holding the skinny body of the needle in her other hand.

“There. See?” Kendal coughs reminding me how she once spent an entire winter homeless when she lived in Vancouver. My eyes focus back on the spoon, which is now completely dry with a Q-tip sized amount of withered cotton in the middle.

“You don’t ever want to get a tiny piece of cotton into your needle. If you get it into your bloodstream it can majorly, majorly, fuck up your heart. It’s what they call cotton fever.” She warns us, searching for something by her knees.

“Hilary, can you pass me that nylon behind you?” Pushing up her right sleeve she starts tapping on the side of the needle. Just like watching smokers tap the bottom of their cigarette on the pack before they light up, I think this is a ritual that junkies have. Later I realize it’s a preventative step to ensure that no air bubbles are present. Hilary passes Kendal the nylon eager to watch the rest of the process. Kendal ties it around the top of her arm to make a vein stick out. I know this part, as this is the only bit they let you see in films when someone is shooting up.

Nah-how bay-bee I’m buh-ginning to see the light, that’s right… The Velvet underground are giving me the shivers, as the music’s essence seems to twirl around the candle.

One time I watched my friend Lauren pack a pipe with weed, but that doesn’t make me think about hospitals or how dangerous putting something in your skin can be. Kendal’s procedure is perfected as she uses one hand to stick the needle in her vein, the other to hold on to it, and her teeth to anchor the plunger drawing blood out of the vein.
“Push it in partially then wait. Then draw blood for the second time and by pushing it in all the way…here, Annie do you want to push it in for me?” Without a second thought I lean over, reach my hand towards the needle in the same manner I’d light her smoke, I bravely push in the plunger. Kendal pulls out the needle leaving a bead of blood to rise on her arm. She quickly unties the nylon from her arm and the next thing I know she’s at the window puking her guts out.

Over the retching sounds I ask her if this is normal, “Are you okay?” I walk over to her window and put my arm on her back. I look down and see that she ate something with corn in it. Trying to say something that would make her feel better I tell her how Hilary and I puke sometimes when we really get wasted.

“What does it really feel like exactly?” Hilary asks her.

“Once I finish puking the feeling is sooooo worth it.” Kendal tells her still leaning out the window. By the expression on Hilary’s face I can tell she’s impressed by this new way of self torture.

Kendal jerks her body back into an upright position leaning against the window frame for support.

“Do you want to try it?” she offers her supply to us as if it were a mixed drink she’d just come up with. My mind has already made the decision to not use a needle to get high.  I’m just too squeamish, Hilary on the other hand is game for almost anything so I’m a little surprised that she turns it down.

“Not now…” pausing she lowers her voice, “I may come back, you know.” My gaze follows Kendal’s kitten wander over to the needle lying on the ground, and begins to bat it around. Kendal picks up the needle by the end and tosses it onto a dirty dish on a shelf.

“Now I feel like…comforted and safe. I feel warmish-numbish.” Kendal’s eyes close half way when she says numbish, and I start to feel like some people do grow up quicker then me and experience things that I’m too chicken to try. I envy her independence the same way I envied the party-people’s independence, I’m just not sure that I’d live in such squalor. Thinking about doing it sobers me up quicker then I anticipate. Hilary and her make plans for when they’re going to see each other again and I got the feeling that they didn’t want me to join them. Before we head home Kendal gives me her Velvet Underground tape to take home and copy.

We ride the streetcar to Osgoode station in silence followed by tired excuses to not talk to eachother on the subway. Two stops before Finch Hilary opens her eyes.

“You know heroin is something I might try, but can you see me with two hundred and forty dollars?”

“What do you mean two hundred and forty dollars?” She looks at me as if I should have known that was the exact cost for a gram. She rests her head on her bag which is smushed between her and the ink-black window. For some reason I think back to Kendal’s hair.

“Can you see me ever shaving off all my hair?” I ask her. We laugh about that for a little bit and it feels good.

MISS Butter, Helkio

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My Third Song Is On (a Poem)

Jewish Strippers on Heroin is based on true events but of the names have been changed. 

Unfolding curled slightly damp, American Dollar Bills.
These are for me.

A plastic red heart shaped basket is passed around by Azita who chimes,
“I’ll do your basket!” when David Bowie’s song Heroes kicks in from the jukebox,

in a room with no DJ but a phenomenally stocked jukebox that you punched in your own songs.

In a room with no windows she weaves her way around the tables asking the men,
“Would you like
to tip the dancer onstage?”

They reach for their wallet – coat pocket – inside of jacket – side jean pocket to get a few one, five, sometimes ten dollar bills.
Her brown ringlets bob up and down after thanking them leaning in close in their laps close, so
It’s only later on I learn that:
Azita offers to do the girl’s baskets because the new customers will get

a Closer look

At her

All the while my high kicks to Bowie are ignored.
I trundle back into the change-room, black g-string in hand. My glass of ice in the other.
She puts the red, plastic, heart-shaped basket on the counter where I scoop up the bills- tip her some.
I do this quickly so nobody will watch how much I made. So Devon can’t ask me for money for smokes.All the bills are shoved into my purple furry monster ristlet.
Later on I will count them, peel them back, fold them.

My luck, my pride and joy.