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.
“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