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.
“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.
“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,