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.
“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.