nineteen and fearless. About to lap-dance the trickster who'd unzipped in
the dark. Jumping off the rude guy and then clocking him in the jaw. Shoving
stale popcorn in his face as he grabbed. Bouncer Tom come to my rescue,
come to lift him out, chair and all before he could zip it in. All the men
laughing as the fool hung out of his trousers. All the girls cheering as
he tumbled out the doors. Free beers on the house and noone try that
again with my girls. But you, said the owner all dressed in black with
a comb-over, I know you're 36-26-36 but you make too much trouble. Go
cool your troublemaker heels at my other place down the road.
Dancing at the joint down the road where the dj nicknamed me Brick House. Bribing the dj to play Brick House. The spotlight shimmering off the red sequined strip. Owning the room while sporting that red sequined strip. The flannel and boot crowd fumbling pocket change under the strip, rough fingers and no finesse. Loving the moves and hating the men, loving the men and hating the moves, hating the moves for making me hate the men, who love the moves and probably hate me, but jump back into their cold Cleveland cars to love themselves handily before returning home.
And trying to keep it simple trying to keep it simple trying to keep it simple and If you can't, said the dj, try one of these little blue buddies instead.
That place was called Brown's. That rough bar gone rougher come the deep freeze of winter. Come the deep freeze of winter in northern Ohio. The stink of fry-pit perch from the bar buffet, fry-pit smokestack greasing the icy sky. Boy shot sandbags open with his BB gun, poured sand to help cars grip the endless ice. Sundown by mid-afternoon throwing night down too early.
One Friday night when the heat pipes froze I wouldn't take it all off. Glass of beer flying at my crotch from a table of bad bored. Cold beer white skin goosebumps hopping down malt-stained thighs. Next night dancing naked with the fever caught from dancing wet the night before. Next day home under blankets in the ramshackle on Morgan Lane, red sequins still glued on and glinting under the covers like embers in a died-down fire.
Cleveland rock n' roll Cleveland. Fifteen-mile shiver in a gasket-blasted Pacer. Fifteen miles down the balky break-down-anytime road between Brown's and the ramshackle on Morgan Lane. Fifteen shiver miles singing the chorus to Brick House to stay warm. Night road the dark outstretched arm of a big sorry man. Pointing thataway girlie, seven more miles to go and it's Hello Cleveland All-nude and All-u-can-eat same place same time same price.
Me on a bender. Hump-dancing a man's wife onstage, me on the bender, she on a dare. Making more money pretending to fuck her than any other night. That night's tips bought another month in the ramshackle on Morgan Lane. Wondered if I should give her some money as she turned away from the cheers suddenly pale and sick with shame.
Me in a rut. Me in a rut on another sub-zero night-time afternoon. Seven sad men in the bar and me trying to dance to Bob Seger the spiteful sad barmaid's insisted-on favorite. Bob Seger the worst unfunky. Can't do any moves but white-girl herky jerky. Seven men watching from scattered seats around the room. Seeing the bearded landlord of that ramshackle house on Morgan Lane in the scattered shadowy seats of the seven men watching. My landlord sitting there watching like a sin professor, chewing the fat cud of what-a-surprise.
Landlord come to my side door next morning and scratched his flaky beard onto the side door steps and gave me the up-and-down with wet-lips and eyes. I smack the side door spring-shut right in his face. His phone call ten minutes later, his deep breaths between the words I'll need an increase or else if you know what I mean is that anyway to treat your landlord as the morning toast burnt in the fiery-wire toaster. Deep breath and hell-bent nerves firing and telling him that if he tried to kick me out I'd tell his wife everything and I wouldn't mince words and who do you think she'll believe? Taste of burnt toast conjuring up the sound of a landlord breathing. Taste of burnt toast forever ruined by the landlord who made himself a regular at Brown's and outstayed me there by his whole life.
New city five years later. Twenty-four and hungry in the new city under the sunbelt sun. Twenty-four and hungry in a city of toupee-white-belt-powder-blue-leisure suits. All bad tippers getting their Sanka from career waitresses who'll never leave their jobs. Job cross-off after job cross-off. Walking jobless down the road to the big magenta sign. White girl in a top hat hip-cocked and grinning on the big magenta sign.
Falling back on a skill because it pays easy money. Forgetting it's not easy, sometimes not even money. Losing the tips in my T-strap to a swift fingered frat boy in the new city. A big roach crawling in my wig in the dressing room of the new bar. Tables of thin beer and boat shoes and cheap tropical shirts. Shorts so thin you could get a disease doing a lap-dance.
And one day a lady in a headband, a prim lady with hair the color of corn, swept back from her powdered brow in a velvet headband. Prim headband lady walks in with a shaft of rude sun and says she wants to dance. Wants to audition and dance for the men. Wants to meet all the girls and see what it's all about. Show me how to dance for the men show me how to do it what else do you do? All questions no legwork no waist no chest no good. They say you can't take it all off but don't you take it all off? Prying like a little sister only asking to get you in trouble, surprise over dinner when she tells your parents what you said.
Don't tell me you can't make more money after you dance, don't you make the real money that way? I won't tell, don't you think I could do it too? Girls pawing the floor in their fishnets like a wary herd. Girls looking for exits. What girl you know comes to strip in a headband said the old blondie wiping oil into her chest as the lady took her headband back out the door and down the road.
Hours crawling towards night. Rank sunset coughing up a sallow moon. Glasses clanking onto shelves barmaid setting up cigarettes stubbed down. Moths swarming in the headlights as cars pulled up too close, high beams swimming the floor through the windows. Car doors chuffing shut too loud, too same-time, too many car doors shutting too loud and all at the same time.
Headlights flashlights front door badge glints men shout. Waiting a split second too long. Waiting a split second too long before the bolt. Whole herd of girls in flimsy this and that trying to beat it to the bathroom to the window out the back. Headband lady giving the megaphone a blowjob. Big lady officer in grey and blue with a piece. The Mama Sarge of the whole shebang. Girls with stories, girls with memories tucked under their supposedly impervious animal-thick skin, with gut radar, antennae firing and legs jolted to move. Mascara panic running. Heels clomping, shoes flicked off to stocking feet. Making it halfway down the back hallway which was making it absolutely nowhere at all.
Line of sass girls led out into the headlight glare. Line of sass girls fuming in Flexi cuffs, handcuffed by the new city's PD. Flap of more vice-badge wallets like show-off card tricks. Hand on my head pressing me into a back seat, cop climbing in too, squad car door chuffing shut. What's the difference between vice and vise. Choke-meat smell of burgers just eaten in the back seat. Chortle and click of radio set on low. Wrappers and cuffs and tangle of more flexis in the back seat. Vinyl gaining grip on the bare skin of my back leg.
Officer Somebody Big Man making cowboy talk in the back seat. Making quick clumsy fondle. Making dig for the goods. Mustache crumbed with lunch, flexi-cuffs keeping blood from hands, vinyl bite at skin shift. Scratch of trouser leg and bigfoot black shoe and Say my name. Biting lips to not do not say. Thigh muscle lockdown. Grim stare. Count to ten knees locked shut. Dancing means muscles. Dancing muscles saved the dancing girl.
Twenty-four and hungry in the stationhouse chair in the empty belly of the profitless night. Twenty-four staring at powdered donuts on the stationhouse donut table. Cup of sour coffee, quiet stretch of soremuscle legs. Blondie walking in behind the Mama Sarge walking out behind the Mama Sarge. Blondie's chest still shining with oil a grit-tooth swallow running down her old throat, her beach-witch hair falling dankly down. Fingers pressed to inkpad, fingers bumped to paper. Officer Somebody like it's post-roundup on the chaparral talking post-game with Mama Sarge. Being booked by the new city's PD for soliciting Officer Somebody. She insisted, I swear. She wanted me.
The seersucker-suited whiskey-breath sour-gut lawyer come in after his breakfast summoned by a phone call. Grabbed a jelly donut and said Here's the drill. Seersucker-suited whiskey-breath sour-gut lawyer with sugar on his grizzle who got me off and then got off. I signing for my effects in the stationhouse, ziplock bag and wanting to fake my name. Sunblast outside the terrible shine of the squad cars lined up in their stalls.
Shrug and change and shower and get back to work. Shrug and work and shower and change and work. Going back to work and just dancing, stretching sore legs against the pole. Thirst come on like a virus. Needing a water pitcher onstage or I panic. Endlessly parched and desert-stranded thirsty and not knowing why. Gulping water after water and careless about anything giving hands a wide berth. Stray dollars grabbed instead of let under elastic, a barren stretch of girlskin and few tips and I didn't care. Water pitchers filled and emptied, gulping from the spout. A night and another night and still thirsty and then a drunk calling me a whore.
You gonna shake it for your Daddy or what
Stopping mid-dip just staring under lights. Arms fall down from the wings of a shimmy. Looking for the face, red screwed up drunk face, long face hollowed out luckless and raw.
Can't stand these uppity attitude types stand there like we wanna watch them think
Stopped mid-dip just staring out at the voice in the room. Stopped and let myself think. Amazed under lights. Thinking, there it is. What I've been missing. My launchpad, my gatecard, my carkey, my doorbell. A reason to fight. Disco ball is a siren swirl before my eyes. Drunk standing up back, puffed out chest a blessed idiot messenger come all this way from nowhere, just for me, all riled up now just for me
Why you stop dancing you stupid girl get the lead out
Just him, just me. He the bum-rushed downluck fool in the chair and me the not-so-young meat onstage. Him the doubledare do your job know your place and me the sudden thinker. Thinking, I know why I've been thirsty. All the pieces falling into place like sequins on the red strip. This is the green light, his face, I've got the motor gunning no brakes down that black arm of the road. I'm a grip on pitcher handle, heft it up the big cool belly of the water pitcher newly refilled. Draw back shoulder like a bow and arrow. There's an Amazon in me. Recoil, ready with a big arc, a cascade of water, a perfect sprung arc off the stage and right into that red standing face, a full pitcher of water in perfect delivery landing smack dab on the man's mean face.
Glorious wave and splash and filigree of beading on eyelashes and open red mouth. Glorious record skip as the bar cuts the music and the girls come to watch. Glorious perfect legs moving springing off the stage, glorious manager heading consternatedly my way as the glorious agendas of all the losers in the world collide in the ruined interchange a jumble of cars about to crash. Glorious hands out and ready waiting for a man's naked silly neck and yelling This one's for Cleveland.