Sunday, September 20, 2009

Kitchen Therapy - The End of the Detour

* Sorry I'm taking so long. My dad came in town this week, I took on another class at the last minute and I was celebrating the Jewish holidays. Happy New Year everyone!*

Cat and I stood outside in the rain for a few seconds to get our bearings. To me, the whole scene inside the little brick house was something out of a horror movie. I trembled with relief that we had made it out alive and that the women in there, plus the small Asian man, hadn't ripped us apart and eaten our limbs raw.

"Let's cross the street and catch the bus back home," I said.

"Are you kidding me? Are you being uptight again? Jeez!" Cat huffed.

"What? We could have been murdered in there!!"

"No we could not have. Please. You're being dramatic."

"I am not!" I said, "And you were just as scared as I was!"

"Please. Those idiots don't scare me at all. I walked out because that bitch steals all the money. I'm not giving someone seventy percent of what I make and I'm not cleaning up after a bunch of weirdos jerking off. But that doesn't mean I was scared."

"OK, so what do you propose then?"

"We're going to the Buck Wild. It's just a couple bus stops down. If it wasn't raining we could walk, but I don't want my hair to get any wetter than it is. It's knotting up."

She fluffed her burgundy dreads.

"You mean you still want to strip?"

"Of course."

We caught the next bus, rode it a few stops down and jumped off in front of the Buck Wild's parking lot. The strip club was housed in a large building that looked like it once may have been a warehouse. It had a huge sign with flashing yellow lights exploding off in every direction and a big, neon cowgirl with a spinning lasso of hot pink glowing gas. The Buck Wild was a Country Western themed topless dancing establishment and not exactly one of the classiest places around.

"Ugghh, Why here?" I asked, "This place is white trash. We could at least try the Glitter Club. It always has limos parked outside."

"I can't go there dumb ass. It's too fancy. They only hire super models and plus, I have to tell you something - I'm underage and I heard through the grapevine that this place won't check IDs too thoroughly."

"You're eighteen!"

"Well, actually I'm, umm, seventeen. I'll be eighteen in October, which is close I know, yeah, but I need money now and I can't wait 'til my birthday, so just shut up, ok?"

Inside, the place was so dark I couldn't see at first. The mirrors, lights and roaring Southern Rock disoriented me and I was freezing from the air conditioning hitting my wet skin. I gathered my raincoat more closely to me.

Cat found a manager. He was a short, skinny man with a belt buckle the size of a dish of grits. His long hair parted in the middle and feathered out to the sides. He led us up three stairs, past a brass railing and unclipped a velvet rope that was so matted with dust that it wasn't even maroon anymore. It was grey. The long-haired man led us through some dark curtains and into a small, oval room with a kidney shaped loveseat and a brass coffee table with a spotty glass top. My mother would have had a fit if she saw that table top. One of the things we had fought over at home was drink rings and splotches on the glass tables. I hated how she always nagged and followed me from room to room with windex and paper towels, constantly bitching at me to wipe up. She should have seen all the rings on this table, I thought.

"This is our champagne room," the man said.

I went to sit down on the loveseat.

"Hey!" he said, "There's no sitting down on the job, not unless you've got a customer paying for every second of your time. That ain't how it works around here. My girls hustle. You dance at the Buck Wild you better be able to sell lap dances."

"Oh, sorry, So, why are we are in here?" I asked meekly.

"I ain't hiring either one of you without a private dance. I need to see if you can work it. See what your asses and tits look like 'fore I make my decision. You got to audition for Big Jim 'fore you can go Buck Wild."

I caught myself before I blurted out that he certainly didn't look very big to me.

"Big" Jim sat down on the loveseat with his arms crossed in front of him and his legs spread wide open, though I didn't know how he could manage not to rip his jeans, they were so tight.

Cat and I looked at each other bewildered.

"What do we do?" Cat asked.

"Number one thing is take them coats off. Show Big Jim whatcha got."

We slid our coats off and tossed them onto the couch. Big Jim looked us up and down, stood up and spun us around. He poked and pinched at each of us, surveying every curve and edge of our bodies, trying to gauge what we were worth. He smiled and snickered, told us what we already knew. I was too skinny and Cat was too fat. He liked Cat's tattoo and at the same time liked that I had none.

"You two is two opposite types and that's good 'cause we got to keep all kindsa looks. Me, I like the blondes with the big busts and I like a skinny black bitch with a high ass ever once in a while, but you know, ever man's got he's own look he likes that he'll pay for."

Cat and I were quiet.

"You," Big Jim went on, pointing to me, "You got that innocent look. You shave your pussy, you'll make a God damned fortune 'cause you got the body of a twelve year old. You need to wear a school girl outfit, suck a lollipop. They'll go crazy. Don't wear a mess of makeup either. You want to look like a little girl. They pay big time for that shit. I ain't never understood it myself, but a lotta men go crazy for it."

"How about me?" Cat asked.

"We get a big biker crowd. They'll love you even if you got the body of a 35 year old. Don't make no difference to them."

Big Jim clapped his hands and plunked back down on the couch.

"DJs about to play a new song. Now I gotta see each of you dance to a whole song. Show me how you do a lapdance. A whole song."

I had no idea what a lapdance even was. I had never been in a strip club before. I was barely eighteen myself and certainly hadn't had an opportunity to frequent anywhere where people danced naked for money.

"Do you know what it is?" I whispered in Cat's ear.


"So you go first," I said.

When the next song started Cat hesitated. She stood in front of Big Jim for several seconds, staring blankly at him before something jarred her suddenly into motion as if she were some kind of electronic toy and someone had flipped her switch to perform. There she was, dreads whipping around to some stupid country song neither of us had ever heard before. As she danced, she kept her eyes closed. This is what I remember the most. Cat danced with her eyes closed. I remember that and that it was the longest song I have ever had to stand through. And that as I learned what a lapdance was, I also learned who Cat was - not the tough, bitchy, critical, supposed free spirit with her crotch pierced and not the reincarnation of Janis at all. All of that pretense disappeared as she grinded over Big Jim, eyes screwed shut to blind herself from what she was doing. That bad ass bravado was gone and in its place there was a seventeen year old fat girl without a dad, who had been forced to raise her little sisters and who wanted something more exciting, more romantic, more adventurous than life in some cold, industrial shit hole town in upstate New York. The girl dancing in front of me wanted someone to think she was pretty and she wanted to take care of her for once.

By the time I was eighteen, I had seen a lot of sad things. I had seen more sad, sorry sights by that age than most kids have and I never got desensitized to them, but the sight of Cat, the underaged, homeless runaway who wrote the lines to beat poems on her army bag, shaking her ass in the face of Big Jim, the manager of the Buck Wild, was one of the saddest things I had ever seen.

I grabbed her by the hair, almost by the scruff of her neck, just as the song ended.

"Cat, STOP."

I threw my own coat on, covering my ridiculous lingerie and wrapped her own jacket around her like a blanket. She was confused at first and then looked at me, her green eyes enormous with surprise.

"The song ain't over!" Big Jim protested.

"We're leaving!" I said.

"We are?" Cat asked.

"Yes, now come on!"

I hauled Cat out by the arm, but she never resisted. She just followed.

I didn't say anything until we got to the bus stop.

"I'm not letting you do that. That man was disgusting and that place will kill your spirit and I'm going to tell you right now that I will never do that. I will never sell my ass for money. I mean it. I will scrub toilets or work at Burger King, but I will never ever strip."

Cat was looking down the road off in the opposite direction. She shrugged.

We didn't speak until we got home.

"I'm just hungry," Cat sighd.

"I'll make grilled cheeses. Grilled cheeses are really, really good."

As we crunched through the buttery crust we let ourselves laugh a little about why he was called "Big Jim" but then it felt too soon and too gross and wasn't really funny.

"I need a bath," Cat said, "Come sit with me."

"No," I said, "I'm going to stay out here and read Maria's vegan cookbook and think."

I flipped through the pages of lentil burger recipes and millet casseroles to forget about the things I'd seen that day. I skimmed the foreign ingredients. Tumeric. Coriander. I wondered what these things were. Seitan? I didn't know what any of it was, but again, it was food and even the thought of dishes I had never heard of inspired and comforted me. I had about forty dollars left and it wouldn't last much longer, especially if I had to share with Cat. We'd be hungry again in a week or two.

And I still didn't have a job.

More to come...


Anonymous said...

Your writing warms my heart in the most unique ways. You have such a gift and your words always evoke emotions.

I'm so glad you found Husband, Canella and the happiness path. Hope Cat did the same.


kerry said...

Good for you for dragging Cat out of there! How does her story end? Who did she find to tell her she's beautiful?

I agree that grilled cheese is yummy. MMmm..... now I want one.

L. said...

I agree with Maureen's comment. Every time I read one of your stories, it plays on my heart strings.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, you paint such a picture that I can imagine you saying 'no
way' especially poignant was your
wise interpretation of the importance of Cat's eyes being

I know, years ago, my 'wiser' older
friend told me to learn that 'desperate people do desperate
things', and I'm so so glad that you two weren't that desperate!
You wouldn't be you, that's for sure. I'm so interested in how long Cat and you stayed friends ?
Are you still in touch? (patience
is not my strong suit, but I'm
sure that will follow).

How can one not be proud of you
and your smarts/ your perception,
that night? Definitely not naivete.

I'm both proud and captivated.

Excellence again. Happy New Year.

Cathi in Canada

who can hardly wait to see you

(The Emmys tonight, which I don't
watch usually but saw House was up
for some many awards was so inspiring talking to writers and
saying - don't give up on your dreams. You are steps away from
being published - and I'm still wishing that I found you during
Wide Lawns.

This, however, is superb. It just
sounds like Wide Lawns also has a big part to do with who you are,
and all I can assume, is that you
worked with some interesting people, and I'm guessing at the

Summing up my book here, :) I just
love the way you weave your tales.

Hope you enjoyed your family time
and I'm sure there are stories to tell :)

One last p.s. is that my nickname
was Cat (just because of my given
name) I still have my one of my
sons' friends who calls me Cat,
but that now has turned into 'Catchy'.

Your words truly paint such vivid
pictures. Always. Bravo.

Melanie said...

A belt buckle as big as a plate of grits......

I've said this before.... but..... you really know how to turn a phrase!

booda baby said...

It's one of my favorite 'think pieces' of all time, observed long ago and ever since: we teach each other. All the time.

Nice lesson you gave Cat. No matter what she did and where she did it, that moment went with her.

Sadi said...

I am speechless. That was so descriptive, I feel like I need a bath.

Good job on getting her out of there. I hope she turned out all right.

Can't wait for the next segment.

Maria said...

My favorite part of this story: How the dominant character switches from Cat to you.

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