Friday, September 11, 2009

Kitchen Therapy -Part 3 A Detour of Sorts

***** I have been wanting to write this story for a very long time. Honestly, this section could probably stand on its own as its own story and it's probably not all that necessary to the Kitchen Therapy story, except chronologically. I could probably skip it entirely without changing my story of learning to cook in the hotel or I could relegate it to a few sentences - Cat and I went to audition in a strip club because we were desperate for cash. I could do that. But this moment was so huge for me, so life defining. I remember every single detail of it, the trauma of it, so vividly. For years I've thought about writing about this one day, or part of a day really, but have found myself unable to. I once tried to make a poem out of it, but that didn't work either. So I'm going to slow the story down a bit, which will make it go on longer and have more parts and some people will hate that, but I also hope that some people will love that too and that you'll stick around and come along for the ride because I need to write about this. Come on, get on the bus. It's the summer of 1992 and MARTA fare is just a dollar.*********

Dog met some drum circle pagans in Little Five Points and moved in with them. She got a job, but I don't remember what it was. She spent her free time braless or naked all together, having sex with the drummers, male and female.

Cat was different though. She stayed with us and didn't get a job. She had sex with no one although she did one night end up at the home of my roommate's Jamaican weed dealer and there was a girl there who did piercings. For free, in front of everyone, she jammed a needle through a part of Cat's nether regions and then with pliers inserted a small, silver hoop.

"I passed out," Cat would recount.

Then she'd pull down her jeans and show everyone her new jewelry. This fascinated me. No one I knew would ever so readily display themselves. I was so modest that neither of my two boyfriends to date had ever seen me completely naked in the light. But here was this girl who would just expose herself for anyone.

I learned that Cat, with her loud raspy voice, was from Buffalo. She had little sisters, a mom and no dad. Had just graduated high school. Was an A student. With her stained red dreads, full figure and freckles, she imagined herself the reincarnation of Janis Joplin, carried a copied cassette of her songs in her frayed army bag, which she had written all over in black Sharpie. Lines from songs and poems. A few symbols. An Eldridge Cleaver quote.

"God, you're uptight," she'd tell me.

She dragged me around by my arm, from room to room in our apartment, outside to the park, down the street, throught the aisles of Winn Dixie. We had an old clawfoot tub in our apartment, with no shower, though we tried unsuccessfully to attach a rubber hose with a shower head to the faucet so that we could at least rinse our hair (it kept falling off). Cat would ask me to keep her company while she soaked and I would perch up on the toilet, amazed at the way her gigantic breasts would rise up in the water and float. She used my shampoo and conditioner, which was quickly running out, so I conserved by only washing my hair every three days and wearing a hat when it got greasy. Then, when she finished her bath, I'd hand her a towel.

"Dry my back off for me," she'd demand and I would.

"You're such a freak," she told me.

"You're so weird. You need to loosen up. Why are you so weird?" she said.

One night I ran to my room, where I slept on a mildewy mattress that I'd literally dragged up from the rain soaked bulk garbage pick-up in front of the DAR building a few blocks down Piedmont. I sprayed the thing daily with Lysol, but could never get the stink out of it. On that mattress, where you could feel every single rusty spring, I scribbled out a fervent poem - an Ode to Cat. But I never showed it to her.

"I'm starving," she said one morning, "Give me one of your ramens. I like the Oriental flavor."

I only had two left. I had no money. I gave her the ramen noodles.

I may not have had American money, but I did have a small, metal box of foreign money. My dad traveled around the world working on different deals. He always brought me back the strangest, most wonderful presents. When he went to Brazil, he brought me back a preserved Piranha on a stick. I had a geode from the Andes, toilet paper from Poland, carved wooden boxes from Germany and some goose liver from Hungary, among other things. No matter where he would go he'd bring me back a bill or two of money from that place and I collected it in this small, metal box, like a recipe box. I had money from Cuba and East Germany from before the wall came down. I had money from pretty much everywhere in Europe, Taiwan, South America and Africa. The box was full.

And because I was desperate and mad at my parents I took my whole box down to the bank and cashed every bit of it in for American dollars. All of those memories gone, save for the Cuban and East German currencies which they wouldn't take, in exchange for $87.23. I remember the exact amount. Then I remember going to Winn Dixie and spending exactly half of it on food and the memory is so vivid that I can tell you exactly what I bought. Cheese puffs. Chek grape soda. A loaf of whole wheat bread, butter and Kraft singles. I bought a couple boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix, butter and milk. Then I bought chocolate Quik to go in the milk. Peanut butter. Smuckers strawberry preserves. Granny smith apples, hard, sour and out of season, iceberg lettuce, italian salad dressing and a box of frozen broccoli spears.

I came home and made corn muffins in my roommate's pan.

"I need a job," I said, sandwiching a half inch thick cube of cold butter between two halves of a muffin.

"I'm going to strip," Cat replied, "It's the easiest money there is. You just dance, show your tits and you get cash."

She spread the Creative Loafing (a weekly Atlanta paper) on the kitchen table and flipped to the back where the want ads were.

"Lingerie modeling. That's even better. Look at this one," she said.

"What's that?"

"It's better. You just wear lingerie and walk around and guys come and pay you. It's not like a strip club where you have to dance on stage or anything. I think it's more private."

It sounded easy.

"This place on Cheshire Bridge is hiring. We can go by tomorrow afternoon," she said.

I sighed and ate another muffin.

It poured the next day, torrential monsoons of summer rain that backed up the gutters and storm drains, along with the traffic. My stomach hurt and we slept in past noon.

"Come on, get some makeup on," Cat said, "And I need to use your eyeliner and lipstick."

She said this as she was already smearing my darkest stick of red over her mouth.

"I don't know what to wear," I said.

"Lingerie. I know you have it."


"I borrowed some of your underwear and I saw it in your suitcase."

Having no furniture, except for the mattress from the DAR's garbage, I kept everything I couldn't hang up in a suitcase I'd lifted from my parents' garage when I took off months before.

"Oh that, yeah. I should wear that? A white corset and garters?"

"Duh, it's lingerie modeling."

I'd only worn it once a year earlier. My boyfriend had bought the get-up for me, but it was too small, horribly itchy and it took forever to get in and out of, with the row of endless tiny hooks up its white, satin spine. I felt stupid in it. My only stockings had a run and the garters constantly popped open, sending the hose slinking down to my ankles.

"What do I wear over it?"

"Jesus Christ, don't you know anything? A coat."

"It's summer!"

"It's pouring rain."


And I did it. I had a black raincoat I'd found at a thrift store, so I slid it over my shoulders. Once Cat was ready, in her own black bra and my black underwear, which were too small for her, covered in one of Ian's oversized jackets, we rode the bus to one of the smuttiest, seediest areas of Atlanta.

"This is it?" I asked,"It's a house."

But of course this was it because it was a little A-frame brick house, under a billboard for a strip club and set back a bit from the road against some tangled pines whose needles reminded me of barbed wire, but it was a little A-frame brick house that had a huge white sign with red, cursive lettering over the front door. "Lingerie Modeling. Gorgeous Ladies." It was punctuated with a plump valentine heart.

Once we clamored off of the bus, back into the storm, we dashed, in our Salvation Army high heels, across the wet, muddy yard and up to the front door, which was locked. It had a buzzer with a crude intercom and a peephole. I felt someone looking at us.

"What do you want?" a voice sizzled out of the box.

"Jobs," Cat announced. She cleared her throat. "We're here for jobs."

"Hold on."

A tiny Asian man let us in and then we were in someone's grandmother's living room from the 70s, complete with a couch pocked with rust-colored cabbage rose print fabric and a shag rug that looked like the underside of a stray dog. There were even two easy chairs that were so old that they tilted off to one side like they'd had furniture's equivalent of a stroke. The velvet cushions were flattened, sanded and faded down the centers in lighter, duller places the shape of people. Five women sat in this living room, three on the couch and two on the floor, all with boxes of Church's fried chicken and all stared intently at a small, black and white television set, filled with static, which periodically sneezed out a few seconds of image. They were trying to watch a soap and I had the sudden urge to grab the rabbit ears and adjust them for them.

"I have a special power," I stammered, "if I stand here and hold onto it, the picture'll come in."

I'd always done this trick growing up. As long as I held the antennae, the picture was clear. When I let go, the picture disappeared back into a blizzard of static. I imagined them hiring me to stand there and hold them all day so these women could watch their stories in their entirety.

"BITCH! Get yo hands off that TV Set!!!!!! Who you think you is ho?" thundered the one, black girl, who wore a leopard cat suit and a blonde wig.

"La'Shelle shut the fuck up you dumb ass trick," said a scabby goth in thigh high boots with platform toes that reminded me of a horse's hoof.

"All y'all better shut up and let me watch my god damned show 'fore I knock y'all out." said a chunky blonde.

The two Asian girls on the floor, who looked to be all of about twelve years old, giggled and tittered and said something to each other that no one could understand, except the tiny Asian man, who scolded them causing them to abruptly shut up.

"What do you all want?" asked the goth.

"We saw you were hiring and we came to apply," Cat said.

This caused them all to pretty much have hysterics.

"Yeah, umm, go ahead and fill out an application!!" the blonde snorted.

"What the fuck are you stupid fucking whores laughing at now God dammit?"

The women went silent, as a much older woman, like my grandmother older, hollered at them.

The woman was terrifying. She had a beehive and a housecoat with cats on it. Cats romping over a background of pink roses. She wore turquoise eyeshadow and had a voice like sand. She looked like the angry old, nicotine stained hags that slopped grits graveyard shift at the Majestic Diner, but here, it appeared she was the boss.

"You're fat" She poked Cat in the sternum.

"And you're god damned skinny as fucking hell," she said poking me.

Then she turned to her girls, and pointing at me said "Where's this bitch's titties? Anybody seen her titties? I think she lost 'em. Baby doll, you leave your titties home today or somethin"?"

I didn't know what to say.

"Jesus Christ, I'm joking. You're hired. Let me tell you how this shit's gonna work."

It was to me as if she spit her words into a gigantic blender and set it to liquefy. Nothing made sense. I couldn't hear. I couldn't understand. Clean towels. Plenty of lotion. Clean pussy. No touching. 70% to the house. Credit Cards. Cash. Checks. Talk Sweet. The lotion again. Condoms. Condoms?? Clean up. Clean up what?

Cat spoke up.

"So dudes come in here and they pick which one of us they want and we take them back in a private room and dance around, get naked and they jack off and when they're done we clean it up and they pay us and you take most of it? Is that it?"

No one spoke.

"Fuck that shit," she said and I was never so happy to have her yank my arm out the front door and back into the rain.

More later (this story is so dang long)....


Anonymous said...

I'm so happy that you had a friend who had your back. I shudder to think what could have happened to you.
Lil Skraps

MtnMama said...

Take your time. I know what it's like to need to tell a story.

Serious Replies Only said...

I can't wait for part 4!!

Jocelyn said...

It's a good story, we'll wait for it!

BoB said...

Yes, please take your time.

Writing as therapy is something I completely understand, but I'm very interested to see how this turns out. It's always made a simple sort of sense when you hear people like Dr. Drew talk about stripping as a choice taken by those who've been abused, that they seek that kind of attention and affection. Then again, some of my friends tell me that this is bullshit. So the truth is somewhere in the middle. Personally, I've always been of the mind that strip clubs should be more like temples with worship of the divine female. Some of my friends also tell me this is bullshit. A friends roommate once weighed in that the girls in the clubs have all the power, but she was very outspoken against porn.

And out of all of this, I've wondered if there are women out there who use stripping as a form of therapy. If they use it to re-empower themselves.

So the full-circle nature of using writing as therapy for something I view as a possible form of therapy really intrigues me.

Jennie said...

I LOVE your stories!

kerry said...

I love your multi-part stories!

I've always been kind of fascinated by strippers. I'm sure the reality is less entertaining than my speculations.

Anonymous said...

We'll like the story no matter where and how you write it out. It's so amazing to see such a imagination at work. Seriously, where else can adults meet other adults that tell such great stories around the virtual camp fire?

dissed said...

*wide eyes* So then what happened?

Jess said...

Dear W.L.,

You have left me with my eyes wide and my jaw slack waiting on tenerhooks for your next installment.

Thank goodness you made it out of there in one piece!


Amy said...

You have GOT to write a memoir.

Please give us the next chapter soon! I can not wait to see what happened. PLEASE say you didn't do this!

Acme66 said...

Is it bad of me to dreamily reminisce about when you used to write about life at the golf course? This is good, but I loved hearing about those people.

BoB said...

You are such a genius.

I just noticed that Dog is just having sex with everybody, like a dog, while Cat has chosen her person. That person is you, duh, and she is both fighting with you and taking care of you, like a cat.

Again, genius.

Melanie said...

I just got back home to Texas after a week long vacation in Florida. You're so lucky to get to stay in paradise year-round.

I can't wait for the next installment on this amazing story!

Light Pollution said...

it's a little bit of all of that. really, it depends on the girl and has nothing to do with the place or the job itself. i was a dancer for about a year and a half and i have never been abused. i have never even been dumped by a boyfriend! i am pretty well adjusted. i saw a lot of girls who fit that stereotype, but i also saw a lot who were using what they had and just wanted to make some extra cash. so, it's not something that can be simplified. some men worship, some men try to take advantage. ultimately, a good dancer will treat both equally and be affected by neither.

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