1982 : mardi gras redux

Originally posted March 16, 2010 on dirtygirldiaries.com.

“It’s two blocks, you could walk faster than…”
“I could. But I don’t hafta. I have cash, see? Cash? So, I don’t hafta walk. I don’t want to walk two blocks. I don’t want to walk one block. I’m paying you, so just drive….” I settle back into the seat making myself comfortable, two blocks or twenty, it’s all the same to me. “Sonofabitch,” I mumble under my breath. I’m a loud mumbler.

Piper and I have some version of this conversation every time we cab it from the Lollipop to Paul’s Mardi Gras. It’s a quick two blocks, well, two if we walk, which we don’t. We won’t. It’s six blocks when you drive.

I can walk. I’m not a cripple. But goddammit, why would I walk when I can be driven? I’m making all this fucking money, isn’t this exactly why? So I can do whatever I want, whenever I want and don’t have to take shit from anyone about it?

And Piper is simply not the kind of girl who walks, but rather she is escorted places. And, to be honest, the conversations with the cabbies are much nicer for everyone involved when I let her do the talking. That goes for almost all conversations involving men, and except for talking to Pipes and my mother, all my conversations are with men. And, if I’m going to continue being honest, I have to tell you I cannot remember the last time I spoke to my mother, certainly not since that night.

Piper is better at charming than I will ever be, especially these days. She is more about the batting of the eyes, where I come across more like a bat upside the head. I’ve tried it her way, but it’s like putting a party dress on a monkey. The monkey looks pretty, sure, but you’re not actually going to take the monkey home to meet the family.

The new Mardi Gras, Paul’s Mardi Gras, is to the Lollipop what Vegas is to Tuesday night Bingo at the VFW hall.  It’s like drinking inside a Christmas decoration the size of a football field wih live djs sending music pounding out of speakers as tall as goalposts. Everywhere you look, cash registers, balloons, streamers, mirrors, men in suits, women in nothing or almost nothing. Photos of dancers and celebrities line the mirrored walls. New Year’s Eve streamers give a festive illusion of privacy to the tables and alcoves along the walls. An endless river of dancers, waitresses, floor girls and barmaids sardine-can themselves in and out of the two stall bathroom and call it a dressing room. It’s a really BIG Christmas decoration, with vodka. Endless bottles of vodka.

We’ve been coming here to relax and drink here for a couple of weeks, whenever we need a change of scenery from the little Lollipop with its eight barstools, rinky-tink flashing jukebox and ten foot ‘stage’.

I slide on to the first empty barstool and hustle drinks I’ll get no commission on.  I could pay for them myself, but why, when I can get a customer to pay $20 for my $2 vodka and help one of the barmaids make her bonus at the same time? The vodka’s the same no matter who pays or how much.  I don’t care about making money or spending money tonight. I’m here to drink, the music is good, and it’s not work.  These are my people.

The Lollipop has Myron’s crew of wiseguys, some middle management office drones and a few frat boys, but everyone comes to the Mardi Gras: cops, on duty and off, New York and New Jersey; wiseguys also on duty and off, also New York and New Jersey; street hustlers, doctors, pimps, loan sharks, bookies, lawyers, psychiatrists, couples, off duty dancers, nude models, live sex show performers from ShowWorld relaxing in-between their live sex shows, celebrities, newscasters relaxing in-between casting the news, and a dancing dwarf who claims to be the real money behind the bar and demands blowjobs from each of the new girls.

A month or a week from now when I find myself dancing on this very stage and he sidles up to me, his face level with and pressed up against my barely g-stringed crotch, I will threaten to drop kick him across the bar. Dwarves freak me out. Sue me, sorry, but they do.

And while there may or may not have been a Robbie at Robbie’s Mardi Gras, which has since disappeared, there is most definitely a Paul at Paul’s Mardi Gras.

There’s guinea money behind the bar; there’s guinea money behind all of the bars, but Paul’s name is on the liquor license. He sits with me while I drink. He escaped Auschwitz with his parents when he was a boy, but he doesn’t talk about it much. Instead, he tells me I’m a good Jewish girl. He complains about his kids to me, worries about them, they make him crazy. He says Teddy is hard-headed and angry, always getting into fights; Fern is unmanagable, she’s dating a schwartze for God’s sake, a schwartze!;  Elliot, the baby, Elliot is a good boy who helps him run the bar at night. Paul strokes my face, watching me with rheumy eyes, he tells me how I look just like his wife, Paula, when she was my age. At first, I think she must be dead. She’s not. She manages the day shift and hates me on sight. So although I find myself in need of a new job and it would be ever so nice to work days and sleep nights like a semi-normal person, I’ll get no help at all from the wife.

Wives are rarely, if ever, helpful to me.

Paul, however welcomes me. The Mardi Gras is a family business, he says. And I’ve always wanted a family.