1982 : sitting in limbo

Originally posted March 23, 2010 on dirtygirldiaries.com.

I have the week off. I don’t know why I said that. I have no idea. A day? A week? I don’t know. But it sounds like something regular people say.

“Hey, pal, c’mon, you’re gonna be late for work.”
“Nah, it’s cool, I got the week off.” .
..Like that.

I worked behind the bar at the Mardi Gras last night. The MG is always looking for new girls the way the circus picks up showgirls and clowns at every stop. The MG is the Big Top. It’s the Show. Not some little roughneck joint like the Golden Dollar with one or two barmaids and five or six girls rotating on and off stage. The Mardi Gras looks high class from where I stand.

I walk in and the bouncer, clean cut in a suit and a smile, cause like I said, this is the fucking Show, this bouncer, he stops me just as I come through the double doors. His voice is soft, his smile, soothing. Double J, You’re not working tonight, he says. I’m not saying you have to go home, his hand on my shoulder, an older brother, looking out for my best interest, but you should, you should go home, take a few days. Someone will call…

Did I think it’d be different here? Because of a few suits and ties? It’s not.

But, I want to be here. I want to get lost in the vastness of here. I’m tired of Myron making me cry. Of Maxie treating me like crap. Or maybe it’s all about the Big Man. I expected them to take care of me. I’m not even sure what I mean by that, but I damn sure mean more than just 86′ing him for two weeks. So I left. I finally walked the two blocks.

And somehow I’ve fucked this up before I even get a chance to fuck it up.

Myron’s mad cause I’m making money for someone else. I like being important enough to fight over. There’s a sit down to decide where I’ll wind up working. No one asks me what I want. No one cares what I think. I’m worth fighting for. Shit. That’s enough for me.

It’ll be years before I realize that everyone I know, everywhere I go, everywhere I work belongs to, and all the money I make goes to, Matty the Horse. Years before I get that that night was all about respect. No one was fighting over me. I was evidence of disrespect, of middle management not following protocol. It’s like a Detroit assemblyline. I get tired of screwing this bolt on the Pintos so without asking I move over to the other assembly line and start screwing the lugnut on the Mustangs. Same job, two different line bosses. I was a labor dispute between two middle managers and Matty the Horse was Ford. And Chrysler. And General Motors for that matter. It was about them showing each other respect, it never was about me.

Go home, they tell me. You don’t work here. I don’t work anywhere, that’s the implication, I get it. What they mean is No one will hire you. You’re a problem until we decide you’re not.

It wasn’t about me. Not even a little bit, not even for a second. I was still no one. Only now I was no one in a bigger bar.

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.

1982 : Moviola

Originally posted March 11, 2010 on dirtygirldiaries.com.

 

I’ve been gone. I’m sorry. I’d tell you where I’ve been, if I knew.

I’d like nothing more than to know where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I’d like to pull my brain out through my ear, pop it in the VCR, sit on the couch with you, a vodka and a bowl of popcorn and see what happened; see the things my brain is busy blocking out. Or maybe it’s the vodka that blocks it all out. There is no way of knowing.

“The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.” The movie in my head that we’re watching has been edited by a monkey, but not that Shakespeare monkey. I have a shit-tossing, public masturbating, screaming howler monkey. He’s collected random outtakes found on a barroom floors across the city. Blasts of dialogue. Seconds of music. Bits of light. Sound and vision run sideways, backwards, not at all, skipping, skipping, skipping. Some things look familiar. A flash of a foot, cut to a hand holding a glass of vodka – it could be mine, there is no way of knowing. Jump to nothing, nothing, nothing, an unidentifiable horizon. Pan to darkness, nighttime, maybe the lights are just off. Maybe none of it’s real. Maybe all of it is. There is no way of knowing.

I never talked about the Big Man again, I know that. I never report him to the police.

Police don’t take care of people like us. We take care of us. Except when we don’t, and then you’re on your own.

I was on my own, I knew that, too.

Remember and know are different animals.

I know I was born. My mother remembers it.

Here’s what I know: You can’t see the bruises and burns for the welts my own body has created. From my collarbone to my pubic bone, and every inch of skin in between, I’m covered with hives. My face has cracked open. My cheeks, my scalp, my eyelids, even the tender skin under my eyes, dried and cracked like a desert floor.

Here’s what I know: Rape is trauma. If it happens to you, you should see a professional, you should see several. Police officer. Registered Nurse. Social worker. Trained counselor. Trusted clergy. Medical doctor. Lawyers. Therapist. Psychiatrist. Maybe a support group.

I consulted a dermatologist who said I’d developed an allergy to commercial soap. I never use soap on my face again. Ever.

Here’s what I remember: Being raped did not affect me at all.

Thirteen years and 100 men later I will finally take another man into the same bed I was raped in. Although I will not notice it at the time, he will be look exactly like the Big Man. It will take me weeks to make the connection, despite the fact that the next morning my body is covered in hives.

Two years after that I will write about that night for the very first time. And once again, my body will be covered with hives.

Twenty-nine years after the fact, just the thought of writing about that night will send me into a depression that will swallow Thanksgiving and everything in its sway until some time around St. Patrick’s Day.

But that’s the future, none of that has happened yet. Today, like a shark, I move forward because there is no other choice. I leave the Lollipop and think, I’m going to start over, make a fresh start, a new life. I’m fine, I just need a job. And a cocktail.

1981 : it was rape

Originally posted February 14, 2010 on dirtygirldiaries.com.

It’s 3AM and the Lollipop is empty, except for a few regulars. Everyone’s feeling good and it’s like this morning never happened. Piper’s sitting up on the bar, chain smoking Newports and laughing about something Chief’s saying; Myron’s in the back with a new dancer who believes him when he says he can make her a star, and me and Max are huddled across the bar trading insults. It’s what passes for flirting between us and I’m so into this game, I didn’t notice the Big Man come in; I don’t even know he’s in the  bar until I hear the tap tap tapping of his diamond pinkie ring on the bar.

“Amaretto sour”, he says and smiles directly at me.

Everything stops, frozen. Then the floor falls away. White noise floods in, fills my ears. I’m deaf. I can’t hear the jukebox, the conversations. People are moving again, their lips move but I don’t hear anything.

This morning, as he was leaving, he told me that he loved me, that he’d never really hurt me, that he’d be there, watching over me for the rest of my life. That’s what I hear. Over and over. “I ain’t going anyplace, baby. I’ll be watching you, for the rest of your life.”

Everyone is far away. I am trapped in the wrong end of a telescope. Trapped in the silence. In the white noise. In the rest of my life. I’m trapped.

I don’t know where I am.

It’s not real.
He’s not really here.
He wouldn’t.

I can’t.

“I told you I can’t stay away from you, you’re my girl. ” He reaches out, stroking my face with the back of his hand. I step back, staring. I still cannot find my voice. “How ’bout that drink, now?” The Big Man smiles as he pulls out a cigarette, tamps it lightly on the bar. “Gimme a light, girl.”

I smell singed hair. I smell burnt flesh.

I grab a bottle of vodka and just walk away. I don’t say anything, don’t make eye contact, not with anyone, but I see him in the mirrors. There are mirrors everywhere, on every wall. I cannot not see him. He’s spun around, arms stretched out on either side of him, resting on the bar, leaning back. He owns everything.

For this minute, at least, he owns every piece of me.

My vodka keeps me safe, it is my vaccine, it is my shield, it is my bullet proof vest. My vodka is my body guard, my sword, my rosary.

“You’re mine now, girl,” he says from his spot at the bar. His voice reverberates off the narrow walls of the staircase, surrounding me, smothering me.

Vodka is my armor, I shall not be in want.

I reach the bottom step, crack open the bottle and crawl inside.

It guides me downstairs to the basement, it restores my soul.

Curled up on the cold cement floor next to the lockers, I try to listen to the muffled voices and footsteps from upstairs. The vodka helps stop the shaking, the little epileptic like spasms.

and I shall dwell in the house of the Vodka.
forever.

Half the bottle is gone by the time Piper sits down on the floor next to me and takes a swig. Big Maxie stands in the shadows on the wooden staircase watching both of us.

He loves us. I know he does, in his own way. We’re his A-Team, his moneymakers. He just stands in the shadows and watches.

“Is he still here, Piper?” I hand her the bottle.

“He’s gone. Maxie 86′d him for a couple of weeks.” She takes a swig and passes it back. “What happened J? Did he do this to you?”

~~~~~

You know, you don’t think this kind of thing happens to girls like you. This kind of thing happens to stupid girls, new girls, young girls, girls with no…affliation. Not you.

You have Huntsberry. You have the Ice Man. You have affiliations. He’d showed you where his baby daughter lived. You’d met his friends. Everyone had seen you out together. So when you said he could sleep on your couch instead of driving back to Jersey, you thought you were being nice.

You tell how you woke up when he was already halfway up in the loft bed. You don’t mention how you and your mom get matching robes for Christmas every year and he was wearing the red robe you got last year, the one with the hood. How seeing him in that robe made everything seem okay and not okay at the same time.

You tell how you right away figure he’s too big to fight off, too big to kill with the skinning knife you keep wedged between the mattress and the wall ever since you threw Red Wolf out. You say how you thought he would just fuck you and leave and that that was better than him beating you senseless, then fucking you and leaving. You remember thinking you need to get a bigger knife, a thicker blade.

You tell how you couldn’t breath with his weight on top of you. How you lay in bed after, staring at the ceiling, listening to the sounds of him dressing, calling his baby daughter, getting his things together, getting ready to leave. You lay there staring at the ceiling, listening and waiting for the sound of the door closing behind him.

Then he starts yelling about the diamond pinkie ring you stole, he drags you out of bed. You know you didn’t steal anything and you thought he’d leave, but he isn’t. He isn’t leaving. He isn’t leaving without the ring he says, his girls sold good pussy to pay for that ring, he says, good pussy and your pussy ain’t shit, bitch and throws you against the wall.

You don’t remember getting dressed up. Or when he tied your wrists and ankles with the mens neckties you had hanging on the ladder to the loft, each one a romantic souvenir of some man whose name you’ve forgotten.

You tell how he shoved his fist in your ass looking for his ring, how he made you shit and piss in front of him, dragging you from room to room because your ankles were tied together so you couldn’t walk, couldn’t run away.

You tell about the cigarettes, the smell of burning flesh; the lit matches flicked at your hair, the smell of singed hair.

You tell how it went on for hour after hour. Two hours, three, four, more than that. It went on until it was over. You tell how the ring was in his cigarette case the whole time, how it was all a game, a turn out.

You tell how he untied you, kissed you gently on the lips, told you he loved you and left.

You don’t say anything about how even after he was gone and the door was closed you couldn’t move, couldn’t get up to lock the door after him and even if you could, what was the point, really? You don’t say if you cried or not, cause what’s the point, really?

You simply polish off the last of that bottle of vodka and say “That’s what I get for trusting someone.”

“That’s what you get for hanging around with niggers” Maxie mumbles as he turns, walks up the stairs and leaves the two of you on the floor.

It was the last time any one of us mentioned it.

1981 : take a look at yourself

Originally posted February 8, 2010 on dirtygirldiaries.com.

“Jesus, JJ. What the hell…?” Piper flips her hair away from her face and drags me into the light for a better look at my face.

“I’m fine, Pipes. Forget it.” I just want to get behind the bar, to get a drink, to work, to forget this happened.

“What? Are you crazy?  J, you should really have someone look at that. What happened, baby? Does it hurt bad? Sit. I’ma make you a drink…Maxie said you had an accident?”

“Maxie says, this ain’t a freakin’ tea party. That’s what Maxie says.” How a big man like Max slips in and out of a room unnoticed is beyond me. But he does. You never notice him come in, and you never see him leave. “Behind the bar, both of youse.”

“Max,” Piper cracks a fresh bottle of Smirnoff for me and flashes her best St. Louis smile for him, “just let her sit for a minute. I can handle everything for a while. Don’t I always get you every last dollar and send ‘em to the bank for more?” She giggles at him, pushes a rocks glass full of vodka in front of me and heads towards the back room. She touches my hair as she passes, just a brief touch, a second, and for that one single second, I think, I’m safe now, and then it’s gone.

Maxie slides onto the stool next to me and looks at my empty glass. I’d swallowed it in one gulp.

“Here, kid. Ya look worse’n usual. You could use another.” He pushes the bottle towards me. I can always use another, I think.  “Now, spill it,” he says.

I pour my own drink, skip the ice, and look up slowly into those watery Bassett hound eyes. I wish he could just make me his, look after me, protect me, make it all go away.

“What’re you my boyfriend now, Max? My father? What? Leave me alone, OK?” Finishing my cocktail in one swallow again, I get up to go behind the bar, still holding that bottle of vodka in my other hand. My bottle of vodka. The only thing that’s making me feel safe at the moment, my vodka.

Max grabs my free arm and pulls me towards him. “You want me to be your daddy? You’d like that wouldn’t you? Not that I give a shit,” I can feel his belly press against me, his stubble tearing at my cheek, his voice rumbles about my face and ears. “But tell me, who hit ya?” He pops bar nuts into his mouth and waits for my answer.

“Nobody, Max. I told you, I fell is all. It was an accident. Lemme go, you’re hurting me. You’re gonna leave a bruise. I gotta set up the bar.”

“I’m gonna leave a bruise? Take a look at yourself.” He flicks his head in the direction of the mirror behind the bar, but he doesn’t let go. “Do ya know the guy?”

“It was an accident.”

“Do I know the guy?”

“An accident Max, it’s nothin’.”

“Fine,” pushing me away, “You wanna protect some piece’a shit, then maybe you asked for it. Maybe you got what you deserved.” He spits on the floor and walks into the back room, still popping nuts into his mouth.

What could I say? How could I explain any of it? I invited him in. I’d offered to let him sleep on the couch. I didn’t think anything of it. I thought I was untouchable. Safe. I thought I had Nigger JJ on my side. I thought I had the Ice Man. I thought we were friends. I thought

Glad to be alone and busy, I start setting up the bar.

Idiot work for an idiot girl.

I fill the tiny champagne bottles with ginger ale, screw the tops back on and tuck a new bottle of Smirnoff  away under my cash register. I was sure Myron watered down the booze. Piper thought so, too. We set aside a fresh bottle every night. Tonight I wanted one all to myself.

“Take a look at yourself,” he’d said.

I don’t do that, look at myself. Not my whole self. Just the bits and pieces I absolutely have to. One eye at a time, or just my mouth. But I don’t ever look at my whole face in a mirror.

“Take a look at yourself,” he’d said.

I look up into the mirrored wall opposite the bar, behind the tiny platform the girls danced on. I see my reflection standing behind the bar, my body from the waist up, but I can’t see my head at all. I am the headless barmaid.

The clinking of quarters in the jukebox brings me out of my reverie. Customers. It’s Showtime.