Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Nuthin' but the Shoes"

  Poverty and aimlessness will make you do desperate things. So will sinister  intoxicants like brown liquor and blind  love, but nothing brings out the desperation and stupidity quite like having no money and no place to go.

  I was living  on the streets of Atlanta, a few months after I had run away. Only in my late teens, I couldn't take all the drama and destruction back at my house and did not like the way my parents or anyone else treated me. "How could life be any worse?" I asked myself, before hitching  a ride with a touring industrial band out of NYC. "What have I got to lose?"

I lucked out and the first night I was in town hooked up with a sensitive soul named Ben, who's last girlfriend had also been named "Elizabeth."  I think that was my "in." We met each other at The Masquerade, a thumping  rock and dance club divided into three seperate levels: Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. Heaven had the rock, Hell had  house and disco. Purgatory was where you played if they didn't know what to do with you. That's where Ben and I met. I was doing kaeroke which I interspersed with acapella renditions of my favourite cowboy folk songs. You haven't lived 'til you've performed "Streets of Loredo" in front of a bunch of inebriated  indie nerds and  drunken rednecks.  I guess Ben liked what he saw because he took me home that night and me, not having any place to go, (the wanna-be Nine Inch Nailers had long hauled ass and left me to fend for myself)  well, I didn't put  up too much of a fight.

  Ben wore a wife beater and had a shaved head, which drew attention to his large, beautiful fawn-like eyes and flawless, ivory skin.  He was tall and lanky and had been pierced more times than a villian's Voo-Doo doll. Even his penis was pierced. Well, his scrotom. When people have had  extreme things like that done to their most private of parts they always want to show them off, whether you want to look at them or not, so I had actually gotten an eyeful before we left the club.

  "That's, uh, interesting." I said, glaring at the two tiny gold hoops threaded through his wrinkly nut sack. "God, didn't that hurt?"

  "Oh yeah, it hurt, but then the endorphins kick in and you're riding high."

  I thought to myself, I'd rather just ride "level," if genital  piercing is what it takes to "ride high,"  but I just nodded my head and smiled, knowing how much I needed him and not wanting to piss him off.

  We went back to his room and flopped down on his  twin mattress, laying directly on the floor next to a child's record player and a bunch of goodwill LP's.

  Ben played the "Little Girl's Are Fun" cut off of an anicent  Jimmy Osmond record. I'd taken it  he'd unearthed it from a 70's-era  Time Capsule buried somewhere underneath one of  Little Five Point's finer used vinyl stores.  I laughed heartily. Couldn't stop.   "What IS this?"  I screeched,  while Ben screamed along with  the lyrics,  bobbing his body rhythmically  and madly grinning from ear-to-ear  like a just-sprung Jack-in-the-Box.

  He let me stay with him for a few weeks and then he said his roommates were starting to get mad and that if I wanted to stay I had to get a job. He suggested I try lingerie modeling.

  "What the hell is lingerie modeling? I'm five-foot-six and one hundred and fifteen pounds. I have freckles, small eyes, a big nose, a prominent chin, and freaky little teeth. I'm not not exactly what you'd call  'lingerie model' material."

"Nah, you're gorgeous. All girls think they're ugly. This isn't print work. This is where you go to a guy's house and model lingerie for him privately."

  "That doesn't exactly sound 'safe.' "

  "You can also be a naked maid. That's where you clean guys' houses for them in a g-string and pumps."

  "WOW--so it's, like, TWO forms of  patriarchal subjugation and sexist oppression going on at once."

  "You can't look at it that way."

"How else am I supposed to look at it?"

"Well, not like THAT. It's just a way to make money."

"I don't know, it still doesn't sound very safe."

"I'll be right outside, unless, like,  I have to go to work or to band practice or something"

"Mmmmm hmmm. Gee, it's just sounding better and better all the time"

"Look, you have to do something, The other guys are jealous and they hate girls. They really don't want you staying here and mooching and they're going to kick you out if you don't start bringing home some cash."

The "other guys" consisted of a medieval jousting enthusiast who lived out of a step-van parked in the back yard and  a couple of thirty-nothing convienance store clerks who never bathed or wore deoderant and left their dirty clothes draped all over the bean bag chairs, milk crates, and inflatable rafts standing  in for furniture scattered throughout the house.

"You said you were a dancer,  you're feminine and you have a nice body, so why don't you dance?"

"I don't have a nice body! My breasts are small and my legs are heavy!"

"You're so cute when you talk that way," Ben said, grabbing my face and  kissing me aggressively. "Trust me, you're good enough. You can make money fast and not worry about working 'legit.' You don't want to be 'found,' do you?  WELL? DO YOU?  Then you need to do what I say."

  So that night I opened up the phone book and turned to the "Exotic Nightclubs" section. I picked one out that had the nicest, most-expensive looking ad, figuring that would be the place I could make the most money.

  We drove out there the next day. Ben stayed in the car to smoke a joint and write down  his punk rock group's set list for the night. They were called "Social Suicide," and sounded  like what you'd expect them to.

  "Aren't you gonna come in there with me?"

  "I gotta work on this set list, babe."


"Besides, they might charge me, I'm a guy, they don't want me oggling the merchandise for free."

"Well, ok, but if I'm not back in fifteen minutes I want you to come in after me."

Ben laughed and sparked his J. "No problem." he said, then he began attacking the back of a Social Suicide flyer with his Sharpie. "I think we should open with 'Eye Gouger,' that one always goes over with a crowd," he mumbled, nonchalantly puffing away.

"Hey give me a pull...I need some...Dutch courage."

"Heh heh heh... yeah, here ya go." I pulled on the joint and tasted its sticky sweet essence. Things started to slow down and  I started to feel more floaty and ethereal  so I knew it was good weed. I felt more and more like I could do this.

The club was a non-descript concrete and cinder block compound sitting behind a chain link fence; it looked like a little bit like a prison. It was windowless and intimidating, but I held my head high and pushed open the reinforced steel door defiantly. Show no fear. Fear is what knocks you off your game.

  I blinked, having gone from searing Hotlanta summer sun to shadowy strip club frozen air-conditioned  darkness.

  An overweight bespectacled balding man counting out fifty and one-hundred-dollar bills behind a plexiglass box grunted to greet me.

  "I'm hear, about the--ad?"

  "You eighteen?

"I'm nineteen," I lied. Maybe I shoud have gone for 21, but I didn't want to push it.

  "You ever danced before?"

"Sure." I lied again. I certainly had danced, but, not like this. This was not a land of pageant smiles and high-shoe taps and pulled-back buns and tour jetes.

"No drugs and no booze, and no boyfriends or babies allowed backstage."

I hadn't planned on taking any of those things in with me, so I nodded like I knew what  he was talking about and what I was doing.

"And this place..." he drew in a big drag off his stoogie and looked up and stopped counting; it was the first time he'd made eye contact with me. He had a lazy eye. I stared at his forehead, trying not to notice it. He exhaled and finished his sentence: "is ALL NUDE. You got that? ALL NUDE."

"All nude? You mean, I don't come out onstage in, like, a cute little cheerleader costume or  a sequined G-string or anything like that?"

"Uh-Uh." he laughed and shook his head side to side, amazed at my ignorance. "No way. Nuthin' but the shoes."

He looked at my feet. I was wearing Birkenstocks. Oops.

"And our girls wax or shave. No bush."

Did I give off a big, hairy bush vibe? I guess I did. Shows how much he knows. It was more like a medium one.

He chuckled another  phelgmy, throaty chortle and went back to counting his money. "Look around if you want," he called up, not taking his eyes off the cash. "See if you like it."

I peeked around the wall seperating the dance area from the lobby.  It was almost pitch black. A spotlight shown on the stage where a lone dancer eerily bathed in a spectral, smoky  light. Nirvana's "Come as You Are" played in the background. Yeah, talk about it. You got that right, Kurt. You can't get any more "as you are" than this.

  The dancer wandered over to a customer  seated at the lip off the stage. There was  one  plastic bottle of Schmirnoff and one of Tropicana grapefruit juice laid out on the table. Since this place was all nude, it couldn't legally serve alcohol. Don't ask me how this made sense. So, the bar would make its money by selling overpriced mixers like seven dollar grapefruit juices and twelve dollar cokes, and let the customers bring their own liquor in. Weird, but  a nice little dodge around the law. Hey, where there's a will, there's a way.

  She slid down in front of him into a full split, then rolled backwards onto her back, catching her ankles and spreading wide all that  mother nature had blessed her with. All  for the crumpled  Andrew Jacksons or Abraham Lincolns  burning a hole in his  dirty palms.

  It was like, an up close and personal view of a Hustler shot. Almost gynecological. I didn't see how that was "sexy," but who am I to judge?

  I ducked my head back around before either of the happy couple could see me spying. I turned towards the --What was he? A concierge?  Maitre D' ? Who knows? --I turned to the guy in the plexiglass box and said, "This is not for me."

"You sure? Young girl like you could make a lot of money"

"Yeah, thank you, but, I think there are some other places I had in mind."

He chuckled again and a thin stream of tobacco-stained saliva ran down his chin.

"You'll be back," he said.

I was mad and thought about saying "Hey buddy! EFF YOU.  Don't be so sure about that!" but I just left. It's best not to "engage" when people are trying to get a rise out of you.

Ben was still in the car and the joint had almost run out. I grabbed the roach and said sarcastically, "Thanks for saving some for me."

 My sarcasm went unnoticed as Ben scribbled away, carefully selecting the encores to add to the end of what   I'm sure he was sure was to be his band's breakout blockbuster show.

"So did you get it?" he said, casually.


"NO? What? Why not?"

"I don't want to work at that place. I don't want to 'come as I am.' Or help anyone else out with 'coming as' they are, either."

"Huh?" Ben inquired, mildly confused.

"This place isn't for me; I'll find something else to do."

"Suit yourself, but you only have until Friday"

"Yeah. Great. Thanks for sticking up for me, BEN."

"Aw come on, you know I'm doing the best I can."

Yeah, thanks for giving me your "best" I thought. I'm about to be homeless because I don't want to bend over and  let some crusty old geezer take a  long, slow gander at my 'tang, but driving me here is the "best" you can do. MUCH OBLIGED.

I sucked on the roach and stared out the windshield. "What a wasted day," I thought, as the lyrics to the dreamy Nirvana song  drifted through my mind.

"Come as you are, as you were, as I want you to be, as a friend, as a friend, as an old enemy...take your time,  hurry up, the choice is yours, don't be late... take a rest, as a friend, as an old memoryyyyyyyy--ee-ee-uh..."

I saw the dancer's long, slim legs gleaming  in the smoky spotlight's dim beam,  how they were  illuminated but for the briefest of moments, then  forever frozen  inside a mental picture  frame errected around  a distant, hazy  malaise,  protected by a nostalgic longing, surrounded by a  shameful guilt.

 I saw her crouch down, roll over, and pull her legs open.

"Come doused in mud, soaked in bleach, as I want you to be, as a trend, as a friend, as an old memory."


"Soaked in bleach, as you want us to be..."

"Our girls shave..."

"Nuthin' but the shoes..."

To this day, I can't hear that song without thinking of that afternoon and the faceless dancer on the big, empty stage. It's a vision that  fills me with both child-like wonder  and  adult sorrow, sorrow that is both bitter and sweet.

I think about how perfectly the song completes the scene.

We are all always "coming as we are."

But it is oh -so- rarely good enough.

"As an old enemy, as an old memory."

That pretty much said it all.

Thanks Kurt.

Guess I'll see  you on the other side...


  1. You have a very good storytelling ability. Keep it up. The more you do the more refined it will become.

  2. I love this voice! Keep writing!

  3. shawna and dave THANK YOU! and am going back and editing and trying to clean my prose up. half of writing is re-writing, isn't that what they say. *THANK YOU*