Story and Illustration by Dan Abernathy
I walked down the dirty sidewalk, in an even dirtier city, in route towards an evening of poetry, where I had been invited to read as the guest poet. I walked past vibrantly colored businesses, worn, tattered and lacking little sign of life. Some of the highlights enlightened by blinking open signs offering tattoos and piercings. Every other building was closed or abandoned, which made a resting place for the homeless, somebody looking for something, or someone propositioning someone. I noticed some small streaks of light escaping from dingy, dark and clouded windows obscuring
the interior that confined the flesh-fest of a strip bar. I knew what sights and misguided emotions the interior held as the thumping of loud rock & roll music also leaked from the cracks around the huge door struggling to open and lure me in. The sound floated, now was hammered into my being, tempting me to cast my eyes towards ample flesh.
I stopped and momentarily pondered as I tilting closer towards the door allowing the music to waft into my ears, accompanied with exotic visions of dancing girls grinding on a worn brass pole with their new breasts towering in the air, pounded in my thoughts with each thump of the deep bass. What should I do? What would my favorite author do? What would Charles Bukowski, the cult leader of poetry and prose that helped complete freedom ignite in the spoken word do? In his honor, I stepped forward and wrapped my hand around the smooth metal door handle and stepped inside, into the darkness and abbess of moving flesh.
The bartender, who had long relocated from her stage days to provide service for the temptations behind the bar, emerged from a dark corner. She was the first to great me as I peered into the dim lights of a smoke filled room. I scanned the darkness, letting my eyes adjust, searching for the substance and reason for this music that was throbbing in my temples as it thrust its way into my mind, with little concern for my eardrums.
“Jack Daniels,” I casually said to the bartender before she could ask.
With a couple of fluid and quick movements, performed thousands of times, she was back pouring tanned and bronze liquid into a heavy reamed shot glass. As I reached for it and she pulled away, “Don’t go far,” I said, letting the Jack stream over the top of my tongue.
“One more please,” I added. She smiled and poured again and I encircled my hand around the smooth glass and with one quick and fluid movement, made the second shot join the first. “One more,” I voiced as I continued to slide half my ass on to the worn and cracked red naugahyde barstool, leaving one foot firmly on the floor.
As my eyes adjusted into the dimness beyond the bar, I could now see a
blonde haired dancer twirling around the brass pole. Her hair flowing in a
simulated wave to the audience sitting at her feet trying to stay somewhat
anonymous, behind rows of folded dollar bills and cans of Budweiser beer
stacked in front of them. Like a tetherball spinning on a pole she would twist
to the top than release her grip to swoop down on the dollar bills encircling
the parameter of her arena. This was not payment for her agility on the pole;
this was reimbursement for the revealing of flesh that intermingled with the
rock and roll music echoing through the room.
I'm not sure what Bukowski would have drunk to take the edge off. Lots of
wine during a reading I know, and I presume, whatever he could before. The
Jack had smoothed my edge, and a poetry reading was waiting for me. With
the swagger and confidence of Bukowski himself, I walked to the stage,
reached out and stuck a five dollar bill into the dancers tight, florescent
orange G-string, prompting her, as a thank you, to rub her large, hard and
overly augmented breast with uncontrolled frenzy. Readjusting my hat, I turned and sauntered past the bar waving at the bartender and pushed the heavy doors open to focus on the fading sun as it bathed me with a golden evening light.
The poetry reading went well as I dug deep into my satchel of words to release emotions from a lifestyle that has transported no wealth but has created an occasional performer at cocktail parties and get-togethers hosted by people that have chosen to work rather than live inside a vagabond’s footstep. The audience from young to old seemed mesmerized and a bit shocked as they listened quietly to this eclectic versifier pouring poetic impression on them by knowing just when to use “FUCK” for maximum impact.
I shook hands, talked to the young and old, and thanked the people that had organized this poetry evening, all the while, keeping my eye towards the door. I seemingly feared it being locked and I would be trapped in a “pleasantries hell,” as I smiled and made small talk with never before seen people. These moments when praises and approvals boil at your feet, bump your shoulders and trickle all over your head are valued and respected, but can be suffocating. Especially as the “Jack” had all but worn off and my thoughts jittered with the want to bolt to the door and see if that smiling bartender was still there. As the chitchat ended, with an invitation for breakfast, I stepped through the double doors of the hall and back into the street.
Darkness had now quieted the city while waking up the night and I walked back down the avenue, stepping with a much lighter pace. I was fulfilling the decision made between stanzas, meaningful pauses attempting to dazzle the quiet listeners with punctuating silence, to return to the destination of which I could now see the blinking beacon of a single flickering, florescent light, “Dancers.” I could also hear the heavy bass of rock & roll thumping in the distance, leaking from the cracks around the door, with intermediate peeks of volume each time the door opened, allowing another dollar packing guest into this euphoric gluttony of flesh.
Stepping back into this dimly lit den of iniquity all sounds became muted under the punishing decimals of exploding music. Thick and heavy cigarette smoke attacked my eyes with a burning sensation as they squinted in the dim light. Scanning the occupants that filled the room, lounging in warn chairs, leaning against the walls and sitting shoulder-to-shoulder at “crotch row,” I surveyed the so called audience that filled the room. It is a learned type of self-preservation to scan the occupants in places that hold young unknowledgeable egos, domiciles where the testosterone is reeking just as loudly as the music deifying your hearing ability. I saw nothing but overalls, stained from oil fields, baseball caps advertising every idea under the Western sunset, a few black cowboy hats and a couple of white shirts that would have looked extremely out of place had it not been for the two overly amplified topless ladies bending at the waist, gyrating their well tanned asses an inch and a half from the accountants wide eyes. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted two empty stools at the far end of the bar and slid onto the lesser-cracked surface of the two and sat my satchel at my feet.
The bartender, recalling me from our earlier encounter, walked towards me with a shot glass in one hand, a bottle of Jack Daniels in the other and an all-encompassing smile across her face. I quickly smiled back as I verified in my thoughts, the art of tipping. TIPS, (To Insure Proper Service) and this time it played out as smooth as the gentle chorus from the finest of any symphony orchestra. With the conclusion of my last visit to the establishment, after sliding Abraham Lincoln into the G-string of the dancer, I left another on the bar before stepping out into the golden light. Picking up the shot glass that was filled to the brim I poured it down my throat, set it back on the bar to see more swirl in the bottom of this filling glass like a tunnel wave on the North Coast of the Big Island.
As I turned slightly to view the ongoing performance, a gorgeous young scantly clad girl slid between the empty bar stool and me, while at the same time authorizing her hips and short skirt to nonchalantly brush against my knee. Placing one hand lightly on my shoulder, the other hand heavily on my thigh, she leaned into within an inch of my ear, a necessity more than a flirtatious act, as the music still pounded so loudly that any attempt at conversation had to be implemented with close proximity to lips and ear.
“Are you ready for a private dance, Hon,” she asked. “I can make your blood bubble.”
“Thank you Darlin’,” I replied using a phrase learned from being in the company old Nevada cowboys. “I just stopped in for a quick nightcap,” I added while glancing down at her cleavage, or lack of one. Obviously she had not been working in this industry long enough to get a more noticeable enrichment for her struggle to increase revenue.
“What’s in your bag,” she asked as her eyes dropped to the leather satchel on the floor by my feet.
“I’m just walking back from a poetry reading, and decided to stop by to unwind a bit and get my bearings. Have you ever heard of Charles Bukowski?” I asked.
“No.” she said with somewhat of a glazed and lost look. “My name is Miss Purr, you know like a pussy…..cat,” she added with a slinky type shudder throughout her body and proceeded to purr like a satisfied cat that somehow she timed perfectly between songs so it freely vibrated across the bar.
I wondered just how friendly this purr might get before she would give up on me and slither off in search of a more willing recipient of the “private dancer.” I was here for the game, so again I thought, ‘what would Bukowski do?’ I then asked her if she would like a cocktail. I’ve seen these environments enough to know that these working girls are here to make a dollar and they use their smile, hands and body to do so. They are not looking for an intellectual conversation about the prose, or the life of a deceased writer. Her smile and her eyes turned into assessment as she spread my legs and moved closer. Again, a necessity for any conversation as the music would drown out any words that were released for conversation.
Most of these girls are somewhat professional and are not in this type of atmosphere, gyrating and showing their kit to meet some shmuck that is going to enclose them behind a white picket fence so they can wait for him to come home for dinner. The target here in these dark rooms are the lonely, the ones that do not own the capacity for dating, or the ones that have left a significant other at home they have become bored with. There is however, some dancers still holding the failing dream of alluring someone into their hearts with enough money to take them away from it all. A Sugar Daddy, but the competition for that “Gold Card” is stiff.
Miss Purr was indeed overly friendly; as she was there to hustle the all powerful dollar bill, but she was also very well read and we did sit for a while and yell back-and-forth conversing about the words of others. But, keeping the conversation on track was seemingly impossible. Her life was so completely filled and overflowing with drama, on so many different levels, that it began to boggle my mind.
I offered to share with her some of my ramblings that I throw out into the world’s eyes and she quickly gave me her phone number. As she was inscribing it on a bar napkin, I smiled to myself, knowing that she gets asked for her phone number every hour, on the hour, and the chances of this number being real, were slim. It really didn’t mater, I hadn’t asked and I was enjoying the moment. We were having a good time filled with surprise and laughter and I promised that I would text her something as she got up. It was her time for the stage and with a half hug she was gone to prepare herself for the money.
The funny thing was that in a few days, I found that number scrabbled napkin. I called it and to my surprise it was her number. I never saw her again and correspondence sporadically happened through FaceBook. I was quickly overwhelmed and amazed at her constant postings; each one filled with more tragedy and drama then the last one. I followed her a bit as she danced from place to place, losing her apartment, living out of her car and always complaining of a bad relationship with some man that used her purring and her money. She often talked, after each breakup of how she hated herself and wasn’t able to support the kid that she had but never saw.
In my last texted conversation with her I told her she was too quick in giving her purr away and she must escape from the drama that was swallowing her life. She did have a child, but I never learned of its gender or where it was. Most the time and she just wanted new boobs, as it was an investment into her future. But, none of this happened. I see something of her from time-to-time and her life is still as it was years ago. Nothing has changed but time and her age and she is still looking for the answers in places where what she is looking for cannot be found.
I’m pretty sure I somewhat failed in my quest to honor Bukowski, for he was a lot more callused. He would have drank more, promised more, let her purr more, then left her crumbling for care in a false hope, as she went to sleep in her car. A home filled with vibrant and skimpy dancers clothes, McDonalds bags and cups, wrappers from Taco Bell, an empty Jager bottle, crumbled Marlboro Light boxes and kids toys that are still in the box. But then it is not always about the purr. It’s more about feeling good about you and liking yourself. Maybe I’ll just continue to honor Bukowski amidst my own dwindling drama, “Jack Please.”