May 12, 2010

Thanks for the Dinner, Part 2

“So you do things. It’s not just, you know, the dancing and the lap dances. Things go on in the Champagne Room, don’t they? Things go on.”

We were on my sofa, Lynn and I, drinking a second bottle of wine, talking our way through an unfolding evening. I already knew that we had no future, she of the animé hair, the vagina-cam performance pieces, and the exotic dancing. I wasn’t 25 anymore. I couldn’t afford to attach myself to these lovable eccentrics. But sometimes I wondered if I had any choice.

Lynn put her hand on my knee. On her face, a look of exaggerated interest. She was performing her nighttime performance for me.

“I listen to them; they tell me about their jobs.”

She rubbed my thigh lightly; her eyes had the dead intensity of a reptile.

“Like that?” I said.

“Yeah, like that,” she said.

“Wait, are you naked?”

“Topless, g‑string.”

“Really?”

“And a wig!”

It was as though she — and the women she worked with and all the women in that peculiar industry — perfectly understood the congenital weaknesses and pathetically infantile needs of men. There was no judgment as such, but definitely a kind of resignation at how ridiculous we finally are.

“What else?” I said.

“Sometimes I make out with them if they’re cute; sometimes they suck on my nipples a little bit.”

“Wow. Jeez.” I felt like a little boy hearing the truth about the world for the first time.

“But only if I already think they’re all right, or if they’re cute.”

“And me? Am I cute enough?”

“You’d see if you read my diary, but I don’t let people read my diary.”

We were quiet for a moment. Then Lynn leaned back on the couch.

“Listen, thanks for dinner.”

“Sure. You liked it?”

“It was good. It was really good. Listen, I gotta come clean with you.”

“What do you mean?”

“I have to tell you something.”

Oh no, I thought. I’m going to have to call doctors now. I’m going to have to make appointments.

“Oh no. What is it? Is it bad? What is it?”

“Wait, first I need to — hey, you like blow?”

Blow? You mean cocaine?”

“Yeah, blow.”

“No, not really.”

Lynn rummaged in her purse.

“I need a bump first.”

A bump? You really use the lingo.”

She laughed, nodding. “I get it from the clients.”

“The Champagne Room?”

“Yeah, sometimes they’ll take it out and share.”

“This Champagne Room.”

A small vial of cocaine appeared and Lynn did her bump.

“So what I wanted to tell you is this. Remember I was telling you about this guy I was with for a few months before I met you, and then I broke up with him? So he called me last week. He really wants us to get back together. I saw him last night. I just wanted to tell you.”

“You’re telling me now? After I cooked you dinner?”

“He knows I’m here. And I’m going to his place tonight so actually I can’t stay.”

I laughed, relieved. Lynn had given me an out. Still, she deserved a bit of reprobation before she left my life forever.

“You couldn’t have called earlier and met me for a drink to tell me?” I said, still laughing. Lynn looked embarrassed. “I mean, I spent half the day cooking you dinner.” A lie, but still. I could tell that Lynn thought my laughter was from nerves, hysterical and indignant.

“Sorry,” she said. “I wanted to spend some time with you. I like you. I canceled two other dates after we met, you know?”

“Well, that’s something,” I said, a bit flattered.

Lynn lifted her shirt. “You want to make out?”

We finished the wine, chatting a bit about her performance art and the traveling circus she used to work for. After a half hour of this, Lynn stood up.

“Well, I have to go now. He’s waiting.”

“Yes, don’t be late; he might get jealous.”

I walked Lynn to the door, opened it. She started to leave, then she turned.

“Well.”

“What?”

“Thanks for the dinner.”

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Read Thanks for the Dinner, Part 1

May 3, 2010

Thanks for the Dinner, Part 1

I’m a loner. I go to work. I come home. My apartment’s empty. My cat’s gone forever. I pull a few basil leaves from the plant on the sill; it grows, it keeps growing. I make dinner, throw the basil into a pot with a jar of tomato sauce and some mushrooms. I eat, I read, I sleep. The next morning I get up and it all starts over again. But I have trouble sleeping at night. My bed is empty. My feet hang over the edge of the mattress. No cat anymore, like I said, Sam, who had slept with me for fourteen years. And the girl gone, too. I see her face every night and the face won’t let me sleep.

She looked like Edward Scissorhands

So when a 32-year-old performance artist with hair dyed black and sticking out in animé clumps asked me out on a date, I was in no position to reject the offer. Though inappropriate on many levels, an eccentric, an edge case, an outlier, Lynn had a sweet disposition and she dug me. Men don’t choose women; we let women choose us. Her hair, yes, it was tar black and she wore black clothes, too. A black turtleneck. Thick black eyeliner. She looked like a corpse. But she was a trained dancer. When she danced I saw Edward Scissorhands.

She was cute in a broken way. The way of the stray, who’s stripped off family, friends, and history. She came from Utah, via Las Vegas. Mormons. Her face had that Midwestern diffidence, that dragging malaise of diminished expectations, an inculcated gloominess that no matter how positive or happy she appeared, no matter how loud her laugh, there was no way for her, for them, of ever pulling out of their unculture.

After we kissed at the bar, she confessed.

“There’s something you need to know about me.”

“Here we go,” I said. “What? What is it? Just tell me.”

“It’s what I do. How I make money.”

I knew what was coming.

“So I work at a strip club three nights a week.”

I’d known it somehow before she had even said a word. I knew it when I looked at her, when we began to talk, and the close way she paid attention to me, nodding at my infallible wit. The way, when we kissed, she ran the tips of her fingers down my spine. I knew it because she — not her in particular, but the eccentrics, the broke artists — was my destiny. Conventional women eventually tire of my antics.

So I followed the script that carefully wound into the future. We met for dinner at an Italian restaurant the following week, and the week after that I cooked for her at my apartment. She was yet another vegetarian. I made a peanut curry sauce stirred into a bowl of udon noodles and vegetables. She had come over with a bottle of wine and an overnight bag.

I prodded her about her job. We had already talked about her art: the vagina-cam, for example. Her worldwide tours. The brief stint as a contortionist. But the details of exotic dancing seemed, after the first bottle of wine, more interesting.

“So what do you have to do?”

“Not much. It’s mostly talking.”

“Lap dances?”

“Sometimes.”

“Handjobs?”

“No, but maybe some of the other girls do it. The Russian chicks. It’s up to us how far we go in the Champagne Room.”

“The Champagne Room?”

“Let’s go to the couch.”

We carried our glasses of wine — we had opened a second bottle — to my sofa, brand new a few short years ago but now beginning to look ratty. I faced the realization that major furniture purchases from Crate & Barrel were not forever, and that I needed to buy new, modern things or I’d eventually die with all my dated stuff, like those old pensioners for whom time stops at retirement.

“Did I tell you I wear a wig?” Lynn asked.

“That makes sense; your hair doesn’t fit expectations.”

She laughed. “It’s easier with the wig.”

“So the Champagne Room?”

“There’s no champagne.”

“No champagne?”

“They’re these private booths you go into with a guy if he likes you. It’s a $1000 an hour.”

“A thousand?”

“I get three hundred. I made $900 last night!”

“And there’s no sex?”

“Nope.”

“Why don’t they just go to a prostitute? It’s cheaper. And they’d get more.”

“Most of them are looking for something else.”

“Girlfriend experience?”

“Kind of. Plus, I don’t think they realize how expensive it is. The hedge fund guy last night. I don’t think he expected to be in there for three hours.”

“Three hours? Talking? So what do you do in these Champagne Rooms?”

On that aging sofa, Lynn shifted her butt closer to me.

“I’ll tell you.”

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Read Thanks for the Dinner, Part 2

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