Friday, April 15, 2005

Stripper and Acid 8: No, Really, The Cellphone

My head turned when I felt someone touch me, and it took me a second to realize I was being held on to by an extremely short person. I looked down, and was promptly knocked flying back into my own brain.

Several years previously, I’d spent a lot of time in some pretty low-class strip clubs. I was mainly looking for a place where I could drink beer and play pool, but naked chicks didn’t really hurt my feelings either. The whole sorry saga of the Midway is for another time, but for now I’ll give you enough background to visualize my situation.

The Midway was painted black. The entire interior was painted black, and any scrapes that might have chipped away enough paint to show something else were so laminated with nicotine and tar that it didn’t really matter anyway. The stage was a pretty normal setup, a sort of square with a runway, about halfway down which stood the a brass pole, worn down to steel in a couple of places from decades of breasts and sweaty palms. The only light in the whole place was from beer signs, the light over the pool table, and some ropelight strung around the stage, as well as a couple of small lights over the beer coolers. The floor used to be carpet, but had devolved into a hardpack of cigarette ash, gum, old beer, and dirt.

The girls were a friendly mix of ladies who benefited from the low light level. There was only one or two who didn’t have some sort of unattractive feature about her, somewhere, which precluded her from going someplace more upscale. Some liked the freedom to do completely nude dancing in a small room in the back, some were downright prostitutes (it was whispered), and many, many more had fat asses, no breasts, or no teeth. Or some combination thereof.

It was sort of a local’s topless bar. You saw the same guys in there after their shift was over, and when a girl went missing everyone asked about her. Since I wasn’t there to ogle the women, I spent my time in the back playing pool (I suck) and drinking beer, mostly with Jim. We had a lot of fun.

But there was one specific stripper who got under my skin like you wouldn’t believe. She was old, and squatty, and had a loud raspy voice. She had a weird sixties sort of hairstyle, which might have been a wig, and smoked menthol cigarettes and never seemed to get the hint that I wasn’t interested in giving her a dollar. She bugged me.

Until one day, a couple of months after I’d started going there, she came up and asked how I was doing. I glanced at her impatiently, and said “fine, how are you?” more out of habit than anything else. I went back to my beer, and she sat down on the barstool next to me. “Oh, itchy,” she said. “They wouldn’t let me go back up on stage until I shaved the Punisher.”

Beer came out my nose. I bought her a wine cooler, and from that point on we were friends. She let up on the money patter, and I’d buy her a drink whenever I could. It was a good arrangement, even if I never learned her name. She was simply The Punisher.

Flash forward four years, to a club of a different sort, and a boy completely loaded on hallucinogens. As you may have guessed, the Punisher had my arm in her gripper, and was smiling coquettishly.

Her face was pale, and had a vampiric aggressiveness I couldn’t recall seeing before. Her hair was jet black. She had on enough makeup that I didn’t recognize her at first, although after a second or two the hair gave it away. Instead of the ridiculously outdated go-go outfit she always wore at the Midway, she had on some slinky thing that probably didn’t go out of style til the early 80’s, and it was apparent to me she was On The Hunt. I feared for my life, but I was transfixed—after all this time, was the Punisher going to take what she wanted? Would I survive?

I took a big gulp of my drink and got ready to run. She twitched my arm again, smiled lasciviously, and nodded at a kid of about 25, standing a few feet away and eyeing me in a rather aggressive fashion. “Isn’t he cute?” she mouthed, and glided off into the crowd, followed by the boy. She turned and winked at me, as they were walking out of the club.

The possibilities of the situation confused me. It happened so fast, I had no time to understand any of it, and like most genuinely bizarre LSD happenings, after a few minutes I wondered if it had even happened at all.

As I came back out of my brain, or became more aware of my surroundings, I heard someone crying, and against my better judgement turned to investigate. It was Shanna, with a couple of the bachelor boys, and Nadine. Shanna was rubbing her knee and practically howling, while Nadine attempted to calm her down and the boys grinned stupid grins and gripped their beercans with big hamfists. They seemed piglike, in a way. I was suddenly overwhelmed with a craving for bacon.

“Stop that,” I thought, “it’s this fucking drug! Pay attention!”

I carefully approached the two girls. Shanna began screaming as I approached, trying to wrest her arm away from poor Nadine. The latter looked at me apologetically. The former was screaming about how she was tripping, and how she’d fallen down some stairs and hurt herself, and how she was going to die. Nadine cupped her hand near my ear and whispered “she’s drunk. I’ve called her sister to come get her.”

I could see my chances of taking this pill slipping away, almost tangibly, until she said “but I’ll be staying. Do you still want to do that with me?” My madly galloping heart leaped. They wandered towards the front door, and I athe bachelor approached me.

“Jefe!” he slurred at me, squinting blearily up at me, “where’za limo?”

“Dunno,” I said, “why are you all wet?”

“Pourin’ down rain, man, it’s horrible! Limo’s gone!”

Raining? Jim was walking home in a rainstorm? Serves the bastard right, I thought. But I was still stuck here with no way to get home, and my façade of sanity was crumbling as the crowd began to thicken.

“Where’s the limo,” I asked, rather stupidly.

Bachelor shrugged and said “dunno. Prob’ly at hotel. Take this. Only two. I want you to have it.”

It was a room key for the suite. Any possibility that I could just wander off into the night was finally shot down when I accepted it.

“Where’s the fucking hotel?!” I shouted at him, but he was gone. I looked around—no one else to be found, just a sea of mouths and baseball caps and class rings.


I made a quick tour of the place, and couldn’t find anyone. I made another, slower, tour, and realized it was hopeless. All the faces I’d seen looked familiar, it seemed, because I’d just seen them a few minutes before. I was stuck. And tripping so hard I couldn’t even think about approaching a stranger. I began to make a mental map on how to walk home.

I ordered a drink, and found I couldn’t pay for it. The bartender didn’t ask, so I wandered back to my remote corner and seriously pondered my situation. None of it seemed good. I knew I could walk home tripping on acid, even in the rain—it might have been a pleasant walk, for part of it, but the matter of the room key, not to mention the matter of the MDMA and sexual tension with Nadine, was an almost physical handicap for me. I was stumped.

It took me some time to realize someone was shouting my name. It was a man’s voice, which meant it wasn’t anyone I knew or, in fact, was looking forward to talking to. Probably wanting more acid, or maybe it was a cop. I turned, beaten…

And saw, in a veritable halo of golden saviordom, my good friend Kevin.

“Hey, where’s the party?!”

“Uh, I don’t know, man, I think I’ve been left here. I’m really confused.”

“Yeah, you look it. One of those guys over there pointed you out, told me to take you to the Concord, room 423. You got any more of that acid?”

“Nope, Jim’s got it, I think.”

“Where’s Jim?”

“Somewhere between here and my house, tripping his nuts off.”

“Wow. He’s walking home?”

“Yup. Listen, can you buy me a drink? I need to sit down.”

Fifteen minutes later, we were in his car, headed towards the biggest hotel on the horizon. Something had been bugging me, and I hadn’t been able to pin it down. Finally, though, the bugs in my brain had calmed enough for me to ask him:

“How did you find me, man?”

“What? Oh, you called me on your cellphone.”

Jesus. Too much, I thought. I began to fantasize about going home, digging a hole, and burying myself in it. This is getting out of hand.

We pulled up to the hotel, and began the long process of getting me out of the car.


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