Thursday, December 31, 2009
At the end of October we journeyed across the Rocky Mountains and The Man purchased his 'dream' vehicle. A V10 Touareg - a VW luxury SUV.
We needed a new tow vehicle to tow my pride and joy and what has given me countless hours of happiness - our little 13 foot Trillium Trailer. We have been from Alberta to Key West - to New Orleans 3 times in it and to the Mexican border 2 times.
Even without a bathroom in it - it has been perfect. And it made me very happy to step in the door and have my home away from home - something that is a necessity for me to be able to leave my house and go on a holiday. I need stability and familiarity to keep me on even ground. I get stressed and anxious so easily that even stepping out my front door will bring it on.
On the day after Christmas -The Man's 'dream vehicle' went up in flames and took my little trailer with it. We have just been informed that both are a write-off and the vehicle has already been towed away. I don't know what will happen to the trailer - but it sits in our snowy driveway - a burnt mockery of my happiness - with melted plastic hanging from it - distorted illusions of my tears.
The tow vehicle could be replaced with plenty of research (they aren't a vehicle readily available in Canada) but the travel trailer was a vintage 1975 - and that is irreplaceable. The insurance company is not going to see it that way, but that's their job isn't it?
Since losing my Dolly last year I have tried really hard to isolate myself from things that will break my heart. With my refusal to get another pet I thought I had built enough barriers around my heart that I was going to be pretty safe barring any deaths in my immediate family and friends.
Little did I know that something like this would sneak in under the radar and destroy those walls and my dreams. For those who know me - they know that getting away with The Man in our little trailer is what I look forward to all year. I rarely saw him this past year as he put in 18 weeks of overtime, and we would have been gone by now - sitting in New Orleans watching the fog roll in - except my health has kept us here.
I know all the words - 'Things will get better' - 'You'll find another trailer' - 'The Man will find another vehicle' - 'It's just things'. Yes indeed. I do know all the words.
What I don't know is how to take the sadness away from The Man's face. How to replace that look of extreme joy and satisfaction he had when he drove his new vehicle. What I really don't know is how I'm going to forget and move on. I don't do that well. I don't 'overcome obstacles' well. I hurt and I cry and I long for what was.
What I do know is that doing all those things has never brought anything back. I also know that I teeter precariously on the edge - tightrope walking through my life since they let me out of 'The Hall'. There's no safety net that I can see. Not when The Man goes to work and leaves me alone to cry through my day. There's only a safety net when he comes back and wraps me in his arms and rests his chin on top of my head. Then I'm safe - inside these walls where I might remain for a very long time now. No holidays for us. No traveling. Just looking out the windows at the snow and a brown stain of happiness sitting in the driveway.
Monday, December 28, 2009
During that time my parents refused to speak about me because they were so ashamed of what I did for a living. But I bought my own house at the age of 22 and I had a new car every couple of years.
They came back to Ontario on a buying trip once - and my father sat out in the car while my mother came into the bar looking for me as he absolutely refused to set foot in that den of inequity. I looked up and saw her standing just inside the door and I thought - 'Hmmm...I should know that person'. I was so grateful that it was in between strippers - so that she didn't have to go through that embarrassment....
As a rule I didn't date the patrons. My belief was and still is - if you meet them in a bar then you know where you're going to find him when he isn't home...
For some silly reason - I started dating a customer. Six months later I was still dating him and he spent a lot of nights at my house. He was always a very happy person - always smiling - always laughing.
Every time my mother called she would say "We know something is going on there - we know it!" or "Are you living in sin?" and she would always try to get me to read certain chapters of the Bible.....Her guilt trip finally wore me down and we got married in my living room with my brother as my bridesmaid and his partner standing up for my husband. I called my mother after the ceremony and I have a picture of the shock on her face when I told her.
The marriage lasted almost three years and some days I've forgotten his name. I think it's a mental block I've thrown up to forget how everything turned out. We were doing alright as a couple until I discovered that his happiness came from drugs. Now as a rule I could pick out the druggies at the bar quite easily. But for some reason I just didn't see it. Desperation or the crown of guilt I wore for my mother's sake? I don't know. But - he worked in a tobacco factory and made an incredible amount of money for that day and age. What I didn't know until sometime in the middle of the third year was that a lot of the money he made went into drugs at work - or to start his day - whenever. To me he was just happy.
The beginning of the end came on the day he decided to take his own holiday without me. When he called me from South Carolina ten days later - I didn't know who was on the phone. It quickly became evident that something was drastically wrong and I hopped on a plane to go down south and drive him home.
What I found when I got there was not the person I had married. He had been spending his time with two girls while he was there - and had mixed a number of drugs together. The result was that his twosome abandoned him because he had fried his brains....and I was called.
To make a long story somewhat shorter - he tried to kill me three times on that trip home. Twice by strangulation and once by drowning.
When we got to the border they hauled us in because he was acting so erratic...but they soon asked me to take him off their hands - they didn't want the responsibility for a lunatic. I drove him straight to his parent's and they took him to a psychiatric hospital in Guelph where he was committed over and over again. He was finally transferred to a major psyche hospital in London where he had to earn his clothing and cigarettes with good behaviour.
The doctors never spoke to me - nor did his family. On the day our divorce went to court he punched my lawyer (a personal friend of ours) in the face - even though he had started the proceedings. When the final papers were put into my hands - I opened them and read that I was granted a divorce on the grounds of my mental cruelty and abuse towards my husband. I remember thinking that if that was what he needed to believe - then that was alright with me. As long as he was at peace.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
I am posting this short story at this point because it is based on an actual occurrence that happened in the bar while I was working – and also because I have nothing further written in The Wailings to copy from. But bear with me as I will continue the story after the holidays.
He wasn’t a bad man. At least he didn’t think so. He had always done his job, following orders meticulously, carefully. For twenty-five years he had shown his loyalty and his respect, and he had gone about it in a quiet and unobtrusive manner. He was the perfect soldier. It was his life’s work and he was proud of it.
He had started to notice the problem within the last year. It seemed to have snuck up on him, and that alone was cause for concern.
Nothing had got passed him in his youth. He had been razor-sharp with instant reflexes, performing like a well-oiled machine. When you got right down to it, he was locked and loaded. Now he creaked a bit when he moved and he had developed an annoying tick in his left cheek. His senses still whirred along at breakneck speed, but that pace had been lessened by 10%. Reminiscing didn’t help matters either, but he couldn’t help it. He had to admit it. He was getting too old for the job and that was a problem for someone of his profession.
He walked carefully into the darkened room, checking in corners and behind pillars as he made his way forward. A pounding bass noise enveloped him and bright lights flared before his eyes causing him to duck suddenly towards an empty table tucked into a corner.
He sat with his back against the wall and watched morosely as a woman pranced up and down in front of him. Her long legs stretched out of high heels and into something that shimmered and swathed her body, reflecting the spotlights. Her lips were lathered in bright red and pouting, her face a studied repose of indifference. She sauntered the runway caught up in the music and her routine. Sipping his beer slowly, he cursed himself silently for almost having tripped on the stage in the semi-dark. Twelve months ago that would never have happened.
On a different floor of the building, a stranger bent and fitted the rubber plug into the drain of the old tub. She had been traveling all day in the smog and dirt, trying to flog the silly toys her small company manufactured to new and unsuspecting customers. The heat and the pressure had finally gotten to her, and with money dictating her every move, she had escaped to this ugly backwater for a little R&R. A light supper in a nearby greasy spoon had sufficed before she had retired to this dingy room, intent on a long bath before crawling between the thin sheets. She could hear the music pounding away beneath her, but she thought she could probably ignore it. Lying back against the threadbare blankets, she listened with suppressed anticipation to the quieting sounds of the water filling the tub, and promptly fell asleep. The music blared on.
He sat with his big hand around the sweating beer glass and let the music wash over him. With his proximity to the speakers it had more of a tendency to pummel him than wash, but he was oblivious to that. His dark clothes and unobtrusive manner helped him to fade slightly into the background, a technique he had perfected years before. He almost looked like any of the other old rummies, sipping their suds and watching the peelers, except their eyes were glazed and slightly lustful, while his were sharp and constantly sweeping the room. His dark hair was sprinkled with gray and gave him the look of a man who had caught his toe on middle age as he was trying to pass it by. With a forced nonchalance he watched the dancer perform her moves while his mind stripped away the years and took him back into his past.
He saw himself as a young man dressed in a snappy dark suit watching his shoes come down in the soft dirt of the road. With each step little puffs of dust swirled up and covered the careful shine he had put on them earlier that morning. He followed those shoes till they reached a ’44 Buick that was eased over on the edge of the road. He noted the birds singing spectacularly in the early morning sunshine as he put a smile on his face before he bent to the open window of the car.
The man inside had jerked nervously toward him at his approach but had relaxed noticeably with the smile. The guy hadn’t even seen it coming when he had raised the Tommy gun and sprayed him right in the face. That had been the order, right in the face. Afterwards, he had calmly doused the car and its inhabitant with gasoline, trailing a little line back up the dirt road till he felt he would be safe from the blast. The smouldering cigarette had lain in the puddle for a brief moment before it had ignited the gas and the flames had streaked towards the car. He was driving away when the explosion caused the birds to quit singing. He was going to have to polish his shoes again.
His mind shifted and he could see himself a little older now. He wasn’t as cocky as he had been in his youth and his face had new lines in it that reached down to his chin. He was sitting over a barrel, stirring the mixture within with a big stick, occasionally adding a little sand and water. An annoying mumbling filled the dank basement where he sat, but he ignored it and concentrated on the job at hand. Finally happy with the concoction, he hefted the barrel and poured its contents into the two forms that sat on the floor. The cement oozed up to the brims, nicely covering the feet that nestled in the center of each.
It wasn’t until he was finished that he actually looked at the man who sat on the chair in front of him. His arms were tied behind his back while his legs were bound securely. That part was important. Cement didn’t set too well while it was being agitated by wiggling feet. A dirty rag was wrapped around the man’s face, causing the mumbling that was on the edge of annoying. He had shrugged and lit another cigarette. It was all part of the job. It had taken a great deal of his strength to hoist the struggling man with the cement shoes and toss him into an obscure part of the river. But he was a soldier following orders.
He had been in a number of sticky situations himself over the years. He recalled with distinct clarity the icy sweat trickling across his testicles as he knelt in a filthy warehouse with his hands behind his head. He could remember the feel of the grease in his hair where it touched his palms as they trembled against his head. The sneering face of the member of a rival mob was unforgettable as he had silently removed nails and a hammer from a canvas sack. His heart thudded heavily even now as he remembered the intensity of the moment when the nail hovered over his knee and he had imagined the pain blossoming through his entire body. The relief that had crashed through him when his partner had stepped up behind his captor and slit his throat was engulfing and he had almost wept with gratitude and shame.
He sat in the smoky darkness that smelled of vomit and sawdust and watched as the stripper settled back onto the raised platform and started waving her legs about in the air. His nerves ached and stretched as he eyed his fellow drinkers. The years of soldiering had left him a wreck. He had whacked enough people in this job that he was sure more than one person would want to retaliate.
His bathroom mirror told the tale. The ticking cheek and bloodshot eyes were good indicators of the constant tension. He needed to get away for a long and overdue vacation. An image of palm trees and almond-eyed girls with glistening brown skin slid into his brain, and an unfamiliar upward tilting of his lips crossed his face. The stripper caught the look across the dark room and thought it was meant for her. In the room above him the water had crested the edge of the tub and was now pouring silently onto the bathroom floor. The lady slept on.
He shook his head slightly as he focused on the figure that sidled slowly up and down the stage, fully dressed. Somehow he had missed the end of the last show, and that frightened him. He dug the required change out of the pile in front of him to pay the waitress for the beer that he had forgot he ordered. Thinking about the past was ruining his concentration, and that could prove to be harmful.
With the music battering against his ears and the lights blinding him slightly, his strung out nerves were at a disadvantage. In the dark above his head, where the smoke curled and roiled, the smoke-encrusted ceiling sagged slightly. In front of him the dancer removed her bra and waggled her breasts within touching distance of his face. This distraction and the pounding of the bass from the speaker beside him effectively covered up the sound the two wet marks made as they hit the table beside his bent elbow.
He continued to goggle at the large brown nipples that bounced before him leaving him blissfully unaware of the looming event that was forming above him. As he raised his glass to his dry lips, the bulge erupted and gallons of soapy warm water and soggy ceiling tile hit him directly on the head, flattening him and the table. Shrieking like an old woman he battered away bits of spongy acoustics and fled the barroom, his wet footprints direct evidence of his overworked brain as they twisted and turned in different directions till they vanished in the dark.
Time to retire.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Three nights a week turned into four and Ani became a regular feature at the strip-club. She still hated Saturday nights, but there was no way around it as far as she could see, so she just took what she could get.
Mr. Markowitz treated her like she was special and she felt like she had a little something to share with him having managed her own store. Sometimes, when business was a little slow, he would sit and talk with her about owning a business. He never treated her like the teenager she was, instead he often asked for her views on customers and business in general. She in turn respected him for the way he treated her and gladly worked any shifts that were required of her.
One Sunday morning, after another boring ‘Western Saturday Night’, she turned the taps on and poured bubble bath under the spewing water in preparation for a long leisurely soak. As she waited for the tub to fill she decided a quick tidying could be done. Picking up the coat she had flung over the couch in the early morning hours she went to the front closet to hang it up. Flipping on the light, she spotted an envelope that had been slipped under her door. Taking it back to the bathroom with her, she ripped it open and read the notice the rent was going to be increased substantially in 60 days.
Laying in the hot water with the bubbles up around her chin, she absently studied the paper where she had left it on the counter. She thought of the three years she had spent in this ‘basement’ apartment and wondered if she should move. She weighed the cost of her rent and the money she made at the hotel against how she felt about the apartment. It had never felt like home to her, just a place that held her furniture. There was nothing special about it at all and deep inside she knew she hated how dark it always was and that she could barely see anything when she looked out of the windows. On the other hand she had no idea what rents might cost elsewhere in the city and she was nervous about moving.
When the water had finally cooled, she was not surprised to find that she was no further ahead in making any decisions. Sighing, she pulled the plug and grabbed the soap holder as she hoisted herself out of the tub. She gave a small yelp as the holder came off in her hand, leaving a gaping hole in the tile. With the water swirling down the drain she stood holding the soap holder and staring stupidly at a cluster of mushrooms that were sprouting in the mouldy black hole left in the wall. That does it, she thought. Dressing quickly she headed out to the corner convenience store and bought Saturday’s paper.
She was more than delighted to find that an apartment had come up for rent in the building directly behind her on Bristol Street. When the superintendent had shown her the one bedroom on the third floor with the off-white carpeting, she knew she had to get out of the hole she lived in. She also knew she could afford the $85.00 more a month for the rent and she gladly turned in her notice and started packing.
On moving day, Ed and one of the bouncers arrived with a truck and got her moved in less than three hours. They set up her bed and positioned her dresser before leaving her to unpack.
Once she was alone, she slid open the large glass door and stood out on her balcony. Taking a deep breath, she gazed at the Speed River that stretched to the left and right of her vision. A large expanse of grass bordered each side of the river, and people were walking their dogs or jogging along in the afternoon sunshine.
She watched idly as a police cruiser pulled into the OPP station just down the street and she wondered if she might be bothered by sirens before shrugging it off. It was most likely one of the safest apartment buildings to be living in with all those uniforms about. With one more look at the beautiful view in front of her, she heaved a happy sigh and went inside to unpack.
A month later, Ani’s world was rocked once more when Ed told her he had given his notice and was moving to Alberta. She had grown used to this quiet bartender who had taught her the ropes and she had to turn away to hide her tears when he gave her the news.
“What are you going to do out there Ed?”
“I’m hoping to get work in the oil field. It’s suppose to be booming right now and they say there is a ton of money to be made up north if you want to work hard at long hours. If I can’t get on right away I’ll get a job in a bar. At least it will get me out of Guelph and out of here.”
“I’m going to miss you Ed.”
“I’ll miss you too Ani. But of all the people who work here – I know you’re the one who is going to succeed with whatever you do.”
The next evening when she arrived for her shift, Mr. Markowitz pulled her aside and took the tray out of her hands.
“Not tonight Ani. You are going to learn how to be a bartender. I want you to work Ed’s job once he is gone. He is going to teach you how to pour draft and make drinks. Then I want you to be our full-time night bartender. Is that all right with you?”
Ani nodded numbly and put away her tray. Mr. Markowitz patted her on the back and grunted before climbing up the three steps to the kitchen and disappearing. Turning to Ed he grinned at her and hugged her hard before starting her on her next journey.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Ani coughed into her hand and looked over at Ed who only shook his head and pretended to look busy. Up on stage the drummer gave a drumroll and suddenly the stage lights came on and Wayne Mack leaned into the microphone and started to sing.
‘Kiss an Angel Good Morning’ was the first song the band played and Ani watched the patrons as they bobbed their heads a bit and smiled at one another. The dance floor remained empty as Wayne briefly chatted up the room before launching into ‘Hello Darlin’ by Conway Twitty. It was obvious that Wayne thought he was the next best thing to sliced bread and Ani felt her shoulders clench; a sure sign the man was slimy.
Behind the bar Jan leaned on the counter with a happy grin plastered on his face. The grin slowly left his face when the phone rang and Ed handed it over to him, and a definite scowl had taken the grin’s place as he slammed down the receiver and came around the bar. His cowboy boots rang on the cement as he hurried up the landing and out of the bar and Ani turned back to Ed who just shrugged.
When Wayne started singing ‘Wings of a Dove’, many tables emptied as the customers headed to the dance floor and shuffled around clutching at each other. With most of the patrons up dancing, Pete and Hank sat on the railing again and watched. Ani noted that all three women had been asked to dance, and she watched as each of them stared off into space over their partner’s shoulders.
As the evening progressed, the dancers got thirstier and all three of them hustled around with drinks. Ani joined the rest of the staff who heaved a sigh of relief when Wayne Mack and His Trucks took their break. Jan appeared out of nowhere and immediately put on a country and western tape and the distinctive beat filled the room giving Ani a headache. Jan didn’t even notice when she threw him a look of pain. Instead he settled happily back against the counter again and lit up a cigarette.
By the time the clock showed 11pm, Ani felt like she had been there for 16 hours instead of five and her head was pounding. She had been bored for most of the night because there were so few customers, and listening to the band for their next 2 sets had almost done her in. Her back and legs ached and all she wanted to do was go home.
When Jan came back into the room, Hank smiled apologetically at her as Ed rang him off and he prepared to leave early. Having been sent home early for her first 2 nights, she realized that she had expected it again this evening. She didn’t begrudge Hank an early night, but she groaned inwardly with the pain in her body.
At midnight Wayne belted out ‘For the Good Times’ and everyone still in the room was up on the floor pressing their bodies against each other and mashing their slobbering lips together. Ani watched as the sweaty bodies ground together and the three of them rolled their eyes at the number of men whose pants hung on their hips, their butt cracks bobbing to the beat of the music.
When the reverberation ended from the last note, the band started packing up immediately and so did the drinkers. By 12:30 the room was nearly empty except for the few people playing pool. Intent on winning the ‘pot’, the players had barely noticed the band and the dancers all evening. Now Pete went around and told them all to wrap it up. When they groaned and complained, he suggested the local pool halls before ignoring them again.
Pete showed Ani how to clean up at the end of the night. Tables had to be wiped and all the ashtrays washed and stacked. Pete offered to clean her tables if she washed all the ashtrays. She soon found out why he had when she bent over the little sink and started. The smell and the grunge that covered her hands as she washed a sink full of ashtrays almost made her gag.
At 1am Ed rang them both off and Ani gave Ed his 10% of her tips. When she stepped out into the night, a light misting rain fell on her and she tilted her face up to the dark sky and let the water wash away the stench of the bar. Taking her time, she walked down the Avenue, keeping well clear of the figures she saw around her, even crossing the street to avoid any encounters. When she got home she pulled out her shoebox and added that night’s meager tips.
Biting her lip, she penciled in $21.60 for her nights wages and then totaled up the three nights of tips and drew an arrow and put in $109.65. She had been thinking she would make a lot more than that when she had done her calculations after her first night of work. But all in all, it wasn’t too bad for three days work. It was far more than she had made at the fur store, and all she had to do was try to adjust to ‘Western Saturdays’ and calculate accordingly.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
I was a very naive and sheltered 18 year old who walked into that hotel in search of a job. At the time I handed my resume to the owner I wasn't even thinking of working in the strip bar because I didn't know it existed. I thought I might work in the nightclub or even upstairs as a housekeeper or perhaps behind the front desk.
I was more than grateful that the owner offered me a job in the first place. I was afraid of losing my apartment and I didn't want to go back to living with my parents. They were abusive people who used me to forward their attempts at earning their own living. They didn't care much about my life and what I might have to do when they let me know they were closing the location of the store I managed and made a living from.
As I have said - I was raised Baptist. Dancing - kissing - touching - showing love - these are not things that good Baptists do. (believe me - I'm not sure what a good Baptist actually does except condemn others) Watching what 'good Baptists' did to one another made me lose the faith that was grilled into me four days a week.
So I was grateful for a job - any job. I started at less than minimum wage because waitresses and waiters could be paid less than the required minimum wage back in those days - because we made 'tips'. That was supposed to make up the incredible difference between what I got paid and what anyone else might get paid who didn't get 'tips'. I believe I started at about $1.75/hr. When I left all those years later - I was making $2.80/hr.
I accepted and attacked that job with fear and trepidation and finally a ferocity that I didn't (really) know was in me. I was afraid of the unknown - of seeing women with their clothes off in front of men and what that all entailed. The trepidation over not being a good enough waitress and forgetting orders and not being able to add up numbers quickly almost brought out a rash. And then the fear of not being able to pay my rent and feed and clothe myself drove me onwards - ever onwards.
So yes - I had to accept what I saw in that strip-bar and I had to accept the ugliness of it all. But! - I also learned that I had something in me that could accept such shocking changes in my life and I could block them from the front of my brain and put my need to survive first. And I learned I could do that really well.
I worked in that bar for almost 15 years. And it changed me. Absolutely. I became hard and coarse - I had to to be able to survive.
And what I wanted to show you as I give you parts of this chapter - is the changes in a rather innocent girl who was striving to keep her head above water - and who was all alone in her struggles. A girl who had no-one to talk to about these shocking changes and ugly visages she saw in order to survive.
At the time I didn't have the self confidence needed to go out and find a different job, and after a while I didn't want to because no other job was going to bring in the kind of money I was making at that time - just on tips alone.
So I stayed. And lots of horrible things happened to me (to add to the horrible things of my past) - but that is a story for later. This is the story for now - the loss of innocence for a drowning girl with no handholds to grab on to. Not friends - and certainly not family. My parents never spoke of me during the time I worked at that bar. To them I didn't exist unless I forced myself into their consciousness.
Just some thoughts on some of your comments - for now.
ps - I'm still putting up posts at Big Blue Barn Knits!
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Ani looked at the solemn faces around her and nodded, grateful that they were even concerned for her welfare. As a few more patrons wandered into the bar, the three of them went off to get their orders knowing the large number of empty tables left no excuse for poor service on a night like this.
Ani found herself watching the faces of the women who were being escorted in by the men. She noted how they hesitated at the end of the long hallway and peered carefully about the room with unease before they stepped foot into the bar. Some of them were dragged into the room by their partners and Ani could see the couples arguing quietly as they came towards her. Trying to put them at ease, she gave the women her biggest smile and was astonished when she got the once-over back.
“What’s with these women anyway?” she asked Ed as she picked up the glasses of draft and the rum and coke and put them on her tray.
“They think you are a stripper and are just waiting tables at night.”
Ani stood staring at Ed with her mouth open and shaking her head. “Are you kidding me?”
“Nope. It’s been a long time since we had a female waitress in here. It’s either that or they might think you’re competition.”
“Competition! For what?”
“For their man Ani. Come on! Surely you know that!”
“But Ed! Take a good look at these guys. Do you honestly think I might be interested in any of them?”
“I don’t think you would be. In fact – I’d hope you’d have better taste than any of these guys who come in here. But these women think they’ve scored the man of their dreams – and you are definitely competition for anyone.”
“I’ve never been competition for anyone Ed. Believe me.”
“You may not think so and the little I know of you I figure you wouldn’t think like that anyway. But you probably have been and never known it.”
Ani shook her head and took her order out to her customers. The man looked embarrassed when he tipped her a quarter while the woman glared at her before attempting to look aloof. Ani smiled at her anyway and moved on through the rest of her section.
At 8:30 Jan started buzzing about the room checking on the patrons and testing the microphone. Having already almost taken out everyone’s eardrums when she dropped her tray on Thursday night, Ani stayed clear of the bar while Jan did his thing.
Patrons straggled in; mostly single men who sat forlornly at their tables and made circles on the table with the bottom of their sweating glasses. When a threesome of middle-aged women came into the room, nearly all eyes swivelled in their direction before focusing on their tables once more.
Much to her surprise the women selected a table in Ani’s section and happily ordered their drinks. She suddenly felt like a member of the group when one of them spilled the contents of her purse and the four of them burst out laughing. When the other women in the room eyed them suspiciously, it made them laugh even harder. Ani’s spirits lifted with the happiness of the small group and she eyed them appreciatively as they chatted casually with one another.
“Those gals come in every Saturday there is a band,” Ed said. “They like to dance and the men know they don’t have to take them home afterwards. So everyone is safe.”
“At least they are treating me nicely. If looks could kill – the other women in here would have succeeded.”
Lighting a cigarette, she turned her back to the bar and leaned both elbows on it so she could look around the room. Behind her Ed grabbed his ice bucket and headed into the kitchen for a refill. Taking a long, relaxing drag, Ani watched her section and the few people who were in the room. It was an entirely different crowd compared with the two nights she had already worked. Those nights the room had been filled with males of every age, but tonight it was mostly an older crowd, and Ani guessed around 40 and older. She knew she stood out like a sore thumb with her age and being the new waitress. She wondered why she even thought of it as a ‘crowd’ as there were more empty tables than occupied.
Behind her Ed dumped his bucket of ice into the sink and spoke to her in a low voice, “Look sharp Ani, here comes Jan.”
Straightening up she turned and saw her third boss coming down the steps from the kitchen and looking about the room. She threw Ed an appreciative look and stubbed out her cigarette. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the band filing up onto the stage and suddenly the lights dimmed and Jan’s voice boomed out into the room. “Ladies and gentlemen! Put your hands together and welcome Wayne Mack and His Trucks!”
Sunday, December 6, 2009
“You met Jan already this evening Ani?” When she nodded her head, he continued. “He’s been working for the old man since he was about 13. Use to be the dishwasher and busboy when this was a restaurant. When he got to be 21, Mr. Markowitz let him work as a bartender when one was needed. He took on whatever job was asked of him.
I remember one Sunday I was here with my family having Sunday dinner. It was a tradition in Guelph. The place was busy and Jan came out of that swinging door that leads into the kitchen in his cowboy boots and jeans and yelled out ‘Who wants soup?’ People stopped eating and stared at him. It was just so ‘unclassy’. I think a few of the old ladies might have felt a heart palpitation or two and went for their hankies and smelling salts.”
The four of them laughed together as they all imagined Jan in the luxurious old restaurant. Ani lit another cigarette and settled herself in the corner of the two bars and smiled as she waited for the rest of the story. Hank’s words almost echoed in the emptiness of the room and Ani noticed his Dutch accent for the first time. She made a mental note to ask him some time in the future about it, but for now she just enjoyed the fact that he was talking at all.
“Jan was made manager and things ran along the same as they always did for some time. When Syd came along - Wow! They almost shut the whole place down while all the renovations took place. The Priory didn’t get changed, but the nightclub did and the ‘Men’s Room’ vanished.
When they first opened the strip-club….” He paused here and took a deep breath as if fortifying himself. “I remember that first night like it was yesterday. They couldn’t advertise it because of some moral code or other at the newspaper, so they had to rely on word of mouth. Men were afraid to come in here in case they were seen by anyone else. They didn’t want to be caught looking at naked women. That’s when they decided to paint the ceiling that dark brown. It helped make the place darker. The men would stand half hidden in the hallway and check out the room to see if they could see anyone they knew. If they couldn’t, they would edge into the room and find a dark spot where they thought they could get away without being seen.”
“Little did they know,” Pete said, “that when those spotlights came on and reflected off the mirrors, that whole area around the stage lit up.”
Hank nodded vigorously and laughed to himself as he thought of all the men who were suddenly embarrassed and almost in the spotlight themselves. “When that first woman took off her clothes, some of the men almost wet themselves right then and there. Like they had never seen a woman with her clothes off!”
“Maybe they hadn’t,” Ed said and Pete nodded and shrugged his shoulders.
“They only had the strippers at night you see. The place wasn’t even open during the daytime at first. After that first poor girl, well, the news spread around Guelph like wildfire and the place started filling up at night pretty quick. It became the thing to do, and the place to be seen by your other male friends – especially right beside the stage. Men were getting here early to get those seats – it was crazy. But still,” Hank paused and Ani noted a sadness creep into his eyes, “it was never the same as the ‘Men’s Room’. Too many men were trying to be macho in front of the women and their friends. More fighting goes on in here than in any other bar I’ve ever worked at.” Hank shook his head while Pete’s eyes lit up.
“Pete likes a good fight,” Ed said with a laugh.
“Gets all the frustration out,” he replied. “We’ve seen some beautiful women without their clothes on and a guy just has to do something about it. A good fight now and then never hurt anyone.” Pete’s grin made everyone laugh and Ani and Hank headed off to get the orders from a couple of customers who had settled in their sections. When everyone had gathered back at the bar again, Pete took up the story from his point of view.
“I liked working in the ‘Men’s Room’ back then. It was quiet and enjoyable and seemed like a place for men to just get together and bullshit. Nothing much happened and we were usually out and home by 1:30 at the latest. It was just a nice sociable place. Worst thing that could happen is some guy would get too drunk and puke, but that was it.
But Syd? He’s a different story altogether. I have to agree the place needed changing to bring in more money. The restaurant was having a hard time keeping a good chef and the food went downhill and so did the patrons. As soon as this place went in and the nightclub changed, the whole hotel took on a different atmosphere. Some of the old guys have never come back they were so upset at the changes. But it brought more new people to make up for that loss and Syd didn’t care. His Dad always seems happy at the end of the night when that cash register is rung off.”
Pete paused here and poured himself a glass of water and took a long drink before continuing. “You have to work harder to make the same money we made before. I’m not sure what Jan does all the time, but Syd loves to hear himself talk and he thinks he’s so smart on that microphone. But you watch – as soon as there’s a fight, he’s hiding back behind the bar. He’s scared shitless of getting hurt and is always shoving someone else into the face of danger.”
Ani laughed as all the guys nodded and agreed. She recalled Syd shouting orders from behind the bar during the fight the previous night and she shook her head with her new knowledge. She was grateful for this little story as she now knew not to expect anything from the owner’s son if there was any trouble around her.
“I wonder what he would do if I was in need of help?” she asked.
“If I was you – I wouldn’t count on good ole Sydney to help you out,” Hank cautioned. “The man is a lily-white coward and that’s all there is to it. If I was you and something started – I’d run. Remember that.”
Friday, December 4, 2009
“Okay. Okay. What I’m trying to say is there isn’t any money to be made here on a ‘Western’ Saturday night. Why they continue to do it is beyond me. They have to be losing money!”
“So why am I here?” she asked as she looked about at the quiet room.
“Oh! Well it gets busy enough sometimes. Like it probably will tonight – but guaranteed you’re taking home little more than your hourly wage.” When Pete finished, he joined Hank on the wrought iron railing and crossed his arms in exactly the same way as his co-worker and rested a heel on the bottom rung.
Ani wanted to groan as all her calculations went out the window. She hadn’t been counting on this. In fact, she didn’t even know this happened, even though she had been in the nightclub next door many times on a Saturday night. Hoisting her bum up onto the top rung of the railing, she tried to perch alongside Hank and Pete. Sitting up on top of the railing, she felt as if she was going to topple over on her back on the hard cement, and she got down. Leaning in against the corner where the serving bar met the stand-up bar, she lit a cigarette and puffed a cloud of smoke into the air.
“Why do you guys work here?”
Pete and Hank looked at each other and grinned.
“We get to look at naked girls most nights. Who could argue with that?” Pete said as he took his money out of his money belt and began folding the bills neatly.
“Really? Are you serious?”
“Of course not!” Pete grinned at her and concentrated on his money belt.
“I need the extra money,” Hank said as he straightened his waiter’s jacket and tie. Ani had noticed how he liked to look neat and tidy, or perhaps it was efficient and professional. His gray hair added to the image, and she couldn’t figure out how old he actually was. “I like to buy a new car every two years and the extra money helps with that.”
“Ed told me you’ve worked here nine years, Hank. I’m amazed!”
Hank looked her over approvingly before glancing through his empty section. “I’ve worked for the Royal Hotel for nine years. Not all of them have been in this bar. In fact, this bar didn’t exist when I first started working here. It was a high-class restaurant before it became this. I don’t know why, but over the years people just quit coming here to eat. But back when I first started, there was a bar across the hall.”
“Across the hall? Where?”
“It would have been in-between the women’s washroom and the coffee shop. When they renovated it all disappeared. But it used to be “The Men’s Room”, which meant that any women patrons had to be escorted in by a man. They couldn’t get in on their own. Not like now at all.” He paused a bit while he obviously thought of those days.
Pete was about to add a comment when he saw one of his customers nod in his direction. Sliding off the railing he moved down to the cash register and rang in the order before coming to stand near them again as Ed filled it. “I use to work there too when I first started here. It was only open for another couple of months after I started, and then we moved over here and everything changed.”
Both Ani and Hank watched as Pete rounded the stand-up bar and headed up the stairs. Ani was dying to get all the history on the place, but she held her tongue out of respect for Hank. With nothing to do, Ed perched on the lower section on his side of the bar and leaned an elbow on the top. His face was open and inquiring and it made Hank open up.
“The ‘Men’s Room’ was completely different from this place. It had a different atmosphere, more camaraderie if you know what I mean. Naked women make men crazy and they say and do crazy things. But the ‘Men’s Room’ was quiet. Men went there to be with their friends and have a good time chatting or playing shuffleboard and pool. Not compete like they do here. And when there were women in the room, there was a respect. Men watched their mouths. The swearing pretty much stopped if a woman was escorted in, unless of course a fellow was drunk.”
Hank turned his head and let his eyes sweep across his empty section. Ani could see his shoulders shrug as if he was holding a conversation with himself before he turned back to them.
“I use to make a lot more money over there than I do here. I don’t know what it is about this place, but there isn’t any respect for another human being in here.” Pete had come back and was now perched beside Hank again. He nodded hard at Hank’s last comment but didn’t say anything of his own. “I think they should have left the ‘Men’s Room’ when they renovated but they said ‘changing times’ and all that. Well, personally I think it was Syd who changed things here and not the old man. When Syd started working here – well….”
“It was like night and day.” Pete’s voice was animated, like it usually was when he got excited. “When Syd came to work here, things really changed. I think he was some kind of salesman before he decided to work for his father. But the old ways got thrown out as soon as he showed up. They took out all the old chandeliers that were down in this section – really beautiful things they were – and expanded the bar of the restaurant. Most of the changes were on this level with the stage and runway. They did some renovations with the washrooms in the main hallway that use to service both the ‘Men’s Room’ and the restaurant.” Pete’s voice slid down into silence and Hank took up the story once more.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
On Saturday night she dressed in her black slacks once more and selected the most revealing blouse she owned. It wasn’t that revealing compared to the dancers, but at least it had a small plunging neckline and she thought she looked cute once she was all dressed. When she arrived at the bar, she was stunned to find Pete and Hank moving tables and chairs and sliding the runway out of the way. Just as she turned a wide-eyed look on Ed, another stranger walked in behind the service bar like he had every right to be there.
“You must be the new girl,” he said as he played with the microphone equipment. “I’m Jan. I’m the general manager around here.”
“Uh. Hi.” Ani was confused and she turned to look at Ed as he counted out her float. She caught a slight shake of his head as he handed her the $25.00 and she concentrated instead on sliding the change into its proper spot in her changer. Behind her Jan spoke into the microphone a couple of times and adjusted the reverberation.
“Test. Test. This is a test.” When he was satisfied, he bounded up the three steps into the kitchen and disappeared out of sight. When enough time had passed that it seemed obvious that he wasn’t going to reappear, Ani turned back to Ed.
“Wow. What’s going on in here tonight? Something special or something?”
Ed groaned and rolled his eyes before he answered. “Nothing special at all, Ani. See those guys with their equipment up on stage?” Ani nodded as she watched a man setting up a drum set. “Every Saturday night, the management of the Royal Hotel deems it the best idea to turn this strip club into a Country and Western Bar. So – the runway gets moved and the tables spread out so there is a dance floor. Worst dumb idea they have ever come up with – but Jan does love his Western music.”
“Is it busy?”
Ed laughed in response and left it at that. At 6:30 Ani went out and cleaned her section. Hank and Peter were just about finished rearranging the room and the band gave a few microphone and instrument checks.
“Anything I can help you guys with?” she asked the other two waiters. Both of them laughed and thanked her as they shook their heads and rolled their eyes. “I take it neither of you are happy about this.”
“When you get so many guys in to see the strippers during a weeknight – why would you not jump even harder on that on a Saturday night?” Pete was so obviously upset that Ani took a small step backward when he slammed a chair into its place at a table.
“Don’t expect to make a lot of money tonight Ani. These crowds are the cheapest there are.” Hank’s mournful face almost made Ani laugh until she thought of her own upcoming rent.
“Is it really that bad?” she asked.
“What do you think of when you hear the word Country and Western?” Pete asked. Of the two, Ani had discovered that Pete had more to say at any given time. Hank was definitely the quieter one.
“I don’t know. I honestly have never thought about it. I guess I think of my Dad.”
“Good enough. When you think of your Dad, do you think he would leave a tip here?”
Ani’s loud laugh caught the other two waiters off guard. “My Dad would never even set foot in this place – ever!”
Sunday, November 29, 2009
A lot of people have asked why I stayed working at the strip bar after my first night on the job. I thought it might be fun to just keep posting from The Wailings (my book in progress) to sort of introduce everyone to life in the 70’s for a gal whose living had suddenly been ripped from under her feet by her own parents. I had to do – something- to keep a roof over my head and with waitressing experience I turned to this. Now back to the story.
As she stepped out onto the sidewalk she marvelled at the number of men who were hanging around outside the entranceway. She noted there weren’t any women present in the group by the doorway, but every time the door opened, she became aware of the blaring music that accompanied it. She hadn’t even noticed the music coming from the nightclub as she had walked down the hallway, even though it overpowered everything outside the building. The men eyed her surreptitiously as she stepped out into the night, and she gathered her coat around her and started off home.
Her mouth fell open when she passed a music store a little further along the street that was open and blaring its own music out into the night air. The place was swarming with customers as they browsed through the albums and posters. She shook her head and wondered why she had never even noticed this store before. It was almost directly behind where the fur store had been, and yet she had never stepped foot inside it.
Her tips burned a hole in her pocket but she thought of the rent and all the expenses she had to pay in-between then and now. Instead she set her feet for homeward and let her mind wander over the events of the evening. It was almost 12:30am when she unlocked her front door and threw her keys wearily on the kitchen table. Putting the kettle on for a quiet cup of tea, she pulled up a chair and spread her tips out on the table and straightened the bills while she aligned the change. Counting it once more she came up with $44.70. She had already paid Ed $4.00 for her 1% of her sales and the fact that she had made almost $50.00 on her first night amazed her.
While the kettle grunted and groaned as it warmed up, she got her calendar off the wall and went into the bedroom and found an empty shoebox that she had saved. She wrote her take home tips on the calendar and put her tips into the shoebox. She knew if she kept them in her purse that she would stop into that music store on her way home and spend it all. This way she would have something to show at the end of the month.
When the tea was ready, she got into bed and plumped her pillows. As she sipped the hot liquid, she watched the images of the naked women she had seen tonight as they played out on the wall in front of her. Her cheeks burned when she thought of them doing their ‘floor show’ and of her reaction to their nakedness.
With an effort, she dragged her mind away and tried instead to calculate the money she might make for the rest of the month. The thought of losing her apartment haunted her and she was worried that after her nest-egg was gone she would be out in the street. As the tea did its trick, she slumped lower in the bed while she massaged her left arm. Some of the trays had been heavy and it ached.
By the time her eyelids were almost closed, her mind had wandered back to the naked women and the sight of their nipples. Biting her lip, her fingers strayed from her aching arm and down to her own nipples. With the memory of Black Magic firmly before her, she let her fingers circle and pinch until her nipples were rock hard. Moaning softly she ground her hips as she tweaked each one, working herself into a feverish state. Unable to satisfy herself, she flipped onto her stomach and gasped as the sheets rubbed against her erect nipples. With a groan she pulled the pillow over her head until the feelings subsided and she slipped off to sleep.
The next night was busier, and Ani bustled around nonstop as the men flocked into the bar to see the star of the week. This time she didn’t stare when the women started stripping, but she could feel herself blushing furiously every time the music started up. The men were more boisterous than on Thursday night, and some were impatient with her as she tried desperately to remember everything that Ed had taught her.
The room was still packed when 11pm rolled around, and no one even mentioned letting her leave early. It wasn’t until midnight when Syd walked into the room and glanced at the clock and at her section that he gave her the thumb motion to get out of there.
Gratefully she cleaned her section one last time so Hank wouldn’t have to do it before she gave her key to Ed and waited for him to cash her out. Her sales were higher than the previous night and she handed Ed $5.00 right away. However, when she counted her left-over change she was disappointed to find that she had made less in tips than she had on her first night. When she walked into her kitchen that night she morosely penciled in $41.35 on her calendar before she tucked the tips away in the shoe box. Crawling into bed that night she started her calculations once more, but her exhaustion caught up to her before she could figure her life out.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Fists and spittle flew as the men cursed and punched at each other, and in the background Ani heard Ed calling for the bouncers on the telephone. Pete seemed to fly off of the upper floor landing as he launched himself at the men who fought near the stage. Hank restrained some of the other men in an attempt to keep the fight from spreading. But the two burly men who raced into the room to break up the fight were the ones that caused Ani’s eyebrows to settle up near her hairline.
Fists and knuckles seemed to fly and splat as Ani watched the small fight turn into a huge brawl. What surprised her most was how happy the two bouncers were as they fought alongside Pete. She wasn’t surprised to hear a laugh erupt out of one of the staff as they tussled. Chairs were being pushed back and tripped over while beer bottles and glasses smashed on the concrete floor.
Ani felt helpless as she stood with her hands covering her mouth and a surprised look on her face. It was all she could do to pull her eyes away from the scene happening feet away and glance about the room for what she hoped would be more help. As far as she could see the bouncers were only making things worse.
Ed had escaped from behind his bar and now hung over the edge of the stand-up bar keeping his eyes on the scene. He had dragged the phone with him on its long extension cord and he held it firmly in his grasp in case he needed to call for more backup. As Ani watched open-mouthed, Syd came through the kitchen door and hurried along inside the service bar, bellowing as he went.
“Break it up fellows! Break it up! What am I paying you for?”
Those words must have hit home as the bouncers came to their senses and began pulling the two original combatants apart. When each held a fighter in their grasp they hurried them through the long entrance hallway and out the main back door. The men’s fighting words turned into grunts and a small scream echoed down the hallway and then silence descended once they made it outside.
With extra adrenaline pumping through her veins, Ani hurried around her section, cleaning up the glasses and bottles, and emptying the ashtrays. Most of her customers had left when Black Magic’s dance routine had finished, and the ending of the fight had encouraged the last few stragglers as well. Syd glanced at the clock and at her section and told her she could leave at 11:30pm and Hank would take over.
At the end of the shift, Ed took her key and rang her off, totalling up her sales for her first night. When he saw the total she had sold for the evening, he gave her a knowing glance.
“I think Syd and the old man are probably going to keep you as a waitress if you keep up this kind of work.”
“Do you really think so?” she asked as she began counting out her money.
“Hell yes! Anyone who can sell $400.00 in a four hour shift is a good waiter. You did good, Ani!”
“So what happens now Ed? I’ve counted my money and I’ve got all of this left over in tips.”
“You give me 1% of your sales and the rest is yours. And by the looks of it – it looks like you did okay for the first night anyway.”
“Wow! Is it always like this?” She dragged hard on her cigarette and looked at Ed with wide eyes.
“It’s different for everyone here Ani. Bartenders don’t make what waiters do, that’s for sure – but I’d be keeping how much I make in tips to myself if I were you. I think there are going to be a lot of jealous people with you working here anyway.”
Ani looked at him in astonishment before she remembered what she was going to ask him before Syd sent her home. “Why did I hear a bit of a scream when those two guys were hauled out of here?”
Ed grinned and popped a piece of chewing gum into his mouth before he answered her. “Have you come into this bar by that long hallway at any time?” He smiled when Ani shook her head. “Well then. Have you ever noticed what the walls are made of in this place?” Again Ani shook her head. “They are made of very rough and sharp stucco. The bouncers love to drag skin across that exact same stucco and it makes some people scream a bit.”
Ani’s eyes widened in disbelief as the understanding dawned on her. She shrugged her shoulders in disgust as she thought a little more about it before collecting her things. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow night around the same time. I just won’t come in as early as I understand how things work now.” Ed nodded at her as he hurried off to fill another order from Pete.
Pocketing her tips she made her way through the bar and out into the foyer where she punched out and smiled a little wearily at the desk clerk. Then she walked down the hallway that connected Carden and Macdonell Streets. Looking about furtively as she reached the long dark hallway that marked the entrance to the strip club, she took a few steps into the entranceway and looked about for signs of blood and gore. Nothing jumped out at her in the dark and she shrugged her shoulders before exiting out onto Macdonell Street.
Monday, November 23, 2009
The music from Santana’s Abraxas album filled the room while a tall black woman sauntered down the runway and looked at the customers through half closed eyelids. Ani had heard “Black Magic Woman” many times since it had first been played on the radio, but she had never thought of the words in this manner. She could feel the pull of the music and of the woman as it touched something deep inside her, and she almost felt sorry for the men in the room.
Black Magic was the epitome of haughtiness. Her long muscular legs bore her around the stage with such a regal bearing that Ani half suspected the woman had once worn a crown of some sort. Her silhouette was like an hourglass, yet each muscle was firm and defined.
Standing behind a pillar, Ani marvelled at the color of the woman’s skin as the lights reflected off of it, catching points and hollows as she turned and moved. Browns morphed into blacks and back into gold, making the men drool. If she had any blemishes, her color concealed them and gave her skin a smoothness of tone that the white women lacked. Every single movement was languorous and sexual, yet so full of remote disdain that Ani wondered what attracted and captivated the men.
Seeing a black woman naked was not something Ani had ever expected to see and she gathered that most of the men in the room had felt the same way. Thinking back, Ani knew she could count the number of black people she had seen in her entire life on one hand. For some in the room, their count was probably more like zero.
When the song switched to “Oye Como Va”, Ani came out of her reverie and glanced around her section to see if anyone needed a beer. She was astonished to discover that no-one was paying the slightest attention to their drinks unless they felt the need to wet a throat that had gone dry from panting.
Shrugging her shoulders, she spared a glance in the bar’s direction. Ed leaned nonchalantly against the beer coolers, while Syd hung over the swinging half-door that separated the stand-up bar from the serving area. She could see Pete leaning against a pillar on the upper section, and it took her a minute to find Hank leaning against the far wall. Every single eye in the house was fixed on the woman who glistened under the bright lights.
She had removed a long gold sheath during the first song to reveal a gold spangled bra and a matching g-string that glittered like fish scales as she moved. Gold metallic bracelets wound around each of her upper arms, while smaller gold bangles jingled against one another at her wrists. More gold was wrapped around her ankles and she had smeared gold makeup over her stomach and thighs. Her neck was encircled with layers of thin golden bands that made it look long and the overall effect was almost tribal. As the hot lights beat down on her, she shimmered.
A myriad of colors sparkled around the dark room as she reached behind her and undid the clasps of her bra, sending the palettes that covered it into a spasm of movement. As the material fell away and exposed her nipples, a collective gasp echoed throughout the room.
Ani felt her mouth fall open as the woman turned to face the audience and her nipples came into view. Ani almost took a step forward to improve her own view and stopped herself when she realized that someone might be looking at her. Instead, like everyone else in the room, she strove for a better look at the woman’s nipples and the surrounding areola.
Taking a deep breath she felt a twinge deep inside her which caused her to fumble slightly with her serving tray. On the stage the woman’s breasts were beautiful and globular, the nipples standing out tightly, their deep brown color almost shocking in the harsh glare of the spotlights. As she twisted and manipulated her body with supple ease, the room held its breath; waiting for the g-string to come off. Black Magic almost seemed to be dancing for herself, and Ani found her own lip clenched between her teeth as she waited with the rest of the room.
Again, the dancer bent and swayed her butt around in circle eights, tantalizing and teasing the crowd with the perfect orbs of her buttocks. Not only was it perfect, but it exemplified the buttocks of black women to perfection. There was many a man in the room who might have been happy with that performance alone, but when, mysteriously, the g-string was no longer there – a raw roar went through the room and sprung back from the low-hanging ceiling. Each craned neck and bulging eye yearned for a closer look at the wiry hair that nestled between her legs. The woman was no fool and had shaved her pubic hair into an arrow that pointed directly between her legs. In the end, they all wanted the same thing – and she knew it.
In one smooth movement she lowered herself to the floor and crawled along the runway like a jungle cat. She flicked her tongue at the men who leered from the safety of their tables and pawed at them with shiny red fingernails. Drawing it out, she worked both sides of the stage until she finally reached the bed. With languorous ease, she slid onto her back and spread her legs into a wide V shape. Men almost lunged onto the stage when her labia came into view but she ignored them. Instead she took her time and showed them everything they had only imagined in the darkness of their rooms and dreams.
When the music ended and the speakers eked out the last notes, she slipped into her cover-up and held her head high as she retrieved her music and departed.
The room suddenly took on an emptiness and some of the customers stared into their beer glasses, obviously in another world, and some hurried for the bathrooms at the top of the stairs. Others boasted amongst themselves which soon developed into an argument. In moments the braggarts were pushing back their chairs and Ani was treated to her first bar fight.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
By 9pm, nearly every seat in the bar was taken and Ani was continually on the move as she filled orders and emptied ashtrays. Memories of working in the university pub had kicked in and helped her with taking orders, and taking the teasing that went along with the job. The university bar had been an entirely different set-up and nearly everyone had approached the bar for their drinks. However, it still involved going out to the tables with some orders, and of course cleaning up after the drinkers had left.
Ani felt like she had just gotten her feet under her and that she had developed a routine, when the stage lights came on and Syd started bellowing into the microphone again. Dear God – not again! Ani thought as she looked towards the front of the room.
“Gentlemen! Put your hands together and welcome Diamond Girl!”
Ani’s tray clattered onto the metal sink as she lost control of it and Syd glared at her as he quickly clapped his hand over the open microphone. With a horrendous clang it hit the taps and bounced onto the floor next to the boss’ feet. Shaking his head he snapped off the microphone and threw it into the entertainment booth, then made a show of picking up her tray and handing it to her. She could feel the heat radiating off of her face as she took it out of his hands and hurried down the bar. She poured herself a glass of ice water and took a long sip before she turned to Ed to give him her order. ‘
“Don’t worry about it Ani. He loves to hear himself talk on that thing and you just spared us and everyone in here more of his blathering.”
Ani giggled and glanced again at Syd. “I keep wondering who he reminds me of.”
“It’s Kotter. You know that show Welcome Back Kotter? Doesn’t Syd look exactly like Kotter?”
“You’re right!” Ani gasped and threw a hand over her mouth to stop herself from bursting into a belly laugh.
“Lucky for us, Syd will hang around here until eleven when the last girl goes on, and then we won’t see him that much again until closing.”
Ani could tell Ed was being sarcastic and she tried to put on her most innocent of faces. “Why does he do that?”
“He likes to play the big-shot, you know, and introduce all the girls. He’ll run back and forth between here and the nightclub all night. But ask him for something? Man, it’s like pulling teeth!”
“Just how many girls are there?”
“There are three girls this week. They start at 12 noon and rotate through until the last one dances at 6pm. Then there’s a break until 8, and the last dancer goes on at 11pm.”
Ani shook her head in bewilderment before hurrying back to her customers with her order. This time around she wasn’t so embarrassed when the girl’s breasts seemed to leap into the spotlight and bounce around. With more customers in her section, she didn’t have the time to stand around and watch and she barely noticed when the girl got up on the ‘bed’ and spread her legs.
The men clapped and hooted when she finished her routine, and they looked at the stripper out of the sides of their eyes as she strode through the crowd to collect her music before heading up the three steps and out through the dented metal door.
As the minutes ticked away and the men watched something about sports on the big TV, Ani noticed the atmosphere in the room beginning to change. It was like they were all on edge and they peered into their beer glasses and shifted in their seats as they waited for something momentous to happen.
When the stage lights flickered on again, it was if the room breathed in together and then released it in one huge sigh. The audible click of the microphone could be heard throughout the room and the men held their breaths again as they waited for the next introduction.
“Gentlemen.” Syd took a very long deliberate pause as he gauged the room’s atmosphere before smiling secretively to himself. “Put your hands together Gentlemen, and welcome to the stage the star of the week – Black Magic!”
In the thundering applause that followed, Ani thought that if Syd could have manufactured a drum roll into that introduction – he would have. Shaking her head, she watched as each man in the room seemed to gather himself together, as if trying to sharpen his appearance by just thinking about it. At the same time, they all seemed to drool and turn into stalking beasts as their eyes focused on the stage and Black Magic ascended the short flight of stairs. When she placed her first glittering shoe on the flat surface, the room again inhaled and forgot to breathe.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Finding a dark corner she watched in disbelief as the woman bent over and rotated her bum for the men to see. Her silvery top had been removed and underneath she wore a sparkly bra with something that looked a little like panties from the front, but was only a piece of string up the back. Ani didn’t consider herself a prude, but she had never seen a g-string before and she gaped at how uncomfortable it looked. She not only wondered how the woman could stand that small piece of material right up against her anus, but also if it rubbed when she walked. Secretly she wondered if it smelled too once it came off, but she knew she was never going to ask anyone that question.
When the sparkly bra collided with the chaps, Ani thought she might die. The woman’s bare breasts seemed to expand into the whole room and they were the only thing Ani could see when she looked around.
Her Baptist upbringing hit her like a brick as she stood in a dark corner and she was suddenly acutely aware of how few women’s breasts she had actually seen in her lifetime. Suddenly she was back in the girl’s change room at high school and she remembered how she had been one of those girls who had waited in line for the private cubicle with the curtain for a door, while the other girls changed in front of each other out in the open. She had averted her eyes every time and blushed with embarrassment. Her parents and the church had ground into her psyche the dirtiness of a naked body.
Now this woman’s nipples jiggled and bounced as she shook them to The Captain and Tennille’s, ‘Love Will Keep us Together’. Ani couldn’t help but stare at how erect the woman’s nipples actually were, and she wondered if baring them in front of these men excited her.
The woman pressed her breasts together and flicked her tongue at the men who lined the stage; bending forward and dangling her nipples in their face. A man with a hopeful look on his face jumped up from his chair and stuck a dollar bill in the woman’s garter, and she flung him a slightly scornful look when she realized the value of the bill.
Strutting up the stage in time with the beat, she took a filmy scarf from the ‘bed’ and draped it around her neck, before strutting back to the end of the runway. Turning her back to the crowd she bent over again and with a fluid motion that Ani couldn’t follow, she undid the clips on her g-string and it snapped into her hand. Grinding and rotating her hips from side to side, she remained bent over, giving the men a good look at her genitals.
Ani glanced around the room and discovered that except for the serving staff, every male eye in the room was focused on the woman on the stage. Particularly on her genitalia. A little groan escaped the men’s lips when she straightened up and strutted to the front of the stage where she gyrated in front of the mirrors. With nearly every eye in the room on her, she watched herself dance in front of the mirrors while she ran her hands over her nipples and down her hips. Taking the scarf from around her neck, she ran it between her legs and see-sawed it back and forth as she balanced on her high heels and licked her lips.
It was when the woman climbed onto the round bed and lay back and spread her legs that Ani wanted to sink into the floor and disappear. With flaming cheeks, Ani wriggled further back into the dark corner and held her tray in front of her as a barrier.
On stage the woman put her one leg straight up into the air before letting it fall to the side, revealing her vagina and anus to all who wanted to see. The stage lights reflected off her bare white skin while Jim Croce wailed ‘Time In A Bottle’ through the huge speakers. Ani watched horrified as the woman turned over and got on her knees and imitated intercourse, her buttocks grinding and pulsing to the music as the sweat beaded up on her back and some men pulled at themselves under the tables.
When the music finally stopped and the stage lights dimmed and went out, Ani feigned wiping tables as she slowly made her way back to the bar. The owner’s son ignored her as he handed a tape over to the sweaty woman who stood by the entertainment cupboard wrapped in a silky but ratty housecoat.
Ani noted her stage makeup and the glitter on her hands as the woman walked past her and up the stairs, finally disappearing through the metal door that Ani had come through at the beginning of her shift.
She was quiet as she dumped her empties and headed back out for a sweep through her section. The entire room seemed fuller, and Ani realized that this must be a nightly routine for some of these men as the other two waiters greeted some regulars as they drifted in.
Some of her customers grumbled at her that they had been waiting a while and she mumbled an apology. She wasn’t going to tell them that she had never seen a stripper and had been hiding in a corner totally embarrassed. Instead she beamed the complainers a huge smile and hurried off to fill her order.
Gerald nodded at her wisely when she glanced in his direction, and when she made it back to his table he shook his head almost sadly.
“First time?” he asked her quietly.
Ani wanted to pretend she didn’t know what he was talking about, but he had been so kind to her that she felt she owed him an honest answer. “How did you guess?”
“Although I couldn’t really see you, being dressed the way you are, I could see your tray over there in the corner while that girlie was up on the stage.”
Ani knew her laugh revealed her embarrassment but she couldn’t help herself. “Shouldn’t you have been looking at the ‘girlie’ as you call her, while she was dancing around up there?”
“I’ve seen so many of them over my lifetime that one more doesn’t make any difference. Why do you think I like to sit this far from the stage?”
“I didn’t know. I thought you were shy or something.” Turning to look at the front of the room she waved her hand towards the men who now sipped their drinks and gazed again at the TV screen. “So what are you saying? Those guys have never seen a naked woman before?”
“I think if you keep working here, you are going to find that there’s a huge difference between all men.” Gerald flipped a dime back onto her tray and raised his glass in a little toast in her direction. “And if you do stay, little Ani – I think we’re going to learn a lot about you as well.”
Thursday, November 19, 2009
An underlying excitement seemed to be building in the bar, but Ani was more concerned about getting her orders right, than paying attention to what was going on.
The bar was filling up with men more quickly and Ani was a little stressed with keeping up. She wanted to maintain perfect cleanliness at the tables, and perfect service, but she was having a hard time of it. She hated it when she had to add the numbers in her head for the different drinks when someone chose to pay for someone else’s drink.
Hank showed her how to use the straws to mark which kind of drink it was, as the liquid looked the same to her when it was out of the bottle and in the glass. Vodka got one straw and rum got two. Something like tequila got three straws, but Ani could smell the difference with that. She just didn’t want to stand there smelling each glass as the customer waited for his order. It didn’t seem professional to her and it certainly didn’t look it.
Heading back to the bar with her next order, Ani was surprised by the stranger who stood behind the cash register. His suit indicated that he was probably someone in management and she gave him a wavering smile as she emptied her tray.
“You must be the new girl,” he said as he flipped some switches and the sound on the TV died away. “I’m Sid. You’ve met my father already. I believe he hired you yesterday. Do you think you’ll work out here?”
“Well. I’ll be watching you. You report to me as well as to my father you know.”
Ani nodded her head and tried to remember her order as she turned to the register.
The nearness of another boss was throwing her off and she needed to concentrate. Her anxiety caused her to miss the fact that the stage lights had been flipped on, and she jumped when Sid bellowed into the microphone and the sound reverberated around the bar.
“It’s another Thursday night Gentlemen, so put your hands together and let’s hear it for ‘Midnight Dancer!”
Ani’s head whipped around as the music blared out of the speakers at the front of the room and someone climbed the stairs and stepped out onto the stage. From her viewpoint at the register, Ani could vaguely make out an image of something tall and shiny. As she made her way down the bar, she realized that a woman was strutting along the runway wearing a sparkly cowboy hat with matching gauntlets and chaps. ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ blared throughout the room and Ani had to make a conscious effort to close her mouth as she watched the woman turn and sway on her high heels.
“Did you have an order Ani?” Ed’s voice vaguely registered through Ani’s shock as she tried to focus on the paper she held in her shaking hand. She knew she had taken someone’s order, but she had been thrown completely off guard by the woman on the stage.
“Uh, yeah I did…Um…let me think a second.”
Someone let out a wolf-whistle and Ani’s eyes swiveled back to the stage. Glenn Campbell had given way to Blood Sweat and Tears as they belted out Lucretia MacEvil. The cowboy hat had been thrown up on a large round ‘bed’ that was sitting on the right side of the stage. Ani had never noticed it before as she had never been that close to the front of the room, but she noticed it now with the shiny hat sitting on top of it. It looked like it was covered in shag carpeting, and just that image alone began to worry her. When the shiny chaps went sailing next to the cowboy hat, Ani turned back towards Ed and quickly gave him her order.
“You’ve never been in a strip-club before have you Ani?” Ed had reached out and touched her arm and now held it gently as he peered into her crimson face.
“What was your first clue?”
“You look very embarrassed. Were you expecting something else?”
Ani fumbled with the straws as she tried to get out a couple to mark her drink and ended up knocking over the glass that held them. “I thought it was going to be all feathers and stuff like in the old movies.”
Ed made an effort not to laugh out loud and his struggles brought an embarrassed grin to Ani’s face. “I, um, guess things have changed – a lot.” They both laughed and Ani grabbed her tray and hurried to the pool tables where she felt a safe distance had been put between her and the activity at the front of the room.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
You must remember that I was raised in a strict Baptist family and I had no idea any of this went on around the world.
If you would prefer I don't fill you in on the details of how a stripper goes about her job - please let me know. I personally think my observations at that time and over the years hit the nail on the head of the interaction between men and women - and sometimes just about women.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Monday, November 9, 2009
Ani had already begun to pack up the odds and ends of the store when Margaret and Jerome arrived. She had taken brown paper and a stencil and made a sign that announced the closing date of the store and covered the entire front window with it. She now stood peering through a crack at the pedestrians who scurried past. Everyone was obviously caught up in their own world and unaware that hers was falling apart on the other side of the window. As she watched the strangers climbing the three steps up onto the bus, she listened to Margaret and Jerome arguing about the used goods that remained in the second room.
Without even looking, she knew that Jerome saw the used socks and sweaters, the raggedly three-wheel stroller and one-armed bald doll as articles in a treasure chest. She knew his eyes would be a bit unfocused and his heart rate would be slightly elevated, and he would be taking short breaths without realizing it. She could also tell by Margaret’s voice that Jerome wasn’t paying any attention to her and didn’t hear a word she was saying. Even though he had survived the dirty 30’s by his wits and his strength, when it came right down to it, he was a pack-rat. Other people’s junk was like a drug to him and he gave new meaning to the word ‘junkie’. Ani leaned her forehead against the cool glass and sighed.
“You are not taking this junk back home with us Jerome.”
“It’s good stuff Margaret. I need it.”
“What on earth do you need baby socks and a stroller for?”
“Just pack it up. I’ll find something to do with it. Maybe I’ll open my own consignment shop. Think of the money I could make and this stuff would all be free!”
In the back room Ani pressed her lips tightly together as she stacked the boxes by the back door so they could be loaded into the van later. The argument had been going on for over an hour and her mother’s voice had risen as she became more desperate to keep this junk out of her house and her life. She had put up with her husband bringing whatever garbage he found on the side of the road home, but this was too much.
“Jerome! I…” Margaret’s words were cut off by Jerome’s roar.
“Just do it!”
Ani threw the box she held onto the pile and headed through the back rooms to where her parents were arguing. Normally she appreciated the sound the dried-out wood floor made as it took her weight, but her mother’s crying distracted her.
She found Margaret sitting on the floor beside a half-filled box with her head in her hands and sobs rocking her body. Jerome stood over her, his huge hands balled at his sides as he glared at his wife. His fists opened and closed and opened and closed. When it became obvious that Margaret was not going to look at him he turned his attention to his daughter. Ani felt her knees and bladder weaken and she made a conscious effort not to pee herself.
No one spoke.
The sound of her mother’s crying echoed around the old building. It was eerie and ghostly and sounded helpless. It wormed into the brain and irritated like a thorn. It attracted Jerome’s attention once more and he raised one meaty fist.
“Don’t you dare touch her.” Ani’s words were a surprise to everyone in the room, even her. As Jerome’s head snapped up and swung in her direction, she took a gulp and steadied her legs.
“What did you say?” His voice was so full of anger that Ani’s resolve wavered briefly. His hands clenched and opened quickly and she thought he might be imagining them around her neck again.
“Don’t even think about hitting her,” she said with as much bravado as she could manage. Inside she fervently hoped that he couldn’t see that bravado was all it was. “And you are not taking this crap back to Sudbury with you. It’s going to the dump. All you’ve done is made Mom cry about this. It’s junk and you don’t need it. Mom would just have to turn around and throw it out in Sudbury. She works hard enough as it is.”
Jerome stood staring at her in total disbelief. Margaret’s crying developed a hitch as she took a deep breath before it eased off into sniffling. She dug around in the old red sweater she always wore when she was doing dirty work and pulled out a Kleenex that was tattered and thin. Folding it meticulously, she honked loud and hard. Ani almost laughed. She turned instead and walked back across the creaky floors and into the back room where she drew her foot back and kicked the first box she came to as hard as she could. Leaning against the back door she took a long shaky breath before putting her hand over her mouth and closing her eyes.
At the end of the month Ani met with Mr. Abson once more to hand over the keys. Together they walked through the empty building to double-check that no damage had been done. The old floors creaked as they rattled the lock on the back door and Ani noticed a sifting of dust was already beginning to cover everything.
Mr. Abson paused for a moment as he checked through his list before holding up a finger and closing his eyes. The sound of water trickling into the toilet bowl could be heard over the humming of the fluorescent lights and he hurried into the bathroom and twisted the shut-off valve.
At the front door, Ani noted once more the dead flies lying on the windowsills before she flicked the power switches one last time. With a final look at the empty rooms, she turned the key in the lock and placed it in the palm of the real estate agent’s hand. He looked at it briefly as it glinted dully and shrugged his shoulders before shaking her hand and striding away.
The unmistakable flavour of failure salted her evening meal and followed her into bed that night. Damn him she thought as she fought the feeling that surrounded her. I’ll show him.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
“We’ve decided to close all the branches.”
In the few seconds it took for her mother’s words to filter through her brain, Ani’s mouth opened and closed without saying anything. When her brain had finished its functions, she still asked her mother to repeat herself and pressed the receiver to her ear to make sure she heard every word.
“We’ve decided to close the branches and just have the one store.”
“Just like that?” Ani asked
“No. Not just like that. It is too much work having three stores and it costs a lot more money for all the stock, so we’re just going to have the one.”
“But what about me?’ Ani asked incredulously.
“What about you?”
“You haven’t said one word about this to me at all!” Ani almost wailed.
“Why should we have?”
“Because it’s my life too that you’re affecting.”
“It’s for the better Ani.”
Ani could not believe what she was hearing. Her entire life flashed through her brain and she looked about helplessly. She had spent two years trying to get this business up and running and they were pulling the rug out from under her feet. Her tongue felt leaden as she asked the inevitable, “When?”
“We’re moving out of the mall in 90 days and into a place downtown.”
“What about me?” she asked once more.
“You are to call the landlord and give him notice that you’re leaving, and then we want you to put on a sale and get rid of as many of the old coats as you can.”
“What about all these consignment goods?”
“Call the people to come get their junk or it goes to the dump.” Her mother’s exasperated tone was quite evident as it came down the line.
When Ani hung up the phone she stood staring about her before bursting into tears. They were doing it again but in a much different way this time. It was obvious that her life didn’t matter to her parents and that they were just interested in their own. A twinge of panic nudged at her stomach as she briefly thought of how she would support herself, but she pushed it away for later. Instead she picked up the phone and called the landlord and then the newspaper to place the necessary ads. Unwilling to think past what she had to do, she started in on the phone calls to the owners of the consignment goods in the second room. Some of the people wanted their goods back, but most of them told her to dispose of the stuff herself. She informed them that if anything sold before the store closed, that she would make sure that they got their cut of the money.
At the end of the day she locked the door and started home. She bought a newspaper and read the help wanted ads while she ate her supper, then crawled into bed. She knew she had already decided. She wasn’t going to move back to Sudbury and work for her parents. She loved Guelph and she loved her freedom from her family. The future didn’t look easy right at the moment, but she felt she could come up with something. Just what that something was, she didn’t know. Vaguely she wondered if something had happened in Timmins. Had the affair been discovered? Her mother hadn’t sounded overly distressed about anything. But her mind circled the idea and picked at it like a scab. Had Jerome broken off the relationship or had the woman done it first? Perhaps that was why he had decided to close that branch and her store had been sucked into the whirling vortex. Maybe Margaret was getting close to finding out and Jerome was taking precautions. Heaving a huge sigh, she turned her pillow over, plumped it up and fell back into it, praying for sleep.
As the days counted down, Ani was no closer to deciding what type of job she would look for once the store closed. Living in a university town she considered returning for some kind of degree, but she didn’t have the finances to sustain that kind of ambition. At night she worked on her references and read the help wanted ads, but everything seemed so bleak. A seed of panic had sprouted in her brain and it made her edgy and nervous.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
For those of you who are wondering what I was doing out of university before I was 18 yrs. old. I started university at the age of 16. I only completed one year before the offer came from my father to run a location of the fur store in the town where I was born.
I had run into a 'friend' I had met at university and she had moved in with me for a period of time before moving on. When she left she stole all my cutlery and my fur coat. The fur coat I didn't discover until it grew cold enough to need one. It was a learning experience for me.
I continue now with the story from the point where my friend had moved out and I had made the discovery of the theft.
Naturally we drifted apart and I continued on at the fur store where I worked harder than ever to pay the rents and feed myself. I started dating a fellow and we became engaged briefly, both caught up in our loneliness and a need to cling to something. That relationship lasted about a year and ended in the traditional toss of the ring towards his face - which in itself is a very satisfying thing to do. However, he claimed for years afterward that he could never find it once I had left the building and that I had just faked the throw....which still cracks me up.
Eventually my parents decided to close all their stores in Ontario and pack everything up and move to Alberta. I heard about it during a telephone call. In fact - what I heard was that they had sold their house and were just in the process of closing down all locations and would then be taking the stock to Alberta where they had found a city where only one furrier ruled - and ruled an area that hosted most of the millionaires in Alberta. They were excited about the rest of their lives. And myself? I could join the furs in Alberta - or stay.
I opted to stay. They hadn't once asked my opinion or even mentioned their plans in our daily telephone conversations until everything was settled. I remember those last days at the store very well.
Most fur stores will take older fur coats on trade for a newer garment. Sometimes they can resell the older garments for a little money to cover the cost of the original trade-in...sometimes they use the garments for repairing others. It works well.
Now, my father was a very forward looking man - always thinking way ahead of his time. He decided that we would use the second room to sell the used furs - and - to take in consignment goods and sell them too. Consignment stores just did not exist at that time! So - you could walk in and buy a mink coat out of the front room for thousands of dollars - or - move on into the second showroom and buy used socks. Lovely.
So when the store was closing - anyone who didn't pick up their items would forfeit ownership of them. That meant - when the store did actually close - we were left with clothing that wasn't ours. I remember very well my mother sitting crying helplessly - her head in her hands - as my father was packing everything up so he could take all this clothing with him. Granted they had come through the depression and he hoarded everything he could get his hands on...but why these things?
It was the first time I got the nerve up to speak my mind to him. Remembering what he had done to my mother I was yelling instead of speaking. The goods ended up going to the dump and my mother quit crying.
Monday, November 2, 2009
During this time I was rushed to the hospital (from the university). I underwent an emergency appendectomy - and remained hospitalised for a week. My parents never visited me once and a friend had to bring me home. I was a little surprised by their actions - but only a little.
I was still heartbroken when my first year of university ended and was very disillusioned about school as well. I was majoring in English with a minor in Psychology - and none of it was living up to my expectations of post-secondary schooling. My father approached me and offered me the opportunity to run a branch of their business in another city - the one where I was born - and loved. I thought about it for a short time and accepted - and I now post a bit about that.
(an excerpt from Chapter 12 of The Wailings - my book in progress)
As fate would have it, the building that housed the fur store where Margaret had apprenticed, stood empty. A warped sign sat propped up against the dusty front window of the showroom; the information on it fading in the sun’s rays. Ani stood staring into the shadows that swallowed the backrooms and tried to imagine her mother at work here as a young girl.
Buses pulled into the curb behind her and she watched the reflection of the passengers in the huge plate glass windows as they disembarked and hurried off. Jerome was in a phone booth at the corner talking to the real estate agent whose number appeared on the sign in the window. The diesel exhaust wrapped itself around her lungs and she coughed asthmatically, wishing their schedule would kick in and move the buses on. A bored driver eyed her curiously as she stood in the doorway of the building and she glanced away, aware of her disheveled state after the five hour drive.
“He’s coming to let us in,” Jerome said as he abruptly appeared beside her. Sniffing the air, he turned and looked at the buses idling against the curb before grunting and turning back to face her. “The fumes get trapped here against the building. You’ll have to keep the door closed.”
“So we’re going to rent it then?”
“If the price is right we will. What could be better than a fur store in the exact place where Lafreniere’s Furs was for all those years? I hope the storage vault is still in there.” Lapsing into silence, he put his huge hands up beside his face as he pressed against the glass and stared into the depths.
Just before the buses pulled away, a small man with a yellow bow tie and round glasses approached the duo. In his left hand he held a clipboard and a set of keys, his right hand he extended without hesitation in Jerome’s direction.
“You must be Mr. Black. I’m David Abson. We talked on the phone earlier.”
Jerome shook his hand and introduced Ani. The realtor smiled as he nodded in her direction while he fiddled with the keys, trying to find the one that unlocked the front door. A wave of stale air washed over them as he pushed open the glass door, and the line of dead flies that were pressed up against the draft stop lifted as one and scattered into the room on the incoming breeze. The constant noise from the traffic stopped abruptly as the door swung closed and Ani shivered as the dead air pressed against her with little vampiric mouths.
She stayed close to Jerome as the realtor found the fuse box and flipped some switches, activating the fluorescent lighting. It sputtered and hissed spasmodically as it flickered into life, complaining of being brought back from the dead. Dust coated the floors and covered the shelving left by the last retailer, and it puffed up around their shoes as they made their way through the two front retail rooms. Wood paneling covered the walls and the tiles on the floor were broken and stained. As one, they peered into the tiny bathroom that had obviously been added sometime in the 50’s. Both men grunted their approval while Ani shivered with disgust before they turned their attention to the back rooms.
The vault door stood open and Jerome hastened towards it with an eager look on his face. He flapped his hand around the opening looking for a light switch and was rewarded when a single bulb came to life overhead. Rows of metal rods stretched to the walls in two layers with an aisle down the middle. On the back wall, an old air-conditioning unit dripped cobwebs, the louvered vents on the front caked solid with years of accumulated dust. Jerome plugged it in and flipped switches, but it remained impassive to his touch.
“I don’t believe that thing has worked in years,” the realtor said as he flipped through some papers on his clipboard.
“Too bad,” Jerome said with a great deal of disappointment.
They wandered through the remaining rooms while Jerome checked the barricades on the back door. Wire grid covered the windows and Ani found it hard to believe that Margaret had happily learned her trade in this building. She hesitated when they opened a small door and looked at stairs descending to the next level. Silence saturated the inky blackness and the damp smell of raw earth tickled her nose. Again Jerome led the way, and Ani was startled when she remembered that her father had probably been here many times while Margaret was an apprentice.
A few bulbs hung from the rafters, their glow barely piercing the dark expanse. Old wooden tables stood about and Jerome leaned on one briefly before moving away as the legs wobbled beneath his weight.
“They use to do the blocking down here when your Mother worked here.”
“It’s hard to believe that this is where Mom worked,” she said as she rubbed the goose bumps on her arms and peered around.
In a corner she could see a door propped open, and she squealed as her hand passed through cobwebs while she searched for a switch. A bulb hanging on a long cord eased into life above her head and she stared into a rust-filled toilet bowl, its yellowed toilet seat cracked and stained. A small sink with separate taps hung on the wall. The drainpipe had been disconnected and Ani could see a clump of hair with dried soapsuds clinging to it hanging from its rusty mouth. Someone had tried to brighten the little room in the bowels of the building by papering the walls. The dampness of the basement had stained it in patches, and it hung in tatters beside the toilet where someone had picked at it with their fingernails. The smell of decay and urine made Ani gag and she hurried back to the men as they headed for the stairs and the fresher air on the main floor.
While the men negotiated the rent, Ani wandered from room to room, listening to the old wooden floors creak beneath her feet. The place was way too big for what they needed, and she felt overwhelmed by the job that lay ahead of her.
“Mr. Abson told me of an apartment for rent on Waterloo Avenue. I suggest we get over there and have a look at it right away. That way you’ll have a place to live and we can get this project rolling.” Jerome jangled the keys in his huge hands as he looked around the space again. “Don’t worry Ani, I know it looks impossible, but I do have some ideas that might work out just fine for here.”
The one-bedroom basement apartment was available immediately, and Jerome wrote a check for the first and last month’s rent and handed it to the superintendent. By the time they had dragged their sleeping bags and overnight bags into the apartment they were starving and headed out for supper.
Jerome slowly drove the van past the houses they had owned before they moved to Sudbury. They were both silent as they stared at the small modifications that had been made to each house, aware that these slight changes were painful for both of them. After they had eaten, Jerome drove around the city, noting changes and pointing out places where he and Margaret had shared experiences. Ani watched his face carefully in the dusky light. He hadn’t ever talked to her this much, and she wondered if it was the beauty and memories of Guelph that caused it, or something else. When they returned to the apartment, Ani set about cleaning the bathroom and kitchen while Jerome spread the newspaper in front of his face and disappeared behind it.