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!”