This is a series of posts I started in late May and plan to continue for 40 days, with a goal of hitting 50,000 words by July 5 (now +25% complete!). It’s inspired by a three-day solo trek on the Washington coast, with side-story memoir scenes wrapped by a few themes. I’m writing each post live, pulling in stories I’ve drafted before or I’m writing for the first time, for this project. You can come and go (it’s non-linear) or start at the beginning here, which is really the end.
There were some with dark souls you could tell by their eyes. I worried, was the Belgian girl predatory, in a way like Scarlett Johansson in that foreign film where she plays an alien who harvests men’s souls by sleeping with them? There were only two I knew with eyes like that, the dead soul eyes. Black, dark eyes. My friend Peel (who died of an overdose) and a guy named Jim from Pittsburgh, a transient who appeared one day in the café and then stuck around at closing most nights, wanting to “hang out.” Made his way back to my house once, offered some popping thing for me to inhale but I faked it and when I did, his face changed and went savage, a killer’s face. That’s what it was in his eyes, he’d killed someone. Not even sure his name was Jim.
That spring in Pittsburgh I had a crush on a bartender named MaryJo, she worked at Dee’s. Didn’t wear make-up, mousey hair: a couple of crooked teeth in front, but a good smile. Didn’t wear girly-girl clothes, more denim overalls, Come on Eileen style. She tended bar so I figured she’d tolerate my drinking, whereas Shana, my previous girlfriend, didn’t. She wanted to fix people, she was a social worker. It made sense. I didn’t want fixed, though.
Somehow Shana and I got back together and it didn’t work out with MaryJo. We took a walk one time, a date, but she wasn’t interested. Shana and I drove from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, lived there a year, then from Philadelphia to Seattle. Thought changing our locations would change our relationship for the better. Not true.
When we got to Philadelphia I had a lead on an artist’s loft called the Sponge Factory in an edgy part of town, the beginning of North Philly, a place called Kensington or Fish Town. Streets so narrow you could get boxed-in in your car and hijacked or knifed, or whatever, you had to think about that.
We had an appointment to meet with the building manager Monica, and there were multiple points of entry, redundancies, for getting buzzed in. All those entry points were meant to give the impression of “secure,” but it didn’t, really. Monica had a parrot on her shoulder and wasn’t wearing a bra. She showed us upstairs, an old-style freight elevator with the accordion look and doors you had to put your back into to throw open, the smell of burnt grease when it chugged on.
There were two units available. One was bigger than the other but had a woman in it prior who was a cat woman, like 19 cats, and the place sure smelled of it, and they were old, wooden floorboards and hard to clean, and that smell really gets in there.
So we looked at the other one but the tenant’s things were still there. She hadn’t paid rent in a few months, a stripper, had disappeared. She had a lot of exotic outfits hanging up and Monica said you could take whatever you want, she won’t be coming back and if she does, they’re changing the locks, evicting her.
I’d only been to a strip bar once, in my home town, working as a temp packing boxes onto Fed Ex cans at a warehouse, seasonal work. There were two guys wearing these Fed Ex monkey suits with walky-talkies named Fred and Lou. Temps didn’t get overalls.
We got to be friendly and ran out of things to talk about, packing boxes from the conveyor belt onto the cans. The cans were shaped like Trivial Pursuit pie wedges and fit geometrically onto the planes. Boxes and boxes of Day Timers, paper planners people sent as gifts around Christmastime, to plan out the new year.
We made plans to go to the strip bar by the airport, it was a daring kind of thing, are you man enough? We sat at the bar and ordered drinks, I was nervous. There were a couple dancers hovering around before the main act and one turned to me, and it was a girl I knew back in middle school named Debbie, couldn’t remember her last name, but it was Greek. We locked eyes and I looked away. We’d been square dance partners in the fifth grade. The time we first danced she took her glasses off and looked at me and I put my hands on her hips and we danced, my first time with a girl like that. Now here she was Debbie but not-Debbie, doing something with an ice cube around her boob and holding it above a guy’s mouth, making it drip on his tongue. Fred and Lou were like stone golems sitting there. I felt ashamed.
Then the main act came out and it was an AC/DC song I really liked called Jailbreak. She had on black and white body paint in stripes and heels, and nothing else.
I wrote about Debbie when we were in the UK, I was on my second draft of my memoir. I was interested in themes about identity (you are what you do, or are you?). I wanted to play with that theme, to prove it wrong. Could a stripper be more than that, a stripper, regardless of what you thought about stripping? I wanted to believe so. I didn’t like who I was by what I was doing so I wanted to take an extreme like that (a stripper), and bend the archetype, a la Breaking Bad.
In fifth grade we had a marbles tournament and it came down to me and Debbie as finalists. It was a game where you shot your marble and tried to hit the others out of the circle. Debbie was about to win, her last marble was going out, when a friend’s little brother came running across the circle and stopped it and somehow it was decided I won, and all the guys cheered, and Debbie lost her shit. She just cracked—took her bag of marbles down to the river and threw them in, said fuck it.
In my second draft of the memoir I fictionalized things, I paired Debbie with a guy I knew from little league baseball named Bruce F—: Bruce had buggy, bullfrog eyes, a bully. Once pitching, he hit me in the side with a speedball on purpose I think. He got killed in Vegas on a drug deal gone bad, not surprisingly. In my story I put him and Debbie together with me in the middle but it didn’t pan out, it wasn’t true. I did better with “true.”
I went back to a strip bar in Portland years later with Loren, which doesn’t make sense if you know me or Loren, doesn’t seem like something we’d do. But we did. And that was the night I almost got into a fight with a girl who was being lippy about our table, said we normally sit there, or her guy-friend was, and I said well it doesn’t look like he is now, unless he’s really small. And there were all these women at the strip bar on dates with guys watching the dancers I didn’t understand, like why it’s a thing for women to go to strip bars in Portland—and why doesn’t it work the opposite way, why male strip-bars don’t really happen, because men are just dumber than women, susceptible to that? Or women are more interesting to look at, than men?
We went back to Loren’s and watched that film with Scarlet Johansson. It really freaked me out, she was so pleasing to watch but you knew each time she lured one of those innocent guys into bed, they were going to die. When they did, she just stood there in this abstract, black pool naked, and the men would walk into the water with her, and that was it, kaput. There was this scene at the end with all the souls from the men she consumed swimming like sperm up a thick pool of water. There may have been multiple layers to the film, re: identity-consumption via sex, or gender typecasting, but if so, I didn’t get it. I went to bed with strange images, slept poorly.
And I shook the thought from my head with the Belgian girl, it was ridiculous. I poked the fire, thought I’d let it go down so the sparks wouldn’t blow on her tent. She said she checked the tide tables and it was going to be the highest tide of the month that night, but it didn’t make sense to me by the phase of the moon. Her tent was so close, I worried she’d hear me fart.