“Normal Man is a fiction” Carl Jung.
I briefly pause before saying my name, lingering on an awkward moment of silence, reflection and stranger’s bewilderment.
“Alex,” it’s Alex, my character’s name. She is stepping up full force. She is my medicine, my dream pill, my chill pill – she is behind the wheel. I let her overtake me, overshadow me, and maybe save me from me. She is responsible for taking me on a ride, dragging me to take a ride on Cony Island’s Cyclone…
And then it’s Me, another me, self-conscious, self-doubting, self-loathing, sensitive, indecisive, squeamish. I ate a giant Uniformity pie and choked on it. Digestion failed. So she came to rescue me. I let my character take over me with delight. I let her take my hand and lead me to half-lit corners, to strange places where darkness is married to light, making it alright. She speaks to me in undertones and I scream her messages out loud sometimes. Slowly slowly she’s un-plastering ole house’s holes, “don’t try to stop it from leaking. Gloomy deterioration is worse than old cheesy lyrics. Let’s dismantle it and efface the ground beneath it…”
I was standing on the corner of Cony Island avenue and Cortelyou Road, near Junior’s Pizza, waiting for the street light when I saw a pigeon slipping on a thick layer of ice, competing with a seagull for a naked leftover pizza crust. The seagull won the pizza battle, taking off swiftly and disappearing in grey skies. The Punshutawny Phill had just predicted another six weeks of winter. But New Yorkers suspected that six weeks wasn’t the worst prognostication and it could be another 2 months of endless cold Groundhog days until Spring finally arrived. Alex and I were both getting fed up commuting to Grand street to Pumps three or four times a week, slipping on ice, growing restless, getting tired of reading books on iPhone, tucking our feet under knees, waiting for customers to come in.
A sweet and lucrative phase at Pumps ended quickly after the holiday season. One cold and slow February evening a small fire caught up while I was leading the competition in a get-a-customer challenge with a Hello-Kitty Asian chick. A young customer was a regular at Piggytail thanks to working hard and multiplying his income by putting a divider in his uber hipster Bushwick apartment and renting all available space. He even removed a washing machine and a dryer from the utility room and proudly turned into an $800- a-month-room-for-rent. My eloquent small chats were working on him, smoothering hard liquor and easing my way into a number of lap dances. A young silly asian girl with Hello Kitty tattoos all over her hips jumped on him trying to win him over by awkwardly kissing his face and nibbling his lips. Who does it in a strip club? I thought. That’s a huge no-no, a violation of Stripper Bible. Her fellow stripper from Flashdancers would cunningly and slowly work her eyes on a Target, seduce him with a carefully crafted half-smile first and then air drop her hand on his knee and slowly work her fingers down his waist and thigh… She thought I was stealing her customer because the customer had gifted her a plastic ring with swarovski crystals, made in china. She pouted her lips and took her hello-kitty hips downstairs to the manager. She was joined by Naomi Campbel who once blamed me for ‘cut-throating her’ when I sat down with the customer who’d bought her a glass of champagne, who she had invisibly marked before going on stage. I almost took it as a compliment if long-legged Naomi thought I was her competition it, I must have been good. I told her she was wrong and that it was a free market and not a high school and I was just hustling to make money. Manager Eric came out from his cave which was equipped with a safe and 5 surveillance cameras. Each day and 6 days a week he was driving to work from Long Island to Bushwick. Each day he was wearing the same Yankee-fan t-shirt, outlying his prominent broad shoulders, and a hat with a Piggytail logo on it hiding his bold head. He was middle-aged, good looking, easy-irritable, and extremely grumpy. Eric had a weird denial about women, he said women were giving him a big headache. If there was a bachelor at the bar, he would come up to shake his hand and pat him on a shoulder, What’s up, buddy? Gettin’ married? “Marriage is a deathbed, buddy.” There were plenty of gals in the club who wanted to fuck Eric but he was unapproachable and unavailable, a lone wolf who showed no signs of anima. I thought maybe he was impotent, maybe something terrible happened to him like to that character Jake in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Anyway, Eric was always harsh on me, he was particularly angry that day.
“Alex,” he yelled at me right in front of that Bushwick customer, “Get dressed, you are done for the day, you are going home!”
“What’s the problem?” I objected, standing up, excusing myself, leaving the customer and going to the other side of the bar to talk to robot-Eric privately.
“That customer is not your customer, he came here to see Hello Kitty chick.”
“I asked him about it, he wants me to stay, he’s already paid for a couple lap dances.” I replied.
“I said I want you to leave, go downstairs, go change. Girls ask me upfront if they want to stay later.”
“But you there’s no money earlier, you know it, I said,” my frustration was growing…
“We are getting out here, this is BS,” Alex gently whispered into my ear. “Let’s show a middle finger to PiggyTail. We’ve got a lot of work to do, let’s hurry!”
I concurred with Alex, Pumps was not even worth it. The whole thing was ridiculous. Piggytail was not real a strip club, it was a booty joint run by a sexually frustrated man, college gals, a few angry black and puerto rican gals, and white hipster chicks who made their way to the top by working nightshifts and dealing with the owner rather than with Eric. I knew I’d miss a few gals, like Ruby, who used to come in Babyshka’s wrinkly high-knee socks, ugly Crocs clogs, second-hand fedora and a simple tote bag. She looked like a barista gal from a quintessential hipster coffee shop, who quit her barista job once she realized she had a great booty. Up on the stage Ruby was not Ruby she was stript-a-licious Sugar shaking and tweaking and doing tricks on the pole like a pro. I knew I would miss Taylor, a young puerto-rican gal who had quit a month before because she was 5 months pregnant, and because after finishing a beauty school she was going to pursue a real career – a mortician.
. . .
“I am going to 1630 St Roch avenue,” I said to the cab driver as I exhaled a warm moist air filled with the scent of oak trees.
“I know where it is”, said the driver, “its right across from the St. Roch cemetery, be careful around that area! It’s dangerous down there.”
“I’d spent 9 months living in the South Bronx, on Walton Avenue, you think I’ll be alright?”
The Pakistani driver chuckled at me, winking in the mirror and pulling over by an elevated creole cottage with long steep stairs. I dragged my luggage up the dark stairs and pressed the buzzer. Behind the door live music was roaring. The driver was still there, waiting, looking out for me until a tall guy opened the door. This kind gesture was unorthodox on the East Coast in NYC. I delightfully thought that it must be first sign of southern hospitality.
Wayne, a tall half eskimo, half American Chinese let me in the long hallway. He showed me the room I was staying, the Blue Room, a simple dark room with a twin size Ikea bed which had another convertible twin size mattress hidden in the drawer for just $25 extra. Oh, God Bless AirbnB! He then led me into the kitchen where a bunch of colorfully dressed hippies were playing some folk music.
“Come sit with us, have some tea, smoke some weed! Sorry, I couldn’t pick you up from the French Quarter, I’m too stoned and too tired after the Madi Gras. It was so intense and exhausting. We’ve had too many people coming and going and coming, too much logistics. Too much partying. I did acid. I’m so exhausted. But I’m going to Mexico for a week to relax and see a shaman, take ayahuasca..” Wayne moved to NOLA to retire at the age of 30. He used the money he made working in corporate finance on Wall Street to buy a creole cottage on St.Roch. He said it cost him less than his annual rent in Manhattan. “After all, I got tired from working like a dog on Wall Street and talking about rent all the time. Now, my small investment is paying me off. I love it here, I fiddle, I smoke, I chill. But I feel like I need to utilize a lot of downtime, especially summer time. It’s a dead season for at least 3 months. Business stops. And it’s too hot to move around. So maybe ayhuasca will help me to figure out my life.”
In the Blue Room overlooking St Roch cemetery I fell asleep soundly like a child who didn’t have to go to school in the morning.