I had a few year tradition of celebrating the Independence Day with a twist. It would start as the traditional celebration, watering hot dogs, BBQ meat skewers and corn with cheap lager and wine at a friend’s backyard or rooftop, discussing how many Netflix shows I’d watched, reflecting on how Americanized I was becoming. Then it would be an impromptu – a call from a stranger, a knock on the door, a surprising invite to the unknown. July 2015 was no exception. After a chill mid-afternoon backyard BBQ party in Crown Heights, I was on a mission to find a club to work at. A pile up of outstanding rent, credit cards, bills was biting me like bayou mosquitos. I owed money to banks, friends, strip clubs, DJs, ex-boyfriends and the landlord.
Penthouse was closed so I had to find an alternative club for one night. Private Eyes was a dark seedy sad club, known for exploiting Eastern European girls, mostly Russians and Central Asians, obedient, underprivileged, who had recently touched the US soil and could barely speak English. Except a few Latina women, you couldn’t find any american women working there because nobody in their right mind would tolerate the humiliation, the abuse, the extortion, the penalties for coming to work late, the penalties for taking a sick day. Where was the Department of Labor? It was a stark contrast between Penthouse and Private Eyes. In Penthouse, girls were called ladies and were a given a free ticket to a glass of fine red or sparkling. I had to be stoic. My rent was overdue. I came in to audition, lying to the club manager, who looked like the villain Penguin on Gotham about wanting to work in the club. He was short, dark, combing the remains of his receding hairline to the one side in an attempt to conceal his barren field. Everything about his demeanor was unpleasant. The successful audition was taken for granted.
“The rules,” he said. “You must work four times a week. No less. Or you pay a fine. The house fee is $120 plus $20 to the DJ, ten to a house mom. The shift starts at 8pm and ends at 4am. You are not allowed to leave earlier. If you miss a day, you must pay a fee. If you are sick, you must bring a prove. If you are late, you must pay a fine. Enjoy your free house fee today! Happy Fourth of July.”
By 2-30 am I made only two hundred. Girls were scattered around the club, tired from dancing and walking in high stilettos. My head was bumping into a ceiling as I was dancing to not exactly a strip club music, Steely Dan, on a stage designed for midgets. The DJ felt nostalgic for the 70’s. It was the only good thing about the club. After three songs ended I got off the stage and gave the DJ his tip. In the locker room I saw a familiar face sitting on a couch in a long white shiny gown. She was a gorgeous puerto-rican or something else and rican or cuban talking with a distinct Bronx accent, sounding like an SNL’s comedy sketch, Bronx Beat. But looking seriously good looking, like a Viking princess, a younger version of Cameron Diaz, with her natural baby blonde hair, matching her pale young fresh skin and blue eyes.
“Hiya, I remember you,” Elsa said smiling
“Hey, I can’t believe you work here.” I said. You deserve better places.
“I know. I’ve been here for a month. Nothing here compares to Vegas. I moved my whole family down there for a few months, kids and husband. He thought I was working as a waitress. I was making so much money I had to open another account. I am the breadwinner in the family. He has no idea how much money I am making.”
“Hey, you better move your ass and work.” The Penguin popped up in the dressing room, yelling at Elsa for no reason.
“I don’t feel well today. Can I just go home please? I got kids at home with a babysitter. It’s a slow night, anyway.”
“You owe the club two house fees. If you leave, you fired.” said the Penguin, walking away.
I was boiling inside. The injustice was intolerable. That was the price of not working nine to five, the price for playing this game.
“Hey you, Alex? Go and talk to that customer over there. He is our regular customer. He tips girls well and you speak English. Go, go!” The Penguin commanded.
It was a black young stud with silky smooth skin and long braids. He was wearing white jeans, a black shirt, and had plenty of wrist bracelets, and neck chains. He smelled good, a weird combination of vanilla and spice. He introduced himself as Malibu. Chill as Malibu.
The conversation flowed naturally. I turned on my mediocre acting skills alright.
“Can I get you a drink. What are you drinking?” Malibu asked me
“A shot of whiskey, please. Black label.” I said. He rolled his eyes in surprise.
“Alex on stage, Alex on stage now, the DJ said thru the Mic
“Hey Malibu, will you be my cheerleader while I am dancing on that tiny clumsy stage?”
“I’ll see what I can do.” he said.
First song, dress on. Second – dress off. Random stuff comes to mind. Geometry, chemistry, physics – all the classes I resented in school. A strict and uptight school principal in her tight awkward skirt covering her knees. A small stiff office cubicle, stale air on John street. A compliance manual of written nonsense, polygraph testing. Crazy eyeballs of my vicious boss, popping out, while he is talking about Ayn Rand. Second song. My dress comes off – an act of liberation. A strange electric sensation runs thru me. I don’t rent my head and my soul to Corporate Machine any more. I am free, free falling, thriving on chaos, and my own adventures. Malibu appeared in front of a stage in the middle of the second song. I started undulating and twerking harder and better. It was a weird feat, remix of Steely’s Black Cow
Down to Green street, there ya go
Lookin’ so outrageous, and they tell you so
you should know how all the pros change the name
you change your name, like a gangster, on the run
Malibu came closer to the stage, holding a stack of bills and suddenly made it rain on me. He made it rain like a pro, like Biggie Smalls, the Notorious B.I.G. Fresh, brand new, virgin crispy singles started falling on me. He came closer again and with a stash of singles and popped it up and made it rain on me again. Suspended action. The singles are hovering above my head, like seagulls, dancing, and twirling and flirting with me and then gently landing on me. This is it! I thought, this is my Woody Allen moment in Gotham City, ironic, iconic and stupid. Malibu repeated the trick and the money rained on me again and again. The trick stirred up a small commotion, heads were turning, the customers, the dancers, the tourists, the managers scrutinizing me from head to toe. The barback showed up with a broom and empty stainless steel champagne bucket and started sweeping the singles from the floor and into the bucket. It took us a some time to put all the singles into the bucket. I returned to the table, holding the champagne bucket full of singles as if it was a treasure box.
“Well, Malibu, you made my night! Thank you lots! I said smiling in all my dimples and freckles.”
“Come sit with me, your drink is waiting for you. Tell me about yourself girl.” He said
Malibu hated lap dances so we kept talking to whiskey on the rocks and leftovers of the night. Malibu had a pleasant sassy voice, he was articulate and well rounded. He told me he went to UCLA, majoring in production and music management. His present crib was a spacious house somewhere in Long Island, steps away from the ocean. He lived alone with his seven pit bulls. He avoided going to the beach, gusts of wind and water, sand and sun to avoid hair drama. The night was coming to an end. The DJ made a final call for alcohol.
“Hey, are you hungry?” Malibu asked
“I am starving.” I said
“Great, I know a nice diner. And I can drive you home after that. I’ll be waiting in a car. Don’t make me wait too long.”
I rushed into the locker room, changed quickly, never leaving the sight of my trophy. I came to the Penguin and asked him to change the singles. He rolled and squinted his tiny eyes at me. “What? We are not a bank here. It’s your business.” I took the bucket and went outside. I spotted a brand new shiny Mustang, black with yellow stripes, GT-H. A familiar face nodded at me and I got in.
“Are you out of your mind, Jesus? Carrying the bucket of money like that? What’s wrong with you?”
The car speeded like a torpedo down the empty streets of midtown west, crossing the Qeensborough bridge and into Long Island City and slowing down and finally halting near the Court Street Diner. The subtle dots and spots of the sunrise were staining the dark sky. We were greeted warmly. The waiter, the waitress, the chef himself came out to greet Malibu. Everyone knew him and treated him with reverence as if he were a celebrity. Picking up the table in an empty diner was a ritual too. He picked a table in the far-end corner of the diner and pulled down the window shades. I looked at the pulled window shades and exploded into a loud laughter.
“Cut it out,” he said, casting a cautious glance at me.
“Alright,” I said. I am sorry. Are you a celebrity or somethin’?”
“Somethin.” Let’s order. I am starving. He ordered a french toast with bacon and grits. I ordered mushroom feta broccoli omelette.
“Do you know who I am? Can you guess?”
“I don’t know what you are. I am dying to know. C’mon!”
” I am a BMF, darlin’ “
” I don’t know what it is. Should I google it?”
” I’ll google it for you, here ya go, BMF, Black Mafia Family.” he said.
After a long pause I tried to collect my thoughts and say something. At five thirty am thoughts and words were escaping me. The persistent sunlight, like a restless detective was breaking in thru the closed shades.
“I shrugged. I’m not judging you. I vowed not to judge anyone except….”
“Let’s roll. It’s getting early. The sun will rise soon. We need to rest.” he said
He left a generous tip. The waitress came running after him and blocked the door to hug him.
“Sasha, wake up, we are in Brooklyn, do you know how to get to your place? His pleasant voice jolted me gently.
“I think we are close, but can you please turn on the GPS? 224 Stuyvesant.”
“You can’t rely on technology. What if turns off, breaks down. Google maps can kill you. You need to rely on yourself. Nothing else. Nobody else. It’s the golden rule.”
I opened my eyes wide and stared at him. The daylight exposed the details of his handsome face. There was something ambiguous and mysterious about him.
“I am so tired. When I don’t sleep I lose my ability to think straight. Please, have a mercy on me. Remember I am still new to Bed-Stuy. I just returned from New Orleans, Jesus, how can you stay so fresh and focused and good looking?”
He finally pulled over by the brownstone on Stuyvesant street. “Take my number and save it as MalibuSoSexy.” he said. I saved his number, kissed him on the cheek and got out, like a dark royalty of the hip-hop mafia with the champagne bucket full of money. I cast a glance at him before closing the door. For a moment I imagined what our date would be like as I walked up the stairs to the top floor. I was imagining his bullet proof house, his seven pitbulls wiggling their sharp tales, running up to greet me. His tainted windows overlooking the ocean. His body. A few scars on his smooth body and strong abs. His body playing with mine like a pro. His, tongue, lips and fingers playing me so skillfully like a jazz musician improvising on sax. He would keep improvising on my body with all his instruments until I found myself detached from the reality, full of love fluids filling my body and pouring out of me and then I screamed… I turned the key, opened the door, closed the door behind me, leaving the night, the details of the night behind me. I knew I wouldn’t call him.