Jaime is at work, and its late. Her feet ache and she’s tired. Tonight, she’s doing double duty. Tipping bottles, and crawling.
Too much conversation. If you could call it that. She’s been here since 10:30 this morning, and she was late. The Dell Norte exit was closed, due to a dead man in the gully. Someone had decided it was time for him to die, shot him, and threw him out of a car. His death only moved her in a manner of annoyance as she had to stay on the freeway, only to turn around, and come back another way.
“Couldn’t he have died on a day she didn’t have to go to work? On a day that wasn’t so damn hot?”
Jaime pops the tops off beer bottles, and counts out stacks of dollar bills. The darkness has taken over what’s beyond the door. The night has come, and the animals are out, feeding.
It’s Jaime’s turn to go on stage next and Jeff, the owner, who is a walking avocado. Both in body shape, and skin texture. Walks up to warn Jaime about one of the new arrivals. This is not unusual. These places attract people of all kinds, some, the girls need a little extra warning about.
There are parts of humanity that only show themselves through darkness. They are specific in being unpredictable. They’re feral, and work on a frequency that needs your attention. If you want to get out unscathed, you need to keep your antenna’s up.
Things happen in life, at the speed of light…
This place is a rock in a desert. A room off a dirt road beside a freeway, and a safe house for the unsavory. The men in here have hands of steel. And many of them carry blood as a badge of honor. And work, as an anchor to purpose. Roofers, off shore fisherman, construction workers and men that own tools. Hells Angels, 18th street gang members, and gutter scraps. Add alcohol, drugs, strippers, and guns. Shake, pour over ice, and heads up…
Jaime has been warned to pay close attention to the whereabouts of “Carlos”
Carlos was just released from prison after serving a twenty-eight-year sentence, for murder. Carlos stabbed his ex-girlfriend, the mother of his children, over forty times. Not his first indiscretion, to say the least. He did this 3 days after being released on a previous charge. Carlos has grown up in the prison system, and comes from a long family history with similar oversight. Both men, and women.
Carlos is the cousin of Marco, a regular customer, and someone Jaime considers as close a friend as one can get in these places, and what, with him being a customer and all. Marco is funny, honest, a good tipper, gang affiliated, and also, a murderer. Honest people commit crimes all the time. Even murder. You learn to see perspective in these places. When you see under the rug. Honesty, honor, character. It’s surprising the places you find it. And the places you don’t.
Book covers and commercials. Nothing is simple in human behavior. Sometimes it takes more than a text message to explain something.
Carlos makes his way to the stage. In prohibition times, you may have seen a 3-piece jazz band on the same kind of surface. In a similar sized, underground space. It’s sad, small, and tucked into the back corner of the room. Some might guess it’s there so it doesn’t interfere with the pool table, and they would probably be right. The pool table generates income for the bar, the stage generates income for the girls. The entire place is the same size as any generic basement. The pool table swallowing most of the real estate. It’s a room, a large garage, and once in, there is only one way out. And it also just happens to be the furthest place from the “stage”
Carlos checks in with Marco, his fingers dancing at rapid pace. A sign language understood as respect. A family alphabet, a code, a warning.
Carlos is tiny in stature, but thick. Like a bulldog. He walks with weight, taking ownership in his footsteps. He wears a crisp, white, ironed T-shirt, with oversized blue jeans that have also been ironed, with a crease. His pants have been pulled up high to be just under his rib cage, and the waistband is strangled by a black, cracked, vinyl belt. Every part of skin is tattooed. His neck has a huge black tattooed band that reads…
And he has tears, names, and a revolver tattooed on his face. His arms are covered from his wrists to the sleeves of his white t-shirt with assorted words and pictures. The backs of his hands also adorned. And the tops of his fingers read…
Carlos is drunk, he is celebrating after all. And besides Marco, he is also accompanied by a group of other affiliates, also drunk, smoking weed, and indulging in the likes of meth amphetamines. The poor man’s cocaine.
The energy is tight, loud, and wreaks with testosterone. It’s Saturday night and the bar is busy…
Pool balls cracking against one another sound like lightning. The balls, like the people, are forced into positions, everyone waiting for the next move. Men blowing chalk dust off the tips of cue sticks take up position. Everything men do for fun, is competition.
A silent man with a preference for a lighter shade of human sits nursing a jug of beer, and fermenting. Silent because he is outnumbered, this time. He takes his anger out by smoking cigarettes and shoving quarters down the throat of a game machine. The screen stacked with playing cards showing pictures of naked women on them.
His fury goes unnoticed as Carlos laughs and tells stories about the last time they were all together. The in between not being a concern. Just then, and now. The gaps protecting Carlos, and the other men from a life where time, future, and consequence were real concepts. Life in this world is never linear. Its parts and pieces. Chapters marked by death, a type of music, or prison time. These are the threads, the commonalities. Where others have birthday cards and Christmas to remind them. These people have songs, funerals, battle scars, and cell mates.
Jaime puts money into the Jukebox and takes the five steps to her corner.
Saturday night and she’s in her underwear, surrounded by a room buzzing with murderers, racists, dealers, and junkies. Some saturated in a lack of hope so desperate that a way to get back into the regimen of prison life would be a gift. Others festering hatred, and looking to clean house.
Jaime, was just a link in a chain, we are all, just links in a chain.
The music plays and Jaime rests her head on the floor. Her ass firmly planted in the air, like a puppy, submitting to play. Carlos hold his arms out, bent, like chicken wings. His dollar filled grips bouncing up and down to the bass. Jaime begins to slink, Carlos loves this song.
The boys at the table sing along, raise their drinks in the air, and bounce. Carlos calls Jaime towards him, slicing off dollar bills into the air. Jaime crawls...
Slowly, she lays the foundations of their “relationship” She needs to give him just the right amount, and kind, of attention.
Not too much to where he thinks he’s found a soulmate. And not too little, so as to be standoffish, and above him. Jaime need not be the reminder of his ex-girlfriend.That could lead nowhere but ugly.
Jaime pulls up to a seated position, on her knees, she bounces, staying close but not too close. Carlos decides to stand and reaches over to try and put a dollar bill in her g string. Jaime gently places her hand over the hand labeled, “life” and say’s very softly…
And as if those words were a switch, the entire club falls into blackness…
Jaime can feel the warmth of his hand on her skin, on her hip, and under the palm of her hand. His grip tightens and he begins pulling her into him. He whispers…
Jaime slips Carlos’s hand off her hip and pushes her half naked body against the mirror behind her. It’s completely black. She holds her hand in front of her, trying to see, but there is nothing but darkness. She has no sight of even her own body.
There are no street lights outside, no life around us. Dirt roads and a freeway. And the whole city of Los Angeles is in a blackout.
Men’s voices, laughing, making farm animal noises and yelling…
“Let’s get naked!”
The bar is to the right. If she follows the wall with her hand she will find it. She needs to get behind the bar.
“Jaime! Where are you?!”
Carlos yells in the darkness, then laughs…
“I’m coming to get you Jaime!”
There are men everywhere it seems, a sea of voices bouncing in the darkness. They make jokes while Jaime loses feeling in her face, all the blood rushing to her heart, beating, to her listening, to her focus.
Carlos has disappeared and this scares her. where did he go?
All Jaime can think about is Carlos? Jeff’s voice suddenly appears over the babble and calls out…
“Jaime, get off the stage! Get behind the bar. Try and get behind the bar!”
Marco, hearing this calls out after him.
“It’s ok Jeff, we’ll get Carlos out of here.”
Almost as if Marco knew something we didn’t, like this was just the thing Carlos needed to start trouble.
Suddenly a truck engine starts up outside. It pulls up to the front door, shining the headlights into the mirrors and illuminating the bar. Possum faces with eyes readjusting to the light of a Ford F150 truck stand wide eyed, collecting themselves. And then, applause. Another dancer has begun pulling out candles from a box under the bar. And a man with a flashlight is drunkenly lighting glasses, trying to find his beer.
Jeff begins looking for batteries, and CD’s so he can play music on an old boombox. But then realizes he can just play the radio in the truck, and heads out to do so.
Jaime is still sitting on the stage, watching. She’s angry, humiliated, exhausted, and just wants to go home. But there is no going home.
“Oxnard at 1:15 in the morning, and this is my life. I am surrounded, and I can’t breathe. I am sitting in my underwear in a truck’s headlight beam. Waiting to dance for an Avacado.”
“And they call this adult entertainment?”