Cinnamon. Honey. Cat. Lola. Who am I? Irina or Ava? I can’t remember. At first I serve drinks. Diet coke and apple juice. No liquor or beer. It’s all nude. Only topless places serve alcohol. I wear a blue and white checkered Swiss Alps outfit. White knee socks. Black patent leather heels. Two braids. Girls dance. Men watch. I take orders for juice.
I stop serving soda. Start giving lap dances in the back. And shower dances. I don’t like being hosed down.
I have a routine at Club Ecstasy. Go to 24 Hour Fitness at noon on Gower. Go home. Get ready for work. Hair in rollers. Shave legs. Dark eyes. Glossy pink lips.
After a summer I move onto The Gentleman’s Club. Prettier girls. More money. More competition; Celeste with her little tanned bum. Big auburn hair. Fake boobs and black patent leather thigh boots. Beth. Blonde hair, boobs, long legs. Lily, the tiny Asian. Looks fourteen. Wears bobby socks, pleated school uniform mini skirts. Dusty with her nude splits, back flips and tricks on the pole. Taylor and her fishnet skin suit. Candy just walks out onstage nude with her bare feet and boobs.
Daytime girls. A little heavier. A little older. While daytime men eat stale lunchtime pizza strip special. These girls have kids. Make less money, dance at two pm on Wednesdays for regulars. Big Red himself comes in at four pm in his blue and white overalls. Sits on a stool. Supply of Big Red chewing gum on the bar table. Stays until closing. Having a slow day? You can count on Big Red paying for a dance, can always count on him for a dance.
I avoid cute, younger guys who come in on a Saturday night for bachelor parties. Not sure I’m pretty enough to ask if they want a dance. Businessmen, city workers. Asian men who come on buses. They all like me and I’m sure to make money when I see the buses. White men don’t like me. They like Beth, Taylor and Dusty who look like this is really fun to do.
In the Gentlemen’s Club my name is Claudia. Dante is Lola. We seem to do well in the beginning. They like to see us together.
“If Claudia and Lola don’t do well,” the girls used to say,” You know it’s a bad night.”
Maybe it’s slow for us now because we don’t buy clothes at Fredrick’s of Hollywood like the other girls. We wear bras and undies from Marshals. Eat rice cakes, frozen yogurt and sticky rice. After we go to IHOP on Santa Monica Boulevard for blueberry pancakes. And we are curvier than the other girls. We never see them eat. Maybe we should lose weight.
We do meth for a month. Don’t eat. We’re in a bad mood. Get clumsy onstage, losing balance. And don’t lose a pound. Everybody loses weight on meth. Not us. We get on phen phen. A diet drug. Get skinnier like Dusty, Celeste and Beth.
We think we look better. Cut our long hair.
Make even less money. Buy hundred dollar wigs on Hollywood Boulevard. Me, a platinum blonde long wig with bangs that shifts to one side when I dance. Dante, a chestnut fall, attached to the back of her head, swinging it around like a sexy pony onstage.
I start to sit on the side. Cry. Lola, she seems to do alright with her good dancing and ponytail wig. Not me. I get real sensitive and sad. Taking my phen, phen. Getting skinnier and skinnier. Sitting there with my big blonde Hollywood Boulevard wig.
I have Frank though. He followed me from Club Ecstasy to The Gentleman’s Club. He never asks the other girls for a dance. He only comes to see me. First as Irina or Ava or whatever my name was at Club Ecstasy. Now as Claudia. I wanted to be Alexis but that name was already taken. Frank brings me flowers, Shalimar and money for private dances. An Asian architect with a big belly, he wants to bring me to The Magic Castle for dinner and shopping at Victoria’s Secret. But I keep it to the club and private dances. Sometimes I let him touch me when the bouncer isn’t looking.
There is another man who comes to see me regular. I think he is a director at the studio nearby. He is quiet and doesn’t sit at the stage. Tall and thin with gray hair in a short ponytail, narrow nose and small eyes that look like they see a lot. I liked him right away. He comes in, sits at the bar and orders an apple juice. I never go up to him. Let him take his time.
Today after one juice he starts walking to the back. I follow him behind the black velvet curtain, take his long thin hand and lead him to a mirrored private dance booth with the fake red leather chair.
Doc, the bouncer, an ex football player has his hand on the black velvet curtain. He sees me straddle the director in my Swedish barmaid outfit until the song is over. I had sex with Doc once. I didn’t know he had a fiancée. She climbed through the window and chased me out. I ran through the yard with his litter of pit bulls running after me and barking.
After work Dante and I go to a Japanese restaurant between the studio and the club. We pull on our green hospital pants that we always wear, tee shirts and knot our hair on top of our heads so it sprays out like fountains. There is the director eating sushi with a woman and a little girl. I go right up to him with my sticky rice in a white paper bag and say,
He just stares at me. I never see him again.
* * *
Dante and I don’t spend so much time together since she met Jeremiah. AKA Squid. We met Squid at a daytime drug party in Sun Valley. A 1970’s house with fake grass, sliding glass doors and a cement backyard. The party looked boring. Ten people lying on the couch, standing around, leaning against the fridge. A girl with blonde hair, red pleated mini skirt and bare feet blended us a mushroom shake. We’d done everything but not mushrooms. Dante drank hers out of a coffee cup. I drank mine out of a white mug. It said, ‘number one granny’. We waited for the hit from the mushrooms. Went to the bathroom. As we took turns peeing we both fell on the furry bright green bath mat laughing. Back to the kitchen. That’s when Squid walked in and looked at us. His hair buzzed close to his scalp. What hair there is, is dyed leopard.
“Want to see something?” he asked.
He zips down his zipper. Pulls out his uncircumcised dick. Takes a pencil from his back pocket. Sticks it through his pierced foreskin. Dante and Squid liked each other right off.
Squid visits her at the Gentleman’s Club. Spends the night at our place. I hear them having sex in the living room. And again more sex. He locks himself in the bathroom coughing and running the water. Squid is a heroin addict. Calls Dante from jail one day to get him. I go with her. His mother shows up. Takes us all for chocolate chip pancakes at IHOP on Santa Monica Blvd. In the middle Squid gets sick. He leaves. We sit there with Squid’s mother. Pour more fake maple syrup on our pancakes. We don’t know what to say.
Squid lives in Sylmar, far as you can go in the valley, with his grandma who writes bad checks. He has the bedroom. She wears moo moo dresses with bunny prints, makes chocolate boxed cake and sleeps on couch. On the other couch is other grandma. They call each other grandma. At night push couches side by side. Daytime, they sit in that house in Sylmar.
While Dante and Squid have sex and fight, more sex, drive back from Los Feliz to Sylmar, then Sylmar to Los Feliz and back for more sex, I lose weight and lose my shape. Phen phen from doctors in Korea Town. The Valley. Western Boulevard. Wear electric blue jogging pants. Gray flannels underneath. I fry up three or four bags a day of frozen vegetables with curry from the Armenian market. Kitchen is painted black. Only sound, cars on Franklin Boulevard. I am depressed.
Dante moves out with Squid. She said go anywhere but Miracle Mile. I find a one bedroom in Miracle Mile. Landlady Bertha, is Jewish and old.
“Honey, you strip for a living?” she asks. “You move in. I know you make money. But no visitors.”
She means it. No visitors. She monitors the front entrance in her blue fuzzy slippers. Short thin red hair standing on end.
I have the back corner apartment with industrial carpeting. Looking out the two large living room windows I can open the screen and touch the stucco. Same view from kitchen. Kitchen is not black.
My bedroom overlooks the old neighbor in his yarmulke. He stands on his porch, thin pale legs in dingy boxers, he hangs wet undershirts on a wheel in clothing line. On his windowsill old tapes play Klezmer mourning songs. He must’ve had a wife. I wonder when she died and how long this mourning music will go on. How much longer can I strip and eat curried vegetables?
I like this guy Eddie from New Mexico. I see him walking down the street, his dark hair hanging over his face, never looking up, only down at the pavement. He works at Buzz Coffee on Beverly Blvd. I hope one day he likes me the way I like him. Sometimes he spends the night. He keeps his jeans on and I keep my underwear on and we kiss. Once we played pool at Hollywood Billiards. I wore a blue cashmere dress. He said I looked pretty. Another time we went to the movies and it was raining.
“I think this could work,” he said.
The next day he called me, “I can’t see you anymore.”
He hung up. I walked down the street with the cat someone left by my door. The cat had looked depressed. Knocked on his door and asked if the cat could stay at his place for the night. I wasn’t really going anywhere. I just wanted to see him. I went back to my apartment. Sat in butterfly chair trying to block out the Kelzmer music.
There’s a knock at the door.
“Squid,” Dante cries, “I walked in on him shooting heroin.”
She moves one street over from me. Cochran. Next to Staples and Sally’s Beauty. Dante and I share a 1988 Mazda. Every time we turn a corner it screeches. Sometimes we park it down the street so nobody see’s us in it.
Dante is trying to get over Squid. I am trying to quit stripping. I spend mornings calling into Central Office for extras to play in movies. Most the time it’s a recording.
“Call for homeless teens.”
“Two African American males.”
“Young, hip club goers and a Vietnam Vet type with no arm.”
If I fit the description I go to the valley in the Mazda. If I don’t fit I go to San Fernando Blvd to strip.