[Fiction on the blog.]
“It’s cool inside,” he said as he shoved a flyer in my hand. Then he glanced up at the sun for emphasis, as if I needed reminding that the thermometer had already reached 100 degrees a few minutes before noon.
I looked at the flyer. Two-4-One Cocktails it promised in thick black letters on cheap red paper. I looked up at the sign on the building I’d just parked in front of.
Girls! New Shows Hourly!! Private Booths!!!
“I don’t think so,” I said, trying to hand the paper back to him, wondering why the only open parking spot on the block had to be in front of this place.
“Keep it. My boss gets mad if I don’t hand these out.”
I looked around for the person I was meeting for lunch. I was really early, the sun was really hot, and the street was really bare of shade.
I think he took my inactivity for hesitation.
“Sure you don’t want to go inside? Plenty of a/c, no extra charge.”
I shook my head. “I’m just waiting for someone.”
“Bring him inside too.”
“It’s a her.”
“Even better. The ladies love this place.”
Somehow I tended to doubt that my aunt would appreciate it if I took her inside for lunch. “I heard that restaurant across the street is good.”
“Yeah, Afghan food. Eat there sometimes,” he said. “Don’t mind Indian and Pakistani food either.”
“Really? Me too.”
I looked him over. Smooth face, skinny build, worn jeans and a slightly frayed clean T-shirt. He looked 12 years old to me. Then again a lot of people look 12 to me the older I get. He wanted to talk? Let’s talk.
“Are you old enough to work at a place like this?”
“I’m 21. Been working here since my birthday.” He handed a flyer to a skateboarder rolling by. “Worked a lot of other places before this.”
“I had a lot of jobs by the time I was your age, too. Bussing tables, painting houses, even a maid in a cheap resort once.”
He laughed. “I’ve never been a maid before, but I’ve done a lot of those other jobs. What I really wanted was to work here.”
“You were just waiting to get old enough, huh?”
“Yeah, my mom’s idea.”
I choked on some saliva. “Your mom wanted you to work here?”
“She knows the owner, knew he’d take care of me.’
“Friend of hers?”
“One of her ex-boyfriends.”
“Oh.” I considered getting in my car and moving it across the street to a spot that just opened up. Another car pulled into it. “So, your mom was able to stay friends with her ex. That must be … nice?”
“She used to work for him, too.”
“Where was that?” I asked, thinking we were getting on to safer ground here.
“In there.” He pointed at the open door and the cool blackness within. “I told you he owns the place, remember?”
“Oh, right. She worked inside …”
“Of course. The girls can’t do their jobs outside.”
“I guess not.”
“They make money inside.” He threw me a look. “Haven’t you ever been in one of these places?”
“You mean have I ever been in a … a …”
“In a strip joint. What did you think it is?”
“The flyer says it a Gentleman’s Club,” I said disingenuously. I know what Gentleman’s Club means.
“Not many gentleman in there,” he said, thrusting a flyer into the hands of a couple walking by. The man looked at it. The woman took it from him and crumpled it up as she let it fall to the ground.
OK, I figured if this kid wanted to have this conversation, I’d have it with him.
“Was your mom a bartender or something?”
“It’s a strip club. She had the job that brings in the money. The girls make a lot more serving up themselves than serving drinks.”
“Is the pay really that good?”
“Not pay. Tips. Especially in the private booths. Her boyfriend took a cut. He does from everybody. But mom still made out pretty well.”
“Probably not the kind of place you came to when it was take Your Kid To Work Day, huh?”
“I came here plenty. Not inside the bar, but in back in the changing room. Mom made me do my homework after school. Some of the girls helped me with it.”
“They could help?”
“Sure. They’re not dumb, you know. In fact, there’s a couple college students inside working right now. Mom said I had better tutors than money could buy.”
“My mom did that, too,” I said.
“Yeah, like your mom stripped.”
“No, I had to go to her work after school. She was a librarian. There were a lot of older kids who came there in the afternoons to hang out and some of them’d help me.”
“I didn’t like coming here all the time but mom said I had to so she’d know where I was.”
“Mine too.” I saw my aunt walking up the street from around the corner.
“Do you get a lunch break?” I asked.
“I could if I wanted one I guess. Usually don’t want one. I’d have to ask.”
“I skip lunch a lot too. How ’bout asking.”
He poked his head in the doorway. “Hey Frankie! Any problem with me getting something to eat across the street? Yeah, I’ll bring back some flatbread.”
“Aunt Miriam, how are you?” I said, giving her a hug. “I asked a friend of mine to join us. This is …”
“This is Scotty. We’ve got a lot in common.”