Boomtown Boudoir


A Story I Swore I Wouldn’t Tell
June 2, 2009, 4:59 pm
Filed under: boys, Hyperbole, Nostalgia | Tags: ,

A was in the bathroom, brushing his teeth with a toothbrush he’d thought to bring with him before coming over last night. I was stretched out on the bed, looking up at my green ceiling and feeling more content than I thought I ever could have felt again every time I’d broken up with some other boy who never would have remembered to bring his toothbrush to my house. I rolled off the bed and landed on my feet in one smooth motion, smiling to myself and shaking my sheet out from where it had bunched up beneath the comforter last night. A’s underwear fell onto the floor so I picked them up and took a good look at them. Gray boxer-briefs; sober, practical, and comfortable. The kind of underwear worn by the smilingly regular man on the Folger’s coffee can. Exactly the kind of underwear A would like and own.  Feeling smug about my ability to capture such a man in the flowered tangle of my bed sheets, I put them up to my face and sniffed.

My shriek of horror found him poking his head out  from the open bathroom door into the bedroom and I was caught with a pair of boxer-briefs that smelled like they hadn’t been washed in about three days still suspiciously close to my face. “What are you doing?!” he yelled across the room, toothbrush still in his hand. I started laughing because it was so horribly obvious what I was doing that there was nothing I could say to defend either one of us. This was maybe the second time he’d slept over, not counting high school. We were not ready for this conversation. I don’t know if anyone is ever ready for this conversation.

“I guess I was… smelling your underwear.”

“I could have told you not to do that! They smell really bad!”

“Yeah… yeah, they kind of do.”

“What made you suddenly decide to smell my underwear?” he shouted, and I bit my lower lip, trying to stop myself from laughing. A’s face was eloquently stricken, eyes hot and cold at the same time under a pair of eyebrows that still did not understand how I could do this to him. Knowing that whatever I came up with would be completely insufficient by way of explanation, I said, “I guess I thought they’d smell, you know, pleasantly like your balls? But I mean… really, I have no explanation for my behavior here. I’m sorry. I have no idea why I did that. I didn’t even think about it.”

He turned around, stomped back into the bathroom, and finished brushing his teeth. Even the splat of his toothpaste when he spit it into the sink sounded pissed off. I sat on the bed feeling awful but also still laughing a little. Didn’t he shake his dick off after he peed, or had he really just been wearing them that long? You think you know someone until you violate one of those boundaries that exist for what were turning out this morning to be very good reasons.

A came back out and stood in front of me, arms folded across his chest. “The next time you feel like sniffing my underwear, can you at least warn me so I can wear clean ones?” I nodded, looking up at him. He was in no way ready for a hug. “I need to do laundry, okay?” he said. “I was going to do it last night but then I wanted to come here and see you so I didn‘t.”

“Look, if it makes you feel any better, I’m completely embarrassed that you just caught me sniffing your underwear in the first place. It‘s kind of what I deserved if they smelled bad. I mean, I think we might be even.”

He reached down, picked the underwear up off the floor, and stepped back into them, sighing. One of the things I liked about A was the way you could see everything he was thinking on his face. Even when what he was thinking was specifically unflattering to me, I could not help but be flattered that I was allowed to see it anyway. Right now, for example, I could pretty much watch the argument unfold as the A head-voices bargained with each other about the cost versus the value of staying angry with me. When it looked like they were almost finished, I held my arms out. He ignored them and sat beside me on the bed. “It doesn’t change anything,” I said, taking his hand. That worked. A’s eyebrows smoothed out and he began to breathe normally again. I love you, I thought. He kissed me. “You want some coffee? Let’s get you some coffee.” I kissed him back.

This is the story of how I came into the creepy practice of surreptitiously sniffing my own underwear every time I thought a boy might go anywhere near them. If I was capable of random and inexplicable acts of panty-sniffing, anyone could be. I knew A loved me, but how could I be sure that whoever I ended up sleeping with after he left would love me? Precautions were in order. Usually, I did a check in the bathroom after peeing, but I wasn’t above taking my underwear off in the heat of a moment and passing them casually in front of my face before depositing them wherever they ended up. If I had any doubts, I hid them somewhere the boy would never think to look.

This is an old story, and I feel like my promise not to tell it has expired. Plus, I’m fairly certain that if A can forgive me for sniffing his dirty underwear, he will forgive me for the rest of it, too. Won’t he?



April Blizzard, 2003
February 4, 2009, 6:17 pm
Filed under: Hyperbole, Nostalgia | Tags: , , ,
Anais Nin, photo by John Pearson

The house where we all lived on Rodman Street opened into a short hall that lead to a long flight of stairs, and I don’t think this typical quirk of Old Philly townhouse architecture found its true purpose before the blizzard that April. We had over three feet of snow when just the day before we’d all been running around in sweatshirts. I woke up late and found Jonah, Hershel, and Natashia at the top of the stairs with their BMX bikes. They were riding them down the stairs, out the front door, and into the enormous wall of snow that had been plowed directly in front of our house.

Part of me wanted to join in but I didn’t, satisfied with the way this event filled the house with shouts and laughter. I made myself a cup of instant coffee and curled up in my quilt at the kitchen table, reading Anais Nin. I had moved past all the Henry and June stuff and was now getting into Incest. There were certain things for which I could forgive old Anais and certain things I could not. I thought of her as a kind of moral abomination and hoped I never got like that myself, but found it very exciting that she had written the warning signs out for me with such detail and density. I was irritated by her insistence on portraying herself as this fragile, empathic ingenue who even while laying waste to the lives around her was perpetually laid up with the vapors in a home someone else was paying for and trying to work up the energy to write, but then again, that seemed real to me; the way it would actually go. The thing that really scared me, though, was the way she just let everything and anything happen to her and wrote about it with almost zero implied responsibility. Kind of like, “ooopsie… did I really just have sex with my estranged father?”

The Rodman Street house was maybe a step away from being a squat. None of us cleaned, although sometimes one of the people crashing there would try. There were random holes in the wall. The outside blew inside regardless of the season through the walls, the fireplaces, the cracks in the foundation. It had the most sinister basement imaginable. Everything could be used as an ashtray. My own theoretical morally abominable affairs would necessarily be prefaced by a statement like, “just move that stuff over.” The door was wide open and there might have been almost as much snow in the hall as there was outside that day.

Later, we went down the street to Dirty Frank’s for pitchers. My ex boyfriend showed up there, as he inevitably showed up everywhere in those days. I’d thought I’d been safe, in the aftermath of a blizzard, with him living at least fifteen blocks away. “How did you get here?” I asked, not very nicely, ignoring the girl he’d come with. He made a gesture that suggested he swam to the bar through the banks of snow. He looked as though he thought he was going to sit down and join us. “But why?” I persisted. That worked. He left. If I were Anais Nin, I would have gotten yet another journal entry describing in exquisite detail my torture at having to sit through yet another evening of the same thing happening the way it always happened. But it occurred to me then that Anais never had much in the way of territory to defend, which must have been the entire problem.



Coriandre Jean Couturier
January 15, 2009, 10:26 am
Filed under: Nostalgia, Perfume

Back in art school, my friend Sara and I had this obsession with the concept of Incognito Chic. Incognito Chic involved sunglasses, a trench coat, a head scarf, a taxi cab, and a good reason for all of the above. It’s not a style so much as a still in the film that we were sure our lives secretly were, or would be someday. Every long friendship has its memes, and this was just one of many. Sara moved to Portland a couple of years ago, but we have been friends for so long that she doesn’t need to live nearby for me to feel close to her, something I accredit to the fact that we both still live in a world full of the accumulated ideas we have shared over the years. When she wrote and asked about Jean Couturier’s Coriandre, the first thing that came to mind was our old Incognito Chic.

I have to smile at our mutual naivete in thinking that disguises were not only useful, but the kind of thing we really wanted an excuse for someday. As if all the drugs and boys and dancing and Truffault films weren’t enough, in and of themselves. This perfume speaks of a similar spirit, Coriandre being the kind of quintessentially wise perfume that makes the most sense (to me, that is–lord knows what Sara thinks) when worn aspirationally.

Were I to go incognito these days, my perfume of choice would surely be a chypre, one of those moody and mysterious compositions of cool dark woods, old-fashioned hothouse-corsage florals, dry bergamot, and the compelling if not entirely pleasant vinegary bite that results from combining the three. I’m not a chypre girl, and as you see, that’s the point. These are the sorts of perfumes reserved for a woman far more private and controlled than I am, a woman who hides because it is her nature and not because she gets a kick out of it, a woman whose life is an endless succession of high stakes and just-in-time taxi cabs cutting through stormy city streets by night.

Coriandre by Jean Couturier is no exception, although I find it somewhat more approachable than the Mitsoukos and Paloma Picassos of the world. Perhaps that is because it is indeed cheap, at maybe $19.99 at your local beauty bodega for a big spray bottle with a fake-malachite plastic cap and spare, clean lines. Perhaps it is because its top notes perform the neat chypre parlor trick of starting off as something unabashedly dreadful before morphing into the fuller, rounder heart notes very quickly, leaving less room for the panic at having sprayed the wrong thing. When I give Coriandre a bit of time to develop past the strange prickling spice-rack top notes, I smell the kind of shameless red roses that a hooker might receive with a roll of her eyes from a smitten john resting on a base of mossy black velvet. It’s dark and spooky while also giving off the impression of bracing and possibly perverse good health. It is the kind of fragrance you can wear many times without ever being able to decide whether or not you like it.

I reach for Coriandre only in the Spring, and only on the right kind of gray, drizzly Sunday that is not too rainy for a solo mission to the museum or a used bookstore. It goes with the trench coat I wear on those occasions; goes with a black umbrella and the yearning to poke around someplace dusty. I would have liked to have known about it in college, the Incognito Chic times, where every day was an excuse for unironic Godard Girl drag and I had more time set aside for flea markets and emotional turmoil. Being slightly used was something I romanticized before it happened to me. Now I need the right gray, drizzly Sunday for it to feel cinematic.

It makes the world seem a very small and cozy place when I think of Sara, somewhere in Portland right now, wearing Coriandre and pearls, riding her bike through the rain in high heels, turning pseudo-famous musicians into her boyfriends, having her picture taken at art gallery openings, and living the kind of life everyone needs to have for awhile before they can settle down into something without quite so many jump-cuts.



17 Year-Old Me Was a Trip
December 12, 2008, 7:50 am
Filed under: boys, Hyperbole, Nostalgia
Kind of like this, but not.

Kind of like this, but not.

Uhhh, I just dug up my infamous “first novel.” Sorry I have to do this to you, but I really, really do. Laughing at yourself with yourself by yourself is not as satisfying as it should be.

*

I have sex with Sam and as far as sex goes it’s basically standard. The kissing-with-intent, the self consciously consuming passion, the first genital contact alien and formal as a UN handshake, but far from bad, it’s just not anything except sex. The usual series of sophomoric writhings, little breathless whimpers, my weak almost-an-almost-an-orgasm achieved during the dry hump phase, his premature ejaculation, the post-premature-ejaculation-apologies, noncommitally tender caresses, spooning, faux-sleep, real sleep. Sex, sex, sex, blah, blah, blah. I’ve had better times with my hand and PJ Harvey.

Oh, Sam. I’ve betrayed you at the last like you always knew I would. I think of your free espressos and shiny smiles and clean shirts and heartless manipulation and unreturned phone calls and casual sex with hippie girls and contort motionlessly in an agonized pathos between these itchy motel sheets because none of it helped, Sam, and I suspect you must be heartbroken. But I don’t really. I don’t even get that much out of it.

*

Sweet dreams, internet! I’ll be over here, contorting motionlessly in an agonized pathos.

BB



And… You Know.
December 6, 2008, 7:49 pm
Filed under: Hyperbole, Nostalgia
Would you put these down your pants? WHY?!?!

Would you put these down your pants? WHY?!?!

You know that one moment when acquaintances unequivocally reveal themselves to you in something of a regrettable fashion that is almost certainly a mistake? It’s always awkward, because while they are the ones who cannot go back in time and undo or unsay whatever has just been done or said, you are the one with the burdensome choice of either pretending it didn’t happen or in some way commenting on it. Both of you will stare at each other for a few seconds, knowing that regardless of which option you pick, it will cause the other person to dig themselves even deeper into what is now your mutual uncomfortableness. This is a crucial point in human relationships, because there is no recovery, only a deepened understanding or a swift rejection. Most people avoid this moment like the plague. Others, myself included, have been known to encourage it. I do not have any friends who have never made a complete ass out of themselves in front of me. It suggests to me that I have full reciprocal impunity to make an ass out of my own self, and I find this comforting.

Even so, someone should have told Mrs. F back in junior year that high school girls were not her friends. She was a small and energetic brunette sporting a shaggy, mousse-curled mop of hair that combined with her saucer-sized blue eyes caused her to resemble a muppet. One of the pretty-girl muppets, but a muppet nonetheless. Anyway, Mrs. F was the choir director. High school choir is intense, man, and requires something of a charismatic leader to inspire in its teenaged singers the appropriate sense of being part of something important and challenging. The teacher before Mrs. F, Mrs. B, had this quality in spades, but the downside of this was that she was totally and completely evil in that Jean-Brodie-meets-David-Koresh kind of way. While Mrs. B loved nothing more than to do things like miscast the school musicals with sophomores in the lead roles and then sit back to enjoy the ensuing macrodrama, Mrs. F just kind of did her job. When people sang solos, it was because their particular voice fit the particular piece of music. Choir members were not pitted against each other so that Mrs. B could catalog who would crumble under her perversely-applied pressure and who would take it up as a cause. With the advent of Mrs. F, choir was suddenly a simple endeavor: we sang, Mrs. F directed us.

As much of a relief as this was, it was also boring. We had no sense of knowing who Mrs. F was, or what we needed to do in order to work with her to our own maximum benefits. For this reason, she was dismissed as an authority figure and we began to more of less self-govern.

Since we hadn’t been looking to Mrs. F as any sort of personal role model, the day that her inherent authority as a teacher made itself known brought with it a heightened sense of shock. The story that ensued is one that is capable of sending my friend Jamie (who was there too) and I into spastic states of mirth and disbelief to this day. It is also one that terrifies me when I remember that I’m also a teacher now, and infinitely capable of creating a similar effect in my college freshmen in the space of one misworded sentence, one personal anecdote gone awry.

Anyway, we were all on the bus home from a choir competition in Boston. We’d done decently. Everyone was tired. A few of us were sitting in a little five or six girl knot in the middle of the bus when Mrs. F stopped over for a chat. I don’t remember what we’d been talking about, but it was probably something having to do with boys or sex, subjects that most of us knew little about and were therefore required to carry on conversations about at all times. The level of girlish bonhomie was high, enough to intoxicate Mrs. F into a state of security. She sat listening to our chatter for awhile before interrupting with a naughty fable of her own:

“I went to a bachelorette party once where we got drunk and put gourds down our pants and… you know.”

Crickets.

“What?” someone finally asked.

You know,” said Mrs. F, popping her giant blue eyes at the speaker.

“I don’t know,” said Maureen McEvoy, who sealed it right there because if any one of us would know, it was probably Maureen.

“Me either,” I spoke up. We all looked at each other with a combination of puzzlement and horror, Mrs. F included.

You know,” Mrs. F repeated one more time before going to sit somewhere else in the bus. Her insistence that we must know of a probable course of action following the part where a bunch of women put gourds down their pants was sincere, and tinged with an eye-rolling certainty that we were trying to embarrass her by suggesting that she elaborate on this.

“What kind of gourds were they?” I asked after she’d left. None of us knew, and having been left to figure this out on our own, Mrs. F’s story took on an added element of the sinister. Did they like… masturbate with them? I didn’t see how Mrs. F would have felt comfortable telling us this partial story fragment in the first place if that were the case, nor could I imagine the logistics of how a gourd down one’s pants would provide any kind of sexual frisson, especially while hanging out with girlfriends at a party. Had Mrs. F told us that she and her drunk friends had merely pretended that the gourds were boners or something, it would have been met with relief, because putting gourds down your pants and pretending they were boners probably is funny. But it made no sense that after beginning this story, she would refuse to elaborate on the very part of it that would make the telling of this story in the first place in some way okay. Was there some third option that possibly had nothing whatsoever to do with sex? The “down the pants” part seemed to deny that possibility, as did the mysterious, “you know.”

Had any of us for any reason put gourds down our pants and then told a story about it, we would have told the entire story, but the only clue Mrs. F left was the fact that she was a teacher, making whatever had happened next something necessarily inappropriate to tell high school girls.

Suddenly, we understood the deep ambivalence of authority, perpetually torn between allowing one’s true self to do the governing and fearing the resultant loss of respect. We also understood that we ourselves held a certain degree of power over authority, capable of deciding whether or not to allow our authority figures their humanity. But the thing we understood best was that we really had no idea what to expect from life if our slightly dopey choir director was a woman with a secret life, a life in which she put gourds down her pants and… you know.



Moe’s Fracas Effect
October 25, 2008, 1:02 am
Filed under: Nostalgia, Perfume | Tags: , , , ,
Gilles Balmet, from Untitled (Rorschach-2005)

Gilles Balmet, from Untitled (Rorschach-2005)

“To the extent that I wear skirts/ and cheap nylon slips/ I’ve gone native/ I wanted to know the exact dimensions of hell/ Does this sound simple? Fuck you!”

Sonic Youth, The Sprawl

It must have been almost six years ago, the day my friend Moe was sitting cross-legged on the floor of the bathroom of the Walnut Street Barnes and Noble, trying to pull herself together. This sounds extreme unless you know Moe, who exists in a perpetual state of trying to pull herself together as well as being in a general habit of sitting down on the floor of places that most people would not. “Shit, I have B.O.,” she said after putting her face down the front of her shirt and sniffing loudly. She pulled a bottle of perfume from her briefcase purse thing and sprayed herself down good. I took the bottle from her and sprayed some on myself too. Moe was putting on dark red lip liner while talking, not bothering to look in the mirror, and she was talking about how a married Nike exec man-friend she’d met while doing a piece for the Wall Street Journal had just sent her, of all things, perfume. “Do I seem like I would wear perfume?” she asked, using her finger to blend the lip liner. The bottle was small and black and severely square. The entire bathroom reeked of gardenias and bad-idea sex. I didn’t know whether Moe seemed like she’d wear perfume or not, but it was a fascinating question for its lack of an immediate and precise answer. The perfume was Robert Piguet’s Fracas.

It wasn’t that Moe is the sort of person who seems like she wouldn’t wear perfume, it is more that she seems like the sort of person who wouldn’t wear Fracas. Fracas, you see, is a very serious tuberose-heavy fancy-lady bombshell of a perfume, renowned for its favor with the likes of Madonna and Princess Caroline of Monaco. It goes on strong and gets continually stronger as it wears on, blooming like some illegal hothouse hyrid on its wearer and sending out gigantic, glorious plumes of sillage. And Moe is a girl who defiantly buys her shoes at KMart and is so busy doing her job, which is writing about economics, that she frequently forgets to shower. Moe and Fracas seemed like a mismatch for the ages, but somehow it wasn’t. It was freakishly just right on her, sprawled out indian-style on the floor of a public bathroom, wondering objectively if this meant that Nike guy would possibly leave his wife and wreck his entire life over some kiss in a different state that didn’t mean anything except that she was lonely and he was there, and only in between various musings about the stock market and inflation and which rapper was endorsing which pair of sneakers. In her own messy, haphazard, too-smart-for-her-own-good way, Moe is exactly the kind of Killer Queen Fracas is meant for. It was one of those glorious synergistic mistakes that works out in the end: Moe’s Fracas Effect.

Becoming a perfume nerd involves something of a typical process. You remember something you used to wear in middle school, go on a hunt, realize it isn’t made anymore, and start trying to track it down on the internet. You stumble across websites that tell you all about other perfumes similar to the one you can no longer have and realize that there is an entire quantifiable universe of knowledge that one can have about perfume. There are more of them than you ever imagined, and there are so many shortcuts to figuring out what kinds of scents you like in order to locate them that you pretty much go crazy trying to pinpoint things like which family of scents is for you, which notes you consistently like, what kind of mood you’re going for–all in the name of the Holy Grail, or Signature Scent. You didn’t sign up for a new hobby, see. You just want The One. But as with men, once you realize how many of them are out there and how many of them will be perfect in a given moment, The One becomes buried under an avalanche of possibility. Maybe you just aren’t the monogamous type, after all. There are orientals. And florientals. Chypres! Musks: white musks, dirty musks, vanillic musks, Egyptian musks. Which is to say nothing of the pure florals, the green florals, the gourmand florals, the white florals, all of which have their charms. You attempt to sift through all of these scientifically, until you realize that selecting a perfume is not a scientific process at all, it’s a way of asking yourself, who am I?

Sweet baby Jesus, not that again. And as with men, you begin to realize that you have probably screwed up your chances of finding The One by refusing to remain naive and passive about it and letting it come to you. You are now among the faithless and calculating. You cannot duplicate the magic behind Moe’s Fracas Effect anymore; you know too much.

I now know, for example, that there are several perfumes I could have worn happily for the rest of my life had I not understood how vast and deep the rest of the perfumed world is. Shalimar is one of them. Kiehl’s Original Musk is another. If I’m only picking three, the third would have to be Serge Lutens’ Fleurs d’Oranger. And I could probably forgo wearing Shalimar entirely if I knew I could still smell it regularly, stick to Kiehl’s during the day and bust out the Lutens for hot dates and lazy summer evenings. So there you have it; my holy trifecta. It’s fully possible that all of my other dalliances are just aborted attempts to recreate Moe’s Fracas Effect. The problem with that kind of thinking behind Moe’s Fracas Effect is that it seems to be contingent upon the concept of One and Only. If you go back to Shalimar two weeks later, it just doesn’t count. And I very rarely wear the same perfume for more than a week straight.

I know this is the reason that I have failed to associate myself exclusively with any one particular scent, as opposed to a simple belief that The One does not exist for me. I have not forgotten the way I was claimed by the deep nostalgic undertow of Shalimar,  the slow, steady way that Kiehl’s Original Musk grew on me, and the way I was smitten at first sniff by Fleurs d’Oranger and spent the next month desperately plotting a way to have it. It’s just all been so… labored. The appeal of Moe’s Fracas Effect was that it was ordained by someone other than her, almost at random, and all the factors came together by chance. I forget that it was for me and not her that this chance effect was meaningful, and that she doesn’t even wear Fracas anymore. This thing I want isn’t something that anyone else particularly has, or at least has in the way that I would like to have it. This thing being, what now, identity?

I think it’s high time I went to bed.



Good Cookie
May 7, 2008, 6:48 pm
Filed under: Hyperbole, Nostalgia, strippers | Tags: ,

“Watch later tonight. When the lights go on, they scatter like cockroaches.” I shiver at the way PJ draws out the syllables in that last word. From my vantage point in the raised DJ booth, I can see how it might be an appropriate metaphor. I think of the sick feeling it used to give me in my old apartment when I woke up in the middle of the night for a glass of water and turned on the light only to see what seemed like hundreds of the scaly vermin waddling their fat stoic little bodies across the countertop, the oven range, the floor, and disappear. A righteous human disgust made unpleasant only by the accompanying suck of terror at catching what hides in the corners in the act of not caring about you. Then I think of the moment in the nights when the lights switch on, exposing pores, smeared makeup, stretch marks, basic imperfections that the black-lit darkness smooths and sculpts into the impossible aquarium perfection found only in subterranean places. The way we all walk in those ridiculous stilt-like shoes, like our hips are disjointed from the rest of our bodies; the way that might look if someone were doing it fast; scurrying for a safe crack to hide from the light.

“This never stops being surreal. It doesn’t matter how long you stay. I know you’ll try to intellectualize the whole thing, it’s how you are, but you won’t be able to. There is no rationale for any of it. It’ll always keep moving out from under you.” He spreads his hands out, palms down, in the direction of the stage, where legs and hair sway, gentle as seaweed, accompanied by the grinding guitars of Marilyn Manson’s “Dope Show.” He looks at me. I look at him. I don’t know what I’m thinking; it’s all visceral recognition, the kind you get when someone makes it impossible for you to write them off.
“Okay, I think this has gone on a little too long; people might catch on,” he says and I’m surprised, although he’s probably right. I don’t want to leave. I also don’t want to be having this conversation with him here. Something about standing in the DJ booth at a strip club, dressed in wisps of glow-in-the-dark violet leopard print and struggling to connect with someone in a healthy, humanish manner strikes me as both absurd and some less weighty synonym for tragic. “Oh, am I being dismissed?” I ask.

“You and the vocabulary words,” he says, laughing.

“Well. Thanks for the dialogue,” I say, and he smiles. I leave and retreat into the dressing room, feeling my little tendrils of feeling retreat back into the flesh armor I use to keep everyone else here off the important stuff.

*

“No, you come to the club where I work tonight. It’s so slow and I miss you. I need you start driving your car here right now, okay?” I’ve never seen her here before tonight, but her name is Genie and her high-pitched, strident voice is every imaginable stereotype of an asian girl talking loudly in public on her cell phone, complete with switched L and R consonants. I’m back in the dressing room alternately brushing my hair and staring at the wall. There are a bunch of us back there doing more or less the same thing: Alexis, Kiki, Keisha, and Sincere. Slow, boring Friday night. Having been dismissed from PJ duty, I have nothing better to do, but now I’m glad for it. “You come to the club right now? What you mean you can’t? You get in your car and drive here.” Then Genie’s voice picks up an added register of low-grade menace: “Oh, you little fucker! You fucker! This is good cookie, mister, good cookie, and you don’t even know what you getting, dumbass!”

Alexis catches my eye in the mirror. We raise our eyebrows at each other. “Is she for real?” Alexis mouths. I nod at her like, I think so. When I look over at Keisha, she’s smiling into her eyeshadow palette. Kiki’s got a hand to her forehead and the strained expression of someone holding on to their composure by a thread. Only Sincere is doing a good job of pretending she’s not listening to this, but she probably actually isn‘t.

“Look, dumbass, what I tell you when I meet you and you don’t know how to do pussy-eating? I tell you I show you how and you do pussy-eating okay now. I teach you fucking, before you don’t even know. You get another heart attack now I take away this good cookie. You fat and bald and you already have one heart attack. I give you another one, fucker!” I can’t help it, I start laughing out loud and can’t stop. Alexis plasters both hands over her mouth, shoulders shaking helplessly. Sincere looks up from an In Touch magazine and her eyes go wide. That pushes all of us over the edge. We are howling like monkeys.

“I may be stripper but I am no stupid. The pussy, it come with me when I leave you sorry fat bald ass, fucker. I know things. I know about art. That was my ex who sell that painting at garage sale, dumbass. He don’t know what it was, he don’t know who I am. And I need sewing machine. Go to Wal-Mart and get sewing machine for me, sewing machine’s cheap. I gave that one to my teacher. She had no sewing machine so I have her borrow. Dumbass, just go to Wal-Mart! Not like sewing machine going to break your house!”

“Oh my God,” Alexis yelps between spasms of laughter. Kiki puts her head down on the counter, moaning. I can hardly breathe and my stomach hurts and it feels good, like something I needed tonight.

*

“What are you thinking about?” asked PJ. I was looking at his three gray eyelashes and mentally turning them into something far more profound than they actually were.

“Just looking.” Pause. “What are you thinking about?”

“Just looking.”

He bent down and kissed my left nipple so cinematically I was sure he knew I was watching this and thinking it was beautiful. “Okay, I’m leaving in five minutes. Unless you want to kick me out now,” he said.

“I think I like the company,” I said, burying my face in the pillow. I stretched out next to him and he spooned me, head on my shoulder, hand artfully arranged around my waist. It felt so good I toyed with the idea of kicking him out right then, before I had the dangerous chance to get used to it. I listened to him breathe for awhile, feeling my heartbeat slow down and my thoughts fade out into a lulling static.

“All right, I have to get out of here,” he said. “Places to see, people to do.”

Yuck, I thought. He got up and put his shirt on. I turned my face to the wall. “Are you letting me out or am I letting myself out?” I got up and put a big shirt on over my underwear, and we walked out of my apartment, down the stairs, half-blinded in the hazy morning sun. I wasn’t ready for it to be morning yet. On the doorstep, my half-naked self half-obscured by the door, we kissed. PJ smiled at me. I smiled back. “See you next week?” he asked and I nodded. I shut the door right as he was looking back to see if I was watching him go. I slitted my eyes against the hollow darkness of the hallway.

“This is good cookie, mister,” I whispered to myself as I walked back up the stairs.