Why you should care
Because bad things happen to good people.
My first wife was having an affair and was unwilling to end the other relationship to work on our marriage, so I gave her a move-out date.
My cousin’s bat mitzvah was coming up, so I figured my wife could move while I was at the celebration, and be gone before my return. I hadn’t told anyone what was going on, and my wife was popular with the family, so I spent the day making excuses.
“No, she couldn’t make it, though she sends her love.” “She had a rough week at work and had to go in again today.”
My wife was an attorney and often had to work long hours, so work was a perfectly acceptable excuse. And the bat mitzvah was a nice event, with everyone having a good time. I elected to drink much of my lunch, and I drunk-drove myself home in the late afternoon, dreading walking into a now empty house.
The potent mélange of piss, cigarettes and fresh urinal cakes was stifling. I braced myself, hands on the wall, head bowed.
On Queens Boulevard, not far from our place, was a strip joint called Nickels. I have no idea what nickels have to do with strippers, but, in a city full of shitty little titty bars, this might have been the shittiest. While larger, more modern venues in the area had “featured dancers” and visiting porn stars, Nickels was more likely to feature the local fallen debutante trying to make ends meet during a post-rehab “clean” period, or maybe a recently divorced mother with a deadbeat baby-daddy.
The bartender was a woman from my old neighborhood in Manhattan. She had a body that belonged onstage, and one severely crossed eye.
I entered Nickels, making that awkward transition from daylight to darkness. The place was nearly empty, and the bouncer gave me a warm “Hey, big guy, howz it going?”
A smart bouncer always buddied up to the “big guys.” Better to have an ally than an enemy in a pinch.
I was sitting there minding my own business, knocking back shots of Jack Daniel’s, and only half watching the dancers, when one of the strippers came over and pulled up a chair next to me. She was clearly working me for drinks. Expensive drinks, with little to no alcohol in them. The stripper and bar would split the money later. I didn’t mind, she was a very good-looking woman in her early 30s.
She told me she was from South America, and she was stroking far more than my ego to get the drinks. At one point she took my right hand and slid it between her legs. Following her lead, I kept going. She let out a surprisingly loud sound that was part hiccup, part gasp. I looked at her. She didn’t seem angry, she didn’t even push my hand away, but the noise woke me up from my warm, fuzzy, sour mash stupor.
Suddenly the room seemed to be closing in on me. I got up and excused myself. The bathroom door was at the back of the bar, and as I made my way toward it the floor seemed to shift and heave like a ship at sea, while the door itself receded, like a camera effect in a Hitchcock film.
I finally burst into the men’s room. It was a sickening shade of high-gloss, nicotine-tinted powder blue, awash in bright fluorescent light. The potent mélange of piss, cigarettes and fresh urinal cakes was stifling. I braced myself, hands on the wall, head bowed in front of one of the urinals. I could feel cool air radiating off the freshly refilled urinal ice.
I threw up, the kind of throwing up you feel in your spine. The ice was no longer fresh. Just as I finished, the bouncer who had greeted me earlier pushed open the door to find me shouldered up to the urinal wall, right hand still sticky with stripper, and a thin strand of fresh vomit drool running off my lower lip. I shot him a slightly embarrassed and I am sure somewhat brain-damaged-looking smile.
He just shook his head at me and said, “Oh, big man, you are a mess. We need to get you out of here. Is that going to be a problem?”
I smiled again and said, “No problem.” My head was already clearing, the contents of my stomach having been purged. I stood up and arranged myself, pulling at my clothes like a proper English gentleman who had suddenly discovered himself unacceptably disheveled, tipped my head to him and made my way out the door.
It had started to rain, and it felt good, cleansing. The cool drops on my face helped me sober up. Luckily I only lived a few blocks away, and arrived home without incident.
I opened the door to what looked like an interrupted crime scene. Half the living room set was gone. The TV was there, but the stereo was gone. The dining room was empty except for the rug, which was crooked. Scattered everywhere was the detritus of life. Things that end up under the furniture: receipts, business cards, one of the invitations I had printed for our holiday party.
I sat down on the couch, and the cat that I got in the separation (we had two) came running down the stairs and leaped onto my lap. He too was visibly unnerved by the day’s activities and the loss of one of his companions.
I went to turn on the TV to help take my mind off things, but couldn’t. She had taken the remote.