I used to have two friends. Drinking buddies. My friend Horatio worked at a nuclear power plant. He was the only one of my friends who was married (at the time). He had long hair, mullet-style and a blonde mustache that he shaped into a Hitler/Chaplin toothbrush. He once said (after a death-defying bender) “I’d like to have a nervous breakdown but I don’t think I could handle the stress.”
My old friend Dick, well, we grew up together. Our backyards touched. Dick worked at Dunkin’ Donuts and still lived with his mom. He was REALLY into fishing so we eventually drifted apart. He did this weird thing where he’d pepper his speech with the words “taken” and “tookin,” as in, “Hey man, taken pass that tookin joint this way.” And:
Me: “Why didn’t you ask her out?”
Dick: “Cuz she was taken tookin taken, man.”
Who knows where these things come from.
One day Horatio, Dick and I journeyed into the bowels of Boston (a rare event for us) and went to a strip-joint called, Leave it to Beaver’s. It was still the 80’s and we were in our twenties. We were there primarily to get drunk and laugh. I was hungover from the night before and was drinking more beer to fix myself up. It was working, sort of...
Dick and I were sitting at a table above the stage. Horatio sat in the front row (so close he could’ve rested his chin on the stage). We watched him tuck a couple of bucks into the stripper’s g-string. He was having a great time. But Dick frowned at me and said, “I can’t afford this, man, I taken tookin mean it. Places like this siphon your tookin cash.”
And then Horatio rejoined us, accompanied by a strange man. He’d made the acquaintance of a friendly sailor on shore leave (Horatio liked to meet people; he was the talker of our group). The navy guy was wearing a white uniform with the neckerchief and hat. The whole nine yards. I felt like I was in The Last Detail (1973).
The drinks at Leave it to Beaver’s were expensive and we quickly tired of buying ten-dollar cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, just so we could watch semi-naked women dance listlessly under the hot lights, so the navy guy told us he knew about a cheaper “gentleman’s club” (his words) just around the corner. Horatio clapped his hands and said, “What are we waiting for?” Dick sagged. “Another taken strip joint? I can’t tookin afford this...”
I stood up. “Just come on,” I told him and we marched out of the joint and followed Navy Guy out to a sidewalk populated with drunks and prostitutes and Chinese people (Chinatown was just next door), across the street, and down an alley to a place called, The Fuzzy Bunghole. What class.
We followed Navy Guy inside and it was like another world. A dank, confusing world that smelled of urine and menace. I thought we had walked into a mugging.
Navy Guy guided us to a table at the right of the stage. A woman wearing grimy, threadbare lingerie came up to us and we ordered $8.50 bottles of Miller High Life (The Champagne of Beers). Navy Guy raised his bottle and we toasted. Something.
The stage was small and dimly lit and a large, glassy-eyed woman undulated for us. I thought she was covered with tattoos at first but as my eyes adjusted to the gloom I realized that her pale, flabby body was covered with bruises and scars. The stage was old and the worn floorboards creaked under her weight. Navy Guy watched her like a hyena on the Serengeti. I started to salivate, which meant I was about to throw-up. I asked Navy Guy where the men’s room was and he waved in the general direction without taking his eyes off the bored, bruised stripper (who looked older than us by twenty years). I hastily stood up and speed-walked to the lavatory, where new horrors confronted me.
The tile floor was one big puddle. A thin guy with a Mohawk was standing by the urinal. He smiled at me with brown little rodent teeth and said, “What’s up, bud.” I nodded and lifted my pant cuffs and waded to the toilets. The stink of urine was so strong I could taste it.
There were two stalls and one door. I chose the open stall so I wouldn’t have to touch anything. I leaned over just in time and Pabst Blue Ribbon splashed into the toilet (a toilet that hadn’t been flushed in a long time; I’ll spare you the details).
I didn’t flush it either. I turned and looked at the guy with the Mohawk. He was staring at me, still smiling. “Hey bud. Y’wanna wrestle?” he asked and playfully kicked at the urine/water, nearly splashing me.
“No thanks,” I muttered.
I left the bathroom without washing my hands.
I heard the Mohawk guy yell something unintelligible.
When I returned to the table I saw that Navy Guy had moved closer to the stage and the woman in the worn lingerie was sitting beside him. Navy Guy had switched from beer to some kind of mixed drink. It must have cost a fortune. The lingerie woman was drinking with him, increasing his bill to shattering proportions. I guess you can do all right in the Navy.
I finally took the time to look around the bar. Shadowy phantoms hovered around us. The orange glow of many cigarettes. Nobody was talking. A woman was onstage gyrating to Pour Some Sugar on Me by Def Leppard. The volume was low, awash in the hiss and crackle of a bad speaker. For some reason I began to relax. Puking had revived me. I drank my beer and we ordered more (much to Dick’s tookin dismay).
A new stripper hit the stage and I sat up straight when I saw her. She was missing most of her left arm, the stump tapered to a pointy sort of flipper.
Dick said, “Come on guys. Let’s taken get out of here.”
“Are you kidding?” I said. “You want to leave just when the REAL entertainment starts?” See, I have a thing for female amputees. It’s not a sexual fetish thing. I just find them striking and worth my attention.
Horatio said to Dick, “Yeah, I think we should stay too.”
“Big tookin surprise.”
Navy Guy and lingerie woman were engaged in some light petting. She sat on his lap. Good for him, I thought. He could star in an educational film about how to contract syphilis.
I finished my beer and returned my gaze to the stage.
The one-armed woman was dancing to Rock the Casbah by the Clash. She was having difficulty following the rhythm. I decided she was dancing to another, better song in her head. Maybe something by Captain Beefheart.
Horatio slapped my shoulder and said, “Hey let’s get closer. I wanna interact.”
So Horatio and I moved to Pervert Row, right in front of the stage. Dick stayed at the table, looking nervous and miserable. He had always been something of a buzzkill so we ignored him. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the guy, but he frequently crushed the fun out of our modest little escapades.
“You need ones?” Horatio said, opening his wallet.
“No thanks, I’m good.”
The amputee dancer put her ass right in front of my face and pulled back the g-string. I slipped a dollar bill under it. While I was there, I grazed my fingers across her buttocks.
She hit me—slapped me hard across the face. Whoa, I thought and looked at Horatio. He was laughing his ass off. I looked up at the woman and sheepishly said, “Sorry...” She ignored me and kept dancing.
I suddenly felt a heavy hand on the back of my neck and a huge bearded man appeared beside me. “If you touch the girls again, I will end you,” he said. I could smell garlic and onion coming out of his face like vapor.
“Sorry,” I told him but he’d already disappeared back into the shadows. I felt shocked and assaulted and returned to the table with Dick.
Eventually, the amputee girl finished her routine. She knelt and awkwardly collected the few crumpled bills with her only hand.
Dick said, “Can we please taken get out of here now?”
“Yeah. I’m ready,” I said. The side of my face was still stinging from the slap. I felt small and pathetic and humiliated.
Dick and I collected Horatio, said “So long,” to Navy Guy and left The Fuzzy Bunghole.
We held a brief meeting on the corner. “What do you wanna do now,” said Horatio.
“I want to go home,” I said, discouraged.
“Me too,” said Dick. “I’m flat tookin broke.”
So we left the city and I returned home to consume a case of Bud and drown my sorrows. I could still feel the slap. She had slapped away my pride. The beer made me feel self-righteous about the indignity I’d suffered. I felt less humiliated.
And eventually I felt nothing at all.