I was too young; no question, way too young. Only fourteen. I’m sure it was against the law — it certainly was against convention — but there we were in a strip club, and me with a whiskey sour to boot. How to make a teenager’s night perfect.
The stench of the Androscoggin River, which flowed though downtown Lewiston, wafted through the dimly lit room. Fighting against it was the artificial sweetness of cheap perfume and the smell of male anticipation.
A trio provided music: an upright piano, a drum, and a guitar. They were out of tune, but I’m sure no one cared. The hard, callused fingers of loggers, road workers, paper mill laborers tapped along with the shaky rhythm. Beer flowed, but hard drinks were the standard.
The group I was with stood out for its youth, the smoothness of our skin, and the city look of our clothes. Camp counselors on a night out before the kids were due. All of us college students or older except for me; as the camp owner’s son I was a tag-along. Why had they allowed it? Perhaps it was Al’s guilt from the summer before. He hadn’t listened to me, hadn’t understood the real antipathy my father directed towards me in bursts of rage. Al had insisted I deliver the message the old man had required, and I had been greeted by yet another paternal lambasting — one sufficiently vitriolic that a few parents took their kids home that visiting day.
Al had never said anything, but a year later when he was organizing that last before-the-kids-get-here night out, I’d been included. “What if they won’t let him in?” One of the others asked. Al laughed and said, “Hey, we’re talking Lewiston, Maine. Nobody will care.”
They didn’t. The bouncer—yes, there was one—asked if I was old enough. “Sure he is,” somebody answered; “he just looks young.” “Ayup, that cain happen.” And in I went.
And out she came. The first act of the night. Full-figured might be the right word for Miss Sue all the way from New Orleans. Fat-assed was the word from one of the counselors. No matter, there were whistles and applause as she ground her way around the stage to cacophony that was supposed to sound like Sh-Boom.My two heads reacted at once. One with adolescent lust and arousal; the other with empathic sorrow. I looked into Miss Sue’s lime-green eyes and saw the sorrow of her soul. I have no idea where she had come from and what life-slope she had slid down to arrive at this bottom, but the pain in her eyes stabbed at my heart. Bump, grind, grind bump — a top thrown here, a short skirt dropped there, a bra, panties: she danced on until only a g-string and pasties remained. Tucked in her g-string was a bill—an invitation and reminder to the audience. She moved to the edge of the stage and turned her large derriere to the small crowd. She shimmied and shook. Nobody responded. Not a single hand tucked another bill.
Funny what a guy will do when the situation is right. I had to. I nudged Ed on my left, held out my hand, and mouthed the words, “Can I borrow a buck.” He laughed and shook his head. I tried Pat on my right. He took out his wallet and pulled out a two-dollar bill. “Go ahead, kid” he said with a laugh in that baritone voice he used to call “Buddies 1-2-3” at general swim.
Everyone heard him, and every pair of eyes turned towards us—every pair including the musicians and including Miss Sue all the way from New Orleans.
I wanted to shrink into the chair, but there was no turning back. With another sip of that whiskey sour, I stood up, walked to the apron of the stage, and tucked that bill into her g-string. At that moment, Sue’s eyes changed from sadness to smile. Her mouth, lipsticked into a pout, rose at the corners. The transformation lasted only for seconds, but it was there, it was real, and it touched me.
Many years later, when I was writing “Times to Try the Soul of Man,” I remembered Miss Sue; I found her in the archives of my life and created a character. That’s what writers do; we archive life for later use.
As for that little strip joint in Lewiston, Maine. The block has been razed and a modern hotel built. The Androscoggin has been cleaned up and paper mill sulfur no longer permeates the town. Al died about a year ago. I have no idea about Ed or Pat. As for my father: well, I have to admit that I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without having weathered his rages.
Ken Weene styles himself as a “Broody New Englander.” His novels, including “Times to Try the Soul of Man,” are available on Amazon. You can learn more about him at http://www.kennethweene.com
My giveaway will be two copies of Times to Try the Soul of Man. Comment leaving contact info to win.Good luck!
(info provided by author with permissions)