For You, The Stars Chapter Eight: Installment 3
This was going to be a real test of our so-called open relationship. I had learned from my experience with Simone that possessiveness didn’t work for me and I had come to the conclusion that I’d rather have an understanding that anything could happen than an idealistic promise that I knew I couldn’t keep. But in reality I’m a pretty passive person. I tend to go with the flow. Inertia is the master of my destiny. I wasn’t looking that hard for other women to get together with. And although Cecilia seemed to love flirting with guys when we went out dancing, and there were the occasional moments where she seemed on the verge of straying, as far as I knew neither of us had been with anyone else since we started going out.
I couldn’t be sure. We didn’t really even have a rule about having to tell each other the truth or anything like that. But I usually knew where she was and what she was up to, and she told me about the friends she was making in Marin and what was going on every day. She didn’t really have any reason to keep things secret. I think she would actually have enjoyed telling me about fooling around with some other guy. Or some other girl. Not that Cecilia was particularly bi, but she did have this one new friend, Sheena, who she liked to describe as a “sexygirl,” all one word, and she kept suggesting that she might like to experiment with her sometime. That was OK with me, I said. They didn’t even have to let me watch. Mostly, though, I think she and Sheena liked to sit on barstools and make out as a way of outraging or arousing the guys they were flirting with when they went out drinking on worknights without me.
Every now and then, when Cecilia was teasing me about something, she liked to call me a faggot. “Shut up, faggot.” Like that. It was basically a schoolyard taunt, like the way we used to say “you’re so gay” meaning lame, long before we had any idea, most of us, what homosexuality even was. Now that she had admitted her vague interest in playing around with Sheena, though, whenever she lapsed into calling me a faggot, I’d say “You’re the faggot, faggot.” She said girls couldn’t be faggots but I disagreed.
But now I was thinking about her hooking up with her “friend” who was in town from the east coast and the idea was eating away at me. How do you know this guy, exactly? I asked her. She had met her in a bar, of course. How old is he? Old: 40 or 50. Is he married? He used to be. Maybe he still is. What does he do? Something financial. Is he into, like, younger girls? It’s not like that. And so on. Around and around. She made it out to be something innocent. Just a visit. A hangout. She’d just be dropping by their hotel room. No agenda. No plans.
It sounded creepy to me, but I couldn’t make a big deal out of it. We were allowed to do whatever we wanted. Anyway, I had started taking a painting class a few nights a week in Berkeley so I wasn’t going to be around anyway. She was free to do whatever she wanted and I was free to pretend like I didn’t care. I said “Have fun!” and got off the phone.
After work I changed into the painting clothes I had brought to the office in my backpack. A pair of gray jeans that were getting loose around the waist and a blue denim smocklike collarless shirt, both liberally splattered now with acrylic paint. I went down to Montgomery and got on BART, riding it under the bay and getting off at the downtown Berkeley exit. Then I trudged across to Bancroft and zigzagged across the lower part of the UC campus, which felt like a parallel universe version of Princeton. Everything was in a different place but it all seemed oddly familiar, down to the bathroom stalls with their crude, cruisey comeons and graffiti and phone numbers and notes scrawled next to the gouged out glory holes saying things like “Tuesday afternoons: show hard for blow.”
I made my way to the art dept building whose name I couldn’t remember and headed up to the third floor. The canvasses I was working on were stacked in kind of large open closet area at one end of the studio. I got their early and set up my easel and paints before putting my walkman on. I was working on a set of really large scale paintings based on snapshots, currently a set of photos I’d taken at the beach in Rhode Island during a week last summer with my whole family. I was painting the sky red and orange in a piece called the guitar lesson that showed me and my brother facing eachother, shirtless, while he showed me chords like G and E minor.
I put my walkman on and started painting, spacing out until the instructor came by and tapped me on the shoulder.
“You’re scrubbing,” he said.
He picked my brush and showed me what I was doing, sort of mindlessly rubbing back and forth working the watered acrylic into a froth.
“Work on a different area,” he said.
It was all the same to me.
When I got off BART in downtown SF after my class it was night out. I wondered what Cecilia was up to. She was probably not too far away, in that hotel on union square. Instead of getting on the Muni and heading out the inner Sunset for a late burrito-trap dinner, I found myself wandering toward the tenderloin, passing the famous old headshop on Market and arriving at one of the strip clubs halfway to the civic center. This one had a huge marqee out front with the names of all the dancers currently working in alphabetical order. There was one I like there called Nomi and I saw that she was still around. Some of them were college students and some were runaways. Usually I went upstairs to the peep show arcade - movies not booth dancers, but for some reason today I paid the absurd $15 admission to sit in the seedy theatrical area on the first floor where loud heavy metal, pop, and hiphop songs - now U2, now Chris De Burgh, now Springsteen - alternated as the dancers came out one after another for their sets.
The whole thing was heavily formulaic. Each dancer came out three times in succession. The first act was the traditional striptease where a flimy costume was removed one article at a time until the girl was left in something like a bikini or panties and pasties. The second act was an elaborat tease based on getting her top off and the third involved totally nudity and a lot of grinding on the runway surrounded by men of all ages throwing dollars up onto the stage. It seemed pretty weird to me, but kind of thrilling in a way. I still had an intense curiosity to see as many different types of naked female bodies as possible, and these women came in a lot of shapes: some were very heavy, some had painful looking implants that were impossibly round and seemed to stretch the skin on their chests, some were waiflike or looked like Robert Smith from the Cure.
After a girl finished her set she’d reappear a few minutes later in lingerie and heels, to walk around the audience and offer men company in the form of lapdances. I’d never seen a lapdance before the first time I came into this place. This wasn’t the late 90s kind of lapdance in front of a bunch of salesguys in a wannabe upscale North Beach “gentlemen’s club” or in some heavily glamorized movie. This was a seedy pseudo-legal body-on-body massage where you didn’t want anybody looking at you. I never made eye contact with anyone in that place and I usually told the girls to keep moving.
Sometimes I’d pay a girl the five bucks they wanted to sit with you, or on you, for one song. Sometimes they’d ask me if I liked the girl dancing or tell me about their classes in school, real or imagined. Some would breath on your neck, obviously smokers, or nibble your ear, like a girlfriend. One claimed she gave a therapeutic massage: she had a whole memorized line of patter and in the end she just gave me a too rough, too fast shoulder rub. She wasn’t very attractive either, which may be why she took that approach.
This time I waited for Nomi to come out. She had the kind of looks and body that don’t last. She was at a kind of peak of perfection, according at least to my own private standards at the time, although judging by the attention she got while dancing I wasn’t the only person who thought so. She was little rounder, more voluptuous than most women thought most men wanted most women to be and her breasts seemed natural. She had a slightly large-ish, padded butt, and she seemed almost self-conscious when she danced, which was unusual. Most of the girls went through their routines like robots, or professionals, or junkies.
After her three sets she took forever to reappear in her undies, and then she was flagged down by a guy sitting a few rows behind me and I was thinking of getting up and leaving when she finally came sideways down the row behind me. “Want some company?” she said. She had a slight accent that I couldn’t place. She was olive skinned, maybe even black. It was really hard to tell. I didn’t say anything, just handed her a folder up fiver. She came around the aisle, sat on my lap, laced her arms around my neck and as the next song started, started rocking her hips on my thigh.
She felt so soft. There were strict rules about what you could do with the girls. Someone, a bouncer I guess, was watching, and if you tried to touch their breasts or between their legs you’d be ejects. They usually mentioned this when they sat down with you, unless you looked familiar, like you already knew the ropes. Most of the girls actually work regular underwear under their lingerie. That seemed strange to me until I figured that the lacy stuff was basically a costume. This was more hygenic probably, I thought to myself, facetiously.
In retrospect, this whole routine now seems almost quaint. Years later I went back to that same strip house and times had really changed. There was a sort of back room area, really a set of open stalls, some which curtains, the girls tried to get you to come to for “private dances” and it looked like they were giving head and probably doing “full service” too. I hadn’t given all this crap up yet at that time, but even in with my lowered morals this had seemed kind of brazen to me.
No, the ’80s lapdance was in a strange way almost like the revolutionary era bundling. Instead of a plank of wood between a betrothed couple on a bed, a couple of layers of clothes symbolized chastity or staying just this side of the law. Nomi straddled my lap and started sliding her ass forward and back. I realized I was still high from the doob I had smoked before my painting class as I put my arms around her waist and rested them on her belly. With certain parts of the body taboo you ended up touching the next parts over, and feeling insanely, acutely aware of the areas where your hands couldn’t go. I could grab her ass but I could rest my arms on the tops of her hips and kind of steer her as she levered herself across me.
By now I was hard and she sort of trapped me up against one leg. There was a strange sort of unspoken awareness. She had to feel me poking her but she couldn’t acknowledge it. Nor could I. Usually a lapdance ended with me frustrated, sometimes paying five, ten, fifteen or more dollars as the songs kept flying by. It was sexy but not erotic. I got aroused but I still felt shy and exposed, oddly inhibited in my depravity. This time, though, her bottom took me up and over the edge and suddenly, without expecting it I found myself shooting, mostly down my leg I guess.
I didn’t know if she could tell. Probably. She kept moving but edged over to the other thigh and seemed to be winding down. I’d probably gripped her pretty tight as I climaxed. I was in a kind of stoned reverie. The sounds were reverberating like I was on nitrous and I felt myself throbbing as if I had a huge cartoon phallus out in front of me. Each throb was a little less than the one before as I returned to my natural state I felt more of that inconvenient fluid oozing out.
Nomi got up and thanked me and I waited another song or two before getting up and hobbling back up Market to the Muni station, where I waited another 20 minutes or so listening to a Dead bootleg on my walkman before the N-Judah showed up to take me home.