Are you a Jets fan or what?
So the next few times I came in over the next month or so and she was there, I made a point of finding a seat at the bar – if only to avoid the embarrassment of being singled out again.
But in fact I had started to like the woman, not so much her twisting body but the face and eyes. I liked to watch her watch her patrons, and a few times, she caught me watching her watch, and frowned, her eyes asking, “What the hell are you looking at me, mister?”
It was clear that her eyes were the one part of her anatomy that wasn’t for sale.
Each time she caught me, I grinned, shrugged and went back to my writing. This was always a short exchange, and me being generally broke, I usually finished my beer and vanished before she finished her set. But the few times I was still around when she took her break, she found someone else to sit with. There was always a line, rough and ready men with mouths spouting bullshit about her outfit or her singing. She often sang the songs she played on the jukebox. I later learned she went and bought the records for the juke box just so she had songs she could listen to and sing when she danced.
“I hate that disco crap,” she told me later. “Rock and roll is my thing.”
One thing about all go-go bars no matter how peaceful they seem, men come to see the women and often come with something more in mind than evening tea. So most evenings are a game of dash and dart as men make jokes full of sexual innuendo and the dancers dodge around the issue. They can never come out and simply say no. The men would stop coming.
Short of the private deals on the side, hope along that man might get lucky kept him glued to his stool, dropping big bucks for drinks and tips.
Peggy was particularly good at never saying no. She had a good routine, too, stock phrases that kept conversation moving during her breaks, so that even the shyest of men were ever left in the lurch. She laughed and yelled, mocked anger, her voice rising above the sound of the juke box.
Sometimes, Patty gave herself away, perhaps losing herself in her own conversations so that some aspect of truth seeped out, such as the tale she told to her “trusted men” about how her mother marked the booze bottles at home to see how much she was drinking.
“But I fooled her,” she said. “I mark the bottle after I’m done so that she doesn’t know which mark is her. It’s my father – the jerk – who came up with the idea of marking the bottle while it’s turned upside down, and I didn’t know the last time and so I’m marking the bottle so it looks like I’m taking even more than I really am. The jerk.”
The first real attention Peggy gave me was during football season when her previous Giants started making noise in the NFL. She danced and talked on and on about them to anyone who would listen. I often saw her on Sunday nights – my regular night and she would be hoarse from screaming. Even when the games were played out of town, she apparently screamed at the television.
Some patrons complained about her outfits – or rather the Giants’ t-shirt she wore over it, and her response was, “You got a problem? You don’t like the Giants?”
This usually silenced the most vocal opposition. Her voice could intimidate even the most hearty.
I made the mistake of cracking back.
“Sure, I like the Giants, but their quarterback stinks.”
A cat’s back couldn’t have arched any better than Peggy’s did. She turned slowly like a character from a Lou Costello movie.
“What was that?” she asked.
I repeated myself.
“You’ve got some fucking nerve coming in here,” she said. “Where are you from anyway? I’ll bet you’re a Jet’s fan.”
I assured her I wasn’t.
“I’m simply not the fanatic you are.”
“Well,” she said in a huff, and coldly turned away again.
The conversation was over. But not the looking. Her gaze came around to me more often after that, the familiar frown appearing even when I wasn’t directly looking at her.
She seemed puzzled by my existence. She didn’t merely question why I was at the bar, but why I even inhabited the same planet.
Over the next few weeks, her chill thawed, and the conflict became something of a running joke. She started sitting near by between sets – that is when she couldn’t get a drink out of some poor sucker. Sometimes when she had to sit with someone else, she would pause long enough to growl “Jet fan,” at me.
The enormity of her love for the Giants became even clearer a few weeks later when she thrust a petition under my nose and said, “sign it.”
“What is it?” I asked, squinting at the form in the dim light.
“It’s to make the team change their name to the New Jersey Giants.”
“Does that mean we’ll get stuck with Sims?”
“Sign it and shut up!”
I signed. She went on her way, promoting the issue from the stage when she was supposed to be dancing, cajoling even blackmailing the other patrons to sign.
My name among them became a peace pact between us and the frown seemed to vanish. Now she smiled instead, often singing at me to the expense of other patrons around the bar.
I began to squirm, not because I was uncomfortable with the attention, but because there was a twinge inside of me that suggested a growing attraction. I actually liked this woman, not as a dancer, football fan and all around clown, but the person behind the mask.
Behind the frowning gaze, I realized, was something every vulnerable. Our talks began to vary from the football team. I began to find out about her and the paradox that complicated her life. She was a certified public accountant. No lie. She admitted she was a little frightened by her job, especially by the fact that she was assistant head accountant at her place of employment, next in line for the top job.
“I just don’t know how to fire people yet,” she said, the mask totally gone, a sincere little girl showing. “That’s what I’m waiting to learn. How to face my old friends and be their boss.”
I wanted to tell her that such things weren’t so easily learned, that it took a specific kind of person to be able to betray her fellow employees. It was the single most aggravating flaw in a system that promoted people through the ranks.
March 17, 1987
So Peggy is a Republican.
And an active Republican, who participates in the local political machine.
It seems strange to me that a woman, a go-go dancer should be working so diligently for her own oppressor.
But why not?
She is also a certified public accountant working her way up the corporate ladder, with dreams of taking her boss’s place, a reality impeded only by the fact that she hasn’t yet learned how to become a boss.
“I don’t know how I could tell someone I worked with that they’re fired,” she said, sitting beside me at the bar.
I wanted to tell her that if she didn’t know already, she probably would never know, that it takes a cold fish to do that kind of thing and still have some sense of self, that if she had to think about it, then she was working for the wrong political party.
But she wouldn’t have listened. The Reagan mandate – of which she has become a part – gobbles up millions if idealistic people like her, brainwashing them into thinking they are working for something good and real, working for the betterment of America, when they are really working only for the betterment of America’s rich.
Peggy said that all her time is filled up between work and her political commitments, and that she even does some volunteer work for United Way, a regular veteran, one of the small cogs that keep the system operating.
I’m stunned, but I shouldn’t be.
She wants to be tough, wants to be able to fire people, and sees her inability as a flaw.
This intrigues me even more.
But I’m in over my head, screwing myself up into something I’m not sure I can get out of again.
I’ve already told her I’ll see her at the bar again tonight.
I’m over anxious, and it is something I know might scare her off as a potential lover.
I still have to figure out why I’m doing any of this and what exactly it is that I find appealing about her. Maybe it’s her intelligence, maybe it is because she speaks too loudly that I’m deaf to all the common sense warnings my own heart is screaming at me.
She talked so loud that the other go-go girl said not so kindly that she would pay me to drag Peggy down to the other end of the bar.
But this bit of nastiness comes out of jealously. Girls here do not like seeing someone else get the attention they want. Being on stage is all about ego.
Which made me ask yet one more time why Peggy does and once more for her to tell me she needs the money.
Maybe there is some truth in this after all.
Peggy has expensive tastes, tastes I know I can’t afford – and I fear that if I can’t afford them, I won’t be able to keep her happy.
How the hell did I wind up with an alcoholic Republican go-go girl with millionaire tastes?
She also told me that had become a Republican organizers (she meant envelop stuffer) and that she loved Ronald Reagan, and that she spent several nights a week working as a volunteer for United Way.
During these conversations, she sucked up drink after drink, until I was broke, and when my money was gone, I rose and told her I had to be off. She always looked disappointed. One time, she asked me for a hug.
So I hugged her.
I was among one of the biggest thrills of my life, and later, still slightly buzzed from the boozed, I wondered at the turmoil of feelings going on inside of me, the tumbling that I’d not felt since the first time I’d fallen in love.
The idea leaped out with a fury and panic all its own.
Was I crazy? One does not love a go-go dancer, even if she did graduate college with honors, even if she was a CPA.
The strip club scene excludes love. Most dancers are in love with themselves, often more aware of their own figures in the bar mirror than of any of the faces staring up at them from the stools along the bar.
While Peggy didn’t have that problem, she had a million others like her drinking, and suggestions that she might have even deeper problems I don’t know about.
Still I found myself planning a campaign to ask her out. A date? What harm could that do? I was attracted to her after all. My head was filled with man of the same thoughts other men thought about her the loud-mouthed clowns at the bar did. She was lovely and grand. But when it came to actually asking her out, my mouth just wouldn’t work right. She seemed to be waiting, touching my shoulder more than she should, demanding hugs regularly.
I kept putting off the question.