7 - A drink limit?
By the time I met Peggy in the fall of 1986, she had her routine for cocaine procurement down to a fine-tuned science. And no doubt part of her attention on me and the other at the bar was part of what a con artist might call “baiting the hook.”
We were supposed to wonder about her and while we pondered the intricacies of the web she weaved, she fleeced us.
All this, however, had its downside.
She was in constant pain, complaining about persistent headaches, and anyone who came regularly to the My Way and saw her over time, already knew about her dramatic mood swings.
Her gain in weight was her most obvious problem.
“Which is strange because I hardly eat anything,” she said one night when several men gave her a hard time about her age.
“How old do I look” she asked angrily.
“30-35,” came one man’s reply.
He got rewarded by her never speaking to him again.
When she looked at me, I knew I was in deep trouble.
Mary had already warned me not to jest about her age or weight.
“She’s very sensitive about those,” Marry said. “Peggy knows she had to complete with younger girls here.”
“What about you?” Peggy
‘Huh?” I asked, dragged out of a daze to be confronted by her stare.
“Do I look 35 to you?”
“Of course not,” I said.
“Then how hold do I look?”
“I’m not good with ages.”
Men all around the bar started at me with the obvious relief that it was me Peggy had picked on and not them.
“I don’t know,” I said finally, “26, maybe?”
“26!” she yelped. “I look that old to you?”
“I told you, I’m not good with ages,” I saw, drawing only a huff from her and a cold shoulder as she went back to her dancing. But she eyed me a few times afterwards. As it turned out, she was 27 and would turn 28 the following spring – an old lady by go-go standards where the scene ate its own very young.
Wolfman had similar concerns about her weight and during one exchange with her claimed she looked like a blimp.
“And I don’t need no blimp dancing for me,” he said.
Wolfman knew very well that Peggy’s massive ingestion of alcohol was the cause of her weight gain.
“A blimp?” she said, standing at the gate waiting to receive the change she needed to play her tunes on the juke box.
“You’ve gained weight,” he said.
“Fuck you,” she snarled.
“No thanks,” he said. “I’ve seen what you do to your victims. I’m concerned about the deal we had.”
“You dance only if you keep the weight off.”
“Come off it, Jim,” she snapped, slashing at a strand of hair that had fallen across her face. “You can’t offered to fire me. I bring in the bacon for you.”
“I can’t afford no blimp floating across my dance stage,” he said, removing the cigar stub from the corner of his mouth. “This is a strip club, not The Macy’s Day Parade. I’m cutting you off until you shed some weight.”
“Cutting me off? You mean as in no alcohol?”
“Why you son of a bitch!” Peggy growled, and took a step towards him.
“Touch me, girl,” Wolfman warned, “and you’ll never work in a strip club again.”
“I wasn’t going to touch you,” she said. “But you’re still a song of a bitch. I got a day job. I get enough aggravation there without having to get it here, too.”
“If you didn’t drink so much, you wouldn’t be getting fat.”
“And you wouldn’t be making as much money off the drinks the men buy me.”
“I want you to get them to drink, not suck up the alcohol yourself.”
“How about a limit?” Peggy said. “I could live with that.”
“How much of a limit?”
“One?” Peggy balked. “Are you out of your fucking mind? Men want to buy me drinks all night long. How the hell do I led them do that with a one-drink limit>”
“You could drink soda.”
“Don’t make me sick. Four drinks. That’s the lowest I’ll go.”
“Two or you can get dressed right now.”
“Three,” Peggy said. “That’s a good compromise, isn’t it?”
Wolfman put the cigar stub back into the corner of his mouth and gnawed on it a while.
The anger eased out of his eyes. His expression revered to its usual pained look of indifference.
“All right,” he said. “Three. But if you make a ruckus when time comes to cut you off, I’ll toss you out onto the street. I don’t want no more trouble in here, you get me?”
“Me?” Peggy said, deliberately batting her eye lashes. “Cause trouble?”
“Yeah, you. Not get your quarters and pick your music before I change my mind. I don’t know why I’m so kind to you. I don’t let other girls talk to me like you do.”
“None of the other girls deliver like I do,” Peggy said. “Besides, you know you love me.”
Mary dropped five quarters into the palm of Peggy’s upturned hand.
Then Peggy paraded around the outside of the bar to the jukebox near the front door, making sure she went slowly enough so that each of us had time to run as she passed.
Some men tried to speak to her; she ignored them.
Some cringed expecting her to lash out at them in some way or tease them with her usual flirtatious mockery.
She said nothing. But from her smug expression, it was easy to tell she took in all this accolade as deserved, the queen of the My Way Lounge undergoing her bi-weekly coronation.
But no queen ever strutted her stuff so scantily clad, nor ruled a world so drench in alcohol and lust.
On this particular night, she wore one of her more elaborate outfits, tassels dangling from her covered nipples, grand, but not every revealing, highlighting one of Wolfman’s other pet peeves with Peggy.
While he scolded other girls for flashing too much flesh, he also wanted them to reveal more than Peggy usually did.
He called what she wore “a swim suit,” which it very likely was, modified only slightly to pass as a dance outfit.
Conscious of her increased weight, Peggy often wore and outfit that could help hold in her middle and only if abused by Wolfman did she wear anything that revealed her stomach – and if she could get away with it, she even wore at times a –t-shirt or New York Giants jersey over top of that as well.
Patrons got a glimpse of her amazing legs, but often little more than that.
On this night – taunted apparently by Wolfman before hand – Peggy wore a two-piece outfit, the orange tassels dangling from her clearly rigid nipples.
She was always cold, and always bitched bout it, and Wolfman always did absolutely nothing about it.
As Peggy glanced around, she looked disappointed.
There were just too few of us here, and most of them were the real down-and-out variety, too hard up or miserable to provide much in the way of tips or drinks, let alone cocaine.
She glanced at me and the others, and even as the disapproving Wolfman, caught in the multiple reflections of the mirrors behind the bar.
Missing on this particular night were the hordes of men with money: the horny salesmen, the local store clerks, the government workers from nearby city hall or the staff from the unemployment office around the corner. Even the jocks and other macho losers from Clifton and Garfield seemed to have found other roosts on this night, leaving Peggy very slim pickings.
This was late November and unusually cold, and the bulk of us who shared the bar – the cab drivers, bus drivers, warehouse workers and Wolfman’s minions – seemed more interested in keeping warm than in Peggy. Some of Wolfman’s minions – low level hoodlums he let hang around for kicks – giggled. But they were as worthless to her as the rest of us.
The chill air kept away the high rollers she could county on for a stiff or two of cocaine, leaving her with a horn crew of laborers and henpecked husbands who needed a quick peek at some tit and ass before slinking off to jerk off in the bathroom.
Peggy had too much class to ever feel contempt for us the way most of the other dancers did, but she could not hide her disappointment.
The whole point of her long stroll was to pick out men she thought she could feed off of later. So by the time she reached the jukebox she had already picked out one or two of us along the one side of the oval bar, wiggling her butt the whole time she selected her tunes so as to keep our attention, she knowing we could look no place else.
Once done, Peggy made her way back up the other side of the bar where she evaluated her prospects there, her mood already improved enough for her to acknowledge with a nod or smile some of the regulars, some she even patted on the back as she passed calling one man “sweetheart,” and other “cutie” and still a third man, “Honey,” and thus establishing ground for them to buy her drinks or at worst, slip her a few tips during her dance.
She even smiled at Wolfman and his collection of minions before easing finally through the gate to behind the bar and the stage where she would perform her act.
Why she picked on man over another remained one of the great unsolved mysteries. But she didn’t pick me that night, but bantered with one of the men on the first side, complaining about her mother, and her mother being as bad as Wolfman when it came to her alcohol use.
“She thinking I drink too much,” Peggy said.
“Your boss seems to think so, too,” one man remarked, drawing a dark glare from Peggy and banishment from her for the rest of the night.
“My mother even marks the bottles before I come over so she can check to see how much I drink. I always mark them again so she doesn’t know which marks are hers.”
“So what happened?” another man asked.
“She figured out what I was doing, and it was my father who clued her in. He told her to mark the bottles while turned upside down, so when I marked them again it would look like I drank even more than I actually did.”
At some point, I ran out of money and rose to leave.
Oddly enough, I actually wanted her to notice and when she didn’t break away from her conversation with one of the other men, I felt slighted, and a bit more lonely than when I had come in.