I remember when I was very young, maybe four or five, and I was with my parents visiting my Grandma, Dad's mom. Grandpa died of a heart attack before I was born, and Grandma lived alone in an apartment. She lived in Winnipeg like us, but I don't remember going to her place very often before my parents divorced when I was seven. I saw her even less after they split up, until she died when I was ten.
On this particular night we were there for dinner, and Mom and Dad got into an argument. I can't remember if it was about anything, but they were absolutely screaming at each other, which wasn't very unusual. Eventually Dad had enough and stormed out.
"Don't worry, honey," Grandma told Mom as she lit a cigarette. "He was born an asshole. He was an asshole since he was Nate's age," she said, pointing at me on the carpet, trying to play with my toys. "Smaller even. He was an asshole all the way along."
Somehow, Grandma's pronouncement became a sort of foundational wisdom for me. And it always helped me accept who I was, good or bad. Sometimes I used it as an excuse for bad behavior. "Am I the type of person who would do this?" I would ask myself. And if I did it, I would say, "Well, I guess I'm the type of person who would. But I'll accept myself and not feel guilty. I was born this way."
That represents the "nature" side of the "Nature versus Nurture" argument of determining personality. On the "nurture" side, I had a mother who fought constantly to convince me that I could determine who I was by the choices I make. She told me I had to be aware of those choices, and I was responsible for them. Mom raised me as an existentialist.
Sometimes, when I'm wandering out to catch a streetcar on a cold November night in Toronto, I wonder what is to blame for the bad decisions I make: is it a genetically-determined nature, or the fact that I will always knowingly make the wrong choice, regardless of consequences?
I was pretty sure that I was making the wrong decision, going out to "surprise" Megan at her work. After all, she was a girl that had been all but openly hostile to me. She'd certainly made no sort of invitation toward me, other than the vague acknowledgment that we would probably bump into each other again. The only evidence of her interest in me was hinted innuendo from Charlie, whom I didn't trust anyway.
Even as I climbed on the streetcar it seemed obvious that the whole thing was going to blow up in my face. After all, it's not like I was just dropping in at the bar where she worked. I was dropping by the bar where she stripped. I was going to be dropping by her work to see her naked. Assuming I was actually interested in Megan, it was a terrible move. But I wasn't even sure I was interested. She was good-looking, but she came across as cold, snotty, and vicious. So why was I going?
The strip bar where she was working was outside of Toronto in a suburb city, and it was a long ride on the transit to get out there. The place was called The Crystal House. It was a two-story building in the middle of a commercial block, with a demure exterior, complete with blacked out windows and a marquee advertising drink and private dance specials.
I knew drinks were going to be grossly expensive, so I got a bunch of cash out of a bank machine. I was going way under on my cash flow, and it pissed me off that I wasn't even going to be seeing a band. Plus, the music in these clubs always sucked.
Even so, I was excited to be going in. It had been a while since I'd seen a real live girl naked-- probably a year since I'd had after-bar sex with a random chick back in Winnipeg. And I hadn't been in a strip club in maybe four years. I went a lot when I was nineteen, the first year it was legal for me to get in. At first I thought strip clubs were f--cking incredible. Gorgeous women, naked, and all I have to do is overpay for the beer? I'm in!
The novelty wore off eventually. It just doesn't go anywhere, you know? Sure, you're seeing girls naked, but so what, right? You can't take them home. They see you as a mark. They want your money. You want to see them naked. You are both dehumanizing each other. I realized I was better off going to regular bars and talking to regular girls.
The outside of The Crystal House was brightly lit, its red and orange brick exterior making it a warm destination. A few guys were smoking cigarettes under the white marquee lights. They were heavy men with facial hair and baseball caps. I slipped between them and went in through the black-coated glass door.
Inside the place was a long, narrow room with a high ceiling. Like in most clubs, expansive mirrors made the room seem wider and deeper. The space was bathed in blue light, and black-lights made the dandruff on my coat stand out like glowing white specs in the blue-hued gloom. I gave my collar a shake and explored deeper into the room.
A bar stretched along one wall, with a stage against the other and tables and chairs in between. The place wasn't packed, but there were a bunch of guys in there. Probably a good few dozen. I could see the dancers scattered around. They were scantily clad in garish lingerie or tiny costumes.
Up on the stage a dancer was working through her routine. Although I wasn't sure why, I felt sudden surge of relief that it wasn't Megan. I was starting to feel ridiculous for coming. What did I want to say to her, anyway? Why had I come? Did I want to ask her out? Or had I really just come to see a beautiful girl without her clothes on?
Was this kind of behavior just part of my nature? Or was I actually making conscious choices here? What the fuck was my plan?
I went up to the bar and got beer from the shaved-ape server. I was standing next to an Asian woman, probably thirty years old. She had bleach-blonde hair down to her lower back, and she was wearing thigh high boots and a bikini. She stirred her glass of water with her straw and smiled at me. I felt my cheeks redden, gave her a tiny smile, and walked away to find Megan.
When I'd called Charlie to ask him for Megan's number, he'd told me he didn't have his phone with him so he couldn't give me her number, but he could tell me where the strip club was, and he assured me she was working that night. Looking around the club I was able to count eight women, but Megan wasn't one of them. Could Charlie have set me up? What would possibly be his motivation?
Then I noticed the doorway that led to the back room, where the private dances were taking place. I felt a bitter smile creep across my face, and I asked myself again what the fuck I was doing there. I took a gulp from the beer bottle and took a seat in a random chair. I kept one eye on the young woman on stage and another on the doorway.
A few songs later, after the dancer on stage had completely stripped down and done a hands-and-knees performance, I spotted Megan coming out of the back room. Although it was unmistakeably her, she looked completely different than I'd seen her before. Gone were the layers of sweaters and baggy pants, revealing a slender, elegant body. The bandana was gone, and her blonde hair rolled over her shoulders in curling waves. Her cleanly beautiful face showed a fierce edge, with darkened eyes and reddened lips. She wore a tight white sleeveless dress shirt with a plaid tie, and a tiny plaid skirt. Knee-high socks and a teeny backpack completed the naughty school-girl look.
A man walked out with her, and they exchanged a friendly word before he went on his way back to his seat. I remained sitting.
The women that work in these places earn their money by selling private dances. They work the room, checking out every possible customer. If a new guy arrives, they will get to him. In the seven or eight minutes I'd been in my seat, I'd already been approached by four of the dancers. And once she was back in circulation, it didn't take long for Megan to work her way around to me.
On the streetcar, I'd considered how I might approach her, and I hadn't come up with anything even half-decent. My first attempt at striking up conversation with her had maybe been too adversarial (calling bullshit on her for t-shirt hypocrisy), but I couldn't think of anything better. I finally decided that I would let her approach me, and I would try to play the situation from there. I would have no better opening line than "Hello."
I saw her coming toward my table, and as she approached I could see by the look on her face that she recognized me. It wasn't exactly an angry face... more like incredulous.
"Hello," I said.
"What the f--ck are you doing here?" she answered.
I shrugged. "Just having a beer. Are you working here tonight?"
"No, you jackass," she said. "I dress like this all the time. Of course I'm working. How did you know I would be here?"
"Charlie told me," I said. "You know, he's a real busy-body."
"Yes he is," she said. "Yes he is. So, why are you here?"
She was still standing next to me. I could see her midriff and her thighs, but I kept my eyes respectfully on her eyes. The operating procedure in this place seemed to be for the girl to sit down with the guy immediately upon striking up the conversation. Megan did not move toward a chair.
"Do you want to sit down?" I said. "I'm sorry, I know it's weird for me to show up like this. Please, sit down."
She acquiesced and took the seat next to me. "So seriously," she said, looking no less displeased. "Why are you here?"
I smiled. "I called up Charlie and asked if he had your number. He said he didn't, but he said he knew you were working tonight, and he told me you worked here."
She smiled and gave her head a disbelieving shake. "So you heard I work at a strip club, and you just came running?"
I thought for a second. "That doesn't sound quite the way I thought about it at the time," I began, but I couldn't think of what to say next.
Megan rolled her eyes. "Well, I hope you weren't trying to get my number because you wanted to go out," she said, "because you've totally excluded yourself by coming here."
"You wouldn't date a guy that came in here?"
"I wouldn't date a guy who came here to creep-stalk me," she said.
"I didn't come to creep-stalk you," I said. "I honestly just wanted to say hello. I just-- I don't know. I wanted to reach out. Honestly, I just asked Charlie for your number. I thought I could text you and ask you out for a beer or something, but Charlie told me about this. I think I--I guess it just seemed like kind of a crazy adventure or something."
"No offense" Megan said, "but you're lacking a certain social sense."
"I think you told me the that last time we met."
"That tells you something," she said. "So what now? You've said hello. Were you planning to just hang out and chat until it's my turn on stage?"
"Um. I really didn't think this out very well," I said. "What do you think we should do?"
"I'll tell you what," she said. "I'll give you a choice."
|"I Sing When You Shut Up" is the fourth novel Nolan Whyte has written for Ultimate-Guitar.com. Tell him your problems at @nolanwhyte.|