Room 205

I’m staying in a dark Motel 6 in room 205 off Highway 111.The shades are drawn. It’s a dark and warm desert night. Someone is rolling their luggage on plastic wheels back and forth in front of the door as if they’re determining which room they should bury the fingertips of their dead. I hope not room 205. In places like this, bad things happen.

I’m applying bright turquoise eye shadow on my lids the color of striped mini-skirts I wore in 7th grade. Turquoise reminds me of Love’s Baby soft and Breck shampoo. I curled my hair and burned my ear those mornings in Mom’s pink bathroom waiting for “99 Luftballoons” to play on the radio again before school. Mom was a big believer in baths and I inherited her soaker gene. She filled glass vases with red and silver bath beads. She could build a robot out of erotic oil and bath salts clumped together in pink chalky balls. She morphed our DNA with her bubble bath, soaking and soaking while she assessed. The steam from that room was so epic I expected tendrils to slip through the crack under the door.

But this eye shadow would not sit on the shelf next to her incandescent body powder. This desert shadow was from Target down the road. I smear the lid with a cheap blue film. I know there’s a really good chance they won’t hire me but at least my eyes will sparkle nice.

I’m supposed to have a teaching job. I’m supposed to be happily married. I’m supposed to have a book. I’m supposed to have a full time gig. I’m supposed to be self-supporting. I’m supposed to have kids. I’m supposed to own something.
I’m supposed to know how to do this mainstream work thing. I don’t.

It’s been exactly one year since I’ve stripped. In that time, I’ve played a stripper in two movies and worked as a technical consultant for Jill Soloway’s dark comedic stripper film “Afternoon Delight,” but I have not danced for dough. I’ve not spread a man’s feet apart so I can squeeze in between them. I’ve not been on the pole.

I’m nervous. One look at my ID and they’ll turn me away. On tough girls, terror of rejection is dressed up like an over-smiling prom queen candidate, but never believe that. In my turquoise and pink spandex glory— I’m skinless. A part of me hopes this Motel 6 will be the end of the line but even the fart smells of our broccoli and hummus dinner on counter charms me. I focus on the task at hand: Eyelash glue.
$1.99 Sugar body spray also from Target.
My tax bill to the IRS=$337.00

Vienna

Desert Showgirls is less than a mile away from our luxurious digs and like many places I’ve worked before, the parking lot is not full of cars—a bad sign.

We walk in the door like we’re really grateful to own the place and a cute blonde chick with rugged lines on her eyes puts her arms around my shoulders. “How old are you?” she asks. (I lie and tell her 40.)
“I’m forty-two,” she admits (three seconds from my age). I feel like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler when he knows better but does it anyway.

A big black guy younger than my nephew hands me a job application even though I just told him I worked here a year ago.

The blonde is taking her break with me. She looks older than forty-two but who am I to say.

“I made $250 on Thanksgiving just playing pool,” she crosses her arms. She must have kids and some dogs she rescued from the pound. I thought of all of the Thanksgivings, Valentine’s Days and Christmases I spent on the laps of strangers in clubs in San Francisco and that specific lonely ache of holiday sex work. Chasing the holiday spenders hoping for a big mint, but it never once was what I hoped for. It was always just a little more lonely than was reasonable.

And now. It’s Thanksgiving weekend and I’m dancing at a titty bar in the middle of the desert that attracts military guys from the base in 29 Palms and prehistoric golphers—completely in my element.

The black body builder dude did look at my ID and at me. Back at my ID. Back to me but he just shook his head and said I didn’t look my age at all.

The man returned my ID and took my filled out application while I watched the women dance on stage.

I have missed women’s bodies. How they uncoil and sashay on stage climbing the pole like savage hunters after blood in the ceiling. And customers are a place to mine stories, a place to sink into and soak.

I sat with a woman who was so pretty like Heidi Klum. She had the word “Warrior” tattooed on her forearm so I got curious about it and waited for the story. Her boyfriend was short and charismatic with silver hair and had a gadget fixing business and he told me that I was exactly like him because I never give up and probably I had a bad childhood.

“I know you. You’re just like me,” he said. He sat very close to her and held her one free hand.

I wanted to tell him I’m not competitive, just hungry, but maybe that was his point. After all, I glanced at the strippers’ dances and made sure that I had more pen marked “X’s” than the other girls on the chart. The ones who had lots of “X’s” I studied hard for gesture and technique. Once we were are all little girls just doing our best, then things got ugly.

I didn’t want to hear about the man’s childhood or mine. I wanted to know about the “Warrior” on his Heidi Klum’s forearm. She got up to find the bathroom.

So when she was gone I asked him. The boyfriend swirled the gold liquid in his glass and leaned over so he was speaking directly into my ear and breathed jack and coke in my face. He told me a serial rapist guy who had killed 7 women abducted her when she was 19 and she was the only one who escaped. He told me that she had a daughter named August who didn’t know. I thought again about all of the little girls doing their best and things getting ugly like knives and projectile vomit and rape ugly.

Warrior

She appeared again and sat down and crossed her Heidi Klum legs that were sweetly draped in a flow-y pant that looked more like a skirt. Maybe those things are called “skorts.” I wanted to hear the story from her, but I didn’t ask. She grinned the familiar sad girl grin and held her drink too tightly and I knew it was true. And when I danced for her I kissed her neck so softly that it’s possible she never even noticed she was kissed.

8 Comments

  1. Jill says:

    One of the coolest things about you, from the first time I met you Antonia, is that you didn’t need to hold the “and now I’m done with sex work” trophy to be able to be at a writer’s distance. I love you stripping and not stripping, doing sex work and not doing sex work. As long as you promise to ALWAYS write about. Love this chapter in the desert and can’t wait to read more..

  2. Lady Cheeky says:

    Your writing is just beautiful … like you. You are fearless and your naked authenticity shines through everything you write. There is a resilient brightness to a story that could have been told as either straight reporting or victimy. Instead, you allow us to see the specificity of a very complicated time and a moment with a million gray areas. Deftly and expertly done … and I am not surprised. I’m proud to know you sweet Antonia. xox LC

  3. Tina says:

    Antonia. Your work is something special. This left me riveted and in awe. You’re one of the most honest writers ever, you get right to the ragged edge. The paragraph with the “I’m supposed to”s was like a knife in the heart. Please find happiness in the moment, wherever you are. But when you do, don’t stop writing.

  4. Mike says:

    Wow. This is one of your best. Again you capture the story within a story within a story — so many fascinating elements. But I love how you break this with the list of expectations — aren’t we burdened with these kinds of expectations. And then back again into your life. And of course, I want to know how the story keeps going. I am not sure about this, but it seems like being involved in stripping breaths some kind of fire into your spirit. I wonder if you can hear Bourbon Street calling? Or feel the sunshine of a December day on Magazine as you sit at a table writing to the world more about your life and watching the colorful people go by, but as you know in the crescent city, all the daytime stuff is just a prelude to the nights when all those collective spirits get filled with fire (with you spinning on a pole somewhere making hearts yearn for you) and not knowing if a crazy wild moment is right around the corner. Love to you from here to there.

  5. tisha says:

    You make me want to find the beauty in everything I experience. And write about it. Isn’t that why we do this? For love of the words. To bring our tragedies and triumphs to life. Every time I read your work, I am inspired.

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