The beers cost seven dollars and the DJ had A.D.D. He kept stopping the tracks midway through, throwing the girls off.
There were two rooms, and opposite the bar in each room was a stage. The stage in the front room had a baby-blue wooden banister cordoning it off from the bar, and a sign in magic marker on poster board that read: “Please Don’t Touch the Dancers.”
The walls were covered with red velour curtains, which should have given the place a warmer feeling, but they weren’t working. We bought beers and went into the back room and watched the dancer on stage and decided, simultaneously, that this was the most low-rent topless bar in New York City.
The woman on stage was joking with a young Japanese man who sat at the edge of table. Her body kicked and stretched and humped, but to look at her face she might as well have been cracking jokes on-line at the Woodside Genovese.
Her stage name was Cognitive Dissonance.
“We can’t stay here. This is too depressing.”
“I agree,” Jason said. “Let’s go downtown.”
At the bar a young man with black hair and a tan was yelling above the music: “Hi, I’m from Hawaii!” A pretty blond girl wearing a blue dress with a long slit up the side sat talking to an overweight guy who looked out of place.
“She’s cute,” I said.
She got up to go to the stage in the front room and I followed and sat down at the bar. The bartender immediately ran over and bullied me into buying another drink.
In the mirror over the bar I could see the blond girl in the evening dress watching herself on the mirror on the opposite wall, dancing.
Jason came in and sat next to me.
“You ordered another beer? I thought we were leaving.”
“I know, but I feel bad. We are the only ones in this room.”
We turned around to the stage and the blond girl spotted us and turned around, smiled, grasped onto the railing and stretched one long leg along it.
I gave her two dollars and she turned back to the mirror.
“What do you do when you’re not dancing?” I asked, and immediately felt like an idiot. It sounded like something out of a bad movie.
“I’m a writer,” she said.
“Really? Me too. What are you writing?”
“A play.” She started to explain, but she was also pulling the straps of her dress down over her shoulders and it was distracting.
I got up and gave her twenty dollars.
“Thanks,” she said.
“Sure. What is your play about?”
She came down of the stage and stood against the railing to talk, but she kept looking around to make sure no one was coming over. I got the sense she wasn’t supposed to talk about her writing with the customers. She would talk and then throw one leg up at her side and run her hands up and down it.
“It’s about this man who inherits a violin from his father. And it’s about people’s relationships with one another, in terms of this violin. It’s hard to explain.”
“Does the violin get destroyed in the end?” I asked.
She stopped dancing and said, “Well that’s the question isn’t it? I feel like it should, but then it would get pretty expensive to smash a violin at the end of every performance.”
“Maybe you could have one broken violin taped together and then at the end you could swap them out and destroy the same violin every night.”
She laughed and stood up and went back onto the stage. She finished out the song lowering herself up and down against the pole. Before we left we talked to her and she gave us her real name.
“We have to go to another bar,” I said. “We can’t end the night now.” And Jason agreed so we went to Lit.
It was the night before Thanksgiving so there weren’t many people there. We went downstairs and surveyed the scene. There were two girls dancing, a crowd of college guys standing at the bar in back. The bartender was a pretty blond woman with a bright pink angora sweater. Jason was restless. “I’m going to go wander around,” he said. I went to the bar.
“Is that Angora?” I asked, and she looked me over and decided that I was harmless enough and said yes.
“Is it true they make those out of cat fur?”
“Cat fur? No. It’s from bunnies.”
“Can I touch it?”
It was soft and I imagined pink bunnies hopping through tall grass, being chased by poachers.
“What are your tattoos of?”
She pulled down her sweater and turned, showing each arm. They were covered with intricate drawings of roses.
“Do you want to see the first one I ever got?”
She turned and lifted her shirt. There was a crude drawing of the space shuttle taking off at the base of her spine.
“Wow. Did you get that before or after the Challenger?”
“How old do you think I am?”
“I guess you’re right. That was a long time ago wasn’t it? Why the space shuttle?”
“Well,” she said, “my boyfriend was a tattoo artist and I wanted to get the space center, but when I showed it to him he said it looked like a windmill. ‘What are you, Dutch?’ he kept saying. I’m not Dutch, so I got the space shuttle instead.”
“That’s pretty cool,” I said.
“Look,” she said, and pulled down her lower lip. The word “Purr.” was written in dark capital letters across it. “I did it myself.”
“Really? God, that must have hurt.”
“Not really, I was drunk.”
“So what do you do when you’re not bartending?”
“I make gingerbread houses.”
“Yes. It’s my busy season now.”
“How many do you make.”
“Twenty or thirty a year.”
“I want one. How can I get one?”
“You’re kidding, right?
“No seriously, I want one. Can I buy one from you?”
“Well sure. What kind of house do you want?”
“I get my choice? I don’t know, what kind can you make?”
She went off to make a drink, and when she returned I asked if she could make a row-house with a lawn.
“Yes, of course, but then you don’t get snow, and snow is the best part.”
“I definitely want snow.”
“And you should ask for stained glass.”
“Should I ask you for stained glass?”
“I’d like one with stained glass.”
“OK. You can have snow and stained glass.”
“How do you make it? The glass?”
She leaned forward and looked me in the eyes. “It’s a secret.”
“I promise not to tell.”
“Lifesavers. Melted Lifesavers.”
And then she was off making drinks. I went upstairs to find Jason. He was sitting at the bar with a pretty girl, talking about soccer and when I came up to say hello, he turned and said, “Sorry, man, go away, this girl is gorgeous.” And I did so because he was right. I went back downstairs and ordered another drink from the girl with the gingerbread houses.
Before I left I gave the her my number and e-mail address. “I’m serious about this house.”
In the cab on the way home I was drunk and alone and talking to the driver.
“Should I take the upper or the lower level?”
“Think about when a person stops loving someone else. What do they do? They freeze them into place, right? They take a snapshot of this person and they put it into a box, and then they only ever look at it when they fall out of love with someone else.”
“Yes, I can pick them up. I’m on my way to Astoria.”
“And that’s it. The person freezes in time. And that is what makes it so awkward when you see them again. It’s like seeing an old picture of your parents. You can’t believe that this is the same person.”
“Are you always this tedious?”
“If you’re the person frozen in time it’s even worse. Then you want to change, you want to mess with the emulsion, just to prove that it’s not you in the picture in the box — it’s them. Because if you are in the box you’re screwed. There’s no getting out. “
“Quit being an idiot, you’re too young to be such an idiot.”
“It’s the weather, I think. I hate the cold.”
I shut up for a few minutes, and as we pulled under the N. on Thirtieth Street, he said, “Are all of you young people in this city obsessed with love?”
“Sex mostly, I think, but yes.”
“It gets better.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“I’ve been with my wife for fifteen years.”
“Does she love you?”
“Yes, of course. What else can we do?”
“I like that. That makes it sound inevitable.”
“Everything is inevitable.”