Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Too Damn Big

Judith Blue stands out in the parking lot and watches as two women scream at each other out their car windows. “Jesus! Will you learn to drive that thang!”
“I was here first.”
“So the fuck what! You can’t drive worth shit!”

She turns and looks at the line of women that snakes out the door and down the sidewalk in front of the small specialty stores that share this rather large strip mall with The Beefeater, the restaurant, bar, and disco she manages for Chuck. Women are beginning to push each other in front of Yin Lee’s.

“Oh god, what am I going to do now?” She thinks this aloud and the sound of her own voice startles her. A very pregnant woman gives a mighty shove at the woman in front of her, who goes down, hits the pavement on her knees, and as her hands come down on the concrete she screams, “What the…….” Judith turns toward the restaurant and starts moving as fast as she can, considering her high heels and the slope of the parking lot. She keeps thinking, ‘I didn’t know this many women lived in Springfield. Oh god, what am I going to do?’ When she gets to the doors she slips past a trio of women waiting to get past the two men stationed at the door. One of the guys guarding the door whispers in her ear as she squeezes through, “We need more wait staff.” It’s 5PM of a Tuesday night. The show doesn’t start for two hours and the place is packed already and the only men inside the place work there. Them and the cops guarding the stage in the disco.

A month ago she took this job as a lark. She needed a distraction from the faculty wives parties. When they first arrived she’d amiably gone along with the suggestions that she “participate.” The first abomination was a tea for faculty wives. Full dress regalia, it looked for all the world like the Junior League and the DAR all wrapped into one. Then there was the Gourmet Club. What a fucking joke that was. Someone actually brought a green bean casserole, with canned green beans and Campbell’s mushroom condensed soup. Gawd, it was so funny and so sad all at the same time. After that she knew she had to get a job.

During her interview with Chuck she asked all the questions while Chuck’s girlfriend/accountant gave her the skunk-eye. Both Chuck and his girlfriend came from Paducha where Chuck’s daddy owns the Caddy dealership. Must be a lot of pimps in Paducha. Chuck and his accountant are in their late twenties and have no idea what they hell they’re doing. She must be his first interview. When she’s through asking him questions, she asks one more. “Do you want to ask me any questions?” He stands up and giving her his most charming look, which is an Elvis lip curl, sticks out his hand and says, “Welcome aboard.” She shakes his hand and asks one last question. “What do you plan to pay me to make this into a profitable venture?” His left eyelid flutters a little and he says, “$800. a month” and beams. She says without batting an eye, “Thanks, but no thanks,” and turns toward the door. He says, “Whoa, not so fast, that’s just base salary. If you can turn a profit, I’ll give you 2% and of course, you eat and drink for free.” She pauses for a couple of seconds and says, “I’ll think about it and get back to you.”
“4%?”

“Make it 5%, and don’t hassle me about the changes I want to make. By the way, what’s your advertising budget?” She looks at the accountant who looks at Chuck who says, “Let me know what you need to spend, and we’ll pay the bills.”

“On time?”

He looks at her sideways and says, “Sure. Is that it?”

“No, I need to spend a week or so assessing staffing. Supplies., talent. Any changes I want to make, you’ll okay?”

“You’re the boss.”

“If I find that you have not paid staff, or vendors, or advertisers on time and in full, I’ll quit. Are we clear on all of that?”

“Yes mam.”

Walking to her car she knew she had just made a huge mistake, not asked for enough, got nothing in writing, but what the hell, she could always quit.

When she got home Junior was there, smoking, drinking straight lukewarm vodka in a half full ice tea glass, reading student papers. If you were a lucky student he got to your paper just before that ice tea glass was empty. By then he didn’t even bother to read them. He just gave these last four or five A’s and left it at that.
“I got a job.”
Silence.
“Have you eaten?”
“NO.” He says this rather too loud for her taste, and she wants to say, “Junior, go fuck yourself,” but refrains for once because she really doesn’t give a shit if Junior’s eaten or not. She’s not cooking for him, so, why engage?

She heads for the shower. An hour later, after the shower, drying her hair, and getting dolled up a little, she grabs her handbag and starts toward the living room. Junior says in his whiniest voice, “Aren’t you going to fix dinner?”

“How astute, Junior. Was it the click click of my high heels?”

“Yes.”

“Want to have a conversation, Junior?”

“NO. Are you going out?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“I got a job, Junior. I told you, but it didn’t seem to register. I thought maybe you’d nodded off. I’d take you to dinner, but I doubt you could walk, and really, I want to see what the dining experience is like for a woman alone.”

“Why.”

“Junior? Are you in there? "Why," to what? Are you so obtuse in class?

“A restaurant? Really? Will you bring me something back?”

“Probably not, since you’ll be asleep before I get back. Stay sober and I’ll buy you dinner tomorrow night. Good night Junior.”

As she drove to Beefeaters, Judith thought about the possibilities. The place was huge. The restaurant alone seated two hundred. The bar was another hundred and fifty. Fire code said the disco could hold a maximum of five hundred. She did not know the population of Springfield, but thought keeping this place busy was really going to be a challenge. It was Thursday evening, just past 6 PM when she pulled into the parking lot. Stores were still open, but even so, the lot was almost empty. Oh God.

That first week she felt she had located all the major staffing changes she would need to make. She spent most early afternoons meeting with the back of the house—mostly the three cooks, one of whom had Culinary Institute training. They revamped the menu with specials that would not necessitate reprinting menus. Added dessert specials, everything was made in-house, bread, desserts. They worked on a new wine list. Not necessarily more expensive, but better. Printing costs would be small. She got rid of the English serving girl dresses with all the cleavage exposed, and the long skirts that were a tripping hazard, and put everybody in black pants and white shirts.

She spent her evenings in the bar. They had a cowboy quartet that started playing at six. She gave them two weeks notice and put up posters at the University’s music department and an ad in the classifieds of the News-Leader asking for jazz musicians. On a Wednesday afternoon she auditioned three groups. Hired a band called Entropy. Judith thought the band's name was pretentious and not apt, since they played quite swinging or soulful Jazz standards but decided it wasn’t worth arguing about, since very few bar patrons would have the slightest idea what the fuck it meant. She hired a great looking female bartender and kept the one male bartender who didn’t hit on her right off. She asked everyone to put out the word that she’d be looking for another bartender. She had three cocktail waitresses to start with. She’d add them as she needed.

Judith Blue was now on mission to poach talent from restaurants and bars in the surrounding counties, since she’d stolen all the good ones in Springfield. She’d left Horton’s alone because it was her only refuge from the Beefeater, so Larry and his staff were safe for now. Junior was too deep in his cups to really notice her absence.

Now she was concentrating on the disco. It’s days as a disco were numbered. Donna Summers was sort of old hat now, and it was time to transition to another incarnation. And what the fuck would that be? The place had a stage and dance floor and was too big by half. One morning in Fayetteville she stopped for breakfast at a coffee shop near the University of Arkansas Fayetteville campus, and while reading the paper, noticed a small piece on page four about a club in Kansas City that sparked her interest. This little club, the Plug Nickel, had made news by offering the ladies a male strip show. The reason it made any news at all was the huge crowd it drew—all women. Fancy that. She finished her coffee, put out her smoke, left a dollar under her saucer, tucked the paper under her arm and headed for the parking lot. She climbed into her Grand Torino and lit another cigarette before she turned toward Springfield. It’s a beautiful drive once you get past the strip malls that blight the landscape around Fayetteville, Benton, Rodgers, then she’s off the beaten track and on to Cassville, then Monett. Gorgeous farmland, no strip malls here. And she’s thinking all the way home.

She spreads the word among her staff of mostly S.M.S.U. students, that she’s looking for male dancers, real dancers, for an all female audience. Within a week she has fifty eight names on an audition list. And Beefeaters is buzzing. Business is picking up at a steady rate. Sometimes on Friday and Saturday nights there is a waiting list for dinner and the overflow is enjoying the jazz in the bar. Everybody’s making money and bickering and backstabbing is at a minimum. Even Chuck and the accountant are pleased.

So far the disco is a cavern still mostly empty, despite the sound of Donna Summer, Grace Jones, Gloria Gaynor, and Chic blaring from the huge speakers, and the glittery disco ball still twirling in the darkly lit space. She has banned the Bee Gees from the playlist, but there is always a small crowd late at night around the long bar, and a few diehard dancers still making the most of the big dance floor. But the times, they are about to be changing.

For three mornings she held auditions in the empty disco. There were the dancers, the cocktail waiters, and the female DJ’s all in separate lines. Judith stood on the bar platform and told them her plan. DJ’s had always been guys, but that was going to change on Tuesday nights. The women auditioning for DJ headed to the booth. Dancers were limbering up down by the stage. And the first players in this performance were the cocktail waiters. Sixteen guys begging for ten spots. Mostly college athletes and frat boys, thinking this was going to be easy. They had to audition just like the dancers. She was going to turn the night-life gender roles upside down and see what fell out just one night a week for a month. She told everyone exactly what her intentions were and what she expected of them. She would be the choreographer, and majordoma of this whole shebang. An experienced cocktail waitress from the bar gave lessons to the waiters auditioning. They had to be able to carry a heavily loaded tray high above their heads, arm fully extended, weaving their way through closely placed tables, with a certain grace and agility without spilling a drop. Almost every guy failed his first try. The regular DJ was demonstrating in a showoffy way the inner workings of the booth. Music would get going and then stop abruptly. She left the bar tournament to the cocktail waitress and female bartender who would now make Tuesday night a regular part of her schedule. She was filling fake orders and loading those trays for those desperate waiter wannabes. Judith headed for the dancers.

This was going to be the tricky part of the whole deal. So they needed to have a little sit down. “Hi, I’m Judith Blue. Nice of you boys to show up, but this might not be exactly what you understood from the ad and posters. We are going to put on two shows a night, one night a week, for an all female audience. Women only. And you guys will be the entertainment.” There is a slight rise in the energy level of this group of attentive young men. They look at one another and smile. “I want to incorporate several elements to this performance, but I know this is a highly religious community, so to be fair to all of you, I must tell you first off, that there will be a little stripping involved. Anybody object to taking off his clothes while dancing and ending up nearly naked ought to leave now. We’re not doing anything illegal, but…” She shrugs, and sits at a table looking at the handsome, eager faces arrayed before her, spread out in repose on the dance floor, languid and muscled young men. Not a sound. No one moves to leave or even shifts his weight. “Is there a choreographer among you?” Three hands shoot up. She motions them over. They take chairs flanking her. “Will the remaining fifty or so of you break into groups of ten”? She waves her arm in the direction of the DJ booth. “Keep the volume low for awhile. We need to be able to talk in a normal tone, OK?”

There is a low murmur taking place in every part of the room now, then a large crash as one of the loaded trays hits the concrete floor. Dead silence for just a long moment, then the murmur starts again.

She has a powwow with her three choreographers and sketches out what she wants to see tomorrow, same time same place with some rough costuming. Is this possible? Yes, it turns out, it is.

Everywhere she goes she tells the women, in hushed and whispered tones that they might want to come for a special night, just for women, at the disco. At the bank, the grocery store, the doctors office, and throughout her strolls through the halls of academe.

By the following Monday morning they are ready for a dress rehearsal. She has ten well-trained waiters in short, tight, black shorts and white wife-beater t-shirts., that are wearing white tennis shoes (no socks) on their feet. She was tempted to make them wear high heels, just for the object lesson, but decided against it in the end. Her DJ is not only a hot babe, she has great taste and timing. Judith’s strippers are dressed up and ready to go. The only thing missing is the audience, but it all works flawlessly in practice.

Tuesday evening by six the restaurant is full and the bar is overflowing. Women all over the place, and the excitement of anticipation is palpable. Conversation is decidedly more animated this evening. Judith surmises that without the sobering influence of the menfolk, the women are a little more uninhibited. She opens the disco doors and there is a near stampede from the bar. Women are running for the tables up front. Oh my god. Judith has the first of what will be many moments of dismay this evening. She stands inside the huge room and watches it fill in minutes. Her waiters are in full swing fast. She slips into the stock room behind the disco bar and uses the wall-phone to tell the boys bar-tending in the bar to come into the disco and assist the waiters at either end of the bar. This frees the two women bar-tending to mix drinks for the female customers three deep the length of the disco bar. Oh shit, this is not going to work as planned, there are just too many of them. Not one single ad and this is what has happened? There is a half hour to go and she already senses the chaos that might ensue if the bar fills with men waiting for the end of the shows and the emerging women. She checks with the wait staff in the restaurant. All the waiters agree that they will help out in the bar or disco when their tables empty. The waitresses express their displeasure at being left-out. Judith says, “Check your pockets at the end of the night and then tell me how left-out you feel.”

The show is perfection. But it is not the show that concerns Judith, it is the audience. This is like a fucking rock concert. Women are screaming and jumping up and down, throwing their panties. Waiters have come to her saying women are pulling their shorts down when they bend to take an order. These guy are getting groped. What the hell’s going on here? She gets goose bumps on the back of her neck. But gives a quick demonstration on how to squat at a table to take an order so as not to get ones shorts pulled down. This does not however solve the groping behavior. These guys are going to get groped. Nothing she can do about it now.

There are obviously kinks to be worked out, but there is no denying Judith is on to something here. Just what, she is not sure. She decides right then and there to do a fashion show on Wednesday night. She wanders into the bar and sees a milling mob of men. They are waiting almost patiently.

After a month of strip shows with an ever growing mob of women and the men who follow them, she has received television news coverage as far away as Kansas City. Now she gets a visit every Tuesday evening from the fire marshal to make sure they do not exceed capacity. Two burly cops flank the stage. Boys are coming out of the woodwork begging to cocktail for free, claiming all kinds of experience. But the crowd of screaming women of all ages and in all kinds of conditions, like hugely pregnant, or swooning and falling from the arms of their chairs where they stand to get a better view, this she cannot deal with. So, once the first show starts, she heads for Horton’s for a drink and a quiet dinner.

17 comments:

Liberality said...

I am in awe of your writing talent once again Utah. Goddammit--you have got to get published!!!

Utah Savage said...

I just posted it, just this second and there you were waiting with a comment, like one of those crazy assed women waiting outside for the show.

Bless you my child. Now, do you know a publisher? An agent, anyone who wants to be an agent.

themom said...

Terrific material. Yep, Liberality is right - you need to get published...and NO, sorry, I don't have any connections. :)

Linda-Sama said...

fuckin' awesome, sis....I love it.

Linda-Sama said...

someone told me to self-publish for my stuff....and you can "E-publish"...I will look for what they sent me and email it to you....

Liberality said...

your post was on top of the newest posts so I read it first. sorry, I don't know any publishers. they should be beating down your door.

btw, once my friend was going to take me to a bar with male dancers and the women were a mob so I said no thank you to that. this story reminded me of that so long ago.

Mauigirl said...

This is great! I agree, your writing is awesome.

It brought back memories of the male strip shows my friends and I used to go to in the 80's. What a riot they were!

Utah Savage said...

My shows were end of the 70's.

Beach Bum said...

I'm sending one of my stories off right now, seriously, to the South Carolina Arts Commission which is sponsoring a short story fiction project. It's open to everyone, any and all short stories are welcome and there is no word limit which surprisingly I find I have trouble with keeping under at times. Google the SC Arts Commission and get the application form.

As for this story you need to send it in, its GREAT!

DCup said...

I love this story. You have great material and you work the words like magic. I really like your straightforward style. Not pretension, no flowery over board language. This is the kind of writing I read for pleasure.

Utah Savage said...

Beach, I will, as soon as my brain turns back on. Tomorrow hopefully, thanks for the tip. Congratulations of taking that step. I was married to a writer. I know the first steps toward real publication is the winning of prizes. Am I just terrified of failure or am I lazy. One of the things I fear is the writing of a cover letter.

Dcup, darling, thank you. I have pestered you with unnecessary crap today, sorry. Emergency email to Phillip has been sent. We'll talk late tonight. Tell hubby I'm coming to try to tickle his fancy.

Utah Savage said...

"I know the steps is???" WTF. Who invaded my brain?

susan said...

I don't usually enjoy reading lengthy pieces on line but this was so good it just spread its wings and flew.

I hope you do get published. You deserve a wider audience and I'm sure you'd enjoy a little fame and prosperity.

Utah Savage said...

Yes, Susan, that would be nice. And I think that has something about my unwillingness self or on line publish, though that is precisely what I'm doing, isn't it. I just don't find that many visitors drawn to the fiction or poetry. Maybe it's not that good, maybe it's not that attractively displayed. Maybe after I die it will be of some value to a wider audience. I should find someone who really likes it to pass it to and hope they pursue publication for me. I dream... It may be the only thing I do.

Linda-Sama said...

I've also entered three of my India stories in a contest....to a website called Wanderlust and Lipstick, a site for intrepid women global travelers such as myself. first prize is a 2 week trip to the "Land of the Incas" so to Machu Picchu...or else a big suitcase.

I'd be more than happy with a new suitcase. wish me luck.

so yeah, you should enter writing contests.

D.K. Raed said...

I loved this piece. Made me feel like I was right there trying to solve Judith's problem of success. At least, that's what I THINK her problem is.

And OMG, those green bean casseroles! Don't forget the canned funyun (onion) thingies on top!

There is both an immediate and timeless quality to your writing, UT. Where are all the damn publishers?

Mauigirl said...

Come to think of it, it was the late 70s when I went to those male strip shows. Time does fly!