“I saw you posted the Sam piece,” says Deb.
“Why? Don’t you remember what—”
“I sent him a note on Facebook,” I say. “I said, ‘Hey, I just posted this. If you don’t want it out there, let me know.’”
“Why did you do that?”
“Well, it’s out there now. Don’t you think that’s a little private? Don’t you think—”
“What’s private? His injury? You think it’s some kind of big—”
“Not his injury. His pain. His—”
“Okay,” I say, a little put out, “I’ll delete it.”
“His psychological pain over the—”
“I said I’ll delete it.” I almost shout this.
“Over the disfigurement of—”
“Deb, I said I’ll delete it. I said that. I’m doing it right now.”
“I just think that’s selfish of you,” she says. “You care more about those people reading your—”
“That’s bullshit. That’s—”
“You care more about those people than your son. Why can’t you see this as an opportunity to connect with your son? You can conn—”
“If he reads it, we’ll connect. I mean, this stuff? This piece? These are my thoughts right now.”
“But you’re sacrificing his privacy.”
“You’re right. I’m taking it off. There. I took it off. As of now . . . seven people have read it.”
I’m on the living room couch. Deb lingers near the kitchen door. Finally, “It’s selfish to put that out there,” she says.
“Jesus Christ. Can you shut the . . . You don’t—”
“You just couldn’t wait to put it out there so—”
“Shut the fuck up. Will you? Jesus Christ. Now I know why some people have trouble with you.”
“What do you mean, ‘some people have trouble with me’?”
“What do you mean ‘some people?’ What people have—”
“I don’t know. You’re father?”
“Oh!” she says, laughing. She always laughs when I go low. I go low and then she laughs because she thinks it’ll shame me. And it used to. But no more. I don’t care anymore.
“Oh,” she says, “you’re maturity just goes down to nothing so quickly! You turn into a fucking infant so quickly!”
I tell her to go fuck herself.
She shakes her head, giving me a sad look of pity. Which, again, is meant to shame me.
I don’t know why I’m arguing with my wife. Because I agree with her. I shouldn’t have posted that blog about my son without sending it to him first. It’s possible that I shouldn’t have even sent it to him, which I did after I deleted the blog post. There may be some things that I believe, and then write, in the midst of one moment and disbelieve the next. But still, there it is. In writing. None of my beliefs, it is likely, are worth recording let alone sharing. And she’s correct about why I posted the essay. I have a perverse need to break out of the solitary confinement of my own mind. This might be what writing is all about. All this texting and emailing and posting. To have just one other person say, “Ah. I know what you mean.” Or even, “Yes. I have been there myself.” Or, better yet, to advance the thought in some way. But there is also an element of punishment involved in my posting of an essay dealing with some personal information about my son. You see, Sam won’t talk to me. I try to get him to tell me something. Anything. But he will not. Nor is he interested in listening to me spew bullshit about how I went through the same thing or whatever. I haven’t been through the same thing. But the blog post might serve as some kind of flag. Some signal that, despite his complete avoidance of me, I will not be avoided. I will not stop being his father. This is a selfish stance. Deb’s right. But fuck if I’ll admit it.
When the shit slinging began, Deb and I were preparing to take the dog for a walk. The day is sunny and cold, a Saturday. The dog, sensing what’s coming, is still running around like a lunatic. Done with my computer, I shove it under the couch. There has now been a good ten minutes of silence between Deb and me. Which is punctuated by Lucy’s voice. “I thought you guys were going for a walk.”
“No,” I say, arms crossed. “Change of plans.”
Deb gets up loudly from the kitchen table and walks loudly over to the closet where she grabs d’Art’s leash and clamps it on him. Pulls on her coat. Hat. Gloves. And walks out.
Lucy retreats back into her room.
I’m glad to see Deb go. It’s amazing how quickly you can hate a person you love. I hate her at the moment. And she hates me too.
There may be lingering resentment over the tittie bar. Two nights earlier, Thursday, when I called Deb after work, she was saying how she thought maybe we could have a romantic night.
“What do you mean a romantic night?” I said.
“You need me to draw a picture?” she said.
I laughed. “That might be good,” I said.
“If you want be a dope,” she said, “It’s off.”
I told her not to be so hasty. I got the picture. And it sounded great to me. Maybe we could go out for a drink later. Even though I’d be home a little late.
“Why?” she said.
“JD and I are stopping by a bar first.”
“A bar? Why?”
“JD’s working in town,” I said. “And you know he’s a little bit down because of the separation. So, we’re going to go look at some boobies.”
“You’re going to a strip club? Are you serious? You’re going to a strip club?”
“That’s a huge turnoff,” she said.
“It is. It’s a huge turnoff. I’m not sleeping with you now.”
“Oh, come on!” I said. “Maybe it’ll make it better! Why don’t you come up?”
“I’m not coming up there. Have all those sweaty whores rubbing themselves on me.”
“They’re not sweaty,” I said. “And they’re not whores. They’re dancers.”
I don’t know why I was sticking up for the dancers. Male menopause is an empowering thing. There was a time, all Deb had to do in order for me to start apologizing was go braless. I’d see those nipples, and I’d say, “I’m sorry, baby.” It didn’t matter who was right. Now, I have to actually believe it before I say it. And sometimes, like the Sam argument, I believe it and I still don’t say it just out of stubbornness. And sometimes I go to a strip club with a buddy on a night when Deb tells me she wants to sleep with me. It’s a whole new kind of madness.
The strip club wasn’t my idea. I stopped wanting to watch naked women dance a few years ago. It’s not that I have anything against the nude female body. What I have something against is paying to see the nude female body. Once you’re inside a strip club, you forget about the value of twenty dollars. You think a twenty dollar bill is insubstantial. And you spend a lot of them. At least, that’s the way it used to be with me. But in these hard economic times, and me being almost fifty, the scales have tipped in the other direction. Twenty dollars can buy me three good lunches.
“I can’t go,” I told JD. “I’m broke.”
“I’ll pay to get you in,” he said.
“No. I don’t want you to do that.”
“No problem. Let’s just go see some tits. What the hell? Why not? I’ll pay for you to get in. And I’ll pick up a six-pack. You bring ten bucks in ones for the dancers.”
It was cold that night. And snowing. Strong wind. We had already gotten about six inches. The Lumberyard, a strip club on 4th Street in Cedar Rapids, was closed. We sat in the dark, windy lot for a few minutes, thinking.
“You think Woody’s is open?” said JD.
“Might as well find out,” I said.
JD fishtailed it out of the Lumberyard and we went searching for Woody’s, somewhere nearby.
“You can see it from the highway,” I said. “It’s got to be right around here.”
There were two cars in the lot.
“Those ain’t strippers cars,” said JD. “They’re too nice. It don’t look like there’s any strippers there.”
“How about those?” I said, pointing at the compact cars out back.
“That might be them,” said JD. “Why don’t you go check?”
I jumped out. Windy. Nine degrees. One door locked. The other open. A woman behind a counter. “You open?”
I give JD a thumbs up from the entrance and he parks the truck. Seven dollars to get in, and we get a wrist band to prove we’ve paid. Which isn’t necessary because we’re the only dudes in the club. The lights are low. A group of five semi-naked women sitting around a table near the entrance. The place is designed around a circular bar / dancing surface with a pole. Arranged around the small central bar are other circular tables with depressions in the center for, I’m guessing, the beer you brought. Woody’s is what we call a “juice bar”. There’s a law in Iowa preventing both the sale of alcohol and total nudity in the same place of business. Juice bars have circumvented this law by not serving alcohol. I place the six-pack inside the central depression and a young guy comes over and dumps ice on top. “Welcome to Woody’s” he says. At the same instant, three girls descend upon us. The healthy-looking blonde sits on my lap. One of the others, a slim black woman, straddles JD. The other, another blonde, rubs his shoulders. I’m trying to open the twist off cap on my Bud Light, but the dancer is sitting on my left leg, her breasts at face level (she’s a tall girl) and her hair whisping across my cheek, so I don’t have two hands available to complete the task of opening my beer. Finally, I encircle her waist with both arms in order to twist my cap off.
“Oooh,” says the tall blonde girl. “You’re nice and warm!”
I’m embarrassed. I have nothing to say. Nothing I want to say. “It’s cold out,” I say. “I thought I’d . . . probably be cold.”
“Oh no!” she breathes. “You’re nice and warm.” She wiggles her large breasts. They touch my face. She wiggles her ass against my leg. I take a sip of beer. It tastes good. She flips her hair and gives me a meaningful look. Like we’re dating. I don’t have the slightest hint of an erection. I look over at JD, who has turned his baseball cap backward in order to get closer, and his girl is doing the grind right there on top of him. JD is grinning, looking the girl directly in the eye. He knows exactly how to play this game. The black girl is also smiling and she’s batting her eyelashes. Everything is 100% insincere. But that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I’ve got to clear my head. Play the game.
But I know where I am. I’m sitting in a darkly lit room drinking a beer with a nearly naked young woman on my lap. I only have eight one dollar bills in my pocket. I needed to break the ten, so I stopped at McDonalds and got two things off the dollar menu. That left me with eight. The woman isn’t sitting on my lap because I’m so handsome. Or because she likes me so much. It’s near zero degrees outside and windy. In here, it’s warm enough. A dancer is now on the small stage. She’s spreading her legs while looking me in the eye. I don’t look away. I don’t want to hurt her feelings. But I don’t want to hurt my healthy blonde’s feelings either. “So,” I say, turning my attention to her, “Are you a student?”
“Yes,” she says, flipping her hair again.
“U of I?” I say.
“No,” she says. “Not yet. Kirkwood. Then, I’ll move on to U of I.”
“What are you going for?”
“Law,” she says.
I blink. Frown. “So . . . you’re a . . . grad student?”
“No,” she says, pushing her breasts against my neck, flipping her hair, “I’m pre-law.”
We go over good undergraduate degrees for law school. Philosophy. Literature. Economics. This is all wrong. If I had money, I’d be able to keep up my end of the bargain, but I only have eight dollars. This lack of funds needs to be discussed.
“I don’t have any money,” I say.
The blonde stiffens. I feel guilty. But then, we did pay to get in. And I’m not the one who came over, tits in the breeze, and sat on my lap.
“You don’t have any money?” she says.
“No. Actually, I only have eight dollars.”
“There’s an ATM right over there,” she says, motioning toward the brightly lit machine in the corner.
“Um,” I say, “there’s no money in there either. We’re sort of . . . broke right now.”
“They what are you doing here?” she says.
JD, sensing my problem, throws a twenty dollar bill on the table as he stands to make his way toward the back room where, for forty dollars, he will get a private dance.
“Here,” I say, grabbing the twenty and handing it to the blonde. “Here you go. Good luck with law school. I know you’ll get in.”
This agony went on for about an hour. I had three different visitors. It was as if they didn’t talk to one another. “Hey, that a-hole over there doesn’t have any cash!” Either that, or they thought I was lying about the absence-of-cash situation. And that I was, in fact, just a cheap bastard, and they were having a contest. Who can separate this cheap bastard from another twenty? I spoke to one woman with very large breasts who had recently had a baby. She showed me pictures. It was a beautiful baby. His name was Carter. “His father’s Asian,” the dancer said. I spoke to another young woman about her pair of bluebird tattoos. “They’re not bluebirds,” she said. “They’re swallows. He just made them blue.” “Who did the work?” “Stingray.” “Oh really? I know him! He works up in the hall mall!” Came to find out, he had moved to his own shop in North Liberty. I ended up giving the tattoo girl my eight dollars. I just gave it to her. “Here,” I said. “This is all I have.” “Oh!” she said. “Thank you!” I felt like the guy who hires a prostitute to talk for an hour. Finally, when the women left JD alone for a few seconds, I leaned across and said, “JD, let’s get the fuck out of here!” “I know,” he said. “It’s expensive in here!”
After parking out front of Bethel AME Church on South Governor, the day after the Sam argument, I step out of my car and make my way through the snow to the sidewalk. I think about just walking in, leaving Deb on her own, but I wait for her to get out of her car meet me on the sidewalk. I hold out my hand when she approaches, and she takes it. Hand-in-hand, we walk up to the church. Just before we get to the entrance, as I'm eyeing the snow buildup on the edge of the tin roof, I say, “I forgive you, you judgmental bitch.” What I mean is, "I'm sorry."
Deb says, "And I forgive you, you selfish prick.” What she means is, "And I forgive you, you selfish prick."
It’s not what you’d call “Christian,” but it’s the best we can manage at the moment.
We’re both grinning. I hold the door to the church open for her.
She walks in.