The morning of the 23rd and it was Chrimbo come early... i had to muddle my way through one last day of work before we lumpen-proles were given a few days off, three actually, before i would return to the clanking of metal and the smell of exhaust of the loading docks. On the 23rd we worked a short shift in the warehouse, normally we never worked weekends but because of the way the holiday fell they wanted us to make sure all the plumbers and HVAC guys had their supplies, though i'm quite sure none of those guys would be working until the middle of the next week. So i woke up that Saturday morning with the hangover meter somewhere in the middle, nothing horrible, a cup of coffee and a joint on the way to work and by the time i got there it was smooth sailing, better yet the coked-up manager had brought in some donuts and what better way to start the day than stoned and eating donuts while getting paid overtime to do as little as possible. By 2pm i was in my car and heading home thinking a power nap, a shower and some dinner and then it would be time to tally up the night's orders, weigh and bag and be out the door. It was just the cats and i and i had the music turned up loud as i bopped my way around the apartment, a mix of nerves, anticipation and excitement.
I donned my weed carrying cargo pants, tossed on the old Carhartt and jumped in the Geo. I knew i had time because the club didn't close until 2am and Veronica wouldn't be out the door until closer to 2:30. The trick was to not get wasted. Being the night before the night before Chrimbo meant it was a busy and festive night. Everyone wanted to buy me a drink or a shot and i turned down more than i could count from customers and bartenders alike. I'd vaguely explain i had a lot to do that night and needed to keep my shit together though i was still feeling pretty good by the time i left my little corner bar. The day had been spent in trying to temper the anticipation of what would be taking place in the wee hours of the morning and into the next day. It was like being the kid on Chrimbo eve knowing that when i woke up it would be next to the woman i desired most, the one who had captivated me from the time i saw her doe eyes smiling back at me from the stage a year or so ago... pushing open the club door i was hit by the music and the mayhem, it was a busy night and the place was packed and everyone seemed to be having a grand time. The King of North Oakland sauntered casually to the bar and i took my seat in my usual corner, the two guys who had been milling about there gave a nod and moved away and i ordered a beer and sat back.
One of the things the game had taught me was how to read a room, people skills, to detect the slightest thing that was off and by the time i had taken the first long pull from my beer i knew something was off. Veronica was busy but she saw me and smiled but it wasn't the smile i expected, it was more worried and wane than happy and excited. I smiled back and she turned to take an order. I scanned the room and noticed Franco sitting in the back by the pisser. It was clear he was giving me a wide berth as he usually did but this time it seemed a bit wider. As i've said before i had nothing against the kid, i couldn't blame him for pursuing Veronica, she was gorgeous and street smart and still had this air of innocence to her. But from the start i knew something was wrong and already i had a sinking feeling that things had gone south without my even knowing it. Veronica came to my end of the bar and yelled her order to the bartender, she seemed a bit coy and she told me that when she had a minute she needed to talk to me about tonight. I nodded and told her no problem and she took her filled tray and glided back through the busy club dropping off drinks and collecting tips, it was a pleasure just to watch.
Sitting at the bar i was trying hard not to just start downing beers at a furious pace, the nerves were on edge, i kept an eye on Franco and watched as Veronica would say a quick word to him when she waited on the tables near the back of the bar. He was nervous and subdued and it seemed like she was reassuring him of something. I pretended to not to notice. I was there for an hour or so when Veronica finally got a chance to talk to me. I had stayed at the bar but had wandered back and forth to the stage tipping all the dancers rather liberally, it was close to midnight when she leaned in and put her arm around mine and began.
"I don't think tonight can happen," she said. I sat silent and listened. "I really wanted it to but I just don't know, i really like Franco and i feel a little guilty, he's a good kid but that's it, he's kid, he's not like you, and in case you were wondering i'm not sleeping with him it's just i know that i know i can't have you even if you are the one i want but i also know it's not good for me to get back into it because i'm trying hard to move past you and i don't want to get past you but i have to...." she trailed off. For a fucked up individual like myself who has often wondered if he's capable of love in a relationship i can say at this point i don't think i ever loved her more. She was ten years younger than me and wiser than i'd ever be. "You've given me so much, you've showed me show much and it hurts to stand here and do this when i told you i really wanted to wake up next to you one last time and i know that by calling off tonight that is never going to happen. I just, i don't know... i wish things were different."
"It's okay," i said. "I understand." There were tears welling in her eyes and she gave me a long hug and then walked towards the backroom where she could be out of the public eye for a few minutes. As she walked i could see her wiping at her eyes. Had i not been obliged to uphold the fucking facade of macho non-sense i would probably have been doing the same. Instead i leaned back and finished my beer, called the bartender over and ordered another one. I told her that Franco's next one was on me and gave her the money.
It's amazing how easy it is to feel so alone in a crowded room. It felt as if i'd just been punched in the stomach, to the point i actually felt as if i was going to vomit. I lit a cigarette and stared into space, the hustle and bustle around me melting into a shifting blur of light and sound that meant nothing to me. The day that had been spent in anticipation had now turned into a night of crushing disappointment. I took a deep breath and thought about what to do next.
The low end strip clubs of yesteryear were strange places. The older dancers all wanted to play den mother to the younger ones while the whole time there was much shit talking and back stabbing, it was more like a den of thieves than a pride of lioness' and the competition was fierce for dollars and attention with often times the latter being even more sought after than the former. They were all living the fantasy of being hood famous, much like i was, except in my world there was a much more defined pecking order. Sure there was competition and people always trying to move up the ranks but it was a lot harder and the last thing one wanted to do was step on the toes of the guy one or two rungs up the ladder. At the club it was eat or be eaten. It seemed as if all the dancers had known about Veronica's plans that night and when the plans changed it didn't take long for some to spring into action. Sitting at the corner of the bar i was lost in thought about the whole situation. Little did i know that the hunter was about to become the hunted. to be cont...