By B. DeMarco-Barrett
When Toned Heinie left with our order, I took a closer look at him. Long dimples, lots of black hair, a gap between his front teeth. He ran his finger along my collarbone. His hand continued south and stopped at the bottom of my V-neck, where my cleavage was just beginning.
He looked at me for my reaction, and when I gave him stink eye, he dropped his hand. A good thing because I know tai kwon do and have been known to use it—usually before thinking, which is not good.
Still no Tammy. I decided to have fun with him. I dusted my hand across his thigh. He looked as puzzled as a dog you fake throw a ball to. He leaned back a little. Human beings are so easily satisfied with the eensyist morsel of attention.
Our drinks arrived. On stage a dancer did an elaborate shimmy with a swath of what looked like peacock feathers. It was bizarre, but entrancing, the way she moved to the soundtrack of ambient jungle noises with a backbeat of drums.
The room filled up a bit more. I was about to give up on Tammy when I heard her voice in my ear.
“Darling,” she said and pulled up a chair on the other side of me. She called me darling in public; she liked men to think we were lesbos. “Who’s your friend?” She tweaked her chin toward “Rob.”
I introduced them and Tammy’s face lit up. “Wait,” she said, ” I know you.”
“I’ve seen your act,” he said, at the same time.
“Big tipper.” Tammy’s lime green eyes went wide and she winked and elbowed me.
The waitress recognized Tammy and waved over the manager.
“They’re still talking about your act last night,” said the manager. His Brooklyn accent was as thick as an egg cream.
“I wanted my friend to meet you,” she said. “You should hire her. Nigel—Nina. Nina—Nigel.”
Nigel’s eyebrows swooped down and he said, “You dance?”
“Does she dance?” said Tammy. “You should see her!”
“One of my girls called in sick tonight,” Nigel said. “It all begins with a dance. Show us what you got.”
“Do it!” said Tammy.
“I’m not prepared,” I stammered. The room was spinning from those three sloe gin fizzes.
“What’s to prepare?” said Nigel. “If you’re a dancer, you dance.”
Tammy leaned over and whispered: “Just pretend you’re tripping on X.”
Nigel pressed his hand into my shoulder. As if he’d pressed a lever to release me from my seat, I stood. He guided me to the dressing room and offered tips: Stay loose, give it your best, pick a song you know.
I had taken lots of dance classes and danced before real audiences doing ballet and modern, but I had no experience with this type of venue.
“How about ‘Fever’?” I said.
“Good choice, sure.”
Nigel left me in the dressing room with feather boas in various shades of pink to choose from.
What if I couldn’t pull it off? She couldn’t make it with a dance company and she couldn’t make it as a burlesque dancer, either. Then I remembered something my college counselor once told me when I went through a bout of anxiety attacks: When you’re unsure of yourself, model yourself after someone you admire.
Tammy was that person. She was the most uninhibited girl I knew. She was confident in her body, danced with abandon, and supported herself with the money she earned. She also socked away money for grad school. The choice was easy. I became Tammy.
Ten minutes later I stood on the stage behind the closed curtain wrapped in a boa the color of pink flamingos. Two girls wearing bird shaped pasties over their nipples were already in the cages making adjustments. My cue was my song: When it began blasting, I was to go on. I did some deep breathing and tried channeling Tammy.
And then there it was, the first notes to “Fever.” The curtains opened. I sauntered onstage. Under the pink lights, the audience was sheathed in black.
Pretend no one’s there. Pretend you’re 10 years old and back in the basement dancing to The Monkees. Pretend you’re Tammy.
I shimmied and gyrated and let the feather boa fall to the floor.
Tammy called out, “You go, girl.” I heard whistles and hoots as I twirled about. Nigel had given me a new G-string—at least I hoped it was new—and before long that, and a boa around my waist, were all I was wearing. I did things with the pole I didn’t even know were possible. When inhibitions fall away, it’s like eating a gallon of ice cream and not gaining a pound: Nothing is better.
The audience was with me and it was a thrill. I did moves I didn’t know I had. I loved this type of dancing more than I realized. I fell into a trance the way I used to when I did Haitian dance.
As the song wound down, I lay on my side, my head propped up with my hand. The curtains closed. The audience howled.
“You’re good.” Nigel came out to the stage and offered his hand to help me up as the cage dancers climbed down off their perches. “You got the job if you want it,” he said. “You got me all worked up, sweetheart, and it takes a lot to get Nigel worked up.” He pronounced worked “woiked” and gave a quick squeeze to the lump in his pants.
I had let myself go and was naked on stage with Nigel who couldn’t tear his eyes from my breasts. I didn’t care. It was a job I could have fun doing. Maybe this could be me for a time—at least until I saved some money and had the luxury of finding work that was more me.
“You in?” said Nigel.
“Of course. I love it.”
I dressed and hotfooted it out of there. I forgot all about Tammy and Rob. I had a job if I wanted it. Bliss.
B. DeMarco-Barrett’s first book, Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within (Harcourt, 2004; 10th printing), made the Los Angeles Times best-seller list. Her short story, “Crazy for You,” originally published in Orange County Noir (Akashic, 2010) was anthologized in USA noir: Best of Akashic Noir Series (Akashic, 2013). In March 2014, “Message in a Bottle” was published in The Big Click Magazine. Her essays and articles have seen print in The Writer, Writer’s Digest, Poets & Writers, The Toronto Sun, The Los Angeles Times, and more. She teaches “Jumpstart Your Writing” online for Gotham Writers Workshop and hosts Writers on Writing, KUCI-FM, also streaming at www.kuci.org and iTunes / college radio. DeMarco-Barrett received a Distinguished Instructor Award in at UC-Irvine Extension. She is founder of the Pen on Fire Speakers Series.