Tales from the underworld

Months ago, when I was in denial about how much money I was throwing away on whiskey and women at the Acropolis, three of my favorite dancers all quit drinking. A, a goth-y girl with amazing black tribal tats, and some special white-ink ones that glowed angry red under black lights, might have never drank. I never saw her drinking booze at work. So I’m not sure if I should say she “quit”… but I made note of it.

Then one night I went in on a Friday night for a drink or several, and Tonic, a tiny girl who could easily drink twice her weight in booze, was dancing. At the end of her set I offered to buy her a shot of something, and she thanked me but said she’d quit. “I remember one night, you said to me that you’d never seen me not be hung-over or drunk, even at the beginning of my shift. Do you remember that?” she asked me?

Duh. Yeah, I remembered. Apparently she’d decided, shortly after that night, that she should maybe not do that so much. Or at all. I smiled, and wished her good luck, and felt vaguely proud, but also felt a bit… guilty? Not sure… but I stopped after only three drinks and went home, hours later, mostly sober and feeling let down, somehow.

Then another weekend night, and I saw S, still hands down my favorite. Funny, sexy, and she could drink me under the table. Only this night she looked different. My first thought was that she was pregnant, but I’m smart enough that I don’t ever bring that up with a woman unless I see the baby’s head crowning. I just told her she looked amazing… almost glowing.

“Thanks, baby,” she said. “I’ve given up drinking!”

“Wow! What’s the lucky dude’s name?” I asked. She laughed and shook her head, and before she could correct me, I broke in with “…or HER name, and I’m totally OK with that. As long as I get to watch.”

She laughed harder, but insisted that she wasn’t seeing anyone. “I just was always feeling run-down, and I realized how often I was drinking, and smoking, and spending time around other drinkers and smokers, and decided to try to eat healthier and take care of myself.” Of course, she said this standing in one of the dive-iest dives in Portland, a building soaked in booze, smoke, sweat and other substances. But, hey, more power to her. She was still sexy and funny, even if she wasn’t drunk.

But, again, I felt a subtle form of peer pressure to not drink so much around these girls. When I found out another dancer didn’t drink on the job, I wondered if there was a worker’s protest going on against the owner. Or maybe they’d peer-pressured each other into it. Who knows?

Another couple of cold winter months, and I stopped going in so often. And one night I did, and I saw Tonic, and she was, once again, sloppy, falling-over, drunk. Ah, back to normal. When she saw me, she smiled, but it was a tight smile, an embarassed smile, and then she avoided me for the rest of the night. I wasn’t going to judge; I come from a long line of drunks, a member of which tribe I proudly belong – but she didn’t know that. Or maybe she did and she didn’t want to associate.

I’d still drop by every couple of weeks, but I lost the knack of knowing when my favorites were dancing, and I didn’t connect with any new favorites, and then I started saving my money again. A couple of weeks ago, though, I stopped by, as the early shift was finishing up. I stayed for an hour, just to see who was dancing the late shift, and A, the original non-drinker, walked in. And this time, I could tell. She had a little pooch to her belly, down low, and she looked a little… puffier. My first thought was that she was pregnant. But I still didn’t say anything.

I stood at the rack where she was dancing and finishing up her first shift, and I dropped four dollars down. “Sorry I’m late, I just saw ya” I said. “How are you?”

She smiled. “I’m great. How are you?”

“Doin’ good. I’m just on my way out, actually, but I wanted to say hi.” She hugged me across the bar, pouted that I was leaving, and didn’t mention her personal life. Her prerogative. Less than a week later, on her MySpace page, she announced that she was taking break for a few months, but that she’d be back. A friend dared me to say something, and finally I posted:

“We’ll miss you! And… congratulations?”

When that post didn’t show up right away I figured she’d deleted or hidden it. But a few days later it came through. I couldn’t tell, still, from other folks comments if anyone else was publicly acknowledging her bein’ in a family way. Maybe when she returns I can help contribute to her kids’ college education, one dollar at a time… Whoever said that we are the box of broken toys has it right. We’re all trying, and failing, to quit something. I went back tonight, and, sure enough, Tonic was there, and so was S, and they both were drinking, and so was I. I laughed, and drank, and enjoyed myself, and hopefully so did they.

…winners never quit.