April 16, 2005

April 2005, Vol. 4, Issue 4

1. Subway Story by Tenzin McGrupp
The unpleasant aroma of stale feces combined with dungy body odor surrounded me as the homeless guy shuffled past us... More

2. Self Control at New Heights by Chris Hanel
Jen points out I'm still wearing my shoes too, and I thank her for pointing that out while I compare sins between wearing shoes in my house and stabbing me in the heart with an ice pick while acting as forbidden fruit in my basement... More

3. "Feel this, it's so big" by Grubby
As her best friend walked by, Dana said, "C'mere, you gotta feel this, it's so big" and took her hand in hers to feel something of mine. She apologized for embarrassing me, though that wasn't the least embarrassing. Any kind of compliment like that and I'm putty... More

4. La Boudoir by Julia Vettraino
She sat on the bench by the desk and lifted each leg in turn, slowly rolling her stockings from her thighs down to her ankles. When she was completely undressed she stood up, revealing her profile through the illumination... More

5. The Jack by Joe Speaker
I stare straight at him with what I hope appears to be confidence. In fact, I can almost convince myself that it is. My gut churns, but for the first time, my mind is calm... More

6. Making Your Bed by Sigge S. Amdal
Life is one of the best tutors there is; whenever you input an erroneous value, life will make sure to slap your hands and you'd better learn from it or else you'll get another slap, but this time in the face... More

7. Existentialist Conversations with Strippers, Part I by Tenzin McGrupp
Senor bought the first round. We've been going to strip clubs together since we were 18 years old. That was back in our hazy, fuzzy, Kentucky bourbon-drenched days in Atlanta... More


What a Long Strange Trip It's Been...

From the Editor's Laptop:

Thanks for returning for the latest issue of my literary blogzine. Once again there are new authors making their Truckin' debut in another groundbreaking issue. Grubby finally submitted a masterful piece about our many excursions to strip clubs in Las Vegas. He joins the Truckin' ranks with several other poker bloggers, like Joe Speaker, a Southern California native who is also making his debut this month. I hope he will contribute more in the future. I'm especially excited to have Chris Hanel add his excellent work to this issue. He's also a poker blogger and an aspiring filmmaker with a great voice. After making her debut last month, Julia Vettraino returns with an enticing story. Our favorite Norwegian writer, Sigge Amdal, is back with another philopshoical dialogue. Lastly, I wrote a subway story and since everyone loves stories about strippers, I added the first part of my latest project. Sit back, enjoy, and please spread the good word about this site.

Thanks to everyone who shared their bloodwork this month. I always say that the other contributing authors inspire me, because it's true. You guys write for free and if I could pay you, I would. Your time and effort is worth more money than I can ever afford to pay.

I ask that if you like these stories, then please do me and the rest of the writers a huge favor: Tell your friends about your favorite stories. It takes a few seconds to pass along the URL. I certainly appreciate your support. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail if you know anyone who is interested in being added to the mailing list.

Thanks again. I am grateful that you wasted your time with my site. Until next time.

Salukis,
McG

"How well I have learned that there is no fence to sit on between heaven and hell. There is a deep, wide gulf, a chasm, and in that chasm is no place for any man." - Johnny Cash

Subway Story - Uggs

Subway Story

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2005

The weary porter wore paint splattered paints and walked silently into the subway car with a ladder underneath his right arm. He almost knocked me square in the junk as he attempted to squeeze in to an empty space in the corner. I watched an overweight Hispanic woman in front of me as she nonchalantly clipped her finger nails. I tried to listen in on a conversation between two tourists from Germany. They wore funny shoes, expensive watches, and spoke in ├╝ber sentences. I'm positive they were discussing Schopenhauer. A nerdy girl next to them, with Tina Fey glasses, quietly read a science book.

I caught the unhygienic whiff of a panhandler and my mood quickly soured. The unpleasant aroma of stale feces combined with dungy body odor surrounded me as the homeless guy shuffled past us. I held my breath and took note of his over sized shit kickers while he pestered all the passengers for spare change. He smelled like the urinal at Pat O'Brien's on the Monday before Mardi Gras.

Some people you see and right away you just want to stomp their fuckin' brains in. My latest victim got on at the next stop. The lanky odalisque wore light purple Uggs and listened to a pink iPod. $400 Giorgio Armani sunglasses hid her querulous eyes. The shades were pink tinted, of course. If I’d had the balls, I would have grabbed her by the hair, twisted the iPod out of her freshly manicured fingers, then snatched the Uggs off her feet in the most unsympathetic way. I know a Ruskie broad in Forest Hills who would pay $150 for the Uggs. And maybe if I'm lucky, she'd give me a monthly Metrocard and a handjob for the sunglasses.

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

Self Control at New Heights

By Chris Hanel © 2005

Finally... after the preparations and invitations and politics of who to invite and who to snub and who to make upset by not snubbing someone else, it was finally party night. I had been preparing all week for this one get-together, mostly because Jen was coming over. Screw everyone else at that party, Jen will be here. I’d somehow scored a date with her to my school dance the next week. She lives half an hour away, so I don’t get to see her much. Tonight will be gold.

Jen has this habit of laughing when I'm being my normal self and she then says, Chris, how can you still be single? I would normally say, because I'm still trying to hook up with you, but I always stop myself. I remember the stories about long distance relationships and how everyone says they're hell and I know my hell would be my parents interrogating me about a four-digit phone bill, and so I politely answer, I have no idea, you tell me. She laughs again, just like before, and I continue to entertain the thought that hell can't be that bad this time of year.

So after a week of not getting asked about my marital status, I missed it immensely. I decided to have a party for friends, and the main reason was so I could see Jen again. Of course, I didn't say that. That would sound lame and desperate. It WAS lame and desperate, but hey, who needs to hear about my problems? (You're reading this, so I guess YOU do.) Anyway, I couldn't wait for Jen to get here.

That is, I wasn't allowed to wait, because she showed up 45 minutes early.

JEN! I said at the door with a look of bursting jubilation, mixed with the composure to try and hide it. Why are you so early? She grinned and said, why not? I wholeheartedly agreed as she gave me a hug and as I turned around I spotted another person, who happened to be male, and I asked who's this you've brought along with you? And she proceeded to introduce me to her boyfriend Jake.

At this point, my body decided to form a committee. My brain made a motion saying how stupid I was for not taking the "I'm dating a guy, it's not serious" comment seriously enough and my hands were belligerently saying punch the guy, just for fun, shits and giggles, and my brain seconded by lamenting about how it now knew what hell felt like, and my mouth ever so boldly and wisely closed the meeting by saying Nice to meet you Jake.

He said hi.

Jen smiled. I wondered if she knew exactly what had just transpired.

There was an awkward pause and silence that stretched on for an eternal few seconds. I grew weak from the lack of oxygen in the air, as the tension had quickly filled the room and replaced it. It was so thick I could cut it with a knife, along with Jake in the process. Jen kept smiling, either completely oblivious to what was going on in my head or just covering up her dread of the coming moments much better than I. Jake tried to smile, but sneezed halfway. Jen explained he had a cold.

I could see that. Right this way to the party, Jen... Rudolph- er, I
mean, Jake.

So I walk them downstairs and my mind is racing and Jen comments on how nice the house is while we walk through the kitchen and I think this is going to be a disaster and I say thank you and Jake sneezes again and we get to the basement and we sit down and Robin Williams is on and we all remember how funny his comedy act was and now all I can think is this is a mistake as we all try to laugh about his funny remark about Laurence Olivier and Ripple Wine.

This is a mistake.

Hello, Laurence Olivier for Ripple Wine.

This is a big mistake.

Take 2 - Laurence Ripple for Olivier Wine.

This is a HUGE mistake.

Take 3 - Hewwo!!! - LaurenceRibble for Owiviey Whine.

We all attempt to laugh at Robin playing a drunk Mr. Owiviey and Jen looks at me and says, What? from the couch where she's sitting ever so close to Jake where I can't help but notice they're holding hands. I realize I said my last thought out loud because my committee has made my mouth spokesman by saying I've made a huge mistake out loud. I cover for the board by telling them I'd forgotten to ask them to take off their shoes and that my mom will yell at me when she sees the tracks. I smile when I realize I'm being honest and not bullshitting. Then I remember that since I'm being honest, my mom really WILL kill me, not that it's as bad as a four-digit phone bill, but why would that matter? Jen points out I'm still wearing my shoes too, and I thank her for pointing that out while I compare sins between wearing shoes in my house and stabbing me in the heart with an ice pick while acting as forbidden fruit in my basement. I throw my shoes in my room.

I'm sure I'm sweating a little and Robin makes a joke about drugs and it makes me wonder if Ritalin would be out of the question if I don't calm down. Get a grip! There's still 40 minutes until the party starts, and other people will get here and so I calculate there will be five minutes of actual conversation attempts and 35 minutes of awkward silences with a tad bit of small laughter at the television mixed in for color as Robin on the screen comments on Russians, sex, and swearing twice a sentence, and all of this will be covered up by intermittent noises coming from Jake's bright red schnozz. I try to picture him with antlers and the image secretly amuses me. My mom yells at me from upstairs. Jen laughs. Jake sneezes again and wipes his nose with the length of his sleeve. Short guy, but cocky, I note. The cockiness adds to him being unaware of the current situation. I don't blame him, I wouldn't see it coming either. I thank God I have to go upstairs and get yelled at because it's better than this awkward silence that is proving awfully noisy.

I go upstairs and get a shoe deal from my mom without the big contract. My part of the bargain is I’m supposed to take them off, and in return she won't shove my head through a wall. I negotiate it down to a lecture, and remind myself to give my agent a raise. I sign the dotted line and go back downstairs where I'm hoping I won't walk in on anything, considering Jen and Jake have been down there by themselves.

Instead of practicing breaking each other's body bubbles through tactile contact on multiple fronts, they laugh at a funny commercial while Jen tickles Jake a bit. I notice the commercial and decide that Robin must've been worried about those two as well and left for a few minutes. I decide not to tell that joke out loud. Wise decision.

Jen tells me she has to be home at 7:30. I’m wondering if this is bad news or good news, really, considering the situation. Of course, I act like it's bad news, which I’m convinced it is, cause I never see her. But if Jake keeps this cold up, I'm going to go crazy and shove Sudafed down his throat. I amuse myself by getting THAT mental image in my head, with Jake still wearing those antlers. I realize that I'm amused easily tonight. Are you sure you can't stay? Jen apologizes because since she lives out of town and she needs to be home early, which she neglected to tell me before, they need to leave even earlier. Earlier turns out to be in 30 minutes... when the party starts. The committee grumbles. I make some sorry comment which even I can't make out or remember to this day. Jake starts to sneeze, manages to stop himself, then lets the mother of all coughs come flying out. I realize as I look at him that if he could stop with the spastic sinuses and stop sitting so close to my date to WPA, I wouldn't know he existed. I tell him where to find Kleenex, and I make sure to refer to the box farthest from me, not the box about three feet behind him. He says thank you as he walks up the stairs with a sniffle. At this, I can't help but laugh. This whole situation has become morbidly funny to me. Jen smiles again... isn't Jake the greatest?

...the greatest WHAT? I think.

We sit at opposite ends of the room without saying much, at least I'm trying not to for some strange reason. Talk to her, dammit! But I can't. I use the TV as an excuse, acting as engrossed as I can. I've seen this particular show at least half a dozen times. I have it on tape, for god sake. I could get up and perform, line for line, joke for joke, four-letter word for four-letter word, this entire act. I don't tell Jen this. Instead, I stare at the screen, while Jen is probably trying to figure out why I’m acting weird and Jake is blowing his nose upstairs. Why is he taking so long?

So what are you wearing? Jen says out of the hush of the moment. My brain sorts through the innuendo and double entendre of what she's said, realizes she's talking about WPA, and informs my mouth of the proper thing to say: khakis and a nice dress shirt. I remind myself to thank my brain later for saving me from embarrassment. This night has really been a team effort for me and my mind. My brain, obviously kissing up, then notices how WPA didn't come up until Jake left. Going behind his back, eh? He doesn't know? Should I be having these dangerous thoughts? I tell my brain to shut up but he's going full steam now. I look at Jen and decide that beyond death and taxes, there is one certain thing:

Mixed signals are a royal pain in the ass.

Jen goes upstairs to see what's taking so long. I picture him trying to figure out how the Kleenex magically pops out of the box when you pull a tissue out, and I again find it amusing. Of course, now I'm making an enemy out of someone who is probably a pretty nice guy who just happens to be quiet and has really busy sinuses, not to mention my date to WPA. It's just me and Robin downstairs. I'm still lonely though. Wait... wasn't that the reason you invited her over, cause you were lonely? I grow tired of seeing this act for the umpteenth time and go upstairs to leave Robin to entertain my couch. I look into the kitchen to see Jen talking to my mom.

Jen... is talking... to my MOM.

Battle stations. Red alert. This is not a drill. I repeat: NOT A FUCKING DRILL. I realize that I've missed about three minutes of possibly very embarrassing anecdotes, along with Jen getting her two cents in... the horror. They both look at me at the same time as I appear and start laughing... I shudder to think of what is on their minds at this moment. I decide to get out of there while I still can. I feign a need for the bathroom, and when I knock, I find out where Jake has been all this time. There's nowhere to go without Jen doing something. If I go into my room, she'll wanna see it. I peek in at the remnants of a bomb explosion and decide it's a bad idea. So, once more into the breach, dear friends. It's time to use humor to get out of this, and to fire at will.

So what have you been telling her, mother? I say with particular emphasis on the 'mother' part. They both laugh. Good. Then I get another shot in... Jen, don't tell her about last weekend, whatever you do. Jen, ever the wit, catches on as she proceeds to swear an oath not to tell my mom about this fictional day from hell. It takes a while for my mom to see the ruse and I feel pretty clever.

Jake comes out of the loo and I catch on to the fact that he wasn't using the facilities, he was just blowing his nose... a LOT. Robin would make a joke about now, but I can't seem to find one in my memory banks good enough to use. The couple leaves as Jake plants a peck on Jen's cheek. I liked him better when all he did was sneeze. I know jealousy is a common emotion, but this is ridiculous. I make small talk. What are you guys doing tomorrow? Jen explains she's working tomorrow, so I’m supposed to stop by and visit. Jake remains silent, confident that a shrug of the shoulders is a satisfactory response. I don't really mind, considering I probably wouldn't have listened no matter what he would have said. Jake then announces he's off to start the car. Jen is still putting on her shoes. She brings up WPA again. I have the urge to ask why she isn't talking about this in front of Jake, but I don't want to say the wrong thing. My brain is pulling overtime keeping my mouth in check. I'll see you Saturday, Jen. Drive safe.

Aw, Chris, you're so sweet... how can you still be single? The car revs up outside, and I sigh in unison as she runs out and takes off.

Because you're not, Jen... because you're not. She doesn't hear me. Secretly, I wish she had.

Fucking integrity.

Chris Hanel is a filmmaker from Hollywood, CA.

"Feel this, it's so big"

By Grubby © 2005

The problem with strip clubs is that I fall in love too easily. All it takes is a slight compliment with a smile from a pretty girl that seems half-sincere, and I melt like A-1 sauce.

I also tend to be monogamous when it comes to dancers. I stick with one until she's too tired and has to move on. Silly, really, but I've never been one for too much variety, perhaps feeling like I'm cheating even with another stripper. Hey, if I can feel guilty playing slots at another casino, I can feel guilty with someone else on my lap.

Sure, they're only after money, but damn if I don't develop these fantasy attachments to them.

Good thing I don't live here, otherwise I'd really feel an attachment. Oh wait...

Pauly and Senor were in town and last Sunday we headed to The Palm at Caesars' Forum Shops to meet up with the Poker Prof and his dad. The Palm is the Poker Prof's favorite steakhouse, and I'm more than happy to check out any favorite (when it comes to food, I'll go anywhere). I've been to The Palm in DC and it looked exactly the same, down to the menus and caricatures on the walls. This time, the coat check girl did not pick her nose.

We each ordered our 16 oz. steaks medium-rare (Senor's was rare), and Pauly placed his order of a salad. Okay, not really, but a medium-well steak might as well be a salad. As soon as he said "medium well-done," everyone in the restaurant stopped in mid-conversation as if he'd said, "E.F. Hutton." Even the cow came in from the kitchen and shook her head in shame and disappointment. Pauly tried ordering a McDonald's bun to stuff his burnt meat into, but they were all out.

After the delicious chowdown (the medium-well excuse for a steak notwithstanding), Pauly, Senor and I went pai-gow hunting.

Senor had never played before, and being the gambler I am, I'm quick to sit down at any -EV game (even, shudder, roulette). I haven't yet tired of casino play, though I've long tired of losing. Playing with other people grants me half-assed permission to play, though I still haven't been able to convince anyone to play bingo. With the multiple pushes offered by pai-gow, I hoped we'd push a few, win a few, and lose less.

Walking down the Cleopatra Hall, we found the only pai-gow tables... with a $50 minimum. The pitboss graciously lowered it to $25 for us, and we sat like privileged high-rollers. They had no quarters to take the full 5 percent commission, so we gained an extra 25 cents every time we won. Bonus!

As we played, we couldn't lose! Senor won $65, Pauly won $100, and I won $125. Our goal was to pay for dinner, which we did. Senor immediately stopped playing and Pauly and I went a bit further in an effort to pay for a couple future lapdances, and we succeeded in that as well. (Let's not mention the fact I lost $100 a couple hours earlier in Excalibur's 100NL to some horrible beats.)

Senor had to dash to the airport, which was bad for him but good for us because otherwise we would've stayed and given back all our winnings. It feels mighty empowering to take almost $300 from the house and not look back. And we didn't give them our cards, so they can't even track it. Take that, taxman!

I liken the last day of a Vegas trip to the last day of summer vacation before going back to school. It's the worst feeling. I feel for everyone when I hear it's their last day and they have to catch the redeye. But secretly, deep down I have a feeling of joy similar to sifting through the back-to-school sales knowing I don't have to go back to school ever ever, nyah nyah.

Senor hopped the new Song airline back to the East Coast, and Pauly and I went club hoppin'.

Strip club hoppin', to be exact.

I hadn't been to a strip club since moving here. I've been trying to be good with money (the pesky gambling thing keeps getting in the way), so I veer the car away every time it wants to go.

Plus, I don't even have a couch. How can I justify wasting money on strippers?

The previous Friday, the three of us had gone to Sin, the newest offering of adult entertainment. They've been advertising on the radio pretty heavily, so I knew they were west of Mandalay Bay... somewhere.

It was a near-empty parking lot that was filled by the time we left, and Pauly said some of the lapdances were better than sex.

Sin ranks up there with the best of Vegas strip clubs. A few days earlier (time flies too fast here), Grubette had gone to Club Paradise and dropped $750 for her entourage (whenever she comes to Vegas, I don't see her that much because she travels with a pack of people). I love Hard Rock and the across-the-street vicinity of Club Paradise, but last time I was there was a bad time. The lapdances were barely on your lap and somewhere in Salt Lake City.

Sin was better. I tend to think strippers use their customers as a form of therapy, and we had it in spades from Melody, who talked Senor's ear off. I thought he was into her until she left, and he said he couldn't wait to get rid of her. She roped me into her problems as well, and I got the exact same lowdown that Senor did (used to weigh 224 pounds, hasn't had sex since May, has two kids, yada yada). She had a schoolgirl look to her with her clothes and pigtails, but that yapper of hers was enough to turn anyone off. Still, I enjoy pumping strippers for information about the biz. What I gathered from Melody and others that night is that Spearmint Rhino's management is horrible (reading into this, I take it to mean they have to perform sexual favors with their bosses/Djs to get anywhere in the club), many girls are flocking to Striptease, and Sheri's Cabaret offers 10 seconds with a condom in the bathroom (I didn't ask for elaboration).

But back to last Sunday.

Pauly and I had money to burn. We won back our dinner in pai-gow and were ready to spend the lucky money on dances.

First stop was Olympic Garden. That's usually the most hopping place I know, but when we got there it looked like there was some cop hopping going on. Cop cars were in front with concerned-looking club owners. We popped our heads in, saw not a soul in the front area, turned around and left. If there were a chalk outline, we probably would've stayed for the story.

Next stop was Treasures. Comfy chairs and couches, but nary a female who wanted to serve us alcohol.

What is this, it's the Easter Sunday holiday!

The one and only girl who approached us was a trucker's delight named Julie. She was so drunk she forgot what her stripper name was.

"Spank me," she said. I obliged. For free, I'll do most anything. It wasn't a satisfying spank, as my hand just kind of sat there accepting residual jiggles. No bounce, just a plop.

As any song comes to a close, there's the awkward pause and silence waiting for the girl to ask, "Want a dance?" This is akin to the end of a date and waiting for, "Want to come up?" Though in the latter, you're not usually expected to pay for it.

I'm not too experienced with being the one to turn someone down, so after Julie asked, I looked away as if a teacher were asking for volunteers to solve an algebra problem.

Being the only other guy there, Pauly was caught blindsided and said, "Uh, I guess so."

The dance was more lapsliding than lapdancing. Giving a blog brother some privacy, I tried concentrating on the stage, which had a neon pole and two ornate staircases that could be out of a Noel Coward play. A topless Private Lives, perhaps.

After Julie slinked off, half bra on/half bra off, Pauly turned to me and said, "That was the single worst lapdance I've ever had."

He said she was so drunk she kept falling and he had to catch her a couple times. I wondered what kind of workman's comp strippers could get for falling off the pole.

A few more songs and we high-tailed it outta there. I expressed my severe disappointment with the woman at the front, who then said, "Didn't I say it was a slow night?" Nope, she didn't. I lied that no one even approached us. Which was true, minus one.

I knew there were no refunds, but my hope was to get a comp for a future visit. The best she could offer were 2-for-1 drink tickets. I'll save 'em for Pauly's next trip.

We decided to hit one more to see if it really was because of Easter Sunday or if we were just unlucky picking clubs. If it was a "bust," we'd go play some poker.

Arriving at Cheetah's, it took a while for any girls to come over. The first was of the that-ain't-no-girl variety named Stevie who might have been Steve a few years earlier. She's worked there for eight years, which is 64 in stripper years. Stevie seemed more in the 46-year range, though if I were to card her she'd probably actually be in her 30s. Strippers do not age well.

Stevie sat on my lap for awhile and I was mulling how I was going to turn her down ("maybe later" is a good standby), when Pauly bought me a dance.

Like Pauly's single worst lapdance, Stevie's was my single most unerotic. No matter what she did with her skinny body, it did nothing to arouse.

Then girls slowly came around. If they see customers with Stevie, hey, they must be willing to spend money on anything.

I spent a good chunk of time with Dana, who seemed matter-of-fact about everything and had these eyes that would catch me in lies. Being all part of the fantasy, I often lie to strippers regarding my name, what I'm in town for, and what I do for a living. With Dana, I told her the truth, and her eyes (and hands) still searched me to verify.

Dana did four dances and was very generous with the songs, offering to just "lay here" to finish out a short song. I ordered a drink for her, and she took a bottled water (though the charge for that was the same as the price of a mixed drink) and ignored shots from the shot girl.

As her best friend walked by, Dana said, "C'mere, you gotta feel this, it's so big" and took her hand in hers to feel something of mine. She apologized for embarrassing me, though that wasn't the least embarrassing. Any kind of compliment like that and I'm putty.

I would've had her do a couple more songs, but she said she had to speak to a weird guy but would be right back. A Latina girl named Peaches (because her breasts taste like them, she said) took her place, and I liked her accent enough to go to the private room for half a dozen dances.

There's a private room and then there's a private-r room. This one you just pay the regular amount, but it's separate from the main room and you're away from the uncomfortable armchairs. Peaches hadn't had any luck with customers, that she started turning to women. I was her second in four hours, and I probably kept her as long as I did because her voice reminded me of someone.

When I returned, Dana was dancing for Pauly, with a put-upon hurt look on her face that she had looked for me but I was gone.

My odd sense of morals had me feeling guilty! She said we could make it up to them with massages.

Dana was still with Pauly (she said his massage was making her pussy wet), and her friend sat down on my lap. We both gave them vigorous massages. After the song ended, I asked, "Do you want another song?" and she laughed and nodded.

Then we switched strippers, and continued the massages.

Dana said her shift was over and she had to go.

Our final parting words:
Dana: My friend and I are going home.
Grubby: Where do you live?
Dana: North.
Grubby: I'm south. It would never work.
Sigh.

Grubby is a writer currently living in Las Vegas, NV.

La Boudoir

By Julia Vettraino © 2005

The streets were still damp from the sprinkling rain, but he was finally able to close his umbrella and hang it on the belt of his long coat. Glancing around, he sighed quietly to himself. This was the way Paris should be seen - glistening cobblestone streets, the full moon shining brightly through the thin wisps of clouds. The lights of the city could be seen in the distance, reflecting the energy of the partying crowds contained within.

He was nearing the Montmartre district, home of "Les Folies Bergere." Countless numbers of inebriated Parisians would be crowded inside, reveling in the dance, acrobatics and variety numbers the show boasted. However, admittedly or not, the patrons were there primarily to enjoy the nude showgirls - a tradition that began in 1918, adding a scintillating new chapter to the already compelling revue.

He wasn't in the mood to fight the crowds or take part in such jubilation, however. He wanted to relax with a drink and allow his thoughts to slip away for a few hours. After walking a couple of blocks, he came across what looked like a small tavern. Dingy in appearance yet still somehow welcoming, only a small, unassuming sign that read simply “La Boudoir” labeled it. He paid the small cover charge to the doorman, who in this district looked out place and overdressed in his tuxedo.

The room was larger than expected, and surprisingly full. The seating appeared to be mostly rich, mahogany-toned booths, with a few rows of small tables near the elevated stage. Despite the number of people in the room, the crowd was relatively quiet. Most talking in whispers, the soft background music could be heard quite clearly.

Sinking into the soft leather of the nearest booth, he placed his order with the barmaid who appeared before he could even remove his coat. She returned with a snifter of warm brandy, perfect to fight off the chill of the evening air. Swirling the amber liquid, he took in the warm ambience of the room, feeling more like he was sitting in the comfort of his study at home than in some bar in the middle of Paris.

He was on his third drink when the lights finally dimmed, only the glow of the table candles were left to illuminate the room. An operatic song began playing, a tragic, soulful sound which echoed throughout the darkness. He felt as though he was wrapped in its blanket, comforted by its presence, and soothed by its soul. His mind, lightly numbed from the brandy, was able to let go of all the thoughts that had encompassed him earlier, and slipped into a peaceful state of relaxation that hadn't visited him in years.

The stage softly came into view. A semi-transparent screen covered the entire area and was lit from behind, revealing only the silhouette of the room within. He could make out a bed, a desk, and a wardrobe in the main area, and off to the side sat an old fashioned bathtub, elegantly standing on curled legs, bubbles rising just above the surface.

The music was still playing softly as a young woman appeared, though again only in silhouette. She was wearing a long dress, reminiscent of the nineteenth century, and though the details were not revealed through the screen, he could imagine that it was covered in a soft, delicate lace. Her hair was artfully coifed and properly gathered upon her head, not a strand out of place or left dangling. She was carrying a parasol, which she placed within the wardrobe, along with the cloak that was draped over her arm.

Another woman appeared, whose stiff, utilitarian clothing marked her clearly as the chambermaid. She stood behind the young lady, assisting in unfastening the countless buttons that held her dress together at the back. The young woman stood patiently, stoically, having been through this ordeal too many times to bother complaining about it once more. When the buttons were undone and the dress slowly removed, the maid untied the corset that encompassed her upper body. Satisfied that she could manage on her own now, the woman nodded to her maid that she may leave.

She sat on the bench by the desk and lifted each leg in turn, slowly rolling her stockings from her thighs down to her ankles. When she was completely undressed she stood up, revealing her profile through the illumination. He could see her full breasts and taut stomach, the gentle curves of her hips and the seductive shape of her bottom. She stood in front of an unseen mirror and turned slowly, admiring her own reflection. Her hands slowly ran up and down her body, softly stroking the outline of her form. It was the most erotic sight he had ever witnessed, a delicious sense of intrigue overcame him as he played voyeur to her most private, intimate moments. Finally, she stepped into the bath, bubbles overflowing; her head stretched back and her arms relaxed at her sides.

She lived in a time of oppression, a time when women were not allowed to reveal even the skin on their ankles without being labeled a whore. A woman's sexuality was an unknown entity, her passions and desires were neither to be discussed nor acknowledged. It was as though the bath was a metaphor, rinsing away her inhibitions, allowing her to transform back into the sensual woman she was, rather than the slave to rules and fashion that society demanded she be. Her hands began removing the pins holding up her hair, one by one dropping them to the floor. Each one seemed to signify something different to him; every tendril of hair that escaped revealed a new sense of her being. She continued to unravel long strands, the mass cascading behind her until a lush, full mane emerged. Satisfied she had removed all her constraints, she stood up to exit the bath, her body still only in silhouette though he was sure he could see lingering bubbles glistening on her skin. She dried off slowly, caressing each part of her body with gentle tenderness. Her head arched back, he could see that her lips were parted slightly, signifying the pleasure that she was receiving from her own touch.

She sat at the desk, still nude, and began brushing her hair. It reached down almost to her waist and covered her upper body like a silky veil. Though it was impossible to tell through the screen, he imagined that it was a light shade of blonde and her skin was as soft and delicate as her movements. He had an uncontrollable urge to wrap his arms around her and protect her, to allow her to live in a world without consequence or judgment. To let her be free to express herself as she was and release her from the confines of what society deemed appropriate behavior.

She moved slowly towards the bed, lowering her graceful body to the surface. Rolling onto her back, she lay still for a few moments, her long, deep breaths causing her chest to rise and fall in a soothing rhythm. Her hands began exploring her body again, gently kneading her breasts, fingers trailing along her sides down to her thighs. Her hips rose slightly in the air, her back arched, and as the lights dimmed and the tempo of the music increased, her hands reached between her legs, bound to release the exquisite, sinful pleasure that she wasn't supposed to know.

Julia Vettraino is from Calgary, Canada.

The Jack

By Joe Speaker © 2005

A thick haze hung over the Las Vegas like a shroud. Dank brown, almost black, it obscured even the gaudiest of the city's iconic buildings. "Looks like the Apocalypse is early," I muttered to myself as I descended into its heart.

As I drove, I could feel its weight pressing down on me, even as the skyline came slowly into focus. It was forbidding, negating the usual promise of action, the standard rush of adrenaline. Normally, my anticipation would rise to critical mass as I neared the city limits. This time, that excitement was crowded out. Something else rushed in.

Fear.

I could feel it coagulating in my bones.

*

Trepidation remained an hour later. I sensed a similar haze lingering over the Excalibur poker room. I had selected the eight seat in a $2-$6 spread limit game, wedged between a pair of players. To my right, an older, genial gentleman with towers of chips, ascending in height like bars on a cell phone. He was fully charged. On my left, a dead ringer for actor Nick Stahl, though he said his name was Kevin. Nick/Kevin was sullen and unkempt, bent over his chips and mumbling derisively. I sat uncomfortably – claustrophobic - with my shoulders and elbows jammed inward, never moving except to throw another hand away. A practice I continued for 15 minutes.

*

When I first arrived at the hotel, I lugged my doubt over to the poker room. I leaned self-consciously on the rail, looking for signs. What exactly, I couldn't say. I saw nothing to lift me from my gloom.

I had lay awake several nights in the past two weeks, eager for this moment. I envisioned a boisterous bacchanal, chips flying, ice cubes clinking, laughter and despair in equal measure. Instead, I saw serious faces and rigid spines. Skepticism greeted every movement. Every bet spawned a silent and thorough interrogation.

As I walked away, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. How could I think that I, someone so new to the game, someone who had usually played against the endless and faceless online, had any business being here. In real life. In a Las Vegas poker room. I chastised myself inside my head.

*

I peeked at my cards almost hoping to again throw them away. "I'm not ready for this," I thought. "I'm in over my head. I need more study."

My hand revealed ace and jack of spades. On my action, I recklessly pulled a pair of chips from my stack, nearly toppling it in the process.

"I call."

"Why are you shaking?" Nick/Kevin sneered. He eyed me contemptuously from below, hunched over his chips like a squirrel guarding his acorns. I ignored him. Not that there was sufficient saliva in my mouth to croak a response. I know why I'm shaking. He doesn't have to. I pressed my fingertips against the felt in a vague attempt to quiet the tremors.

"Four players," the dealer declares, and turns the flop: Ace of hearts, king of spades, five of diamonds. I exhale, only now realizing I'd been holding my breath, and immediately hope it wasn't audible. Two players check to me and I can barely remain inside my skin.

"I bet. Six dollars."

I throw the blue chips out there quickly, one stack of three and sliding three more toward the pot in a nice straight line. Hey, good form.

Nick/Kevin punctuates his call: "You're still shaking."

*

In all honesty, I had played live Hold 'Em before, back when I first caught the itch for the game. But I really didn't have a concept of the game then. I was having fun, like a golf game with your drinking buddies. But this...this was something different. I have something at stake now. Hours of reading poker books. Tens of thousands of online hands. A reputation to uphold, even if it's merely a reputation I've hung on myself. This is for me. Can I play this game? For a couple months, I've been of the firm belief that I can. What if I'm wrong?

*

Only three of us now, and the dealer flips the turn card: Jack of diamonds. My heart starts thundering in my chest. I look down, almost expecting to see it visibly fluttering my shirt. I belatedly realize I've just made a mistake, exposed a tell.

"You like that jack, huh?" Nick/Kevin says. It's not really a question. Checked to me and I bet again. He nods to himself, "Yep, you like that jack," and folds.

The three seat, to this point only existing on the periphery of my universe, calls the bet. I finally fixate on him, Nick/Kevin's mumbling fading into the background. He's older, probably his 50s, with the deep tan of a man who works outdoors. He's wearing huge mirrored sunglasses and is far too bald to try salvaging a hairdo, which hasn't stopped him from trying. I stare straight at him with what I hope appears to be confidence. In fact, I can almost convince myself that it is. My gut churns, but for the first time, my mind is calm.

"Two players," the dealer notes and drops a meaningless 4 of spades on the river. My mind flashes, "No flush for ..."

My thought is interrupted as he reaches for chips. I take a momentary pause. Two check-calls and then he bets into me with a seeming rag on the river? What the hell is this? Could he have just check-called Broadway on the turn? Sat quietly on his Big Slick waiting to pounce?

I'm knocked off stride. My vision of how this hand ends has just been corrupted. It's all I can do to keep from shaking my head and showing my confusion. I can't solve this riddle, so I throw out my six chips and ask for the answer.

"Pair of Kings," the man says and I'm certain I'm not hearing him clearly. I lean over the table for a closer look at his cards.

King. Two. Off.

I hurriedly grab my cards and hurl them at the felt. "Two pair," the dealer says from far away. "Aces and jacks." He pushes the pot my way as my head swims. I can't suppress the grin. I don't even think I want to.

"I knew you liked that jack," someone says.

Joe Speaker is a poker- and soccer-playing ne'er-do-well from the godforsaken desert east of Los Angeles. He is universally unpublished and generally pissed off about that fact. He enjoys long walks on the beach and seeing the sun come up through the front doors of the local Indian casino. He's married and has a three-year-old son. You can visit him at The Obituarium.

Making Your Bed

By Sigge S. Amdal © 2005

After a while you realize that growing up is just a metaphor for learning from life. And life is one of the best tutors there is; whenever you input an erroneous value, life will make sure to slap your hands and you'd better learn from it or else you'll get another slap, but this time in the face. You assume and you pay for it. Why? When you assume you make an ass out of you and me.

I recall a quote from a person who must have learned quite a lot: "You live and you learn. At any rate, you live." That's a safe assumption.

It is quite apparent that after a while of life that the biggest problems in it almost always are the little ones. The vast, global issues practically resolve themselves when we ignore them, while the little things we must deal with immediately can't be avoided at all in the short or the long run. Like making your bed.

I'm pretty good with theory. If there's a problem that doesn't yet have a proper theory, I'll do my best to contribute to it. Take politics, for instance. My theory is that it's all a conspiracy. That's a good theory that doesn't need any more backing than just being an actual fact. But when it comes to Mein Kampf with the bed sheets, theory never seems to go along with reality.

In theory I should be quite able to make a made bed look perfect, like they always do on TV or in commercials. Heck, they even look like something you have on display and show your friends and not something you rumble around in during your designated hangover. In reality, however, I can spend half an hour with it and still end up with a flimsy excuse for a well-made bed. At the end of such a struggle, I always seem to remind myself that until next time I'd better learn how to do it. That this can't go on. That I will have to learn.

But from where?

A friend of mine with whom I discussed this fascinating element of daily life, said he'd never thought about it since he learned to do it while he was in the army. He can do it in ten seconds with someone screaming at him. But I was never in the army. It's not that green isn't my colour, it's more of a problem with authority. In my view, I am the authority. This turned out to apply to the army's view quite unsuccessfully. Eventually, even after a trip to China where I searched my soul and bought some pretty good counterfeit Levis jeans, I did a pacifistic service which I recently completed and that rendered me employed (thank you). So while I learned lots of interesting stuff about social research, like how to cut and paste tables from a spreadsheet into a text document or ways of fooling a network printer into thinking that it actually works, I missed out on all the practical stuff. I know how to tie my shoelaces, I'm not a complete moron, but having to make my bed always gets me depressed. I'm at a loss. There's no available theory for it.

Making your bed is like a metaphor for life itself.

You put into it all the good effort you can, sometimes even with undying enthusiasm and optimism, but what you get is a mattress with lots of stuff on it, curled and fluffy and not feeling quite right – without even getting the stuffing in the pillows to fit to the corners of its sheet. There must be a way, however, and I intend to find it. I refuse to let a soft fabric that smells like flowers be the end of my intellectual exploration of life, the universe and everything! The thing is that when my mind is set at something, even my horsepowered will can't cut the strings and say: "Hey, let it go, man." I MUST know. And now is a good time.

So where is that one book covering the basic concepts of making your bed, practical tips and show-and-tell guidelines (preferably starring some forgotten Hollywood movie star)?

Where is the book about beds in general?

To whom can I turn to extract this vital information?

What gurus are there on this field of life?

These are all questions leading to raised eyebrows when I conduct my investigation among fellow earthlings at my regular hangouts. That's all you get. The eyebrows and the speaking silence. The speaking silence says something like: "You should know. Everyone knows." Followed by an imaginary shrug that points out how pathetic you are for actually daring to pose such a question when you should've been sucking at your beer. So I should know. I should've learned this somewhere. I must have missed something. It's like I was born having skipped some vital part of my life which obviously would've provided me with all the answers.

A saying goes "there's no use crying over spilt milk," but I trust that the source was being sarcastic or had never faced the complications that can and will arise when making your bed. But of course he could've had a maid. Neil Young has a song stating that a man needs a maid. He's perfectly right. I don't have the theory so either I'll have to hire or marry one.

But I'm still young. And one thing I've learned from life is that being young gives you all kinds of advantages. In this case, it obliges me the possibility of sleeping in an untidy bed, on the sofa with my clothes on or behind the curtains at some friend's dead party for as long as it lasts without anyone complaining. Except for my mother. And this is what I'll have to tell myself before I go to sleep tonight. I'll close my eyes, clear my head and just say it: "One day you, too, will know. One day."

The mantra of ignorance.

But it'll have to do until I discover the hidden theory, those sacred scrolls that will open my eyes to the Zen of Bed Making, and close the matter once and for all. One day. And until that day, I am very grateful for the concept of mothers.

Sigge S. Amdal is a word wanker from Oslo, Norway.

Existentialist Conversations with Strippers, Part I

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2005
"Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does." - Jean-Paul Sartre
When I asked Grubby how he knew about Sin, he mentioned that he had heard about it on the radio. It was a new club located across the highway near Mandalay Bay. We arrived fairly early for Vegas standards. At 10:30 PM, the parking lot was sparsely populated. Little did we know we'd spend the next four hours there.

We were seated in the back near a smaller second bar and I could see the entrance to the VIP lounge from my seat. Senor bought the first round. We've been going to strip clubs together since we were 18 years old. That was back in our hazy, fuzzy, Kentucky bourbon-drenched days in Atlanta when I'd spend my Monday night's at Top N Tails sitting in the front row of their biggest attraction: Hot Oil Wrestling. Back then, I probably should have been studying for my Criminal Justice exam or writing a paper on Huey Long for my Southern Politics class. But I wasn't. Ironically, I'd soon discover that almost everything I have learned about life... I picked up from conversations with strippers.

I'd had a tough day betting at the sports book and figuring out implied odds was the last thing on my mind. We waited for the waitress to bring us our over-priced drinks and I stared out at the main stage. A young lady with manufactured breasts the size of cantaloupes and wearing in a hot-pink thong wriggled upside down on a poll as the last few lines of a Motley Crue song blasted over the speakers. The song sounded vaguely familiar. Don't all Motley Crue songs sound the same when you hear them in a dark strip club in Vegas?

Grubby ordered an imported beer. I asked for a Stoli and Tonic and Senor aptly grabbed a Corona and a shot of tequila. He cannot under any circumstances remain sober in a strip club. He has to be shithoused drunk. That's the only way he can fully enjoy himself. Sober or sloppy, I don't care about my state of my inebriation. I venture into strip clubs for the conversations. Yes, I also read Playboy for the articles.

It occurred to me that the last time Senor and I stumbled into a strip club together was in Reykjavik, Iceland of all places. It was a dark, lonely, night and we were both snookered on Viking beer. I blew a wad of Icelandic Kroners on lap dances from a nubile blonde with sparkling green eyes who looked a lot a like Gwyneth Paltrow. Her name was Sinna. I definitely remembered that because I wanted to use that name for a future fictional character. It's a perfect stripper's name. But those hijinks occurred back in January 2001. I used to have a ponytail then and still held a weakness for blondes and donuts. Man, that trip to Iceland was pre-9.11. That was a lifetime ago.

Rebekka

Rebekka was working her first shift at Sin after being hired a few days before. She'd had a dispute with the manager at Spearmint Rhino and quit. Grubby told me that if the girls don't like working for certain managers at different clubs, it meant that the were sick of performing sexual favors for them. Anyway, Rebekka was a beautiful 23-year old black woman from North Carolina. She used to be an XFL cheerleader. Go team.

"What's your name?"

"Charlie."

I lied right away. I also picked a name out of thin air. For the majority of the trip whether it was with strippers, poker dealers, cabbies, or waitresses... I would tell them my name was "Charlie." For some of you that read my first screenplay, Charlie's Goldfish, you know that Charlie was the name of the main character.

"What do you do for a living?"

"I work on Wall Street."

That was a partial lie. I was retired. Semantics and strippers. Who really cares anyway?

Did I mention that my drink was seriously watered down? I switched to beers after the Stoli experiment failed miserably. I should know better. I'd made a rookie mistake by ordering a name brand vodka in a strip club. That's like going to McDonalds for a nutritious meal.

Rebekka sat on my lap and invited me into the VIP room. That's where they really work it and try to get the rest of the cash in your pockets. As soon as she found out that I worked on Wall Street she went right in for the kill. Just like we use Poker Tracker Guide to help tag fish on Party Poker, strippers use occupations to figure out quickly who has disposable income. Wall Street screamed "Fresh fish!" Afterwards, I would stop telling strippers I worked on Wall Street.

Senor had his hands filled with a not-so-good-looking stripper with a pot belly bigger than mine. When she asked him if wanted a dance he told her, "Look I don't want any lap dances. But if you want to sit down and chat for a while, that's cool. But if you want to go make money, by all means, go visit some other guys."

That wasn't a line or anything. That was the "nice way" Senor wanted to let the strippers down who he didn't think were attractive. That time, it totally backfired. She sat down for over an hour, possibly longer. He did everything to get her to leave. He talked about his wife. He talked about his son. He talked about the dog he never had. He even tried to draw me into the conversation. I avoided that trap pretty quickly. He finally got her to leave when he asked Rebekka for a lap dance.

Summer

Grubby was being entertained by an Asian stripper named Sterling. She had it written out in small studs on the back of her black leather panties. I giggled when I overheard Grubby ask, "Are you 24 carats?"

That's when a curvaceous woman in a black bikini came over to me. Her long dark hair cascaded over he round breasts. She looked like J. Lo and had a lot of junk in her trunk.

"Your friends have girls and no one is paying attention to you," she nearly screamed over the loud music and sat down on my lap.

She asked how we knew each other. I told her that we were friends from Harvard Medical School. I had the Dr. Pauly reputation to live up to. She asked me to go to a more comfortable place, but assured me it was not the VIP lounge. She led me into the sports bar area which was empty. There was a couch in the corner and she led me over. We made some more small talk and she explained that she was not Puerto Rican like everyone thinks. She was part Canadian, part German, part Cherokee Indian, and part Peruvian. I pulled a line right out of Fletch and she didn't flinch. "My that's an unusual mix."

Nothing.

"So, Charlie, what kind of doctor are you?"

"Pediatrician."

That was a big mistake. We spent the next ten minutes talking about her two year old daughter. She hates her pediatrician because he blames her for her daughter's asthma. He also said that she should have taken away her pacifier at twelve months.

"Twelve months? No way. At least 22," I said confidently. No way she was going to call my bluff. I have no idea about pacifiers and I'm the last person from whom anyone should seek advice. I don't have any kids and the only science class I took at college was Human and Natural Ecology... and that was only because all the hot hippie chicks in school were HNE majors.

Summer gave me two lap dances and I asked her if she was a fan of The OC.

"Oh my God! How did you know that?"

... to be continued.

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.