After my news unit spontaneously combusted, I need a beer. It was male stripper night at The Cotton Gin, the only bar in Alexandria not inhabited by old cotton farmers, and that was good enough for me. Weathered siding, faded feed store signs, and rusted tractor parts outside led newcomers like me to expect both kinds of music, Country, and Western. Inside, a day-glo pink palm tree guarded a Plexiglas dance floor which was lit from beneath by red, green, and blue Christmas-tree lights. Speakers on either side of the disc-jockey booth acted as a stage for go-go dancers and lubricated patrons who thought they were Michael Jackson.
And the music, a mix of .38 Special, Led Zeppelin, and Madonna attracted the strangest mix of mouth-breathers, wannabe sluts, and farmer’s daughters I had ever seen. Not your typical after-work bar, unless your workday ended when the credits rolled on the late news.
The dance floor jiggled and bounced with horny female flesh revved-up and ready to party with the eager-to-score poon-hounds flooding into the club after the show. Sure it was a meat market, but I wasn't looking for someone to grow old with, just something to erase the last two days. I grabbed a long neck at the bar before venturing into the fray. Someone tapped me on the shoulder.
“Couldn’t resist another chance to take your clothes off?” Little flecks of gold sparkled in her eyes. It took the edge off another long humiliating day better than a Bud Light.
“Nah, I do all my stripping on busy highways when the TV cameras are rolling. Which show did you like better?”
She squeezed her shoulders forward swelling her cleavage. Susan grinned a devil’s smile, “I was hoping for my own private show.”
She was the only good thing to happen to me all week. And she still hadn’t happened yet.
Her face was unremarkable. She had pairs of all the necessary parts: ears, lips, nostrils. It was her eyes that held me captive. Even in a dark and smoky night club, they glistened. Little flecks of gold swam in two pools of honey. And every time she smiled, they seemed to shower the room in droplets of light like a disco ball.
Her auburn locks were teased and starched like surf, frozen in time, over her forehead, a conscious rebellion against the grunge fashion of the day, as were her clothes. Painted on blue jeans accentuated the curve of her hips, and a red bustier revealed everything else I needed to know – her taste was way above my six-dollar-an-hour pay grade. Her smile, at the same time shy and sly, insisted that I give it a shot.
“Got any ones left?” I arched my back and leaned my hips forward bumping her thigh with my crotch.
She reached inside her bustier for a wrinkled bill, rolled it length-wise and pulled it slowly through her fist. Then she slipped the dollar inside the waist of my jeans and giggled, never breaking eye contact.
The music segued from Madonna to Twisted Sister “Ooh, I love this song.” She grabbed my hand and dragged me onto the dance floor.
She jumped and bounced and threw her fists in the air and screamed along with Dee Snider. “We’re not gonna take it any-mooooore!”
I must have been crazy to follow her. Women like this didn’t pay any attention to struggling photographers like me. They went after the pretty-boy reporter with the telegenic grin and thick wallet. But there was something about those eyes.
She didn’t care that we were the only ones on the dance floor. All I could do was watch as he tore into an air guitar solo. She whipped her hair in gonzo circles as she pounded her invisible axe. The crowd egged her on.
I wanted to leave, but I caught a glimpse of her devil’s smile. She stuck a defiant pose and slowly lifted her head. Her eyes glued me in place as they traced a straight line up my chest.
Maybe she did want me.
The world around us vanished. It was just me and the girl with the golden eyes. Butterflies fluttered inside my stomach like pterodactyl wings and the room spun around us.
I wobbled on one leg and caught my balance. It wasn’t the room; I was spinning. I stopped just in time to meet a corn-fed country boy with shoulders as wide as a John Deere. His fist was cocked all the way back into the next parish.
I don’t remember much after that.
When I opened my eye, I was outside. Sharp edges, like fingernails clawed at my face. The gravel in the parking lot crunched as I rolled onto my back.
Susan stooped to help me up. “Are you okay, Brock?”
“Yeah,” I grunted. I lied. Blood trickled from a cut under my eye and I fingered my aching cheek. My head throbbed. My ribs felt like a side of beef in a Rocky movie. And I actually saw cartoon birdies floating in circles around my head.
“Wait,” I forced myself upright. “I just got my ass kicked by a guy named Ernie?”
“I’m the only one who calls him that. He’s my ex, Earnhardt Waltrip Petty.”
“Folks were big NASCAR fans, eh?” I pushed myself to my feet and slapped the dust off my jeans. My left eye had already swollen shut. “What happened?”
“It’s a long story, but ends with a jealous streak – ”
“Not with you two," I squinted through the haze inside my head. "Inside. What happened in there?”
“Oh, that. He does it every time we break up.”
“You should get that looked at.” Susan prodded around the growing bulge under my eye. “Thank God for Nubby.”
“Duh, the one-armed bouncer. He pulled Ernie off before he killed you.”
“So you’re telling me a guy named Ernie just kicked my ass, and I was rescued by a one-armed bouncer named Nubby?”
“That’s about the size of it.” she winked and laughed. “Let’s get you out of here. I’ve got a bag of black-eyed peas in the freezer at my place.”
I threw my arm over her shoulder and leaned heavily on her all the way to her car. It was mostly an act, but for the first time all week, things were looking up.