In last week’s installment of Cais Jurgens‘ story ‘Help Wanted’ we found the protagonist, Fish, starting his new job at a gentleman’s club in Manhattan. We were immersed in a world of sensuous delights countered by the unglamorous reality that lies behind the scenes in such places. Cais’ work is richly textured, giving us both the glamour and flash as well as the alcoholism and despondency that pervades both sides of the bar.
We return now to Fish and his upstream struggle to understand and belong.
Help Wanted, Part 2
By Cais Jurgens
Ja ja ja, drink it slow or you get no more. I tried my best and I took my time. I picked up my pen and got to work.
How can you nurse like that
I drowned my own secret
Baby when you checked
I hoisted bitter sails
We know another on sight
Eyeing a polite bottle
How you cradle and warm it
Enjoying more the thought
Filling up floating
Your glass polished
I’d rather see wasted than
Knock it over
Rock it back
I’d hate to have to watch
You mop it up
Pablo was a time traveler. He did so often and without hesitation. I believe it was one of his only joys in life but I may be wrong. For someone I spent up to eight hours with each day, I really knew very little about him. What I did know was that his preferred time machine was made of Hennessy. He’d get into his time machine sometime on Saturday evening and it would transport him to about three in the afternoon the following Tuesday. It did this each week like clockwork. Sometimes he would begin his time travel at work and then reappear again the following day, barely aware he’d ever been home. He’d show up for work in low spirits but accepting of his personal hell. Within a few minutes, out would come a stiff cup of coffee and the Baileys Irish Cream. This would get him back to his higher function and a mindset capable of tolerating another 8-10 hours standing behind the bar. I found Pablo to be amazing in this way. He was living proof of the durability of the human body, a testament to what it can truly tolerate, at least in its general youth. It’s true that he did look older than twenty-six but not a day over thirty.
You have an order, Fish. Off I went, food in hand. A salmon roll, some French fries and a plate of lobster, a skirt steak, a tuna avocado roll and an order of miso soup. It was an odd combination and therefore was going to a high roller with a couple of hungry ladies at his side.
The cashier pointed me in their direction. The two girls were Russian. They were tall, blonde, almost identical and spoke in a thick accent. They flanked him on both sides at the bar in the club. The man was middle aged, American, not a native New Yorker. If you were in town on business you could request that the club print the name of a different restaurant on the receipt so that you could charge everything to your expense account without your company knowing you just spent several hundred dollars at a strip club. I suspected that this was the scenario I was dealing with.
Can you bring me some ketchup?
I brought you some ketchup, it’s right here. I handed the man the plate of ketchup I’d prepared upstairs.
No, I need more. It’s for the lobster.
You want ketchup for the lobster?
Yes, please. The lobster special that evening cost eighty dollars. This man and his two escorts were going to cover it in generic brand ketchup.
Yes, sir. That will be one hundred and forty-six dollars, please. He looked at me in disbelief. I handed him the bill, which he studied while the girls laid into their food. Obviously this man was not aware that you shouldn’t give two exotic dancers free reign over the menu when you’re the one buying. It was a lesson I’d seen many people learn the hard way. I saw one man escorted by two very large bouncers in black. I over heard the cashier say that apparently he owed the house twenty-six grand. Nobody ever saw him again.
We never saw a lot of people again, that was the nature of the business. Our lives existed around alcohol and our livelihood because of it. Anything and everything became an excuse to indulge heavily and it got to the point where Pablo and I drank to feel normal. It was like coffee perking us up in the dead of night. More than once I found myself waking up at east one hundred and fifth street in Brooklyn at five or six in the morning or maybe all the way down in the financial district. I fell asleep on the train during my ride home many times. It took the sanctity out of night and out of sleep for there’s nothing worse than heading home and hearing birds mock you at every turn. I liked to imagine that morning commuters took pity on me but I didn’t mind, for you don’t really, truly know comfort until you can find happiness on a blow up mattress on a wooden floor in the center of Bushwick. Continue reading