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20 Years

In the Presence of the Damned

by



I HAD JUST RETURNED from depositing the weekend earnings of the strip club where I work. The clerk was standing behind the counter, a look of uncertainty on her face. The security guard, who really wasn’t a guard but was labeled one because the owner was too cheap to hire an actual state-certified-and-licensed security guard and figured it was cheaper and easier to hire a somewhat-legal Salvadoran immigrant who doesn’t mind spraying pepper spray at the faces of drunken Mexicans who can’t keep their dicks inside their pants and who doesn’t mind mopping up cum off the shiny black marble floors, was standing there too, awaiting instructions, unsure of the company’s policy for this. They both looked at me, the manager, for answers when I came in. The guy was in a wheelchair, drunk and rambling about Viet Nam and God and his ex-wife and the general fuckedup-ness of living. The normal procedure is to kick out a drunk. But what does the employee manual say about customers in wheelchairs, sober or not; how do we handle it so that there are no legal ramifications afterward; how can we exercise our right to refuse service to someone and still not be labeled discriminatory or prejudice? Answer: treat the customer with respect; without customers we wouldn’t be here; the customer is always right; if needed be, perform fellatio on customer while keeping continuous eye contact, amen.

“Sir, is there anything we can help you with?” I said.

“Yeah man, yea, as a matter of fact there is – there’s a whole lot I need help with, ‘know what I mean? I need a lobster dinner, a massage, a new prosthetic foot, an eight-hour sleep and to wake up and repeat it all again the next morning!” he said while constantly rubbing his beard and rubbing his footless right leg, the balled end smooth and black from weeks or even months of collected dirt. The clerk and guard looked at each other and walked away from me, confident that I would use my managerial skills in solving the matter at hand.

“Right, ok, how ‘bout anything in this store. Is there anything in here we can help you with?” I said, decided he wasn’t too unmanageable, that if he wanted to buy a lap dance, the girls at least wouldn’t have to worry about him getting up and trying any funny shit

“Hey, let me ask you something. You have the best job. What’s you name, man? How long you been working here?”

“Luis.”

“How old are you? How long have you been working here?”

“It doesn’t matter how old I am, or how long I’ve been working here.”

“Yea, well, sure, but how long have you been working here,” he continues. I re-asset the situation: he has no money. He’s lonely and looking for a psychotherapist or a friend, or both.

But I don’t feel like entertaining this role. I have grown a little more than tired of working around sex, strippers, dildos, pornography, water-based and silicone-based lubricants and the desperate faces of the homeless and the mentally ill, the marginalized, the drug addicts, the sex addicts, the illegals looking for a place to jack off in peace, their homes too full with relatives or fellow immigrants splitting the rent. After seven years in working in this industry, I am grateful and surprised that I am still able to obtain an erection.

“Listen, I don’t want to come off as rude but if you’re not going to buy anything, you need to leave –”

“Look, I’m waiting on what’s-her-name; she said that she was going to the bathroom. Hey man, seriously, how long have you been working here?”

“Ok, fine, there’s a five-dollar admission to get into the club.”

“Five dollars, five dollars, yea, ok, you know, I had a wife; I was in the movies; I fought in ‘Nam. You don’t even know, man. They had to take off my right foot and now they’re saying they need to take more and more and more, “ he said, crying now, quickly wiping the tears from his eyes just as they come, not allowing them enough time to descend down the sides of his cheeks.

“With the five dollars, you get a complimentary water or Diet Pepsi, would you like one?”

“As a matter of a fact I would,” he said, finally handing me the five dollars in exchange for an admission ticket and a bottled water.

Chanel walks out of the bathroom. I try to give her a reassuring look, that everything’s fine, this guy’s harmless, annoying and drunk but harmless.

“And there she is!” he said, pushing the knob on his electric wheelchair to speed toward her, excited over Chanel’s tall, slim and exposed body, her hard pink nipples completely uncovered by the fishnet body suit, her long black hair falling down her shoulders, a whole three or four inches taller with the skinny black high heels.

“Whatever you want I’ll do,” he said, making dramatic gestures with his hands and face.

“All right, hun, wanna get a show?”

“Sure, absolutely,” he said but still sitting there, momentarily comatose, making an even bigger ass of himself in her presence.

After a minute or so, Chanel walked back into the club and said in a cool and calm way, the way only a learned and professional stripper has mastered, that she’ll be inside the club if he decides to buy a dance. He looked at me, teary-eyed, rubbing his leg stump and asked how long I’ve been working here.

“20 years.”

“Bullshit!” His tears went away.

I busy myself with something behind the counter, pointlessly clicking the computer’s mouse button, typing gibberish on the screen, looking up at the security monitors.

“20 years my ass. You believe this guy? 20 years. I’m 44 and aint no way in hell you’re older than me; you don’t look a day over 27,” he said, talking to no one in particular, surprising me with his accurate guess, nailing it right on the head.

“20 years.”

“Anyway, hey look, I’m gonna go smoke a cigarette, uh, what’s your name again? Eddie right?”

“Yes, Luis.”

“Right, Luis; anyway, I’m gonna go smoke a cigarette, get my head clear and come back; you know I’ve been through a lot, it’s been one of those, it’s been a bad day – no, ye – life. Anyway, would you like to join me?”

“No, thanks.”

“Fair enough. I’ll be back, just gonna go smoke a cigarette.”

“Ok,” I said.

“I’m gonna go smoke a cigarette then. Tell, what was her name, Chanel, Shawna? Shawna, tell her, that I’ll be back and that’s she’s beautiful, man.”

“Will do. I’ll tell Shawna.”

He slowly rolled toward the front exit, his head hanging low, the rubber wheels of his electric wheelchair squeaking awkwardly with the carpet underneath him. He extended his left foot out and pushed the door open and leaves. There was a collective feeling of relief and we all knew in about five minutes he would wander somewhere else, continue to get drunk, piss on himself and forget all about us and this particular strip club.

We got back to work. Customers bought lap dance tickets, purchased 10 inch dildos, over-priced DVDs, sexual enhancement pills that sometimes work. The guard wiped down the insides of the show rooms – customer’s side of course. The clerk passed back and forth in the store, trying to look busy, randomly checking boxes. Chanel went on her lunch break. The seconds turn into minutes, the minutes turn into hours and everything hangs almost still in the overly-disinfected air, stuck in its sterile place; the workers here busying themselves for their hourly wages, the desperate customers slowly walking from shelf to shelf, from girl to girl, weighing out the options, secretly trying to figure out if there’s enough money in their bank account to buy a couple of lap dances, all of us stuck.

Somehow he returned, wearing a new leather jacket, his pant leg hanging over his stump, completely covering up the dirty black balled-off limb. He looked slightly more sober.

“All right, I’m back. Is Shawny around?”

“She just went on break, actually. Sorry man.”

“Well, for how long?”

“It’s probably going to be an hour.”

“I can’t wait an hour. I can’t wait an hour. Can’t. Here, just giver her this,” he said, handing me a folded manila envelope with the words “To Shawny” written in blue pen on the front.

“All right, I’ll make sure she gets it.”

“OK, well, see that you do and tell her to call me.”

“Will do. Take care.”

“You too.”

The clerk came back to the counter and suggested that I open it to make sure it isn’t something gross like a dead rat or a bag of shit. I thought twice, opened it up and found a sloppy love letter and a CD of a girl playing American patriotic songs on the violin.

If somehow the world survives in spite of its continuation of economic cannibalism, of global empires expanding, of soldiers and civilians being maimed and killed in the process of imposed wars of “democratization;” if global warming is indeed the biggest and greatest liberal conspiracy, and capitalism learns to regulate and fix itself and I am still here in 20 years, it’s good to know that when I roll into a strip club, crippled, insane and covered in piss, that I will be greeted with the same amount of arrogance and hate; and I will be honored of being in the presence of the damned.


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About Luis Rivas


Luis Rivas lives in Los Angeles, California. He was a telemarketer, construction worker, flower delivery driver, fast food cashier, sales clerk, non-profit canvasser, adult store and strip club manager and package handler/zip code sorter. His work has appeared in the following publications, some of which he contributes to regularly: Zygote in My Coffee,...read more Unlikely Stories, My Favorite Bullet, The Hold, Cherry Bleeds, Corium, Rural Messenger Press, Thieves Jargon, Origami Condom, Outsider Writers, Full of Crow, Counter Punch, Gloom Cupboard, where his is Poetry Editor and Red Fez, where he is author of the Last Days of Los Angeles column. He dropped out of Los Angeles Valley College where he was studying journalism to work full-time at a porn shop. Then he got fired. Now he has gone back to school, continuing his studies in journalism and Chicana/o Studies at California State University of Northridge and Los Angeles City College. He is currently building up his own literary website, peaceisillegal.com and plans on publishing a book on his youth. Once upon a time, he grew a beard. (There is evidence on the Internet.)

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