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“Life Is A Series Of Dogs”- BORDERLAND’s Excerpt #12

Don’t know if this is something that will actually make it into the book, but we’ll see. Felt compelled to write it because I’ve neglected this project and I apologize for that. No excuses.

So, this is for Trouble and “Neil” and Daisy and any of the other girls who have been touched by her and anyone else who has received one of her amazing puppies.

Life Is A Series Of Dogs

My roommate and I drive up Poudre Canyon, soaked in river water with an eight week old puppy curled and shaking in the back seat, silt and mineral-rich water glistening in her black coat. We were turned away from the campsite by the rangers because we refused to pay seventeen dollars for a half hours worth of playing with the puppy by the waterside. We packed up and drove along the water’s edge, looking for a spot with the least amount of rocks to relax by.

The puppy is asleep and I love her, though I’m certain there is less love for me on her side at the moment. Trouble sold her to me. Picked her out for me and everything. She chose right. Always intuitive and knowing beneath her bubbly exterior. No, perhaps it is that very exterior that makes the interior, where that certain spark of understanding comes from. I always believed wisdom came from those who were perpetually serious, callous. Men and women you couldn’t stand to be around unless they were doling out advice you knew was vital. Trouble is nothing like that. Talking to her is like talking to that aunt you can’t help but love and tell all your secrets. In the club she would approach me and hug me and it was never forced, never the fake show of affection I felt so many times from women I’m certain resent me or just men in general. Trouble is genuine through and through and for that many are grateful. Think of her as a rigid spine of steel. The middle. A neutral ground where everyone can rely, everyone can relate. Feel accepted.

The day Zilla brought me to see Trouble’s puppies for the first time, she was dressed in a tank top and shorts. Only a few days before she had helped me finish my piercing apprenticeship by allowing me to pierce her nipples. If there was any sign that anything like the sort had happened between her, my mentor, her husband and I, it was not in her eyes. She walked me into the garage and there in a homemade corral where almost a dozen balls of black and white and faun colored fur. They mewled and crawled and wagged their little tails. Several came to where I stood immediately, arching and standing, whining for attention.

“Which one is she?” I asked Trouble.

“That one,” she replied, pointing to a serene ball of black laying behind the others. Only her toes and a small strip on her stomach were white. “You can go in and pick her up if you want.”

Trouble smiled the entire time and when I took the puppy out and placed her on the lawn to play with her she sat on the cement step before her door and watched and her lips did not uncurl while I remained. Even on her own stoop nothing about Trouble changed. She remained the mother figure, the loving aunt. A tower of warmth and light. You want something dark? Perhaps in her past. Who knows. It no longer remained. Zilla stayed in the car, checking his messages.

When I gave the puppy back to Trouble and clambered into Zilla’s car, I asked him if he had seen her. Seen the dog.

“Yeah,” he answered in his bass voice, not looking over to me, “[The puppy] is fucking adorable.”

“Yeah, she is.”

“Man, I can’t wait to eat that puppy,” he added before pulling off back into the street.

Trouble is a ziggurat of cheerful light that saunters about like a monolith from the times before iPods and earbuds, back when myriad gods were all folks knew. All of that presence stuffed within a five foot and some inches frame. Her uniform is a Budweiser bikini which she wears almost every night. The owners ask her to change into something else but she rarely does and regardless of the fact that she’s a mother and into her thirties, that bright light doesn’t just shine forth, it attracts every poor bastard looking to experience the hometown girl and every dancer who needs an unbiased shoulder to cry and confide upon. A simply beauty who never left the town she went to high school in. Her white toothed smile and cornflower blue eyes. The one girl no one says a damn bad word about and rightfully so. Dirt could be dug and damage done but why mess with the only one who seems devoid of doubt? Why cast down an idol when it’s clear that idol is only giving guidance and love?

The puppy Trouble picked for me is calm and sweet, unlike any other puppy I’ve met. Perhaps it’s because of her amalgamation mutt mix of big breeds or maybe it’s her natural born demeanor. Either/or, it’s who she is. She lays out on the kitchen floor and ignores all goings-on. A stone sphinx, some marble-cast gargoyle guardian. She is precious. I love her.

Trouble and Neil, her husband and one of the DJ’s at the club, stand in my kitchen and unload a glitter-covered gift-bag filled with extra dog food and squeak toys and a miniature braided rope for tug-o-war and her short vet record and even her last deworming shot.

As Trouble feeds my puppy the sweet nectar that will keep her intestines clear, Neil stands barrel chested and serious, intimidating for a man fairly my senior. He wears glasses and a red t-shirt and I want to make him laugh to break the tension that is probably on my side alone. I can never tell if he dislikes me or not.

They say their goodbye’s to the puppy and I thank them and walk them out to their car and wonder what my life would have been like had I not met them both.

Though I have yet to meet him, I’ve seen pictures of my puppy’s older brother. He resembles an enormous black golden retriever. I imagine that Trouble picked him for Daisy in a similar way she picked my puppy for me.

Most recent pictures I see of Daisy are her with the puppy as he grows. Pictures of him sleeping. Pictures of him in the car. Pictures of them both on the bed or couch. A picture of him curled around the toilet, passed out. His entire life documented on the internet for the world to see. Daisy told me more than once that her dog was all the man she needed.

My roommate is passing out on her bed with my puppy by her chest and her own cat bove her head. The puppy looks up at me and I put my face to her face and she breaths tired puppy breathes and I kiss her nose and leave the apartment.

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In Fort Collins & “Never Ever Did”- BORDERLANDS Excerpt #10

Update 4/13/2012: Back in Fort Collins, living in the nicest apartment I’ve ever lived in as an adult or a child. Things are changing, jobs are changing. Still a piercing apprentice, still writing. Said I’d never come back to this town, told people how much I hated it, how fucking stupid it was.

Now look at me. Made a motherfucking liar of myself.

Oh well. Now read what you came here to read.

 

CSU Campus outside my balcony.

———-

I never notice her until she brushes passed. Any interaction with her is rare. She keeps to herself. Nightmare in her pewter cloak, shrouded like a figment in the back of the strip club. Ignoring the world, face buried deep in the pages of a mass market paperback about rogue angels and demons who harbor human emotions, she looks as if she’s as comfortable in her lingerie and high heels as she is at home in sweats and a t-shirt. Anytime we make eye contact or I talk to her I feel as if I’m bothering her. Her answers are stunted, her gaze is cold, her voice disinterested. She scares me a little.

“If there’s one girl in here,” Pumpkin says to me one night as we sit at his throne, smoking his menthols, “If there’s one girl in here, if you ever wanted to date one, it’s her.”

“It’s who?” I ask.

“Her,” Pumpkin points his finger to a six foot woman with a pixie haircut wrapped in a cloak model walking to the bathroom.

“Her? What? Why? No way.”

Pumpkin laughs his hearty laugh and shakes his head.

“Nightmare?”

“Yeah, dude.”

“She’s not my type. Girls like Vanessa and Aurora are.”

“Stay as far a fucking way from them as you can. If you ever decide to go after a girl in this place that’s the one.”

“Not happening. Besides, I’m pretty sure she hates me.”

“I have this knot in my right ankle,” Nightmare tells me, showing me from beneath a long blue dress. It’s the kind of outfit 9th century nobility wore, showing only the shape of her toned shoulders and narrow hips.

“Why not get a massage then?”

“They’re like callouses. If I get a massage it will make it worse.”

On stage Nightmare is a dark liquid. Darkness seems to envelop even the neon underwear she sports. She can be slow and sexual, quick and seductive. Her motions and movements, her choices, her actions, all of it is filled to the brim with forced symbolism, creating imagery to go with her name- the outfits, the songs she dances to. Everything is crafted to make you remember her name. To invoke nightmares. During the song that is her namesake she halts at the end of the chorus, arching her back as she lays across the stage or leans against the pole and while the band sings she lip syncs, reminding us all.

“OOOOOOO, YOUR FUCKING NIGHTMARE!”

“My grandmother made this for my wedding. My ex wore his Air Force uniform,” they were married in Cheyenne. A small ceremony. They had met on the internet through a social network where you rate other people and hopefully get their attention.

As Nightmare walks by me her scent reminds me of childhood. A Macy’s or Victoria’s Secret memory from my mother’s bedroom. I’m taken back to her arrays of perfumes and lotions lined across the white counter top, reflected back by the large mirrors latched to the walls. Memories of when I was young enough to wander in on my mother naked, her breasts hanging down as she hits her forties. Her blonde hair up in a tan towel as she spends hours making herself up to go to the super market or hang out around the house.

What an inappropriate vision to be conjured, especially by a woman in a fucking cloak.

“You have bedroom eyes,” Bailey tells Nightmare across the back table, smiling, teeth showing like a shy concubine.

“I what?” Nightmare wraps her cloak tight around her slender body and takes a drag from her cigarette.

“Bedroom eyes,” Bailey smiles wider.

Vanessa pays no attention to the conversation, drawing a picture of a buffalo out of squiggles and shitty lines.

Nightmare and her ex split in the winter, the divorce itself still floating in the atmosphere and cumulonimbus clouds that stretch from Wyoming to Alaska where she relocated to be with him.

She would find messages and texts between him and old ex’s or women he’d met on dating websites. Exchanges about how he wanted to put his tongue inside their cunts, about pulling their hair while fucking them up against walls.

“One day we went to buy perfume,” she tells me in the same uninterested voice she uses to tell any tale or vocalize any statement. From the tone she might as well be talking about groceries. “[He] tells me he likes how the perfume smells to him, but that he doesn’t need [a scent] because my natural aroma attracted him. I knew it was over then.”

One night the wind is horrendous to the point where they close I-25 and 85 and those of us who live in Colorado wait for news, sit around wondering if we’ll be able to get home or if we’ll be stuck in Cheyenne. The club is slow, most customers already gone. It’s only the girls, the bartender, DJ and myself. Bailey tells me if things stay shitty we can get a room together.

“I don’t have money for a room,” I say, embarrassed.

“It’s okay, dude. Don’t worry about it.”

I sit around, waiting, wondering what will happen and then she comes up out of nowhere.

“Hey,” Nightmare says, hovering over me, five inches taller than me in her heels.

“Hey.”

“You can stay at my place if you don’t want to drive home.”

“I don’t know. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Well, it’s up to you,” she walks off, back to work.

I think it over for about an hour and I’m not sure why I say yes. I find her at the bar.

“Okay, I’ll stay with you.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, why not?”

“Okay,” she tells me her address and tells me to meet her there after the club closes., “But don’t tell anyone. No one.”

“Yeah, dude, I know.”

Fate sealed. Road taken. No going back now.

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“Naked Nights”- BORDERLANDS Excerpt #9

Her name is Heidi and in her face and body I see remnants of whatever genetic strain courses through Bailey’s veins. There is something sweeter in her face and in her voice. Harshness has not set in. She is all smiles. Bitterness against where she works has had no time to settle into her mind and bones and beating heart. Her words bounce from a throat she tells me she uses to sing opera. Her pearly whites look so unused. I imagine braces coming off them only days before.

She works at A Hunt Club, a ‘no touch’ gentleman’s club in Fort Collins. College boys and out of place Mexican workers slobber over girls they can’t have. Not even the illusion is complete, a bastardized monster that will haunt and torture them as they lay awake, surfing the internet for porn that tickles that spot they can’t find a woman to caress. The girls are all young in the way only females in college are young. Inexperience veiled in the varied uniforms of what they perceive as maturity.

“I like their no touch policy,” Heidi tells me from across the high table, “I don’t think I could work anywhere that didn’t have that.”

“Where you have to touch on the guys?” I ask.

“Yeah, where you have to touch or the guys touch you. So,” Heidi pauses, “Yeah, I think I’d be really bad at lap dances. I’m a really awkward person. Like, when I started here I was the worst dancer ever. So, if I had to, like, learn how to lap dance it would be bad.”

“I would never tell anyone at school I work here.”

“Is that a personal decision or are you ashamed?”

“I’m not ashamed,” she squeaks, quick to the trigger, “Like, if they asked I’d be like ‘yeah, it’s just a job’. It’s just a job, that’s how I look at it.”

A Hunt Club

*****

Nude Night. Though all-nude strip clubs are illegal in Wyoming, The Den manages to get away with it by only having one night every couple weeks where the girls strip down to nothing but their skin and subconscious. Though any girl can work in any amount of clothing, most decide to shed it all and make the extra money with their cunts exposed, splaying for strangers and raking in the greenbacks,

Daisy plants herself on my lap and vents. I don’t mind this. Usually I do but I don’t with her. This isn’t romance though we connect or a crush though she is attractive. It’s almost a sibling-like feeling. An understanding. A pretty girl who doesn’t feel pretty finding safety in a boy who realize tthis and wants nothing more than to let her talk. She tells me about some asshole taking pictures of Nightmare while she dances. I try not to care. It’s not my place to care.

There is an innocence that floods from every pore of Daisy’s body. From her white outfits to her eyes that always look shut and bothered by the cigarette smoke to the sweet soprano of her voice. She is all legs and hips and backside, an archetype of what I should want but that isn’t there for either of us. She moves to a seat of her own and begins to let it out.

“There’s just a certain level of nakedness that shouldn’t be shared with the general public,” Daisy tells me, “I mean, like, boobs are okay. Boobs are fun. Like, I like my boobs.” she stutters a bit, bending her head to the side like a curious bird and corrects the motion with another avian movement, “Granted they’re-they’re small but they’re fun. I-I just feel like that’s a very private area that gives life, that-”

Daisy changes courses as if her first explanation wasn’t appropriate, “Have you ever seen that commercial where it’s, like, ‘It gives birth.’ It can, like, bring down nations. I think it’s for, like, a vaginal care thing.”

“Douches?” I offer.

“Yeah! It’s a stupid commercial.”

“I didn’t even know douches had commercials.”

“Yeah and then, like, two men , like, are battling and then there’s a picture of a woman. It’s, like, ‘Wars are fought over it’. And- and it’s all about the vagina. And so, but, I feel like there’s a level of nakedness I’m not okay with.

“And, you know, I feel like if you’re sharing, if you work here and you’re sharing a certain part of yourself, like, if you’re sharing a certain part of yourself like you’re lap dancing and putting your tits in someones face, you’re having fake romances, maybe, like, ten a night. So you should [keep your vagina] for yourself and if you are in a relationship, for [your partner]. It’s like your two, three inches of dignity, depending on how big your thong is.”

“Do you feel there’s a hypocrisy in what you’re saying?” I ask.

“No,” her answer is quick and adamant. Offended, “I mean, it’s my opinion on it, I guess. Sure, I may show one part of my body but that doesn’t mean that my body isn’t sacred to me. Like, I personally like to save something for myself. That part of my body is completely different from the top part of my body. Like, men play sports topless. Like, the penis and the vagina have always been sacred. They’ve always covered it, look at the statue of Adam. Is it Adam? The dude with the leaf covering.”

“I don’t know who that is.”

“But, like, in, like, sculptures and what not, and in- and in, like, books, they’ve always had to censor out those parts. So I feel like boobs aren’t that big of an issue.”

“But it wasn’t always like that. Wasn’t it the Catholic church that made them cover up?”

“Yeah, well, that’s what I feel,” Daisy says, her voice dejected and dismissive, “I don’t care.”

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“Welcome to the Border/ Love & _________”- BORDERLANDS Excerpt #8

I come to the border and I know I’m in the West. Sure, in Colorado there were mountains and plains, foxes playing on lawns with the carcasses of rodents, hippy girls on bikes in black leggings, medicinal marijuana and liberal lifestyles that will cost you a fucking fortune- but once I get to the sign with the big blue and the silhouette of the cowboy on the bronco I know I’m someplace else. Wyoming brings an eastward wind that can topple semi trailers, cowboy bars where bastards with guns at their hips and knives in their boots smoke while watching girls in sequins and rhinestones dance to country and buffaloes range only where man says they can roam.

The sky opens up. I see everything. I see nothing. Blue skies and clouds and plains that stretch on. The rails run north to south, south to north, the box cars filled with coal and lumber, cars and cattle, graffiti and engineers.

Cheyenne is a city that can’t decide what it wants to be. You enter town either on the outskirts or the ghetto and both are one in the same. The buildings are all worn by wind, nothing pristine. Everything looks as if the pioneer city planners took wood, gunpowder and grit and tried to instill it into the architecture for years to come. Still the downtown area appears to be trying in failed attempts to retain the Ol’ West that mankind built.

The first day I spend in Cheyenne Nightmare and I go out to breakfast. She orders a burrito filled with bacon and eggs she doesn’t finish and fruit drinks with over preserved strawberries at the bottom which she spoons into her mouth and brandishes at me in an immature fashion, letting the red chunks sit on her tongue. I shake my head and laugh and eat my pancakes, realizing for the first time how blue her eyes really are and how something about her beauty is missing in the darkness and bathed in black light and smoke residue.

***

It’s an interesting feeling, falling in love for the first time as an adult. I don’t want to accept it, I deny it and beat around the bush and when she doesn’t bring it up I let myself lay next to her and take in the smell of her perfume, a scent that will haunt me for who knows how long. An aroma that will live on in my nightmares and dreams alike.

I lay next to her. It’s about two or three or four in the morning. I’m not sure. I can’t sleep. All moments with her are surreal. Half the time I’m so happy all I want to do is kiss her awake and the other half I’m so scared it will all be gone when I awaken I don’t dare slumber. Every time I try to pass out I turn over and see the curves of her body, the pristine shape of her hips, the bubble of her ass that fits just right in my hands. She’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen and with her asleep in my arms I know that every woman that comes after this I’ll have to lie to. I’ll tell them they’re beautiful, but as I lay with them I’ll think of her. As I enter the warmth of their cunts her name will enter my mind and visions of her smiling wider than I’ve ever seen her on stage will fill the space behind my eyes only my subconscious sees. I’m naïve enough to think that I’m the only person who has ever seen her look so happy, so content.

And then in her sleep she turns over and grapples me, holding me around the waist and pulling herself close. She puts her forehead against my chest. I freeze. I don’t know what to do because I don’t want to wake her, so I put my arms around her and even now I don’t want to admit I love her. With my fingers I stroke her back, the feel of her skin against me making me tired. I don’t want this to end. Not ever. Please, don’t let it end.

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“Ain’t No Barbie”- BORDERLANDS Excerpt #7

I see Madison and she is beautiful. Not beautiful in the way where I fall in love with her at first sight but in the way where I want to avoid eye contact and creep to the other side of a room so I don’t embarrass myself before her. Beautiful in that way where if she were pushing a carriage down the street with an infant I’d stop and tell her “Your baby is going to be lovely,” knowing I can’t tell shit from the lump of new pink flesh swaddled in blankets.

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Though, I did make the mistake of calling her a Barbie. It’s not that she’s got long blonde hair or a body that defies physics. Her hair is colored shades of artificial but spectacular gold. When we stand face to face without her heels we’re even, a few inches above the average man or woman. You can see where children drained her in the stomach and breasts, loose skin showing beneath the black light. What makes me think of Barbie is how her lips pout and the arch of her impressive eyebrows. It’s not what Barbie is, but what Barbie means- you want her for a few minutes? Well, ain’t no way in hell unless you’re willing to spend the cash.

Fuck off.

When Madison climbs the stage people crowd the plush seats. A man who seems a cross between a hippy and a lumberjack sits and puts twenty dollars bills on the padded tip rail like they’re Washingtons.

“The girls like me because of the poetry I write her,” the Hipjack tells me, alcohol wafting from his throat to my nose. He stares out from thick rimmed black glasses with bulging eyes behind.

Madison removes her top to reveal nipples hard and erect on small breasts, the flesh responding as if it knows that it is time to work.

“What do you mean I’m a Barbie?” Madison says while a drunken dancer who tells me to ‘call her Sparkles’ and Hipjack heckle me. I fumble for words and have no real response but half-assed reasoning. I falter. I fail.

“What is this?” Hipjack asks me, drunk and smiling, “Gonzo journalism?”

“You ain’t no Thompson,” Sparkles shouts over the bass, “You ain’t no Thompson.”

I float around the club, embarrassed. Sparkles. What a cunt. All I want to do is leave. To run. Why stay? Such a stupid idea? Who do I think I am, anyway? They’re right. This isn’t my world. I ain’t no Thompson and this isn’t Gonzo journalism. I should go home.

“And now to the stage is the beautiful Sadie,” the DJ drawls. Sparkles prances up onto the stage and dances to “Pretty Fly For A White Guy”, twirling her dyed red hair.

Liar.

Sadie reminds me of porn stars the way her facial expressions form for customers. Her teeth remind me of Europeans. She’s wrapped in leg warmers and lace as her g-string sinks into her hips, camouflaged in flesh. Hipjack comes to the stage and drops a twenty.

“I was hoping you’d come sooner,” Sadie says as she moves from some Mexicans to the drunken amalgamation, nuzzling and dancing against his aging, flannel-clad body.

I end up sitting with Aurora and Suit in the back by the pool tables, sulking and talking with less heart than earlier. As the night wanes Madison comes and finds me and sits down. Aurora makes room and is quick to leave, looking the two of us over, telling me she’s going to dress out. Madison apologizes for Sadie and Hipjack. All that’s left is her and I, four inches from each other, and it all feels too close. I want to be on the other side of bullet proof, prison-grade glass with guards and shackles and then I’ll feel as if we’re separated enough. She intimidates me.

Articulating my Barbie comment comes out even worse with us one on one, but Madison waves it away with a manicured hand and tells me she understands. Her own words are broken. I can tell she wants to be clear, but everything comes out chopped up. She fishes for words and starts one sentence only to begin a new one half way through. Regardless, she lets me know she’s never seen herself as some unapproachable beauty.

“Well, yeah, but I’ve always hated the girls who sat in the mirror [and were like] ‘I’m so hot’,” she tells me as she moves her hair from her face, “I don’t see myself that way and I never have, nor will I ever view myself that way.

“I kind of prided myself in a way too, like, to seclude myself. I always had a lot going on as a kid and I was not involved. I don’t know, really, I’ve always be an individualist. And for the most part I look the same as I did when I was [younger].”

Hipjack comes up while the other girls are up on stage doing Platter, where most of the girls dance as a singular organism, vying for tips and interacting to get the last bits of cash from the pockets of drunkards and number-one fans. Madison excludes herself. The older girls tend to do so on occasion, though some are willing to slither in the pile for a few extra dollars.

“Hey,” Hipjack interrupts, “I got- I threw out a bunch of ones up there,” his voice gets quiet, tones of inebriation overtaking him.

“Do you ever,” he pauses, “dance?”

“I don’t ever [do platter]. I let them do platter,” she motions to the stage and smiles at Hipjack, using his real name. It sounds so proper, so out of place here on the ripped leather with cigarette smoke filling our ears and eyes and noses. “Go home.”

“They broke my eardrums with their tits.”

“Oh yeah?”

Madison ignores Hipjack’s presence and lets her words form into sentences more concrete than before. In her little black dress with her tangles of golden hair she looks tired, disinterested, only here with me to clarify her existence.

“I never really, uh- I know this sounds funny but I’m good at this. It’s something that I was good at from the get go, so I kind of, I dunno, when you’re good at something you stick with it.

“It’s not really socially acceptable. It’s very age sensitive, but-” she let’s the words linger, disappearing into wisps of smoke as if whatever the ‘but’ is she expects me to get. To just know.

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“The King What Sits On His Throne”- BORDERLANDS Excerpt #6

“I love this place,” Pumpkin says. His voice is sincere. It is hard not to believe words that come out of this behemoth of a man. Something in his voice holds the remnants of an east coast accent though from what I know he’s been out west most of his life., “ If I could I’d own [The Den] and I tried. I tried. If it wasn’t two-point-four million dollars I would be the owner.”

“You already seem like you are,” I joke. I give an anxious smile. He doesn’t smile back, “Mayor of the place.”

“Yeah, well, you know, I mean, I already told ya guys come in here all the time and they see me, ya know, not doing what a normal customer does and they automatically assume I’m the bouncer or I work here. And for the sake of, for the sake of, them having an eye out and to behave, I’ll tell em ‘Yeah, I’m the bouncer. I have my eye on you tonight.

“Really, I’m just here to have fun, man. Sit down, relax. That’s what keeps my head level for the week, ya know. Like, when I’m working I come out on Sunday night, I spend four hours here and it gives me a peaceful sense for the work week.”

Other than the owners and male employees and sycophantic boyfriends who hawk in the dark corners while their women bare their skin, Pumpkin is at The Den more than any other man I’ve met. Most of the week he spends hour upon hour in the back at what I dub his throne.

Twice as wide as the average man, taller than most and covered in tattoos of angels of death and skeletal outlining on his hands, Pumpkin could look the part of a disgruntled bouncer or an obsessive paramour but he is none of those and it pains him to know that. I see it in his face, in the way he smokes cigarettes under the black lights. It might as well pour from him like a noxious liquid, dark and frothing and foul.

“What keeps you coming back?” I ask him and the question seems to change his mood. Though never bright or happy, somehow Pumpkin grows more discontented. He slumps into his chair and plays with his cigarette lighter and ponders for a moment in his own mind. The silence is intimidating. A frown furrows his face.

“I don’t know,” he answers after a moment, “I fucking hate this place.”

The first time Pumpkin even acknowledged me was the night I met Nightmare. While the pale ice queen beauty and myself sat in awkward silence near the front of the club, Pumpkin lumbers in with his behemoth waddle, un-geled mohawk and dressed in his usual uniform of all black. That night he stopped and nodded to Nightmare and when I think back on this how strange it seems. Knowing them both now makes me ponder how uncharacteristic they both acted that night. Almost coincidental that these two people who would play such a huge part in my life for both better and worse would stand parallel but that evening Nightmare was still only a tall and lanky blue eyed beauty with a pixie cut who I was sure as hell was annoyed with me and Pumpkin a sort of scary tattooed mass of flesh who looked at me as if I were the biggest douche bag in the world.

Looking at those two I imagined they came from a familiar cut of cloth. Both in dark colors, black upon black upon black. I pictured them at home listening to angry mainstream hard rock pretty boys with long hair who were all angry at their fathers and every attractive woman who ever turned her cheek on them. Yet Nightmare and Pumpkin are opposites, one sitting on the side of wanted and the other, unwanted. And they are similar, wrapped in shadows and black light, quiet and to themselves, one saying forget the world and the other saying fuck it to hell.

Nightmare looked up to Pumpkin with her legs crossed and speaking in bored tones she pointed to me, “I like this guy.”

Pumpkin shrugged his shoulders and walked away without a word.

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“Fear Itself”- BORDERLANDS Excerpt #5

A Halloween party before Halloween itself. Brooklyn walks around in a correctional officer uniform streaked with blood and red handprints. She sits down in the back by Pumpkin’s Throne, the single table near the pool tables where the girls, myself and Pumpkin congregate to converse and laugh and complain.

“It fucking sucks ass,” Brooklyn says above the crowd, “I want to take everybody’s dick and cut it off and glue it to their [taints] so they always fuck themselves in the ass.”

“Yeah,” I say, my voice rife with sarcasm, “But how do you really feel?”

Tarin shouts over the music and the din of a busy Saturday night to no one in particular and to everyone, whether they wanted to hear or not, “I want to puke in your motherfucking mouth!”

“I feel like making my own Halloween costume out of one of these guys,” Brooklyn confides. A smile stays on her full lips though her eyes show she might be kind of serious.

“With my [tears] running down your nose!” Tarin continues.

“What?” I laugh.

“What’s that movie? ‘It rubs lotion on its skin’?”

“Silence of the Lambs?”

“Silence of the Lambs shit! Imma take one of these guys, I’m gonna skin him [and wear him] and it will definitely win the contest.”

Tarin sits down with us and with a reminiscent fondness in her voice she says, “I love that movie.”

The best way to describe how Brooklyn looks is that she is photogenic. Pictures of her show blonde curls and green eyes as vibrant as summer grass in the sun set into a face that has stayed pretty despite three children and a failed marriage, MMA fighting and stripping since she was eighteen. And toughness abound lives behind those eyes. More than once from the stories she’s told me I imagined Brooklyn standing over some poor bastard with fist reared back and bloody knuckles, breaking noses and splintering bones, the crimson rose tattooed on her hand splattered red. Yet every photograph I see of her, whether she’s simply smiling or making a duck face or posing with her children, I can’t help but see her and think “How pretty”.

“I’m obsessed with numbers,” Brooklyn says. In her mouth is a pink lollipop and dangling from her fingertips is a cigarette. She alternates sucking on both, “And I feel like if I don’t do something in those certain amount of numbers somebodies gonna die in my family.

“I don’t like the number two but I have twins so I try to work in the number two sometimes but if I do something and I walk away and my stomach feels gross, like, I feel like I need to touch it again and [if] I don’t then I [feel] like I’m gonna puke. And then if I don’t go back and touch it and make myself do it, I’m afraid my mom’s gonna die, my kids are gonna die.”

Brooklyn’s lisp shows ever the slightest. She speaks quicker and more professional the deeper she goes into her condition. Excited with tinges of panic soak her vocal chords. A fear of what rests within.

“Odd numbers are even to me. There’s two on each side and one on top. Five. One, two, they’re even.”

“Wait,” says Sadie. She’s been sitting with us, engrossed in the conversation. The woman still doesn’t like me and she acts as my foil, only coming around when she needs to cheer herself by demeaning and degrading me. To this day I have never met someone so proud of being a cunt. And a self proclaimed one, mind you. “You have twins and [a baby], right?”

“Yeah!” Brooklyn shouts. Enthusiasm comes to her in a rapid wave as she feels someone understands her blight.

“That makes sense.”

“Three is my favorite number,” Brooklyn tells me and Sadie, “I do almost everything in threes. “When I get shit from the vending machine, if it’s in the number six spot I will not get it. I will not getting anything with six. If a [cashier] hands me back change that’s ‘666’ I will give her money, say ‘take it’ and if she doesn’t take it I can’t leave until she does because I will feel sick to my stomach because she fucking-,” Brooklyn laughs at herself and smiles, “I know, I’m crazy. See, these are the things you don’t know about me. Now you understand why I am the way I am. Complete torture in my brain at all times.”

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“Motherhood, Part II- BORDERLANDS Excerpt #4”

One night Tarin sat across from me in the black dress that made her seem so professional, her legs crossed. Her hands and arms and legs and torso moved constantly. You would think her the youngest woman in the club.

“[He’s a] big ray of sunshine,” Tarin told me as she spoke of her son, “He’s hilarious and adorable. He keeps it real.”

“Are you teaching him to be a proper little black man?” I joked.

“Um, nah, I think he’s totally white. Effeminate. I love it. He’s five. He’ll be six on the 23rd. Crazy, right? I tried to have him on Mother’s Day and it just wasn’t working,” she laughed.

“He just found out I’m a stripper. He doesn’t say stripper but he said the other day to me, ‘Mom, are you going to go work and dance and make some money?’ and I was like ‘Am I gunna what?’ and he’s like ‘You make dance moves, right? And they pay you for your dance moves.’ And I was like ‘What are you talking about?’ and he’s like ‘I’ve seen your clothes in your work bag.’

“It doesn’t help that when we did the exotic fusion for the first time we videotaped it. When he was three he found that and I caught him one morning watching it. I mean, granted, it’s just girls dancing and taking their clothes off but I’m in that video. So I think he finally just connected the video with the clothes and the money and is like ‘Wait a minute here, this is what my mom is doing’.” The music died with her last words and for a moment Tarin’s bubble broke and the smiles and exuberance faded.

“So it’s kind of horrifying, actually. It was okay when he was younger and oblivious to the concept of [dancing and being paid].” The music picks back up and so does her mood. It’s as if the tunes overhead, the bass and the songs, are some sort of juice to a battery rechargeable, giving her back the facade that keeps her through the night, “So, yeah, I’m ready to quit. Now. I’m, like, ready to go get a job at IHOP because I don’t want him to think I’m a stripper anymore. I mean, I’m serious. It’s horrifying. It is horrifying. What if he goes to school one day and says ‘My mom dances for money’. Like, what? No thank you.”

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“Motherhood, Part I”- BORDERLANDS Excerpt #3

Love them. Love women. Love their curves. Watch them sway and bounce their asses and pop out each cheek. Want them. Look them over. Stare from face to stomach to arms to tits to hips to legs to calves to feet to cunt and love them.

If you cannot love them you are already lost and I pity you for this. To understand them you must want them. Any who tell you otherwise lie. They know not women and they know not how sweet they smell or the looks in their eyes when they know they hold you in the palms of their perfumed hands and how they nod, acknowledging they can now take you into their mouth, chew you up and swallow you bones and balls and cum and all.

Once I asked Tarin about being a mother and she gave me a list that involved every adjective imaginable.

“Stressful. Tiring. Amazing. Fun. Hilarious. Hard,” Tarin’s voice grew more upbeat with every word. She smiled wider. The darkness of The Den remained but in the back by the mirrors and the billiard tables light as if reflected from the sun by the snow radiated from the plush armchair she lounged upon. Everything she said accented by the West and the world she had immersed herself within. “You’ve got to be creative sometimes. Pick and choose your battles, you know? You can’t win everything.”

“Do you enjoy it?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she beamed, “It’s amazing!”

“Was he planned?”

“No. He was a total accident. Tried to get an abortion. Texas laws [are] different than Colorado so I was too far along. So,” her mood dropped but she perked up quick, “Oh, kind of had to have him then. It was, like, nine months of making myself believe I had to be a mom. There was no more fuck off time. I am now responsible for another human being and I have to teach him things and-,” Tarin paused and contemplated, drawing in breath.

“It was very stressful. I hated my life. I came up to Colorado when I was thirteen, fourteen weeks pregnant and I moved in with my mom and lived off the money that I had. Yeah. Crazy. Crazy life.

“But it has made me so much stronger and it’s made me open my heart and my mind to so much more of life that I think people without children forget and pass up. It’s the simple things that keep us going every day and that [make] life enjoyable.

“I also think I had him for a reason. I was going down a very destructive path. I was an alcoholic. Bad. I woke up in the morning to drink a drink,” Tarin laughed, nervous and truthful. She repeated the same noise over each time she attempted to make fun of her past. “There was at least a liter of vodka gone a day, easily. I liked to drink.

“So, I think it all happened for a reason.”

I could put the amount of times I’ve seen Tarin act professional, with her back straight and swaying her luscious hips beneath a tight black dress, on one side of Justice’s scale and then take the times I’ve seen her mock jerking off a cock she doesn’t have, shouting out loud that she’s not making any money and that men should stop sword fighting and pay attention to her tits, put them on opposite sides of each other and the apparatus would even out.

Tarin was nearing her thirties but the way she acted with her gamine features and curling blonde hair I would never have knew unless she was so honest about her age. On the best of days or under the worst of circumstances a smile managed to creep across her heart-shaped pixie face. Everything at The Den was a joke. Always she’d tell me she didn’t want to be there, that she’d rather do hair or even serve tables but she’d always be out dancing. With bills to pay, schooling for herself to fund and a son at home, working a job you’ve worked well for almost a decade seems realistic.

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“Redhead Sings the Blues”- BORDERLANDS Excerpt #2

I wouldn’t even be writing this novel if it wasn’t for the initial suggestion of one person. Though folks like Christopher Cervelloni, Angie Paxton and Lisa Blandford suggested I turn my writings into something more concrete, it was a specific woman who sat with legs crossed before me in nothing but her underwear and was bold enough to suggest to  me, a down-on-his-luck pizza delivery driver at the time, to “write about this place”.

That place was The Den.

That woman dances by the name Bailey.

Here are bits and pieces of Bailey.

(NOTE: Names have been changed . Pretty sure they aren’t hard to figure out… and so everyone is clear, Riley is just the name I gave Bailey’s current boyfriend who is the same man who she waited to get out of prison and now he is and I wish them the best of luck together.)

(NOTE to the stuck up writer friends: Yes, the tenses switch between present and past because 1. I’m still trying to see which is more effective and 2. I honestly don’t give two or three or four fucks.)

-0-

“Are you going to visit him?” I asked her.

“No, nah,” Bailey laughed, mischief in her voice and face. Her cheeks fill with blood even beneath the black lights.

“Oh.”

“You had sex,” Tessa teased, leaning forward in a pink outfit that offsets her open legged stance and rough voice.

“No!” Bailey exclaimed, “We can’t have sex in visitation. In the visitation room he kissed my hand- he kissed my hand! They dry celled him for two days because they thought we were passing drugs. That he had swallowed a balloon of some sort. Oh!” her voice grew dramatic like an offended socialite and she reclined in the chair, “We were ‘sexually inappropriate at the visitation so it got taken away from us.”

Bailey’s voice dripped with ichor and sarcasm and she searched our faces. There was a pain behind her facade and I wish I would have noticed it then. She wasn’t only searching for our pity. It was our agreement she sought.

Both Tessa and I were silent for a moment until I shrugged my shoulders.

“He’s, uh, he’s in prison,” I stated, trying to be honest.

Tessa took up after me in the same tone, “Prison sucks. I’ve never been there, but…”

-0-

Bailey is a beauty in that way where one must bypass imperfections not because she’s a stripper with a nice ass but because at her stage it’s as if she’s dancing just for you. As she caresses the pole with slender fingers and looks out from beneath auburn eyelashes, she’s no longer a woman dancing for dollar bills. With a tattooed garter on her long legs and the slow, sensual movements of her body, Bailey becomes the blushing bride on her honeymoon. A wife waiting for a soldier coming back from war. The cute girl at the campus bookstore sifting through psychology and law books.

Yet, when she sits down to talk to me the scars of acne mar her face and small lips purse to near nothingness when she becomes serious. And as she opens her mouth and smiles wide and her eyes narrow and I can see how a man sits in jail for years with only the thought of her as his anchor, the illusion is ruined and she becomes her real name, first and last, shouting above Nicki Minaj and Pusifer.

“When Riley[real name changed] would fuck me he would leave a mushroom stamp on my cervix,” she would partially whisper to me with a stale cackle and a grin.

As Hawkeye asked one of the unfortunate souls to be subjected to a Hot Seat to make barnyard animal noise, Bailey cupped her hands over her mouth and shouted like a rooster, “Any-Cock-Will-Doo!”

And up at the bar, with a fur-lined hoodie over her bra and t-bar, she would open up and the laughs would stop and she’d chain smoke with the fire from the cigarettes traveling from the burning tip straight to her honey-colored eyes.

“-but nobodies sitting up at the stages. Nobodies tipping you. Nobodies paying attention to you. But they’re all watching you, they’re all staring at you. It’s awkward just to be stared at.”

Words like that, sometimes humorous and frequently serious, make me think that at any time Bailey is as likely to flash you a smile as to stand up, flip the crowd off, give everyone a Miss America wave and walk out in nothing but her stiletto’s, pale skin and pride.

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