“Hey baby, when I write, I’m the hero of my shit.” Charles Bukowski
There’s nothing like an itch you can’t scratch.
On those Saturday nights, when I got itchy, I would drive down to this seedy, little bar on the corner of Way-South and West Street. It had a gravel parking lot that was occasionally lit by one headlight, and a rented marquee that sat out by the side of the road and spoke to me intermittently:
Girls! Girls! Girls!
The promotion never failed to arouse my curiosity, and tossing the keys of my ‘58 Ford Thunderbird to the valet holding up the dumpster, I would always step inquisitively inside this secluded, but quaint little drinking establishment.
I could tell Girls! Girls! Girls! was a high-class joint by the size of the gorilla standing at the door. His name was Mungo. The only thing more intimidating than Mungo’s shoe size was the fact that his knuckles touched the ground. He would stand at the door all night in his monkey suit, a grim look on his face, and yet once you got to know the big ape, he had the heart of a chimpanzee. Simply slip him a couple of bannas and he’d wave you in.
Once inside, I took a moment to bask in the ambiance.
The establishment was dimly lit—a few neon signs behind the bar, a small stage at the far end, although the mirrors behind the bar and around the stage gave the illusion the room was larger than it actually was. A thick cloud of cigarette smoke hung heavily from nicotine-stained ceiling tiles. All things considered, it reminded me a little of my last marriage, except the object of my affection was far more accommodating.
“So what’ll it be tonight, Johnny—the usual?”
It was Bernice, the hostess. She was always waiting to greet me with a gold-toothed smile. She reminded me of Betty Boop with tattoos—squeaky voice, little kiss curls. She was always packing around a copy of Fitzgerald’s something or other. I was a little worried about the kid. Not only was she was obsessed with that whole roaring 20s thing, I’m not sure she was old enough to even be working a joint like this. All the same, whatever she had her pretty, little head wrapped around, she was cute as hell..
“Yeah sure, Bernice, but tell the bartender to keep the fockin’ umbrella this time. I don’t know why that cat thinks he has to put an umbrella in every drink he makes.”
“I think he used to work the bar at the Flaming Carrort down the road. Okay, let’s see here. Double margarita. On the rocks. Nix the fockin’ umbrella.” Squinting in the half-light, she scribbles it down on the ticket and squeaks. “Gotcha!”
“Yeah, and hey.. is Frankie working tonight?”
“Yah,” she says, smacking her gum. “She’s in the back changin’ right now, but her names aint Frankie tonight, Johnny.”
“Okay then dollface—what is her name tonight?”
“Whatever you want it to be, Johnny.” Bernice winks. “Whatever you want it to be. Rest your dogs, baby. I’ll be right back with your tequila spritzer thingie.”
“Whatever I want it to be?
Frankie had always been Frankie to me. I had never called her by any other name, or at least I’d always thought her name was Frankie. I don’t know why she would have told me different. I was her biggest admirer. Yeah, me and Frankie had something special. Still, it was a little confusing. She was always changing her name like that. One night she was Candy, the next night she was Gypsy, but it didn’t matter, I always knew it was Frankie, or at least I thought it was. All the same—Frankie would always be Frankie to me.
I muscle my way through the cigarette smoke and frat boys to my favorite table in the back. Slouching down in the chair, I roll myself a fag and wait for Bernice to return with my drink.
I muscle my way through the cigarette smoke and frat boys to my favorite table in the back of the bar. Pulling out a chair, I sink back into the shadows and roll myself a cigarette while I wait for Bernice to return with my tequila spritzer thingie. My timing couldn’t have been any better. No sooner had I finished twisting up my smoke, I hear the jukebox in the corner gulp down another quarter and Frankie’s song starts playing.
It’s like candy…oo
Now Frankie wasn’t your average, everyday, run-of-the-mill go-go dancer. In fact, she was what you might call an artiste. She had been doing burlesque while most of these girls were still learning cheers. It didn’t matter that she’d been around the block a few times. Nope. Frankie knew all the angles and had all the moves to keep the frat boys on the edge of their seats, that is—when they were actually in their seats. Every now and then Mongo would have to leave his post to come inside and pull them off the stage.
I can feel it when you walk. Even when you talk—hoo
Bernice returns with a fishbowl that the bartender claims to be a margarita.
The little, pink paper umbrella eyes me ominously.
“So Johnny, you want I should start you a tab or something?”
“Yeah. Sure, dollface,” I say, removing the umbrella. “Why don’t you do that for me. Something tells me I’m going to be here for a while.”
“It’s possible,” Bernice winks, nodding towards the stage. “She saw you walk in, and I’m pretty sure you’re one of her faves.”
As suckers go, I come in all flavors.
All the same, I knew that if I tickled the right taste bud, Frankie was going to say yes to something besides a watered-down well drink and I had been working on this parlor trick of tying the stem of a cherry in a knot with my tongue. I had seen it done in a Tom Jones movie once, or perhaps it was Tom Cruise, it didn’t matter, I only knew that if I could do it tonight she would come home with me forever.
Luckily for me, the fruit behind the bar had dropped a sparkling-red maraschino cherry into my margarita. What maraschino cherries have to do with margaritas I have no idea, but how many margaritas have you ever seen with paper umbrellas? All I can say is that I could see it winking at me from the bottom of my drink; I shoved my hand in the fishbowl and started fumbling madly through the ice for the cherry.
C’mere you slippery red son of a bitch.