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She Used to Call Me Baby

“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 swank, little drinking establishment on the corner of Way-South and Washington. 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 which spoke to me intermittently:

         Girls! Girls! Girls!

         The promotion never failed to arouse my curiosity. Therefore, I would lock my keys in the Thunderbird, tip the valet holding up the dumpster and swagger inside this inquisitive little night spot.

         I could tell Girls! Girls! Girls! was a high-class joint by the size of the gorilla standing at the door. His name was Guido. The only thing more intimidating than Guido’s shoe size was the fact that his knuckles touched the ground.

         Guido would stand at the door all night in his monkey suit checking IDs. Although he looked intimidating, 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 right in, no problem.

         Once inside, I would take a moment to bask in the ambiance.

         The club was dimly lit by a haze of cigarette smoke suspended from the ceiling. Through the cloud of nicotine I could make out the bar and the mirrors behind it which gave the illusion the room was bigger than it was. The mirrors reflected the stage at the far end of the club which was surrounded by lights and a row of working-class heros competing for attention.

         “So what’ll it be tonight, Johnny—the usual?”

         It was Skyler, the hostess. She was always waiting to greet me with a gold-toothed grin. She reminded me of Betty Boop with tattoos—about this tall, squeaky voice and little kiss curls. To tell the truth, I was a little worried about the kid. I was never really sure she was old enough to work in a joint like Girls! Girls! Girls!. All the same, whatever she had her pretty, little head wrapped around, she was cute as hell.

         “Busy,” I says to her.

         “Whatcha gonna do,” she says back to me. “Come on. I saved your table.”

         We both knew she didn’t need to save my table. As often as I had frequented this place, all the tables were mine. I simply liked to follow her around the bar. She always wore this slinky, little black number that left her ass hanging out. Skyler had a great ass. Of course, she knew this. She simply liked to lead me around the club by her ass. Consequently, it usually took us several minutes to find a table.

          “Here it is.” She stops suddenly.

         “I can tell by the cigarette burns.” She tosses an ashtray down. “Make yourself comfy. I’ll be back with your drink in a few.” She winks.

         “So, uh hey—is Frankie working tonight?” I says after her.

         “Of course she is, silly. It’s Saturday night!” She says back at me. “She’s battin’ clean up tonight. Kepp your pants on. She’ll be out soon enough.”

         Out soon enough. Okay, I thinks to myself, and sitting down I realize I have a good table tonight. My forearms aren’t sticking to the top of it. I relax and reposition the ashtray. Shaking out a menthol I flip open my Zppo. After taking a long draw on the fag, I expell a long stream of blue smoke into the ambience of the room. I check to see that my pants are still on, and leaning back in the chair, I flip the ash from my menthol missing the ashtray.

         You see, Frankie’s my girl. The first time we went out, even though we never actually left the premises,  I must have bought her a dozen drinks. You know, those waterd-down, over-priced coctails they serve in a tall daiquiri glass with a paper umbrella poking out the top. Cost me a fortune. When I got home to my studio apartment my wallet was completely empty. Ever since that night me and Frankie have been inseparable, even though I never actually see her outside her place of employment.  

         All the same, Frankie’s my girl and tonight was going to be special. I knew that if I played my cards right Frankie was going to say yes to something besides an umbrellal drink. I had heard this parlor trick where you tie the stem of a cherry in a knot with your tongue. Apparently it drove women mad. I had seen it done once in a Tom Jones movie, or maybe it was Tom Cruise I don’t remember. No matter, I had been practicing the trick all week and knew if I could pull it off Frankie would come home with me forever.

         “Here you go Johnny,” Skyler returns with my drink. “Double marguerta on the rocks.”

         “Hey yeah thanks doll.”

         I smile to see a cherry sitting at the bottom of my drink. Now you don’t normally find cherries at the bottom of a marguerita, but Girls! Girls! Girls! was such a classy joint the bartender put cherries in everything. Of coure, he was a bit of a fruit. He liked to tell everyone his name was Fabio, but his real name was Walter. He used to work at Boxers & Briefs, the gay bar down the road. He landed this job because he keeps his hands off the girls. That said, who was I to complain? The stars were in align. What could possibly go wrong?

         I immediately jam my hand in my drink and start digging for  the cherry.

         C’mere you slippery little son of a bitch!

         “Hey baby, whatcha doin’ with your hand in your drink?”

         WTF?—OMG!— It’s Frankie!

         “Oh yeah like hey Frankie! I was just—I was just waitin’ for you to take the stage!”

         “Well, I saw you sittin’ out here in the crowd and thought I could use a warm up.” She smiles at me. “Care to buy me a drink tonight, baby?”

         “Care to buy the lady a drink, Mr. Johnny?” Skyler echoes.

         Wha—where the hell did she come from?

         Skyler was always working in the background, ready and waiting to pop out of the ambiance at any given moment.

         “Yeah, well—uh, yeah, Sure.” I stammer.

         “Will you be having the usual, Ms Frankie?”

         “Yes. In fact, bring me two. I’m warming up.” She smiles.

         “So, tell me, baby,” Frankie says to me. “Whacha doin’ with your hand in your drink? Givin’ it a cold shower?”

         “Oh yeah, well no, I was, yeah, I was just tryin’ to get at the cherry in the bottom of my drink. You see, I learned how to tie the stem into a knot with my tongue from watchin’ some Tom Jones movie.” I says back to Frankie.

         “Is that right?” She replies.

         “I like Tom Jones. He gets me hot!” She grins mischevously. “Show me, baby.”

         “Sure thing Frankie!” I smile.

         I knew it! This was it! This was the moment I’d been waiting for! Now, regardless that I’d been practicing this stunt for over a week, I was never ever actually able to pull it off. Usually my tongue would get tired or my jaw would get sore or I would simply pass out on the bed from drinking too much tequila and wake up with a mouthful of cherry stems. In my defense, however, I did see Tom Jones do it in a movie once, or maybe it was Tom Cruise. My point being—I knew that it could be done!

         I wrench my hand from my drink and pop the cherry in my mouth.

         Frankie’s eyes were transfixed on me as I wrestled with the cherry stem. I pushed it from one side of my mouth to the other, trying to fold it into an accommodating loop, but it simply wasn’t cooperating. It was more likely that I was going to tie my own tongue into a knot before I would the cherry stem. Needless to say, this wasn’t going well. In the time it had taken Frankie to toss back two drinks, I had yet to tie the stem into a knot. In fact, all I had really accomplished was turning it into a cherry flavored spitball.

         “So what do you say, baby,” Frankie says to me. “How’s about you buyin’ me another drink while you’re tryin’ to pull that rabbit out of your hat.”

         “Shore,” I drool and wave to Skyler to bring Frankie another drink. My wallet was beginning to feel as light as my head and my tongue had finally gone numb.

         Frankies song starts playing on the jukebox.

         “Hey darlin’,” Franke calls to Skyler. “Can you make that one to go, that’s my song! And, well baby,” she says to me. “Looks like I’ll have to get back with you on that Tom Jones thing. You keep practicin’ your magic trick!”

         Frankie gives me a kiss on the cheek and disappears into the ambience.

         !?!?!

         I’m speechless, except for this hack I developed from swallowing the cherry stem.

         On the way home, I stop at a liquor store and buy a bottle of Mezcal and a jar of maraschino cherries and worked on my parlor trick all week. Even though I passed out on the bed and woke up with a mouthful of cherry stems more often than not, I was finally actually able to tie a stem into knot. Just like Tom Jones had done in the movie, or maybe it was Tom Cruise. In any case, I was on a roll, and I returned to Girls! Girls! Girls! the next weekend to prove myself worthy of  Frankie’s affections.

         Unfortunately, Frankie wasn’t working at Girls! Girls! Girls! anymore.

         Apparently she had ran off to Vegas with some guy who called himself Tom Jones, or maybe it ws Tom Cruise. Hell, I don’t know. But he had deeper pockes than mine and had promised her a gig dancin’ at the Stardust. They were going to get married by Elvis in some swank wedding chapel on the Strip and buy a condo in the desert. Several of the girls tried to console me and Skyler tried to heal my broken heart by bringing me margueritas one after the other. It didn’t help, all I did was drink myself under my table where I would pass out in a pile of paper umbrellas.

         Here was a sorrow I could never drown.

         These days, when I get itchy, I reach for the Calamine and my remote control. My life has been reduced to over 220 chanels of mediocrity. There is nothing or nobody who can or will ever replace what me and Frankie used to have. I had thought to take a flight out to Vegas and take in a show at the  Stardust, but somehow, it didn’t seem prudent. Seeing Frankie with Tom Jones would be more than I could take, and God knows—those umbrella drinks aren’t any cheaper in Vegas.

         Instead, I will simply have to be happy with my memories of Frankie and the knowledge that—I used to be her baby.