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It went quickly, as such things go. Pop came home one day and said he couldn’t swallow. This turned out to be a side effect of some obscure kind of cancer. There were attempts to save his life, but nothing worked. Six months later, it was over.
The extended family went to see him a lot during those six months. My folks lived on a remote island in Washington at the time, so going to see Mom and Pop was no small thing. There was the flight, and the drive, and the long wait for the ferry, followed by the long ride on the ferry. A trip I had always anticipated and enjoyed took on different colors.
I don’t know when he decided this, but he had already decided when he told us: his sons would not watch him die, or see him dead. Close to the end, I went to be with him for the last time. I told him a long story I thought I would put into a book one day. He liked it. At my request, he told me stories about himself when he was little. I know many such stories about my mom, but not so many about my dad. I hugged him, something we had never done much, because Men Shake Hands.
The ferry ride back to the mainland was like something out of a cinematographer’s dream. I stood on the stern deck and watched the sun set through several layers of clouds. The top layer turned pink. The next layer was red, then redder. The bottom layer was brilliant orange, with the occasional lightning bolt through the grayness overhead. Really. I am not making this up. Hail Thor!
The drive back to Seattle was uneventful. My flight home was not until the next morning, so I pulled into the airport motel and wondered what I was going to do for a few hours, preferably something that might take my mind off the topic of the last half-year. Across the motel parking lot, a strip joint had opened recently. Of the available choices, spending the evening looking at beautiful naked women seemed like a pretty good idea.
Just inside the door, I was greeted by a tall, muscular, stern young man in dark clothing who told me Strip Joint Rule #1. It was simple: Look, Don’t Touch. He asked if I understood and agreed. I said that I did.
The area was divided into halves. One half was a cabaret-like theater. The girls got up one at a time and did their thing on stage. Then, after putting their skimpy outfits back on again, they wandered out among the tables and took a seat beside the customers, guided by some algorithm unknown to me. This was a weeknight and there weren’t many customers, so it wasn’t long before a gorgeous brunette was at my table.
This is where the commerce begins. The young lady invites you for a private session, which happens in the other half of the building. There are booths, almost like you would find in a diner, but the tables are higher. You go with the girl, and you sit while she gets up on the table and does more of what she just did on stage, but just for you and up close. One couldn’t really call this private, though, as there are no walls or curtains, and it is in plain view of that ominous fellow over by the door. If anyone had wanted to break the Look, Don’t Touch rule, it would have been difficult to get away with. Still, you pay extra for this.
It becomes clear that the girls have been instructed to chat you up. My particularly well-groomed companion asked me what I did for a living, and I told her. She asked if I was married, and I told her. Asked if I had kids, and I told her. I asked if this was her only job, and she said Of Course Not. Her daytime job was as an executive secretary, and she could easily have been telling the truth. She was also getting into real estate investments, and a few evenings a week at the strip club helped to finance those. She broke the figures down for me, while showing me all of her own. I was not in the mood for the math at the time, but she was indeed very nice to look at. Most of the way through the song playing in the background, her clothes started to slide back on, and our allotted time was soon over. She went through a door into the back, and I went back to the cabaret.
There was almost no one else in the place now. The next girl on stage also came to my table, and we went off to a booth together.
The chatting-up commenced while she climbed onto the table and started removing her outfit to the beat of the ambient music. She wore a black-and-white checked bikini with red straps, as I recall, which delineated her topography nicely. Her first question asked how I had come to be there. So I told her.
When the routine was over, she got down off the table and reassembled herself. I got to tie the strap around the back of her neck, a nice touch that didn’t need me to actually touch her, thereby evading Strip Joint Rule #1. The time was not all used up, so she sat next to me and asked me more about Pop. When the song was over, she looked at me and said we could do it again if I wanted. So we did. More money on the table, another song, and she was back on the table, doing it again.
And I do mean doing it again. It was the same routine, exactly, only to a different song.
Figuring it was my turn now, I asked her about herself. She told me. She had tried a few jobs, but nothing worked out. It didn’t take long for me to wonder if taking her clothes off in front of strange men might be the only job she was suited for. I hoped I was wrong about that. One can’t do this forever.
She identified herself a single mom. Her four-year-old son’s father had not been around for a while. She said that the father was a really good guy, but he had some problems he had to work out. She knew he would be back soon. She didn’t know how she knew, but she was sure of it. How long since she had seen him? Over three years. Having heard stories like this before, I asked myself if I should tell her what I knew about really good guys like that, especially the ones who didn’t stick around for their children. There are times when even truth should be silent. I seem to have decided that this was one of those times, although I still don’t know why.
I got to tie the strap around her neck again. The song ended. She asked me if I wanted to do it again. Sure, why not?
Up on the table, the same routine played out. The chatting up continued. I asked who looked after her son while she was at work. Her mother had that task. What did her boy like to do? Watch TV. That’s what he did when she was away, and that’s what they did when she was home.
Without my asking, she said that her mother disapproved of her having a child, and disapproved of what she did for a living, because her family was Christian, and she had been raised Christian. Then she told me in a rush of words why it was really OK for her to make her living this way even though she was a Christian, an explanation I didn’t think she owed me. It seemed to be important to her, though, that I hear it. Then she asked me if I thought it was OK for her to make her living this way even though she was a Christian. I was on the spot, and I don’t remember what I said. I only remember thinking Hail Freya!
Sometime during this, I tied the strap. The song ended. Perhaps she was going to ask me again, but I asked her instead if she would do me a favor.
We had built a pretty good rapport by this point. My question killed that. She looked down at the floor. I could see, hear, feel the wheels turning in her head. I thought it likely that men often asked her questions that started out like this, questions that must violate Strip Joint Rule #2, which the bouncer had not enumerated but was surely somewhere in the local law books. There was a long pause before she asked quietly:
“What is it… that you want?”
“I want you… to take your little boy someplace where he can climb a tree.”
There was another long pause. She was still looking at the floor, but I could see enough of her face to find a bit of a smile there. Then she said:
“I’m going to pray for your father.”
And she turned and walked away.