Paper-Hearts

Date Night

The bartender moved toward me as I slid onto a stool near one end. The bad music was interrupted by a worse DJ. I could understand at least half of what he was saying. Strip club DJs are supposed to mumble unintelligibly until they reach a pronoun.

“Jack and a Bud . . . ” I said, a twenty dollar bill folded lengthwise between my fingers.

I have no affection for either brand, but at least I know exactly what it is. There are few things that upset my delicate metabolism more than good shelf liquor in a piss-poor cocktail. I laid two more twenties on the bar.

She plunked a glass in front of me and poured my shot. She took the twenties without even asking and returned with a perspiring bottle and a stack of singles. I skinned a few off the stack to tip her and clinked the glass against the bottle.

The drink went down in one. I shaved off a few more singles and stuffed the roll in my pocket.

The bar was mostly empty on a weeknight. I’d only been there once before, and found it was better than I expected. Given the number of customers, I had a matter of minutes before one of the dancers came by to work. I folded a twenty in half and tucked it under my coaster. I set about folding dollar bills into little paper hearts.

I’d barely touched my beer when one of the girls made her approach. Anticipating the inevitable private dance solicitation, I offered to buy her a drink.

“Sure,” she replied.

I pulled the twenty from beneath my beer coaster. The bartender was already on her way back toward me.

“Another shot?” she asked.

“Not just now, darlin’. Whatever she wants.”

It was all too familiar. The rest was just a matter of timing and delivery.

“So . . . what’re you making?” the dancer asked.

“I’m folding coke straws into hearts.” I replied, monotone.

“Coke straws?”

She made a face at first, until I presented her with a little paper heart. I made a smirk and batted my eyelashes at her.

“You never know where this has been . . . ” I told her.

She tucked it half into her bikini top.

I didn’t think about it at the time, but the metaphor hung heavy. Why else would I be sitting in a topless bar on a weekday, buying over-priced Bud bottles to the tune of Motley Crue’s Greatest Hits?

Loneliness and alcohol are the express lane to Hell. Paying a stripper for conversation seemed less shallow than left-swiping some Find-a-Fuck app on my phone.

Hi, I’m Max. I enjoy drinking alone. Preferably in the dark. I love to travel!

. . . Oh, by the way, I’m 5’10” . . .

The bartender dropped off her watered down cocktail. She swirled the mini-straws and took a sip through them. One of my pet peeves.

We chatted for a while. She made a few rounds of the stage when her songs were up. I didn’t bother following her to the rail. It was all the same, after a while. The most athletic girls have distinctive bruises on their thighs where they wrap around the pole.

On a slow weeknight, even the best of them will tone down the acrobatics. No one wants to be upside down for three dollars while Vince Neil is screaming about other girls making more money in some other club a thousand years ago.

She came back to her seat next to me at the bar.

“Drink?” I asked her.

“I’ll take another one . . . Sure you don’t want a dance?”

I looked at my watch. Fuck . . . It was time to pay the pole tax.

She wasn’t unattractive. I was just tired and indifferent. I tried to fake a smile and motioned to the bartender that I was going to the back. I took my beer, slid off my stool, and extended my arm. She smiled a little and walked me back.

I paid and tipped up front. She put her hands on my shoulders and slid into my lap with the tired grace of a girl paying her rent.

She arched her back and twirled her hair, brushing it against me.

“Darlin’ . . . don’t take this wrong, please . . . you really don’t have to . . . “

She pushed herself back, still straddling my lap, and looked at me confused. There was a long, awkward pause.

“It’s cool. Just hang out.”

“Really?”

“Yeah . . . “

“. . . That’s kinda sweet . . . “

She rubbed my chest through my sweater and shifted herself to get more comfortable. I could feel her heat through her bikini bottom. The reality wasn’t lost on me that, intentions aside, I was now paying a pretty girl to sit on my lap.

“Are you suuure?” she asked.

“Mmhmm.”

” . . . Oh, thank God . . . I’m so tired!”

She reached down and put my hands around her waist. She laid her head on my shoulder for the rest of the song.

“I like your cologne.” She told me.

“Thank you.” I replied.