In this one bar, you couldn’t set your beer bottle on the table or cockroaches would climb up the label and drown themselves.
Anytime you set down a beer, you’d have a dead cockroach in your next mouthful. There were Filipino strippers who came out between their sets to shoot pool in string bikinis. For five dollars, they’d pull a plastic chair into the shadows between stacked cases of beer and lap dance you.
We used to go there because it was near Good Samaritan Hospital.
We’d visit Alan until his pain medication put him to sleep, then Geoff and I would go drink beer. Geoff, grinding his beer bottle on roach after roach as they ran across our table.
We’d talk to the strippers. We talked to guys at other tables. We were young, young-ish, late twenties, and one night a waitress asked us, “If you’re already watching dancers in a dive like this, what will you be doing when you’re old men?”
At the next table was a doctor, an older man who explained a lot of things. He said how the stage was spotlighted with red and black lights because they hid the bruises and needle marks on the dancers. He showed how their fingernails, their hair and eyes told their childhood diseases. Their teeth and skin showed how well they ate. Their breath in your face, the smell of their sweat could tell you how they’d probably die.
In that bar, the floor, tables, the chairs, everything was sticky. Someone said Madonna went there a lot when she was in Portland filming Body of Evidence, but by then I’d quit going. By then Alan and his cancer were both dead.
* * *
It’s a story I’ve told before, but I once promised to introduce a friend to Brad Pitt if she’d let me assist in dissecting some medical school cadavers.
She’d failed pre-med three times already, but her father was a doctor so she just kept going back. She was my age now, middle-aged,
the oldest pre-med in her class, and all night we dissected three cadavers so first-year students could examine them the next day.
Inside each body was a country I’d always heard about but never thought I’d visit. Here was the spleen and the heart and liver. Inside the head were the hypothalamus, the plaques and tangles of Alzheimer’s. Still, I was most amazed by what wasn’t there. These yellow, shaved and leathery bodies were so different than my friend who used her saws and knives. For the first time, I saw that maybe human beings are more than their bodies. That maybe there is a soul.
The night she met Brad, we walked out of soundstage fifteen on the Fox lot. It was after midnight, and we walked through the dark standing New York sets used in a million productions since they were built for Barbara Streisand in Hello, Dolly. A taxi passed us with New York license plates. Steam rose from fake manhole covers. Now, the sidewalks were full of people in winter coats, carrying shopping bags from Gump’s and Bloomingdale’s. In another minute, someone waved to stop us from walking – us laughing and wearing shorts and T-shirts – into a Christmas episode of NYPD Blue.
We walked another way, past an open soundstage where spotlighted actors in blue surgical scrubs leaned over an operating table and pretended to save someone’s life.
* * *
This other time, I was scrubbing the kitchen floor and pulled a muscle in my side. That’s how it felt at first.
By then, the doctor from the strip bar was my doctor.