another "life excerpt,"
by Geoff Schutt
"Ghost People, Part Two"
(for Part One, please scroll down)
“I went to this club in New Orleans. This was before that last hurricane. I don’t know if the club is still open, or who’s left, but clubs like this one are the kind that will always survive a hurricane.” I have to breathe, because this is live performance, even if the audience doesn’t realize it. I’m with the audience in real time, so when the white light appears and I disappear, it’s because I stop talking. I breathe, and I continue.
I can see the people in their seats, with their popcorn and their Cokes and their candies. I can see the people who are fidgeting, waiting probably for the main feature to return. They didn’t pay to see me. They don’t know my story. There’s been no preview for me, no mass advertising campaign. There haven’t been any reviews because the critics and everyone else have no idea that we ghost people do live among the "in-betweens," deep inside that split-second gap of film that the human eye isn’t quick enough to see. I see you fidgeting out there, I want to say, but I don’t, because I don’t want to offend anyone. The only way for me to get back into the feature is to keep their attention long enough.
“I sit down at the bar, and there’s a girl dancing on the stage right behind the bar. It isn’t a large stage. This isn’t a ritzy strip club. There isn’t even one of those silvery poles that the classier joints, if you can call them classier, have for their girls to grab onto, to climb up and slide down and swirl about like caged sex. In this club, there’s only the girl, and the song she’s picked from the jukebox, and she’s dancing, and it’s early, so there aren’t many people in here to watch so she must be dancing mostly for herself. She’s not a ghost person like me, but she might as well be.”
Then another girl sits next to me. She asks me if I want to buy her a drink, which seems like standard procedure. I’m not telling all of this to the audience. I’m living it inside the white light, when I need to breathe.
“A girl sits down next to me,” I say. “She asks me to buy her a drink, which seems like standard procedure.”
I don’t want to breathe as much as I am. A ghost person, you would think, doesn’t have to breathe like other human beings, but just because you can’t see us doesn’t mean we aren’t breathing as we stand in the shadows, and maybe you can hear us sometimes, even when you don’t see us. Those noises you can’t quite put a reason to – the noises in the night – are you dreaming – is it the cat outside the bedroom door – is it something from outside the house? We aren’t scary like that. We aren’t ghosts, remember. We’re ghost people. I am as much human as you are. I simply became part of this other world, and now I can’t get out of it, except in a place that makes sense, like this movie theatre.
“I buy the girl a drink. I don’t have much cash on me, so I ask the woman behind the bar if she accepts credit cards, and of course she does,” I say. “So I start talking to the girl, and she’s close enough to me, leaning over and putting her arm around me and allowing me to smell her perfume and how warm her breath is, and she’s telling me about all the options I have with her, how this place has a room upstairs that’s really like a hotel room, but if that’s too much money, there’s also a room downstairs with a chair and I can have my own private lap dance and with the lap dance is as much as I want from her. The only thing is how much I want to pay. I have a credit card, so money shouldn’t be an option.”
It’s funny in a way, isn’t it, that when we are so lonely that we would do almost anything for the touch of another human being, put in the context of a cash, or in this case, a credit card transaction, we tend to think too much, or, conversely, not think at all. I so need to feel her touch. And that’s probably why I’m talking to you, out there with your popcorn and treats. I am a human being and I need to stop being a ghost person and start being human again. I need to start feeling, not only emotion but physical feeling. Like the touch of a girl I don’t know, a girl who’s selling herself to me, and this part does bother me. I let it bother me, at least, which means I'm one of the thinkers.
“So I tell the girl I just came inside because I liked the sign out front and it didn’t seem crowded at all, and it’s warm inside, and I wanted to sit down. I didn’t necessarily walk in because this was a strip club,” I say. “And the girl seems fine with this, so I’m thinking, maybe it’s just because it’s so early and she’s just getting her act down for the night, so as much as I’m warming up, so is she.”
I breathe, and I can see you all squint your eyes at the light. Sorry about that. Wait, don’t leave. Just hear me out. I am not sure this will make any difference in my current state of being, but now that I’m into telling the story, I have to go on. I have to finish.
“The girl has blonde hair. I have no sense as to whether she’s really blonde or not. It isn’t her hair that intrigues me as much as the fact she’s talking to me, so I keep my eye on her drink, and when she is close to being finished, I get her another, and another for myself, though I am drinking too much, too fast.”
The song is finished and the girl on stage starts working the bar for tips and the girl next to me gives me a nudge to put something in the stage girl’s garter. I have a few dollars cash.
“Do you mind just talking to me?” I say to my girl, as the stage girl moves on to the next guy, a couple of stools over. “I really just want to talk. You probably get a lot of customers like me, who just want to talk, right?” I hated that I used the word customer, even in reference to myself, but I don’t tell this to the audience. (Okay, so maybe you in the second row of seats are close enough to hear me, and that’s fine. Just some things you don’t want spilled when you’re spilling your guts, you know?)
“She looks away from me for a second, almost as though she’s being bashful, and maybe she is, because life is an act, and it certainly is more so in a place like this. But I would like to think that we were having a real conversation and that what I felt or she felt was the real thing. She turns back my direction and swings a leg over in some magical way, like this is an every day thing to do, which I suppose it is, but her leg left leg resting across my lap means she’s facing me, and I like it. She’s persistent of course, and she tells me again about how private it is, whether I want to go upstairs or downstairs, and she also tells me that I don’t have to worry about the cops because this club is like the other clubs and a little payoff is a way of doing business with the powers that be in this town. ‘What doesn’t hurt somebody gives everybody a little extra pocket money,’” she says.
“Could I ask you something personal?” I say, and she smiles.
“Guys ask me things all the time,” she says.
“I mean, personal,” I say. “What I want to ask you might seem a little strange, and I don’t want you to leave all of a sudden because you think I’m a freak case, and because I’m not paying you to give me something more private.”
The fact is, I am asking for something a lot more private than a lap dance, or anything she could do with her body that she most likely does several times a night, I don’t know. Assumptions on my part. And there’s that inherent sense that like a kiss on the lips, reserved for a boyfriend or some other significant other and not for a customer, that asking for a honest answer to a personal question is somehow off limits.
“She wants to talk,” I say to the audience. “Maybe she sees something in me, recognizes something in me. That’s my ego talking again, but you know – maybe she sees something. Anyhow, she gets a little cozier with me, and this is something you wouldn’t think possible one bar stool to the next, except that these bar stools are placed a lot closer together than seats at any reputable establishment.
“I have to tell you,” she starts, “that if somebody comes in, somebody I know, I might have to leave, and I don’t want you to be hurt or anything. But you can’t just keep buying me drinks to keep me here, and the song after this one is my turn, so I’ll have to leave you then, anyway.”
“I don’t know why this is so important to me,” I say, “but I just want to ask you for a thought. No, I want to ask you a question, and maybe you can just write down the answer on a piece of paper.” I add quickly, “I’ll pay you for your answer.”
Being a ghost person, we tend to feel a lot of what you feel, only more intensely, because what else do we have to do with our time but feel. We can’t interact with the world. We can be standing right next to you, plain as day – at least, plain as day to us, as in, look in the mirror and we’re standing next to you, but a ghost person is almost always invisible. You don’t notice us. You would notice us if you really opened your eyes, but we’re in your blind spot, is all I can figure. Or you’re distracted by the rest of what’s going on around you. I can’t define it exactly, the same way I can’t define exactly how and when I became a ghost person, and became invisible to most of the world.
I wasn’t invisible to the girl, and she whispered in my ear, all soft and sensual, “Ask me.”
That’s when I realized that I didn’t have a question. I mean, I had lots of questions to ask her. For example, her life – how she ended up here, the same as how I ended up here. Did she like what she was doing? You want to fantasize that she would like what she was doing, that all of this was free will.
Then she just started talking on her own, about her boyfriend who was just sent back to prison, but how she loved him and she was going to be there when he got out, and how she was saving her money and planned to retire when she was 29, because she didn’t want to still be taking her clothes off in public when she was 30. Plus, she said, your body starts to go, and 29 is probably it unless she had surgery on parts of it, but surgery costs money, and would it be worth her savings, her retirement, to spend it all just so she could dance a few more years.
A lot of what she was saying was what she wasn’t saying. It was like facts and figures. It wasn’t feelings. As warm as her leg was resting over my legs, and her arm around my shoulder, and he breath against my face, this all seemed well thought out, if not rehearsed.
So I said to her, “This is my question.” And I took a long breath, not because I was nervous, but because I wanted the question to make sense and come out in one straight line of words. I said, “What was your favorite game as a child, and why?” And I knew right off that if that wasn’t the oddest question she’d heard in a while, then I don’t know what would be. But it was also extremely personal, the way I asked it, and the way she stopped to think about it.
She took a napkin and borrowed a pen from the woman behind the bar. She hunched over that napkin for what seemed like forever and then took a long time reading her own words, and I was watching the entire time, just enthralled with how beautiful she was, because this all made her seem so vulnerable.
She handed me the napkin, and her song was coming up, so she kissed me on the cheek and I handed her a twenty dollar bill and settled up with the woman who took my credit card and I watched my girl up there on stage, and that’s when I lost her, when she because someone else. She wasn’t with me anymore. She was part of every spot in that club except for where I was sitting, and try as much as I could, I just could not get the warmth I’d felt from her leg back, though my cheek still stung in the sweetest possible way from her kiss.
When she left the stage, she didn’t come back. She stopped at a booth along the wall. A new guy had walked in, and she was making conversation with him.
I got up and walked past her and tried to go slowly, so she’d notice I was leaving, but I guess one of the rules of this kind of attraction was in concentration, and that concentration was no longer mine. I felt lucky, though. I felt so fortunate I had her for as long as I did.
Well, I was outside and walking through the French Quarter, and the usual noise of the streets buzzed about my ears, but it was as if I were suddenly floating. I was giddy. I turned a corner and leaned against the wall of a building and I read what she put on the napkin.
She had written this: “As simple as it seems, I think my favorite game as a little girl was hide-n-go-seek, because no one would ever find me because I could control my breathing until I was completely silent.”
And it was right then I realized that I was not alone. She was a ghost person too. She understood completely. And I wasn’t so giddy anymore, but a little bit sad because of it.