Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Busy as a Call Girl on Valentine's Day - 1 of 4

by Daryl Edelman

This story originally appeared in Sex and Guts, a website and magazine edited by Gene Gregorits and Lydia Lunch in 2003.

Our dizzy little party laughed, drunkenly sashaying through fat falling snowflakes past the Russian and Turkish Baths on East Tenth Street. I had my arm around Tommy’s beautiful Japanese girlfriend, Banana. Twenty years ago, me and Tommy roomed together at college in a stinking Colorado cow town named after the huckster who said, go west, young man. Tommy used to practice his flute in our blue enamel dorm cell, high-pitched spears of sound ricocheting from wall to wall, splitting my skull whenever I tried to get some shut-eye. Nowdays, Tommy gets top dollar piercing ears on Broadway, usually showing up for after hours drinks wearing a tuxedo with slim sexy Banana on his arm. God-damn handsome Tommy.

How you doin’, lil sister? Tommy carried on, his sure fire charm aimed at a bundled-up redhead wearing horn-rim glasses coming down the snow covered concrete steps in front of the baths. You like to join us for dinner? C’mon, it’s just across the street.

On me, I said and sucked in my gut. You don’t gotta pay.

I am hungry, the redhead said.

We’re safe as TV, Banana coaxed, girl to girl. I’m Banana. Tommy and Banana always reeled them in for me.

Well, okay. I’m Janey. So what’s for dinner?

Shabu-Shabu, Banana said. Vegetables and sliced steak in boiling seaweed stock with two sauces, sesame soy and radish vinegar.

Wow! Sounds fun! Sounds great!

I held the paper door open to the Japanese restaurant. Tommy and Banana sat on one side of the white cedar table, Janey and me on the other. Janey’s glasses tumbled off when she wriggled like a caterpillar out of her pullover sweatshirt, long red hair falling over her pretty freckled shoulders. I’m parched, she said, puckering her plump red lips.

Hot sake, I waved to the waiter. All around.

Thank you, Big Daddy! ebullient Banana shouted.

Big Daddy is a good writer, Tommy talked me up, slapped my cheek. He’s real smart.

I’d like to be a writer, Janey said.

Tommy plays flute. Banana studied violin at Julliard, I said, and put my arm around Janey’s shoulders, leaned in, and filled her tiny cup with sake. You smell nice like peaches. Reminds me of something, someone. Where have I seen you before? You look familiar.

Uhh, ever have a lap dance?


Janey said, I shouldn’t say, but I’ll be honest. I’m a stripper.

People could get the wrong idea, Banana said, understanding.

I overfilled Janey's cup, spilling sake on the lacquer tabletop. Thoughtfully, Tommy broke the surface tension of a tiny alcoholic puddle with a fingertip, parting the rice wine sea in half like Moses.

Actually, I haven’t danced since November when Giuliani closed the clubs, Janey said, lacing her soft fingers through mine on the bench between us. So lately, I’m broke. Thank you so much for inviting me to dinner.

My pleasure, I assured.

Absolutely, Tommy agreed. I see why you’re a stripper. You got gorgeous knockers. They’re huge! Are they real?

Banana shot Tommy the hairy eyeball. You’re rough, she rebuked, her delicate nostrils flaring. Low class.

You got a mean streak, Tommy, I said.

Everyone gotta pile on me? he complained. You think I’m cold hearted?

After a while of confused stares, waiters brought more sake and platters of food. Banana sifted the strange colorful vegetables through her slender fingers into the pot of boiling water in the center of the table. I mixed in a fistful of steak and Banana skimmed the gray scum from the top of the bubbling stew with a big wooden spoon.

I know what it’s like to be busted, Tommy said. When I first came to the good city, after a couple lean months without a gig, I filed a police report, said my flute was stolen at Grand Central Station to get the insurance money. What else could I do? Got to eat.

I asked Janey, how much do you need?

Seven hundred bucks, she said. This month’s rent. What’s today?

Eleventh, I said, unraveling our fingers, and then pulled out my wallet, counting seven crisp green portraits of Benjamin Franklin on the table. I can help.

What’re you doing? Tommy asked.

I like to help, I said. I’m a patron of beauty.

You don’t even know me, Janey said, sliding the money back under my sake cup.

I know I want you safe and happy, and not to worry, I said, pressing the bills under the water bottle in Janey’s open knapsack. Forget about it.

Janey wrapped her warm arms around my neck and kissed me full on the lips. I can’t, really, angel, she said. You should keep your money.

Are you ready for your vegetables, Big Daddy? Banana asked, distracting me with a ladle full of broccoli.

Nothing green! I shouted, shaking my palm over my plate.

Don’t force him, Tommy said. He’s carnivorous.

My grandfather also only likes to eat meat; I let him get away with it too, Banana said, setting stained brown broccoli over white rice on Tommy’s plate. The old pervert cheated on my grandmother. He kept young women in the pool house. Year in, year out, they came and went. Everyone in our family knew. No one ever said a thing, not my father, mother, me, my brothers or sisters.

How awful, Janey said, playing with the pocket on my knee, tearing and retearing the Velcro flap.

Your grandfather paid the cost to be the boss, Tommy said.

That was how it was. Before she died, my grandmother lost her mind. She rolled rice balls out of her own shit and tried to serve them at dinner in a bowl.


Senile, Tommy explained.

Maybe she didn’t lose her mind. Maybe she was angry for revenge on the family for ignoring the truth.

I need a smoke, Banana said, waving two fingers across her lips. How about you, Janey?

Janey gave me a wink then nipped my earlobe, slipping out her side of the bench to go outside with Banana.

What do you think of her? I asked Tommy after the girls stepped out to smoke. She’s out of my league, right?

What are you crazy?

I think she likes you more than she likes me. You asked her to join us.

She likes you, she likes you. What’s the matter with you?

I’m nuts.

You just think you’re nuts. Tommy clapped my shoulder.

I ordered more sake when the girls came back. We drank until no one could talk straight. Then I showed off and paid the check.

Thank you, Big Daddy, Banana said.

Yeah, thanks, Big Daddy, Tommy said.

Janey said, I’ll thank you later.

T, B, and J had a couple last smokes together on the street corner before everyone kissed goodbye. Then Tommy and Banana caught a cab uptown and I asked Janey out for a nightcap.

We made out at a bar. Janey slipped in between my thighs, making her body small and vulnerable on my chest. Already stinking drunk, we left half our drinks on the bar, staggered out, then took a cab to my place down in Chinatown.

Where are we? she asked, lying back on the cool flannel sheets of my bed, kicking one battered cowboy boot off with the other. I guess it don’t matter. It don’t matter where we come from or if there is a god. Questions like that just drive a person crazy. We eat. We fuck. With a graceful leg, she slung her elastic sweatpants across the room.

Ahab never harpooned Moby Dick like I speared Janey. She pushed a pinky in my ass.

I love you, I blurted.

Don’t say that, she said, her eyes hesitating, her thoughts running dead end to dead end, hunting for the right thing to say.
I love you too, she repeated.

I pulled out and took a loving mental snapshot of my snot on her surprisingly red rug.

To be continued...


  1. Hey, Daryl, excellent read! Looking forward to step 2.

  2. and Daryl, please tell Regina I've begun reading her letters to Dave Eggers... I'm early in them, and understanding the heartbreak of not knowing, or hearing...oh, my, goodness...the waiting. She, too is a terrific writer-- You two are a dynamic duo! Cheers, Brenda