Meanwhile, enjoy a sample from a Spy Novel in Progress,
(c) 2018 Dances With Strippers:
It was someone's birthday. Kaylee, I think it was. That was the reason for the gathering.
Kaylee was a friend of friends, most of which I knew through the running club that met for beers on the first Friday of every month. Two of those friends I had known for 15 years or so, and the rest were relatively new to both the running club and Portland. Like most sport-related social clubs, the turnover rate was fairly high, with almost an entirely new crowd every two years. It had been six years since I had been a regular member, so the board had already gone through three presidents, and I had never met the current one. Tom, I think it was. Or Terry, or maybe Tony.
The Northeast bar wasn't one I had been to before, but it was a decent enough fern-bar brewpub with a patio. As I didn't see familiar faces or any sort of obvious group in the main area, I went to the bar to get a beer on my way to check the patio, and that's where I saw the new president, wearing a t-shirt with the running club logo.
“Hey, Tony,” I said, offering a handshake.
“Brent,” he said, correcting me before shaking my hand limply.
I told him my name, and asked if the rest were outside.
“Yes,” he said. “We're all out on the patio.”
He asked me what my login was, thinking he might be able to recognize me by identifying my name as it would have appeared on the club's online message board. I told him my name again, which was my login, which I hadn't used in years.
“Great, great,” he said, turning his head in fake sincerity. “I still don't know you, but welcome.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I joined the club about 15 years ago, and was an active member for nine years.”
“Oh, great,” he said. “Welcome to the club. I moved to Portland two years ago, and was just elected president this year. Maybe you might want to re-up your membership.”
“Yeah, maybe,” I said, turning toward the patio entrance. I noticed he had just ordered one beer for himself, instead of pitchers for the tables outside. Once outside, I noticed not that many were drinking. There weren't any pitchers of beer, just a pint here and there.
Two rows of picnic tables pushed together made up the bulk of the patio, with a small fire pit and wood-slatted fencing around the perimeter. There were easily 35 people there, and it wasn't very lively. I wasn't early, so the party was pretty much just this.
Recognizing my two old friends, we met at the center and clinked glasses.
“Yeah,” one of us said.
“Uh, yeah.” Another one of us said.
“So who's birthday is it?”
“So...should we head out, go somewhere else?”
“No, Kaylee and her friends are going out dancing.”
“Yeah, all her friends, here.”
Kaylee I had known for a few years. She was single, and I think she was a dentist, or something. She looked a bit younger than she was because she wore her hair in bangs. A couple of her friends copied her look, trimming their hair in bangs also, but it didn't quite work for them. All of her friends were married or had boyfriends, anyway.
“Okay,” I said to the other two. “Let's follow them to wherever, if we're invited.” It didn't sound promising, but you never know. There were three or four conversations going on at once, but the lack of enthusiasm was deafening.
I chatted with Kaylee for a minute, wishing her a happy birthday. She seemed excited, but she was the easily excitable type. She acted as if a bachelorette party was going to erupt any moment, where I saw no evidence of that whatsoever. Still, I got the name of the bar where they were headed, a hip dance club in the Pearl district, and committed myself to finishing the rest of my pint before driving over.
We converged on the dance club, about ten of us, total, and went upstairs to the main bar. The music wasn't too bad, and it was loud enough, but the dance floor was mostly empty. It apparently was still too early in the evening to see much night life. Kaylee and most of her followers went to one side of the open floor and started dancing, behaving, en masse, as the cartoon Peanuts gang jiving to Schroeder's jazz piano, all elbows, craned necks, and shuffling, looping feet. The rest of us bought beers at the bar.
“Two drinks,” I said, sipping a locally-brewed IPA favorite. “After that, I'm heading home.”
“It's bound to liven up,” one of my friends said. “More people are coming in now. The night is just getting started.”
We joined the Peanuts gang and danced half-heartedly, with more attention on holding and drinking our pints than anything else, and at some point we formed a circle. We were an oddly-swaying circle on a mostly-empty dance floor, and the whole thing seemed so pathetic that I started doing the hokey-pokey in mockery.
“You put your right foot in. You put your right foot out. You put your right foot in, and you shake it all about.”
It almost went with the music.
“You do the hokey-pokey and you turn yourself around...”
I got a couple of smiles with that, but I was already bored with it.
I stepped backward, away from the circle, and held my beer up to the disco light. With less than a third left to the pint, I formed in my mind a sense of prayer to Ninkasi, the goddess of fermentation and fornication. I breathed in fully, and then out, and downed the pint, walking my empty vessel back over to the bar, where I could exchange it, for a small fee, for a real drink. Specifically, a local whiskey and cola in a tumbler, over ice, with a tiny, black straw. So armed, I was ready to go back on the floor and dance. But not with them.
I walked out into an open spot, all on my own with just the taste of the whiskey blending with the cola and ice to anchor my soul, and felt the music pick up. Now more people came flooding into this section of the night club, and I danced. It felt good, and I was pretty awesome, until a fantastic-looking woman crossed the room and looked over at me on her way to the bar. Then I was more than awesome, especially after she walked up to me and started dancing.
Whatever she was wearing looked like a complicated interweaving of lingerie and evening wear, some sort of bikini with a short, glittery skirt and a see-through shirt. And she had glitter on her face. I didn't complain.
She danced really well, like a professional, and she leaned in to ask me something, shouting over the music. I smiled and nodded, not understanding all the words, but interpreting her intentions to dance more exotically, using me to keep her balance as she bent over, lifted her feet up, or twirled around. I was exactly right.
She asked me my name, and I told her. When I asked for her name, and she bent all the way over and wagged her ass at me. At first, I thought this was very funny, as the image of one dog sniffing another came to mind. But the second time she did this, I noticed a tattoo on her lower back. The five capital letters looked like this:
V E G A S
And that, apparently, was her name. She turned back around and smiled at me, proud of herself.
After a few more songs, I bought her a drink. We went down one floor, to another bar that was quiet enough where we could talk. After another drink, a couple of stories, and a line of humorous observations, I got her number.
After I had walked her down to her car, and she drove off, I remembered about my friends. Walking around to the front entrance, they were just then filing outside, moving toward their own cars.
With a slight irritation in her voice, Kaylee asked me where my stripper had gone. My two good friends looked over, smiling, and I told Kaylee the girl had to go home.
So the thing with the running club, back in the day, is that almost everyone had nicknames. These weren't nicknames they chose themselves, but ones that would be rewarded due to certain behavior. I wasn't among those with a nickname, but I didn't mind. There were a couple attempts, but nothing stuck. But with the current version of the running club, that sort of thing fell out of style. This generation of born-again club members weren't really into that sort of creative camaraderie. But when I met my two old friends a couple weeks later, they told me I finally had a club nickname, because Kaylee wouldn't stop talking about the incident at her birthday with me and the exotic dancer.
The new nickname, they said, was Dances With Strippers. Like Dances With Wolves, only with strippers.