Ankle Deep in Brain Dust…plus, a story!

I’ve been writing every day for the past 2 weeks- a minimum of 888 words a day so I’ve got a chunk of something under my belt now.  The bad news is 98.5% of it is absolute crap that I’d be embarrassed to show my 11th grade English teacher.  The good news is 1.5% of it doesn’t suck AND it exists.  And nothing existed a mere 14 days ago.

Trying to remember a life is like digging through mounds of dust in an attic.  I see shapes and forms and it gives me a vague idea of what’s underneath but sometimes when I blow on that dust, it’s just a big ol’ pile of dust and nothing more.

Then I get to choke on the dust devil.

What’s miraculous to me though is that I am recovering memories.  I wonder if it’s a muscle that gets strengthened as you use it.  If that’s the case, I feel optimistic.  The memories are little gifts-pieces of my mind that I thought were gone for good.  I know most of them won’t ever make the cut for the book but it doesn’t matter.  They’re back and my daughter will have even more to understand and shake her head at.

I also discovered an old manuscript which I wrote in 2002 and that is a huge help as I try to piece timelines together.    I’m also contacting people from my past and hoping that they don’t tell me to fuck off.

My FIRST day of writing was absolutely glorious and I felt like I had wings on my fingers as they flew across my keyboard.  I actually had to STOP myself after 1200 words because I had the rest of my day to get on with.
“Wow, this is so EASY!”  I thought.

The next day was slightly less glorious and by the end of the first week I was in a bit of a panic as I read my crap and realized how crappy it truly was.

My coach helped calm me and helped me see that my brain is going to be fighting this creation for a while.  This massive castle in my mind- ‘the Big Project’- the one I’ve been contemplating for 2 decades.  It’s been too important, too intimidating to even begin.  So now that I’m actually doing it, my brain is like “Hey!  You suck!  Quit doing this!  Come BACK and LOOK at this big ass castle!”

How could I not be freaking out a little bit at the quality of the work?

So for now it’s pedal to the metal and keep pounding away at those keys.  Eventually I’ll tune that shit out.

So, in the meantime, how about a little story?

This story is about the first time I went up to Toronto from Windsor to work.   Windsor and Toronto were very different animals.  Windsor was 90% American clients and 90% American money.  The attitude was different, the atmosphere was different  and the assholes were different.  I wanted to see it for myself.

I decided to head up to T.O. (that’s Toronto for you Americans) with my buddy Dar.  It was actually the suburb of Scarborough to be more specific (and it was the time that the “Scarborough rapist” a.k.a.  Paul Bernardo was on the loose).   Scarborough seemed to be the more industrial part of the Greater Toronto Area.

Darlene and I worked at a club called Caddy’s.  The $5 table dance on a box was still the order of the day and it took a long time to make a few hundred dollars a night which was the minimum goal if you were going to take the trouble of going out of town.  The bars still closed at 1:00 a.m. during this time so you had to hustle.  Dar and I used to go for 2 weeks at a time to make it worth our while.  We usually took the train up from Windsor and felt like quite the worldly women doing so.  I was all of 21.

Caddy’s was one big square.  The building was like a giant cube, the stage was a perfect square, as was the dj booth and the tables.  There was nothing remarkable about it except that it catered more to the blue rather than white collar.  I found the money was just as good there with the blue collar men and there was something a little less condescending about them.

Darlene had scored herself a good “customer”.  Not always easy to do on the road.  Most of us had a few customers but primarily at our home clubs.  The term customer is used to describe a regular who spent more than an average amount of money on one girl in particular.  There were often gifts when a customer came by and usually less dances for way more money.  Those nights were always our favourites.  It was a little like dating but in the club and without the sex.

Her customer was just a young kid named Sam about our age.  Overweight, glasses, short brown hair.  “My dad owns a Safeway”, he told Darlene and he wanted to take her out shopping.  This was another thing ‘customers’ were expected to do- take us out shopping.  Dar told him that she wanted me to come along.  It was never a good idea to go alone with a new customer in a new town.

We went to downtown Toronto- the Eaton Centre.  This big beautiful mall was like Disneyland for a couple of girls whose main goal in life at the time was to make money and spend it.

Dar took Sam into a lingerie shop and tried on a few very expensive and flimsy outfits, modeling them for him, asking him “What do you think?”  He was flustered and flattered that she appeared to want to look good for him at work.  She took full advantage of what he thought.

She got some teddies and some jeans and a pricey pink angora sweater and then…. she saw the leather shop.

She squealed loudly.  “Ohhhhh!  I’ve always wanted a really nice leather jacket! Oh, can we Sam?”  and without waiting for an answer we scooted into the very expensive leather shop, one I never would have gone in on my own.

Dar grabbed item after item holding them up in front of her.  “How about this?  Do you like this?”

In her excitement she turned and said “Paula, you get one too!”


Stripper protocol  was that one didn’t expect another girl’s customer to buy her anything except for drinks and meals when with their friend.  Anything else was gravy.

She turned to Sam with her sweetest, sexiest smile, stroked his arm and said “Sam, it’s ok if Paula gets one too eh?”

Talk about pushing someone into a corner.

“Um, yeah, sure.”

Cha ching!

I never looked back and I never looked at a single price tag.  It remains the ONLY time in my life that I’ve ever done that.

We tried things on, always asking Sam’s opinion like it mattered.  We spent a good half hour in there and in the end, she picked out a forest green leather and suede jacket and I picked out a dark red leather and suede jacket.

Standing at the counter, I couldn’t believe my luck.  I silently willed him to hurry up and pay before he came to his senses.  Sam put them on his credit card- Dar’s coat had been $300 and mine had been $500.  In 1989.  I’d never owned anything so luxurious.   I kept that coat for a very long time.

Darlene later told me that she had been kind of pissed off that my coat had cost more than hers but quickly got over it since she had scored so much other stuff too AND neither of us were paying for any of it.   Sam kept coming to see Dar but much less frequently after that.  I think he got in shit with his dad actually.

Dar and I had a pretty successful run in Toronto and returned frequently.  Caddy’s was actually where I began my career as a feature so I have fond memories of it.  But that’s another story for another day.

I remember once finishing up a 2 week run in T.O., and jumping on the train home.  We drank all the way back to Windsor until they actually threw us off for being too rowdy.

Boy, those were the days.


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7 comments on “Ankle Deep in Brain Dust…plus, a story!”

  1. chelsea @ the new wifestyle Reply

    grrrr my comment disappeared but i basically said KEEP WRITING and telling stories because i can’t get enough! i’m enthralled with your story and so nosy about that business so keep em coming.

    also you look super hot in that photo…not much has changed! it almost makes me want to buy lipstick 🙂

    • Paula Howley Reply

      THANKS girlfriend. I will keep ’em coming. I am on day 25 of constant memoir writing so I’ll probably only be posting every week or two but enough to keep you nosy! 🙂

  2. Paula Howley Reply

    It was. I’m glad you remember her. Last time I saw her was winter 2002. She was not in a good way and she partially blamed me for it. And there may be room for some of that blame. I hope she is alright.

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