New summer reading: "Lola, California" (excerpt #2)
Last week, we gave you a first look at the new novel from Edie Meidav, “Lola, California,” called one of “the most anticipated novels of 2011″ by TheMillions.com. This week, a second excerpt: this one a glimpse into the world of stripping, as two female friends navigate that seedy terrain for the first time. To read Meidav is to enter a world of beauty, depth and detail; to hear her speak about her craft is to realize that world is not merely a concoction or a slight of hand — Meidave lives and breathes her art. So if her book tour happens to take her to your neck of the woods, go. (Her tour dates and locations are listed here and after the excerpt below):
Obedient to the renewed law of Lola, Rose auditions in a room in a strip mall for two short guys, Dick-and-Dan, Dan-and-Dick, their names interchangeable as their rapid-fire commodity argot, though one is tall and bald-pated, loose-jointed while the other is a smaller, toupeed version peering with suspicion over glasses, stiff in shirt-sleeves as if someone had just appointed him footman for the queen of Romania. The two Ds say they love that Rose is a coed or whatever she is, shooting talk back and forth in spy code, their back office discolored by fluorescence, two desks presiding over paper piles and sample cans of diet powder, the men clearly keeping themselves from any existential brink as much as the Lolas used to, using suppressed fiendish mirth to answer phones in a great mimicry of masters of industry. Tell her send three! I’m taking my usual because she won’t be bad tonight.
While Rose waits, a minor skirmish occurs when a tabby-cat named Diva refuses to descend from a file cabinet on which is pasted a bulletin board bearing palm-tree postcards from locales to which employees with bubble handwriting and a love of exclamation points have flown for vacation. Sniggering, Dick-and-Dan phone a few people, asking if anyone wishes to take home the kitty. No takers yet! they volley back and forth, no one wants to play daddy to some lost pussy!
And yet exactly which kind of dance the Ds want for Rose’s audition is obscured as if some esoteric task until the taller one puts on a song with a chorus about canasta. Mid-song and sans notice, the Romanian footman asks her to take her shirt off—just one pic—marking the moment beyond which Rose can no longer pretend naïveté, since the beginning or end of a song matters little to the Ds, the song mere pretext, the moment a fizzle, the nudie photo a minor heist. A girl of twenty-something, with little artistry, her other half awaiting news back in the apartment, finds the ounce of stamina that lets her pivot back toward the men.
On their first day the tall one picks the Lolas up at the train station, fuzzy dice hanging from the front of his car. That he has a bag of laundry to drop off makes the girls share a backseat smile. Someone thinks they are dispensable, equivalent to a laundry errand, and this droll fact makes the girls reenter their delicious paradox: they live again at the smack-dab center of irrelevance.
They drive around that day, Rose having asked if she could bring a friend, the two of them delegated to the care of a stringy scion from a fallen New England family, the scion not clocking a single backseat smile and thus unaware of his utter charity, à la Jane Polsby, in helping them etherize back to another heist as Lola One and Two. No one really matters: they go in and out of dressing rooms while the scion bounces a rubber ball against store walls with a tournament player’s dedication.
Because the scion types Rose as babydoll, she tries on foamy confections. “Go white. Lace fishnets, garters, underwear. Men recognize your type plus pervs go ballistic,” he says, never stopping the bounce. “Get your hair in curly pigtails. Stick oversize diaper pins on the lace. When you come onstage, suck a lollipop. Because your face has the hunger of a little girl, you got that sadness in your eyes, plus you could bounce dimes off your butt. You’ll see, babydoll helps, you’ll go like zero to a hundred, make more.”
When Rose emerges his Galatea, he seems pleased, ricocheting his ball off the ceiling. In the meantime he has sized up Lana as a sav-age woman of experience. “You’re leopard, jaguar, ruby red. Start at eighty-five then go slow so you don’t get to a hundred too quickly. I have a girlfriend, she’s a stripper, but I see way too many naked girls so I always say, hey, keep your clothes on, even during lower-case intimacies if you know what I mean. By the way, take off that ratty purse.”
Once they get to the bar, five o’clock with Lana still too serious in her leopard print, a red velvet choker across her neck, the scion asks Bev, an oldtimer with long nails and a lemur’s face, to do Lana’s hair in a bedtime bun. Rose stands by in her ridiculous babydoll get-up, suddenly wishing to exit the scene, watching as the oldtimer fingers and sprays Lana’s hair, keeping up a train of talk during which she states she is bi, swings both ways, and her boyfriend doesn’t mind.
“So what’s the thing they keep calling getting to one hundred?” Rose asks oldtimer Bev, who shrugs before jutting her chin stageward where a happy-hour welfare mom sneaks onstage with actual safety-pins seaming her skirt.
“There’s your dead end right there,” says Bev. The welfare mom kneels at the stagelight’s greasy rim, allowing some loner guy who five minutes earlier had been scarfing up twenty-five-cent chicken-wings to now stick a beer bottle into her. “That lady,” says Bev, “don’t get me wrong, loves her kids. Does it for all three. Plus you got to admire the Thai stuff she does, tricks of control. You won’t see me doing them. She can get a whole chain of safety-pins going in and out.”
Overhearing, bouncing his ball against the bar, the scion muses in his Connecticut accent that the birth canal never fails to amaze. Only six o’clock and two friends almost reunite in a smile, ready to rejoin in the deployment of questionable skills, here in a warren just beyond an interstate overpass with a pumping bass driving guhguhguhguhGUH on a collision course toward skull and groin, under lights hazy and gelled red, the scent of spilled beer and smoke in every breath: push it real good.
Bev wants to teach them how to get dollars to slide in more quickly. “Dance together and you’ll get more tips. Older guys especially love love love two girls together, you’ll see.” Lana will dance with Bev the first fifteen minutes, followed by a duet by Lana and Rose for fifteen minutes, finished by solos. “Chat up men at the bar first so they give you quarters to put in the jukebox. There’s your soundtrack. Use the pole and I promise you make fifty percent more. Can’t learn in a day what a lifetime of hard knocks gives. But you two will do okay. You’re the kind has good chemistry.”
Chemistry or not, that first time Rose steps onto the stage with Lana, wrapped by smoke but also the worshipful circle of men’s gazes, she gets it. She has arrived! This moment is a lovechild created by all those moments of Lola and Vic, Vic and his ironic, confusing attendance to the Lolas, the whole thing spun by the secret code of all billboards and magazines.
Only Rose’s new degree twists the coed-a-gogo moment into anything more illogical. B.A., big assumption, barefaced amour, bitter about-face, she plays with the words while waiting in the dark of the stage, teased, ready, music playing, that driving bass of the song that is everywhere that summer, guhguhguhguhGUH chichichichichi. Rose knows she has arrived at the end of some freeway with the choice being to either jump or turn back. Onstage she and Lana will share one last look before the dance begins, the look containing almost everything, locking up their mobile morality, a flock of everyone outside the Lolas, the policemen who used to sigh and wave them off without writing up tickets. Again the Lolas will get off with another dereliction of duty.
Though after that first second Lana never peeks at Rose or out at the crowd, her diffidence so appealing. She acts as if she needs nothing, her system self-sufficient, running on its own juices, Rose seeing for the first time that Lana’s beauty has to do with how she never cops to much, her brown nape forever turning away. While Rose stares out, brazenly curious under the thinnest veil of shyness, her tongue forever inching forward.
At the peak of a certain power, the men’s desire becomes a hand persuaded to move. You find a way to convince this hand to uncurl and respond, to come forth with the bill you tuck into your garter. After their first night, on the train ride back, Rose tries speaking of a hand that Lana doesn’t want to discuss. Why does she love to hide her titillation? She admits to nothing.
Home in the roach-friendly kitchen over the Hudson, they seem to skulk together, pulling damp bills from a paper bag, each George Washington or Abe Lincoln a mark of a second, an exchange of capital, one favor granted and another withheld. “Really, what’s wrong with it,” asks Rose, “given that aren’t all jobs a form of prostitution? You keep yourself from following your bliss for some period of time and then capital squirts toward you. At least we’re performing our dance authentically. Any other job we could get would serve someone else’s system and wouldn’t be true anyway to whatever self we want to believe in. Or what do you think?”
“I don’t know,” says Lana. “Not much. It’s a job. Sorry. It’s just that these days I do better when I don’t think too much.”
- July 9 (Rhinebeck, NY/Oblong)
- July 16: (Woodstock, NY/Kleinart)
- July 20: (Seattle/Elliott Bay)
- July 23 (Mendocino/The Gallery)
- July 28: (Berkeley/Mrs. Dalloway’s)
- July 30: (Gualala/Four-Eyed Frog)
- August 4: (San Francisco/Book Passage)
- August 5: (Montclair/A Great Good Place for Books)