Thursday, July 22, 2010

OEC Contest: Runner-Up


After much deliberating, the Judge has declared a runner-up in The Orange Eats Creeps contest, in which writers would submit pieces adhering to random themes drawn from a hat.

The runner-up comes to us from Calder Lorenz, who chose to compose his piece around the theme "confessions of a baptist nightclub janitor."

Of the piece, the Judge remarks: "Well executed and keenly observed. A little terrarium wriggling with sin and redemption."

Confessions of a Baptist Nightclub Janitor

You’d think each night would be the same for a man who cleans up after other people’s good times. Not much in the way of complication. An endless routine of sweeping and scrubbing and soaking up puke until you run out of smokes and the light reflects off the polished nightclub bar.
You might think each night would be the same and most of the time you’d be right.
My father in-law, a minister who lives down near New Orleans, once told me that you had to be held in the arms of Satan in order to touch evil for yourself. In a sense, he said as he combed and sculpted his black hair into a male beehive, you’d have to taste evil so you’d know when you were in the presence of goodness. I married his daughter that afternoon. And in the evening he held my head under water with his muscled hands until I accepted Jesus as my savior. I was twenty-five.

I’m thirty-three now. A month ago, I took this job to pay the bills. Pure and simple. I’ll confess that preaching doesn’t pay, at least not for me. I’ll confess my failures outnumber my followers. I haven’t told Lena, but I see now that you need faith to fool folks or at the very least you need the time to practice. And I’ve got neither. Not when the collection calls refuse to cease and the debt I’ve got from trying to run an online ministry doubles and doubles and doubles. Not when her father stopped bailing us out. Stopped paying the mortgage. So I light up and snap on my latex gloves and spray off the front entrance where someone left a puddle of piss. I collect the grease from the fryer and haul it to the dumpster and then I stack chairs so I can mop down the chipped linoleum floor.

______


Scotty, who manages the bar, is still hanging around long after he should be.

I lean on the mop and watch him count his money. He works over a huge stack of twenties and then moves onto the tens. I finish my smoke before I start back on the floor.

I’ll confess that I admire Scotty. His youth. His perfectly upright and sharpened blonde hair. His silver piercing below his lower lip. The certainty I have that he’s slept with every young waitress who works in this black hole. He doesn’t just touch evil. He fucks it and loves it and looks good doing it.

“I got a surprise for you,” Scotty says from behind the bar.

“A real treat,” he says without leaving the money.

“Ok,” I say. “I’ll be done soon enough.”

“Fuck it,” he says. “Take a seat. Have a beer on me. I owe you a tip for taking care of the piss out front.”

“Almost done,” I say.

I wring out the mop head and slide the bucket into an empty stall and then dump the black muddled water—crumpled business cards with penned washed out numbers floating like the chunks of styrofoam that accumulate in the deceased creek behind the bar. The creek where I’ve been instructed to dump anything the garbage men refuse to take.

Scotty slaps a five dollar bill on the bar. He throws down a coaster and follows through with the beer he promised. “That’s your tip for the piss.”

“Thanks,” I say. “Every bit counts.”

“You bet it does,” he says. “I barely cleared three bills tonight.”

I drink my beer.

He’s finished counting and I know what comes next.

He slides over a plate. He says, “My guy says you shouldn’t use bills, even the hundreds can get you sick.” He says, “I cut you your own straw.” He says, “Wait until the surprise gets here.”

I bow my head to the bar. We take turns bowing our heads until I say I need to finish scrubbing the toilets.

______

It’s well past four in the morning when Scotty’s treat arrives. I’ve completed my janitorial check list and stand behind the bar with Scotty, drinking and organizing bottles in the smaller cooler under the whiskey shelf. Wasting time when I’d normally be on a vacant bus, riding on home, scribbling down my sermons onto cocktail napkins. This is where my words dribble out and form into something as uninspired as restacking toilet paper or hanging greased slick pots. This is my fruitless preparation for a wretched daily podcast.

I’ll confess I was intrigued by Scotty’s proclamation. I’ll confess I wanted a treat. But what did I expect to walk through that door? Whatever it was, Scotty’s not impressed. He frowns as Brian, a lumpy man in a brown leather jacket with a block head and potholes on his face, sits down at the bar.

I’ve noticed that this oddly confident man comes in after hours once or twice a month on the nights Scotty stays late to count his money. But this time he’s not alone, followed by two young girls who I assume work for him at the strip club down the road. They wear matching grey sweat pants and baggy sweatshirts. They have gym bags. Their faces are sullen and tired and their make-up is missing. Their hair is greasy and pulled back.

“Christ,” Scotty says, “You girls look like crap.”

The girls flop down on bar stools next to Brian. They drop their bags.

“We’re tired.” The girl next to Brian says.

Scotty shakes his head as he holds Brian’s hand. “I thought you said we’d get a show.”

“You will,” Brian says.

“You girls want a drink,” Scotty says. He starts to pour from the tap without waiting for an answer. “Sorry girls. It was one of those nights.”

“Can I have a bottle instead?” One of the girls asks. “I like imports.”

Scotty nods at me and I hand her a bottle. Her lips are tight as she smiles. She squints. Says, “Thank you sir.”

Her voice saturated with the tone of a tired child.

She takes a drink and then turns back to look at Scotty as he waves the girls into the men’s restroom.

I’m left with Brian who rubs his swollen forehead.

“Hey big guy,” he says. “Will ya pour me a shot?”

He doesn’t look at me. I put down two shot glasses and I tell myself that life is a test. These are the moments when we achieve a higher level of understanding. This is how we taste. How we touch. Maybe I’ve finally been given the opportunity to learn about darkness so I can wallow in redemption, be reborn with the ability to annunciate my faith.

______

Scotty opens the front door and I’ll confess that I feel elation despite how the morning light blinds my swollen view of the nightclub. I can see Brian’s neon green Camaro sputtering and groaning out front. The girls wave dismissive goodbyes as they labor to the car. The horn blares and blares and blares.

Scotty holds the door. He wears a weary smirk, a look of brotherhood formed by crossed boundaries and degradation. He says, “Sorry about the mess, man.”

I block the light with my hand and it’s all I can do to nod.

He says, “See you tonight.” And the door swings shut.

I lean on the bar, surveying the broken bottles and upturned chairs and then I peel my forearm so I can wipe my hands on my shirt. I stagger into the back kitchen and turn on the faucet where they wash the pots and pans. A huge steel sink wiped clean with bleach. I take a rag from the clean stack on the shelf and I plug the drain. I wait until the water rises, inches from overflowing onto the tiled floor. I grasp the sides and drown my head until the cold water soaks the entire upper part of my shirt. I hold my breath until I re-emerge, gasping and choking and then plunge again. Time stops and all I know is gasping and then plunging, gasping and then plunging, until I fall backwards slipping on the flooded floor.

I leave my resignation in the form of my soaked shirt. The fabric marked with a few spots of blood where the leg of a storage-rack inserted into the skin of my shoulder blade. I confess that I leave without setting the alarm, without cleaning up the mess, without guilt, carrying only a stolen pen and a generous handful of cocktail napkins for the bus ride home.

1 comment:

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