Paige Johnson

Pink Flamingo & Silver Tinsel

Note to self, literally.

I can’t write “Dear Claudia,” because I don’t know if I’ll have earned my own affection by the time I reread this. I’m giving myself three years to decode my own love language, starting with this letter. Three years to assess and essentially rewrite my life seems to be the sweet spot for this self-esteem experiment. One year would make me too time-pressed to meet my goals and two would be too soon to forget where I came from.

Turning a potential suicide note into a spark of motivation, a pinprick of promise, will be the best Christmas present anyone could give this Cigar City stripper.

I’m told, by self-help books and balding TV personalities, that tough love is the first step towards transition.

So listen up, you stupid hoe. There are going to be some changes.

Instead of getting the cops called on you for blasting Mariah Carey’s Christmas album at ungodly hours, you’re going to lay low. Stick your goddamn nose in a book, why don’t you? Let the septum piercing anchor you in.

No, scrolling through Wattpad erotica your friend Bambi writes from her iPhone doesn’t count. We both know that bitch can’t spell, let alone produce thought-provoking material. (Secret Santa-style gangbangs, no thank you.)

How about reading some Nietzsche or Terence McKenna? At the least, clients will buy into your cliché college fund excuse for stripping. Babbling about psychedelic mushrooms in Kris Kringle lore as men throw dollars at your elf heels—now that’s festive.

But if studying philosophy proves to be as boring as perusing dimly lit comic shops late at night, check real estate listings. Girl, we are not letting the Capital of Crazies consume us until we’re putting around Bealls Outlet, complaining our senior discount only works on Fridays. A diet of chew tobacco and Publix subs is not doing you any favors, you hear me?

You are not the Florida trash you’ve befriended, fucked, loved, then begrudged. 

Scraping glitter out of your ass-crack is only glamorous if you’ve accepted that you’re never leaving the trailer park. 

It may take a cranberry red eviction notice, but you’re destined for things brighter than a tin roof strung with shoddy Christmas lights.

Savor your surroundings now because you won’t want more than a memory three years down the line. Next time you trudge home from a night of awkward lap dances and eggnog shots, trace the porch’s rotting rings. Remember the musk of torn window screens and piling fly corpses. Sit on that muddied lounger and relish the tinkle of homemade wind chimes, the sizzle of the electric bug zapper.

One day—instead of cowering behind the blinds—you’re gonna smirk when you look back on your crackhead neighbors scouring the dirt for dropped pills. You’re gonna forget the ball of brawling stray cats you watched for entertainment when you were too high to remember your Netflix password. 

Speaking of getting high, that’s one thing we need to stop if we’re ever going to move on from this sagging mobile. Swimming on molly until you have to call out from a Saturday night shift is worse than treading water.

Remember that night we spent sweating out a pint of Pabst Blue Ribbon, worried our face was permanently frozen in a creepy Casey Anthony leer? What about the time we tried to pass off to our friends that puking on the pristine grasses of a golf course was a woke political statement?

Yeah, fuck that. The only white powder we need is what awaits us up north. Even if we don’t ever get to take a bite out of the Big Apple, we’ll see snow. (I’m sick of thinking trading in a tank top for a Tapout T signifies cold weather.) Hell, we’ll eat snow on sticks with syrup like the Canadians do. 

Keep stuffing your stockings with dollar bills and this hoe will laugh all the way into the next three New Years. 

Okay, so now that I’ve titillated you with dreams of life beyond chicken wire and powdered party favors, I know you’ll heed what’s written.

This is called the miracle season for a reason. 

So, twenty-three-year-old me, what’s life like away from America’s balmy taint: Tampa, Florida? 

Are your nights still riddled with cute clothes and unappealing faces? Are you still working the stage as a bruised minx named Midnight, the Edgar Allen Hoe of strip clubs? Still playing Pokémon Go between half-hearted hand jobs?

Tell me, did you truly escape the skeeviness of living inside a Fiona Apple music video? Or have you moved onto more traditional hustles? Being a hair salon receptionist or small-town real estate agent might suit you. During high school you loved overhearing gossip and snooping around. Hey, maybe you’re something in-between but cooler, like a bartender or news reporter.

Now that you’ve surely stopped dyeing your hair a Grinch green, have you cuffed anything better for yourself lover-wise? (I’m not talking about bedroom cuffs, missy.) 

You learned the hard way that only Gulf Coast swaggots meet for coffee at 4 AM. Yet don’t feel bad if the best you’ve brought home is a stray cat to sleep under your martini-pink Christmas tree. The gift of self-love comes in parts—not parcels. 

Speaking of loved ones, are you answering invitations to festive family gatherings again? Or do you feel too guilty knowing “performance” once meant singing “Hallelujah” in front of steeples and stained glass, instead of gyrating between a wreathed pole and drunken deadbeats? Do you still have nightmares about Mom and Brad finding out you suckle from candy canes while posing in scarlet fishnets for a living?

As I’m sure you’ve learned by now, a profession can’t define you. Can the same be said about an address though? Even if your night-terrors have ceased, I bet there are whispers during the day: “You can take the trash out of the trailer park, but you can’t take the trailer park out of the trash.”

Does driving by an untouched tire swing or an empty dog house trigger your nostalgia? Remember how you cried when your artificial tree crashed to the ground, all its little bombs exploding into neon shrapnel? You swore to do better every year, acquire more comfort than garland and glass keepsakes from childhood to remind you of the good times.

Well, the good times—or marginally better—times are here. At any rate, I bet you don’t miss scrounging up the courage to smash cockroaches into smears on the bathroom wall. What about binge eating under piss-yellow lighting or rolling on sob-inducing substances that make you question if you actually ran over a baby alligator that one time?

Clean. Legitimately employed. Properly housed. Did you listen to me? Did this shitty snapshot in time (capsule) work? Were the resolutions worth waiting three years?

As long as a cord of Christmas lights isn’t twinkling around your neck like a noose, I suppose I’ve done my job.

The bitch who knows you best,

-XO, Claudia

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