Bogdan Dragos

fade away

FADE AWAY

Why was there a poster in his room
that said FADE AWAY?

It’s been around
since forever
now that he thought about it

And until today
there was no reason
to even think about it
Life was happening fast

It happened so fast
that it’s been 52 years
since the day he was born

Today there was nothing left to do
but observe the poster
that said FADE AWAY

And there was nothing else to do
not because he’d done it all
but because he hadn’t done shit

52 years and nothing done
Nothing worthwhile anyway

But values change, man
Oh, how they change

One day you’re young
thinking failure and shame
and ridicule are what suck

Well, you’re not wrong

But

Later when you’re old
you realize nothing sucks more
than never risking these things
when you were young

Now this

So now you either tell yourself
that it is never too late to be
what you might’ve been

Or you sit alone
in your silent room
with no wife
and no kids
no pets
and a pension
that comes once a month

And slowly blink your eyes
at your poster that says
FADE AWAY

Matthew Licht

How Mrs. Steinmetz Got Her Mink

Every day on her way to work and back, Mrs. Steinmetz stopped in front of the shopwindow of Vanderbolt Furs. Beyond the plateglass, mannequins stood frozen in elegant poses, swathed in ocelot, seal, beaver, chinchilla, ermine, but most of all, mink. Mrs. Steinmetz stared, and became a dummy covered in lumpy tweed and left outside to endure the wind that howls down big city avenues. Then a truck engine would backfire, or some workman or cop would shout, and the near-frozen woman would awaken and walk the rest of the way to her dimly lit tenement room.

Dinner was usually a can of soup heated up on the radiator. Mrs. Steinmetz listened to the radio while she ate, and often fell asleep to swoony brass choruses and whispered melodramatic dialogue.

The shopkeepers at Vanderbolt Furs changed the window display every Thursday. Thursdays were holidays, for Mrs. Steinmetz.

Hypnotized by a velvety knee-length model, she didn’t see the black sedan pull to a stop behind her in the street, didn’t hear its wide tires crunch the snow piled by the curb. The man sitting in the back of the car rolled down his window. The end of his cigar glowed like a lustful eye in the winter evening.

Mrs. Steinmetz was plain, but she had lovely skin. Cheap clothes couldn’t conceal her figure. An opera house crowded with fur-wrapped society matrons would envy such a balcony. Despite years of rapt window-gazing, Mrs. Steinmetz had never dared to enter Vanderbolt’s emporium of dreams. Her creamy flesh had never known the touch of mink.

“Excuse me please, Miss,” the man in the back of the hulking automobile said. “I’d like a word with you.”

Mrs. Steinmetz snapped out of her fur-lined reverie, and shivered. It was cold. Her breath showed in puffs. She hugged her thin coat tighter, hunched her shoulders as she approached the car and the stranger inside it.

“Do you need directions, sir?”

“Pardon my indiscretion, dear Miss, but I noticed how you admire the mink coats offered for sale in that shop. Would you like to have one of them?”

Mrs. Steinmetz nearly fainted. This was only partly due to the cold, her soupy diet and post-shift fatigue. She thought her prayers were about to be answered by the Mink Fairy.

“Oh, yes. Oh, thank you, kind sir.”

“Perhaps this can be arranged,” the man said. “Get in the car. We’ll take a jaunt uptown.”

The spacious cab was warm and smelled pleasantly of tobacco. The chauffeur was in livery. Mrs. Steinmetz mistook him for a cop, due to the hat. The man beside her was dressed in a tuxedo. The studs on his shirt glittered like diamonds, which they were.

“Take us uptown, Jim,” he said. “All the way.”

The big car took off without a lurch, barely a sound. The driver seemed to have the traffic lights under his command. They turned green to let them shush by.

“Would you care for a cocktail, Miss? I’m afraid I can only offer you rum, but it’s damn fine rum.”

“Oh yes please, sir. Thank you. I’d love a shot.”

The decanter sparkled like an outscale jewel, as did the glass which the man filled with dark liquor.

“Won’t you please take off your wrap? You’ll be so much more comfortable. Allow me to help you.”

Mrs. Steinmetz blushed. She wasn’t wearing her bra. She’d busted a strap that morning, and hadn’t had time to make the repair. The other girls at the factory didn’t notice or care, and they all wore smocks anyway. Mrs. Steinmetz’s smock was on its peg in the factory’s workroom, and a rich stranger was about to help her out of her coat. She nearly flopped out the front of her calico dress when she leaned forward. Her nipples were still stiff from the cold.

“Oh my God,” the man said. “I mean, excuse me, Miss, but you have such a marvelous bosom.”

Mrs. Steinmetz attempted to cover herself. “Uhm, thank you, sir. Where we going? I thought…”

The wide, brightly lit avenues had given way to dark, pitted streets. The skyscrapers had been replaced by shabby houses with boarded-up windows. Even the snowdrifts looked black and menacing. Mrs. Steinmetz had never been so far uptown before.

A group of men stood outside a storefront whose red neon sign throbbed LIQUOR, with the U burnt out. The driver slowed as they passed. Black faces turned to glower. Mrs. Steinmetz noticed the driver was a black man too.

“Keep going,” the elegant man said.

He poured himself another glass of rum. He poured Mrs. Steinmetz another glassful too, even though she tried to refuse. Her head was swimming. She’d only eaten a few crackers and an apple for lunch.

A tall man walked under the only streetlight still in function on a long block of vacant lots. He pushed a wheelbarrow from which several wooden handles stuck out.

“Sweet sweating Christ, look at the shoulders on him. Stop, Jim.”

The car rolled smoothly to a halt. The man leaned across Mrs. Steinmetz to roll down the window, spilled rum in her lap as he did so.

“Hey, big fella. Get over here a minute. I wanna talk to you.”

The giant set down his wheelbarrow, wiped his hands on his jacket. His voice was a low whisper from the grave. “Whatchoo want?”

“Ever seen one of these, big boy?” The rich man snapped a fresh $100 bill. “All for you.”

“How many I got to kill?”

“Nothing like that. All you gotta do is have some fun with this pretty lady here.”

“But I got my tools here. I can’t just…”

“No one around here wants them. Get in.”

There was barely room in the back seat, though it had seemed broad as a football field just a moment before. Mrs. Steinmetz felt dangerously crowded. The man smelled of dirt and sweat. They drove past a ruined church, a ghostly former schoolyard.

“Whip it out,” the man in the tuxedo said.

“’Scuse me, sir?”

“You heard me, bo’.”

The man sighed and fumbled the front of his pants. Mrs. Steinmetz gasped.

The rich man’s hands shook. “Now, you…blondie…get busy.”

Mrs. Steinmetz felt like crying.

“Shut up,” the rich man said. “You want that mink coat, don’t you?”

“It’s not that,” she said. “I’m afraid he’ll kill me.”

“You’ve got the wrong idea, girly.” He narrowed his eyes at her bosom.

Mrs. Steinmetz nodded, knelt on the carpeted floor of the car, and pulled down the top of her dress.

“You Jew-girls have a natural talent,” the rich man said.

“Miss,” the giant whispered, “you gonna make me…”

 “Oh yes. Yes.” The rich man hissed.

The huge black man threw back his head.

The rich man lunged. The car filled with moans of horrible delight.

Outside the nearest subway entrance, Jim the driver handed Mrs. Steinmetz a mink coat wrapped in plastic, fresh from the cleaners.

That fur still hangs on Mrs. Steinmetz’s wall. She never wore it once.

John D Robinson

No Fucking

He followed me into the urinals
and stood behind me as I pissed:
‘I hear you think you’re
a tough guy’ he said
‘Maybe you’ve heard wrong’
I said finishing up and
walking over to the wash
basins:
‘Just don’t fuck with me’
he said:
‘I’m not going to fuck with you,
but maybe, your girl’ I told him:
‘Maybe you’ll try’ he said
‘Yeah, I might do’ I said
‘Maybe I’ll fuck with your girl’
he said:
‘Okay, let’s not do any fucking
tonight’ I suggested:
he nodded,
‘No fucking’ he said
‘No fucking’ I said

Bogdan Dragos

134

“The angriest I ever got,” she said,
“Was with an ex-boyfriend, of course.
I just wanted him to die.
But like, not casual wanting him to die.
Really, really wishing with all my might
that he’d drop dead.
I felt I couldn’t go on living
as long as I knew he was alive.
I had to do something about it.
I was literally about to explode.
So, to prevent that, I got dressed
and despite the rain and all
I went straight to the nearest pet shop.
Bought me a hamster.
And with a red marker,
I wrote my boyfriend’s name
on its back.
And then slammed that hamster
against the wall 134 times.
For the 134 hours we’d been together.
I calmed down after that.
But, you know,
I don’t like talking
about myself all that much.
Tell me about yourself.
Also, what should we get
from the menu?
Have you decided yet?”

David Sprehe

Dog’s Day

Sunday. God’s day. Misty, gorgeous, redheaded, freckle speckled Misty, naked and on her knees, spread out a large stained blanket on the living room floor. Jesus, her German Shepard, watched, tongue out, thick bushy tail thumping the green carpet. Misty hadn’t bathed since Friday and her crotch put off a killer reek. Jesus whined. A shudder ran up his spine and down his front paws. He gave a muffled, frustrated woof.

Misty giggled, and wagged her jiggly ass.

Peeking over her shoulder, she saw Jesus’s pink cock rocket poking from its sheath. She crawled over, and gave the tip a lick. Precum spurted in her mouth. She tongued his wet nose, tasting dog snot, then crab crawled back, bitch giving a teaser. Jesus leaned into the smell. She laid out on the blanket, propping pillows under her ass. She spread her legs.

“Come, Jesus,” she said.

Eager Jesus shot over. Breath caught in Misty’s throat as Jesus painted her slit with his slobber, his long, wide tongue rolling along with master artistry.

“Good boy, Jesus, oh fuck, good boy Jesus, lick mommy, oh good, good boy,” she said squeezing her droopy titties and thinking of suckling pups, thinking of love and Holiest Sweet God in a woman’s best buddy. Jesus’s tongue tickled her butthole. She squeaked.

Her toes started in to curl. Her stomach reddened, prickling along her folds. She put her hands under Jesus’s snout and lifted his head.

“Mount,” she said.

Jesus stepped over her legs, his penis unsheathed and quivering like plucked guitar string. Drops of stanky, goopy pre-seminal drippage wetted her bushy crotch. She wrapped her legs around his rump and guided his pulsing cock with her hands. His heat entered her, fever-like heat spreading up through her guts. Jesus collapsed on top of her. His dog dick knotted, swelling. Spooge flowed, filling her cunt.

“I’m your bitch, Jesus. Breed,” she said. Jesus’s wiener stretched her pussy, like a white-hot sun expanding inside her, until, moaning, they tied off, woman and canine locked in a cock-poon clutch. Tingles ran over Misty. She wiggled, and farted. Warmth of gushing seminal fluid, dog nestled between her sagging tits. Jesus licked her face. She played with her clit, swollen hot dog dong inside, her finger motions, and stroking her lover’s fur, digging her nails back along her lover’s skin. Her chin dripped with Jesus’s spit. Her ass tensed, rhythmic pelvis motion, rubbing her belly against his. She held his head and licked his mouth, licked his teeth, his gums, dancing tongues, sucking spit and dog breath, her body beaded in sweat. Heaven is a place on earth.

Misty’s fuck hole filled, Jesus’s dick shrank. Jesus backed up, and began lapping the overflow. Misty smiled, rubbing Jesus’s head, her bladder releasing on a residual twitch, urine dribbling onto the pillows. Jesus loved her piss.

“Perfect angels,” she said propped on her elbow and playing with her nipple. Jesus knitted his eyebrows and looked up at her.

“Our puppies would be angels.”

Puma Perl

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

A large guy in a cool hat dances in his wheelchair
He rolls by me singing a Ramones song
I trail behind him, we wind up on the café terrace
I drink coffee, he sips gin from a flask,
turns out he doesn’t need the chair all the time,
Just a pulled muscle, he explains, leaning on his cane,
Walk the exhibit with me, he suggests, throwing
an arm around me, rubbing my back through
my motorcycle jacket. We make out leaning against
Keith Richards’ signature and again in front of Tina’s
Private Dancer sequined dress, then we catch
the movie, he’s running his hand up my leg,
and I can’t decide whether I want it off me
or inside my pussy, so I compromise and move it
onto my tit and he rubs my nipple through
my t-shirt as we watch clips of past inductees,
reaches under my shirt in memory of Solomon Burke,
all around us Midwest mainstream America rocks
to Bruce, he slides his hand down my pants,
I cum in time to Shelia is a Punk Rocker
all in such perfect symmetry that I know
it’s time to go. As I make my way out, I hear
him singing One Way or Another along with Blondie,
seems like he’s that guy who knows all the words.

Leah Mueller

The Proposition

If your uncle yammers for hours about alcoholism, and how it fucked up the entire family, you don’t expect him to take you to a dive bar afterward.

Crazy Scorpio guy. Henry was obsessive and had the goods on everybody. The previous evening, he’d driven me around my grandmother Mildred’s neighborhood, pointing out the hidden skeletons behind every door. Mildred lived in the wealthy North Bay section of Racine, Wisconsin. She played bridge with Johnson Wax executives and voted a straight Republican ticket.

Henry pulled up in front of the most expensive house on the block and idled for a full minute. “Real can of worms in this place,” he said, without elaborating.

Mildred seemed happy to go to the bar with us, though she usually drank at home. She’d nursed her second husband through senility until the bitter end and was having a great time without him. I didn’t blame her. Henry Sr., a racist, sleazy dentist, had a bad temper and a poor sense of humor. All of us were better off with him gone.

At 29, I was always glad to visit a bar, even one in Racine. Henry had talked non-stop since I arrived at Mildred’s house two nights beforehand. I’d paid her an impromptu visit, just so I could flee Chicago for the weekend. As soon as I saw Henry, I regretted my decision, but now it was too late.

Aunt Donna had left Henry for another man, so he’d gone home to live with his mother. My uncle’s old bedroom featured zebra skin rugs and African spears. Mildred’s twisted idea of  boy’s room décor. She’d picked up these items during transcontinental excursions, when her son was still young and impressionable.

Henry married Donna, his high school sweetheart, a couple of days after graduation. The two of them looked like two mid-1960s caricatures of young adults. Henry sported a stylish crew cut and Donna wore tight capris. They adored each other.

This arrangement sufficed for many years, until the couple’s inevitable midlife crisis. Donna went nuts, drinking and crying and screaming and fucking other men. She had a breakdown and spent a few weeks in a mental hospital.

Henry had already devoted several hours to the task of warning me about the destruction alcohol wreaked upon families. A bar would be a nice change of pace. I climbed in the back of Mildred’s Lincoln Continental and stared out the window.

My uncle fidgeted in the passenger seat. “You sure you want to go?” A weaselly attempt to walk back the invitation and avoid responsibility. Typical Henry behavior.

Mildred smirked. “Of course, or we wouldn’t be here.” She turned the key, and her engine roared to life.

We headed straight downtown and pulled up in front of a dive. Multicolored neon lights shone on the hood of my grandmother’s Lincoln. Mildred killed the engine and climbed from her vehicle, slamming the door. “I’m ready for a drink.”

“Don’t worry, I’m buying.” Henry sidled up to the bar and waved his hands until the bartender came over. The poor man looked ancient. Most likely the owner, but jobs were scarce in Racine.

“Um, O’Doul’s for me,” Henry said. “Mother?”

“I will have a Manhattan,” Mildred said, in the imperious tone she reserved for drink orders.

The bartender glanced at me, and I deliberated. “You got Point on tap? I’ll take one, please.”

The delicious local brew sold in Madison’s college bars for two bucks a pitcher during happy hour. I didn’t share Mildred’s love of hard liquor, preferring to drink for quantity.

On the other hand, my grandmother could really put it away. She tossed back her Manhattan and signaled for another. The aged bartender picked up a bottle and a glass and began his arduous task of pouring and mixing.

Mildred’s eyes traveled down the bar and came to rest upon a middle-aged man. He sat at the far end, nursing a can of Old Style. Handsome but tired-looking, the fellow appeared to be in his late 50’s. At least 20 years younger than Mildred, who planned to celebrate her 80th birthday in April.

My grandmother already had a new boyfriend named Clay—a millionaire who took her dancing every Friday. Mildred had made no promises of fidelity. She leaned over the bar and squeezed my arm. “He’s cute,” she said in a stage whisper. “Don’t you think so?”

“I guess.” I gazed down at my glass. Henry had revealed that Mildred was almost broke. She’d burned through two million dollars and was down to her last $100,000. It still seemed like a lot of money to me. My college fund had gone into my grandparents’ expensive liquor glasses, a few dollars at a time.

College was bullshit anyway. I took a gulp of beer and stared straight ahead. Harry sat on my left and nursed his can of O’Doul’s. He appeared to be deep in thought. It was a welcome switch from his usual mindless chatter.

Suddenly, Mildred draped her body across the bar’s Formica surface and gestured towards the man. “Hey, handsome,” she slurred.

Looking startled, the man raised his head and slowly rotated in her direction. Mildred flashed him a lascivious grin. “What are your feelings about oral sex?”

My grandmother’s voice was so loud that the bartender almost dropped her Manhattan. Undeterred, Mildred continued to lounge on the counter like an octopus, her long limbs scattered willy-nilly amongst the ashtrays and empty glasses.

The man’s eyes grew huge, and his mouth fell open. After a moment, he composed himself. “It depends.”

Henry burst into laughter. He set down his beer can and covered his mouth with his hands, but the guffaws escaped through his fingers anyway. Rivulets of beer streamed from his nose.

I gaped at Mildred, horrified. The concept of her as a sexual being had never occurred to me. Like a couple in a 1960s sitcom, she and Henry Sr. had shared separate beds for years. I’d often helped my grandmother clean the conjugal bedroom. She’d tried, in vain, to teach me how to construct hospital corners with her crisp, imported sheets.

Mildred shrugged. “I need to visit the ladies’ room. Be right back.” She rose to her feet and staggered towards the rear of the bar.

I leaned towards Henry. “I’m afraid she came on a bit too strong.”

Henry emitted a final snort, then shook his head. “She prefers the direct approach.”

I swiveled on my barstool and turned my back on Mildred’s would-be paramour. Most likely, he didn’t relish the sight of our dysfunctional family—three generations of social misfits, all lined up and staring at him like vultures. The poor guy was entitled to some privacy.

After a moment, Mildred wandered back into the room. She sank into her seat, then rotated in a clockwise direction, hoping to attract the man’s attention again. Feeling apprehensive, I allowed my eyes to travel slowly towards his end of the bar. I didn’t want him to think Mildred’s seduction was a family affair—some sort of unholy foursome, too ghastly to imagine.

His seat was empty. An abandoned can of Old Style remained on the counter, beside a half-drained glass. The man had tucked a couple of dollars underneath an ashtray and wandered off into the winter’s night.

My grandmother sighed. “I guess he got cold feet.” She raised a hand and signaled the bartender. “Another Manhattan, please.”

The bartender scuttled towards the sink for another glass. His face assumed an implacable expression. The man had undoubtedly seen some weird shit during his years behind the bar. “A bit stronger this time,” Mildred snapped. “The last one was weak.”

“I think you scared that poor fellow,” I said.

“Who? The guy at the end of the bar? He wouldn’t know what to do with a real woman.” Mildred accepted her drink from the bartender and took a hearty gulp. “That’s all right. I’ll find someone who will.”

I didn’t doubt it. Mildred always got what she wanted, one way or another. In an hour or so, we’d return to her palatial home. The Lincoln would idle on my grandmother’s pink driveway for a few seconds. Then Mildred would guide her vehicle into the garage and retire to her pink bedroom.

The woman loved pink, and she finally had it all to herself—as soon as Henry Jr. moved into his new apartment. Friday was only a few days away. Clay would come over with a dozen roses and his usual invitation for a steak dinner and ballroom dancing. Meanwhile, in the dark of her bedroom, Mildred might conjure up an image of her fantasy lover. If she even cared or managed to remember.

Matthew Licht

Take It Off and Say Goodbye

Derek’s girlfriend Yvonne was a stripper. She danced two nights a week at Joe Rae’s, on 6th Avenue and 24th Street. Joe Rae took one look and gave her Fridays and Saturdays. She also danced out in Queens, and at another place in Jersey City. She kept her tits and ass busy.

Derek and I worked together, but we weren’t bankers or lawyers or doctors. We were editors at a weekly sex newspaper.

Derek was of medium height, skinny, dressed in black. He wore near-opaque sunglasses, even at night. There used to be a million guys like him in New York. I always thought Yvonne should’ve been involved with someone more interesting. Like me, for instance.

Yvonne’s hair was like neatly stacked marine rope. She was from Illinois, and had a bit of a heroin problem. She’d nod off at odd times and there was a slight, constant trickle from her upturned nose, but it didn’t seem like anything to go into rehab about.

As the sex newspaper’s Art Director, my job was to look at pussy all day. That wasn’t enough, so I went to Joe Rae’s topless bar nearly every night. There’s a big difference between pictures and the real thing, even if all you get to do is look. Though it wasn’t strictly legal, Joe Rae’s girls would pull aside their G-strings for a dollar. If they’d seen you around, or if they liked your face, they’d work finger-magic. Some nights, a low-tide tang clung to my beard like fog.

Pussy’s nice to look at. I guess I like looking at it more than dealing with it. But it wasn’t just pussy that kept me coming back to Joe Rae’s. I really loved his place.

Joe Rae was an old hippie, even older than me. He stuffed the jukebox with Cream, Hendrix and the Stones. Some of the dancers complained there was no disco or Latin. Joe gave them quarters and bills to feed the glowing slot, and strippers became adolescent girls in a department store who’ve been told they can have all the makeup they want for free.

Drinks at Joe Rae’s cost the same as at normal dives. The girls never asked, but you could buy them a drink and they’d sit with you to while they drank.

The decor at Joe Rae’s hadn’t changed since it’d been an Italian social club. The red flocked wallpaper was sticky to the touch, and hung with amateurish oils of Palermo and Naples. There was also a picture of a young man who was killed in Korea.

That hand-tinted photograph bothered me sometimes: a guy in uniform, with a toothy smile and sad eyes, all geared up to kill commies overseas. They killed him instead. Born in New York, 1930, died at Inchon, 1952, Corporal Joseph DeRamo might’ve been tickled from beyond the grave that his shrine was in a topless bar. It always seemed kind of strange that Ma and Pa DeRamo hadn’t taken their boy’s picture with them when they closed up shop. Maybe they left abruptly, for the place where you can’t bring anything along. I asked Joe Rae, but he didn’t know his place’s history. The rolling metal shutters had been down a long time when he bought it.

Bikers sold crank at the Teddy Bare. Boob-job skells hustled ginger ale champagne at the Pla-Z-Boy. It cost ten bucks just to get past the threadbare velvet rope at Limoncello’s. Joe Rae’s had no such drawbacks. I never got diarrhea from the free-buffet meatballs. The men’s room wasn’t a gay pick-up scene, not that there’s anything wrong with it. Even the bouncers acted friendly.

Not all Joe Rae’s women were as beautiful as Yvonne, but some of them were real dancers, and it was nice to be there just to watch them move. A Canadian amazon who could touch the back of her head with the soles of her feet stayed in town long enough to get me obsessed. I handed over ten-dollar bills until one night she was gone.

There were junkie girls, and ladies who looked like they’d carve you up with a  razor for whatever was in your pocket.

Joe Rae gave big women a chance. Baby Blue looked like she was carved from a block of cellulite, but she was a crowd-pleaser. She shimmied hard for her finale. Cottage cheese crammed into flesh-colored pantyhose vibrated and shook while the sweat sprayed. She was powdered with stardust, but I never asked how she got home, or where that home might be.

Yvonne told Joe Rae she didn’t want to strip any more. She’d decided she wanted to get into the music business.

The founder and publisher of the sex newspaper heard of Yvonne’s career dreams through her boyfriend, Derek. Our boss had a soft spot for his employees’ girlfriends, especially the ones who may or may not have blown him for a hundred bucks in the stairwell at one of the XXX-mas parties he threw every year, attendance mandatory. The big man said Yvonne must have a farewell party at Joe Rae’s, and that he would sponsor the event.

The editorial offices of the sex newspaper were on 14th Street. They occupied a high floor with sweeping views of midtown Manhattan. The walls were covered with obscene graffiti left by contributing cartoonists and illustrators.

My office was next to Derek’s. We spoke to each other through open doors, but not that often. Since he had a year or two of college English under his belt, he turned our illiterate employer’s ramblings into sentences and paragraphs. He drew from readers’ deliria and edited stories from outside writers on an Army Surplus electric typewriter. Derek had created the publication’s voice.

The paper’s scumbag look was my baby. I dropped out of Art School. The black-and-white pictures came from inexhaustible battleship-gray file cabinets.

Our boss ran the operation with his own money. He was the one who went to prison when The Man said he must, which was often.

A few women worked at the sex weekly. Miss Gloria was the boss’ long-suffering personal assistant. A slightly addled Jewish lady handled accounting and advertising. Long tall Cindy did the cut-and-paste layouts. She was from Florida.

The entire staff was practically ordered to attend Miss Yvonne’s Farewell to the Stripper Life party.

The affair started at nine. Everyone went home to change into festive attire. In my case, a basement dump in Brooklyn and the last shirt left with a collar, which had grown tight.

The underground scene was represented by a grizzled poet and a director of nudie art films. Vinnie the Bouncer stood at the door and told the businessmen and college guys, “Sorry, we got a private party tonight. Joe Rae’ll buy you a beer next time.”

What went on at Yvonne’s goodbye party was the same as what went on any other night, except the drinks were free. Felt like in a dream I had, a nightmare, I guess, in which New York City was Hell. The only things different were that the subway was free and there was no Statue of Liberty in the burning harbor.

At midnight, Yvonne would do her last show. Then, like a princess in a fairy tale, she’d disappear and keep her clothes on forever after.

We ripped into the greasy spread, catered by the boss’ favorite deli. Free liquor made things jollier. Cindy the Paste-up Girl, who’d held onto her Florida accent, talked about how she used to hit Plato’s Cave every weekend, before Town Hall shut the place down.

She seemed wistful, as though the swinger scene had been some glorious chapter in human history.

There were so many women like her in town, loose and slightly nuts. They can’t all own art galleries or run ad agencies. New York was a Hell for dashed female aspirations.

Yvonne emerged from the toilet. The other girls onstage applauded and lingered briefly to fondle her. Hendrix played “Little Wing” from the jukebox.

Hendrix was dead. So many evenings I’d sat there thinking that this was what it was all about, in the end. Joy and rage and thinking things could be different boiled down to thighs spread for a dollar.

Yvonne went all the way. Her G-string flew. Decency laws exploded. She backed up against the mirror wall streaked with femme-grease, spread her legs and sank down slow.

Goodbye to being young. Goodbye to whatever it was that everyone thought was supposed to happen. Goodbye to the idea that dropping out could lead somewhere good. Goodbye to topless bars.

The music biz, in Yvonne’s case, turned out to be selling used records at Bleecker Billy’s.

There was a positive side to her career change, though. She met a skaggy guitar player and dumped Derek. At least I thought it was positive.

Yvonne’s last move on that final night was a backwards bend-over. I didn’t want to see her go. I couldn’t have her. She wouldn’t be mine. I asked, once.

Turned out I couldn’t have Joe Rae’s, either. The laws changed, and the place went through a brief bikini-dance phase, but not many guys will tip girls in bathing suits on the off-chance that a nipple will pop out. There’s hornier stuff on television.

Joe Rae, unlike Yvonne, had no last hurrah. He didn’t sell his business, he closed it. Or maybe he tried to sell the place. I heard he moved to Mexico.

The green awning out front said Joe Rae’s Topless. Then for a while it said Joe Rae’s STopless, with the S hand-painted on, not even stenciled. The wind tore the awning, and it flapped like a flag. It still said STopless, but it wasn’t true.

John Grey

Sam the Man

Couldn’t begrudge
his demons
lowering dead bodies
deep in the brain’s
demonic rivers,
or tossing them into
its ditch of flesh,
didn’t know how to pray,
his childhood
fell to the rear,
dropped into hell-fire,
and there was
the adult that never was,
the soul,
for lack of which,
he lived
with a basement cellar,
an old refrigerator,
full of names.

Willie Smith

Come Breakfast

Adrienne excels at jerking me awake.
Waits for an erection to betray I’m dreaming.
Insinuates her fist around the shaft.
Quietly bespits the knob.
Salutes – up and down – the pictures
moving through me, moving in on the plot.
This morning I’m bailing from a cockpit,
slipping into the stream, leaving the plane above,
plummeting rock-like, fumbling for the cord.
My thumb finally finds the ring. I rip.
The chute deploys a jellyfish of silk,
jerking me up – so fast the jerk
drops the acceleration of the fall.
The earth I now behold floating up at my face,
facing Adrienne’s laugh, as her frantic fist
makes to squirt between us me awake.
Smell on a bedside tray the toast,
the butter, the coffee, the jam.