Tuesday, July 08, 2008

how it ought to be

Mei the waitress has been at the club for 15 years. She is fifty, plain-faced and shrewd, with a me-love-you-long-time accent that 15 years in a titty bar have barely touched. She has a million regulars and probably makes as much money as anyone there. She is funny, too; her occasional dark asides can make me spit a drink, but it takes a long time for her to warm up to you. She sees so many dancers come and go.

One of my last nights waitressing, Mei and I are perched on an empty side stage looking over our shoulders at an empty club.

"Bad night tonight, baby," she says.

"Tell me about it."

"Even last year was not this bad. Last year, on a Thursday night we have customer at every table. Every table, baby."

"Things are tough all over, huh?"

"Bad time," she agrees. "We not going to make no money tonight. You should have keep dancing. Me, if i could dance right now, I do it."

She throws her hands in the air and does a little boob shimmy in my direction. I crack up.

She's not done with me, though. "Baby, why you stop dancing? You don't need money no more?"

"Something like that." I don't like this question. I don't like it from civilians, who like to assume that I've stopped dancing because I finally acknowledge that dancing was evil all along. I like it at work even less. But Mei is cool, so I clear my throat and give it a shot. "You know, my boyfriend's tuition is saved up, so I don't have that pressure anymore. I want to do other things. I guess I'm just done for a while, you know?"

Her eyes narrow. "You pay for boyfriend's school?"

Shit. "Um, yes."

She starts shaking her head, goes on shaking it. "Bad idea. Bad idea, baby. He get through school, he going to leave you. I know. I see it, so many times. Girl is helping man and man is just take, take, taking. Men don't care. They don't care about you."

"Well, uh, I've known C. for a while. We've been together for five years. I really trust him. He's a good guy."

She's still shaking her head. "Yeah, you say that. You think that now. Maybe you right. Maybe you will be lucky. Me, I have never been lucky, so now I don't trust no-one. I don't trust no man no more."

"Well, you can't be too be careful. But this guy is a good guy."

"OK," she says. "OK, you say so." She looks over the club and then back at me. "But you never know. It happen when you least expect it. He leave you, baby. I say this because I care. He leave you with nothing."

People say this kind of thing to me all the time. And other things. I've been told that I lack self-respect. People who don't know either of have called my boyfriend a pimp. I guess because I'm a girl and he's a boy, and probably because I'm a stripper.

I get it. I know where it's coming from. When you trade in affection as a commodity, your ideas shift. You see how money can tie a person to another person, how it creates complacency. You see how you can put a dollar value on every gesture, and how money can stand in for gratitude, for admiration, for approval, for joy, for love.

You can think that someone who isn't paying you doesn't really love you. You can think that giving something away means you must be one of those losers who has to pay for love.

I think this way only at my worst, my most frightened and desperate. And then I think: you don't deserve this. It will be taken from you. You are not loved. You never have been loved. Tricked again, stupid. He will use you up and leave you dry as a husk. He will leave you with nothing. He will leave you.

When I am well, medicated, rested, stable, I don't believe these things. I think: You love him. He loves you. You are lucky. You are a good judge of character. He will never let you down. He would rather die; you see it in the set of his shoulders, the set of his lips. You will never let him down, either. You would rather die, too. You will have a long and wonderful life together, with many adventures, and one of you will be next to the bed when the other one dies, telling them it's OK, go ahead, go, I'll catch up with you later.

This is not to say that we don't have our differences:

C. is optimistic to the point of insouciance. I am apprehensive to the point of madness. When I am in the grip of my worry and I look over and see him smiling, I think he doesn't care. I want to yell at him until he cares.

When I met him he lived in someone's basement and owned two pairs of jeans and several thousand dollars worth of musical equipment. He was the happiest person I had ever met. He has that rare quality -- yogis would call it santosha -- where whatever he has at the moment is always enough. He has never had a bank account.

I opened a bank account when I was eleven, after I made my first serious money selling my bottle-raised show-lamb to slaughter. I've always been a hustler. All the worry about having things, nice things, enough of things, those are all my worries. I am a predator. I love the chase. I love the kill. And I am afraid. I am so afraid of running out, so afraid of dying.

Be calm, C says. And I say, You don't care. You don't care about me. You don't care about anything.

We have argued and given up and tried again, and in the end we have compromised for each other like neither of us has ever compromised for anyone else.

But then the questions. I hear my own answers and I know how ignorant they sound-- I love him. He loves me -- like I don't even know that people who say "I love you" are fucking over the people they say it to left and right all over the world right now.

I know that. I do. It's just that I think I'm different. I am sheepish, but I can't budge. I wonder if other people are asked to explain their love as much as I am.

On a night like any other night, I am talking to a guy like every other guy. We are negotiating a business transaction.

"So," he says. "Married?"

"Silly. No one in here is married."


"Why, are you proposing?"

"You have a boyfriend though. Every girl in here has a boyfriend."

Shrug. "No one serious." I lie without a second thought. Not because I don't care about my boyfriend, lying in bed at home waiting to hear me pull into the driveway. Because I don't care about this guy. In fifteen minutes his face will be a blur. By the end of the night I won't remember his name.

"That's good," he says, approving of me. "I hate to think of all the girls here...supporting some man."


"If you were mine, I'd take care of you. You'd never have to work in here again. You could just stay home and take care of me."

Oh. Joy.

"A woman ought to be at home," he says. "A woman ought to have a man to look after her. I think that's right. I think that's how it ought to be."


Brian Moon said...

One of the things I've learned from life (from experience and also from reading things like Gilbert's "Stumbling on Happiness") is a two-fold lesson:

1) The things that make people happy are generally the same for everyone;

2) but most people don't do those things because they think "I'm different; that wouldn't work for me".

But the people who've learned the lesson realize you can't just tell people about this lesson. They have to learn it themselves. It doesn't stop them from trying, though. Because maybe, sometimes, people will listen.

I sure wish I'd listened, years ago. I'd be happier.

Glad to see you're still writing, Grace.

Chet said...

Wow. Another post has left me touched and pondering. Love, trust, the uncertainty of the future, I've spent the last hour mentally chasing these things trying to get them back into the box. But there is no box.

Susan said...

No one should be dealing out disapproval, it's just hard to bring to mind the scenarios where this worked out well. It's obvious that you choose what you do and haven't been turned out, though, heh.

Waitressed there 15 years? That fucked up my mental math. I remember when that bar opened in 1996, under the first of its three names. Close enough though.

Joshwa said...

Hi Grace.

I haven't commented before, but I just wanted you to know that I love your writing. I'm cheering you on, and I believe in you.

I know it's not much coming from a stranger, but there it is.

Anonymous said...

I look forward to your every post! Your writing is so captivating.
-from one stranger to another

Krafty Like A Fox said...

I've spent the last five minutes staring at the screen trying to figure out what to say. This is the gist of it:

1 Love is proved by action, not words.
2 Any man who thinks a woman's place is in the home may want to expand his definition of the word.
3 Advice is a gift. That doesn't mean it is wanted or needed or that you are obligated to take it.

Frank said...

Whenever you get pissed at him, just remember, all he needs is beans.

I'm like that guy. I always think the worst thing that can happen is someone comes and kills me and tortures me. If I lose all my shit, I have my life and my mind and my ideas.

And my love.

The rest is bullshit.

scott said...

I have a grunt job teaching English at a local university.

My wife is a lawyer. We love each other.

And I am not supporting her.

Fuck 'em.

Fifty-One-Fifty said...

Only you know your relationship, and it's easy to judge from the outside. Support is much harder.

And what's easiest? Dancing single.

Mark for Cab & Chocolate said...

insouciance.......wonderful word....

Kierkegaard pointed out the dilemna.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog for a while, but not commenting because...well, anything I had to say was sure to be idiotic. But here I am now, and the idiotic thing I have to say is that since I was given this blogging award and am feeling obligated to pass it on, I'm passing it here because I like what you write.

You hit a lot of nerves, I must say, and bring up a lot of issues that make me unsure of myself, but so much the better for me.

If you want, you can visit my blog and see this award thing. You are NOT obligated to acknowledge or pass it on. But it's there.

suzie said...

I've been following your blog for a while now, amazed at this other world so far from the one I live in myself. But at the same time it's not so far off, because you're just human too, there's similar dilemmas, feelings and thoughts buzzing around.

After reading this blog I think I really understand why you stay with C and support his education. I would pay for the one I love if there was a need, and I had the possibility. But I think I'm more like C then like you, eternally optimistic, and as long as I have my life, my love and my freedom I will always stay optimistic. :)

*hugs* good luck Grace, with all and everything :)

Ayesha said...

People make insensitive comments about your life because they just want to feel better about theirs.
That is why shows like Jerry Springer are so popular here. Just stay true to yourself.

http://webescape.wordpress.com/ said...

"If you were mine, I'd take care of you. You'd never have to work in here again. You could just stay home and take care of me."

Yes, because that's what we all want, this guy was a genius, how could you let such a catch slip through your fingers Grace? :D

Anonymous said...

I hate to rain on your parade. You’re a wonderful, evocative writer, and many of your posts have moved me and made your world vivid to me.
In my experience, your waitress friend has a point. I’ve seen it happen when the woman makes real sacrifices, financial or for her career, and the dude drops her after a certain point, after the bloom fades. I’ve seen it work the other way, too, where a guy will help a woman up the ladder and, she, at 33, say, gets into Pilates and gets out the door with a guy even more well-financed or better connected. Maybe The Good Book has a point about being evenly yoked – at least in money terms. Or you take turns or something. It can work out, sure. It does for some people.
Also, while you may not want be taken care of, and certainly not by some random guy in a club – there are lots of women who do. In fact, one of the biggest surprises of my life was to see several of my independent career-minded go-go gal pals burn out on corporate life around, say age 29 to 32 and whore themselves out, oops, look for a nice rich guy to marry so they could escape from the pleasant hell of office life. Most of them succeeded and are now go-go moms, with lessons and whatnot scheduled on spreadsheets and, so far as I can tell, not really resenting being cared for.
To make myself even more obnoxious – isn’t a pimp a guy who accepts money from a woman who’s made money from some other guys for some sort of sexual service? Technically speaking? I don’t have anything against it as long as it’s consensual for all the parties Your insouciant C doesn’t really sound like the gold-toothed razor wielding type, but, you know, technically? And while stripping emphatically isn’t hooking, it’s still money for sexual acts, no? I don’t judge, but I like accuracy in the naming of things.
Personally, you pay for love one way or another, and money’s by far the easiest form of that currency, easier than caring, or giving your time or sacrificing an opportunity for, of one kind or another.
Of course, I don’t know you or your boyfriend. I do know what I’ve witnessed over the last 48 years. It’s a privilege of youth to always think, not me. Not to me, no way, that’ll never happen. Then, for a perfectly reasonable series of events, you find yourself, say, in a cubicle or a country club or a hospital or a bordello. So life is surprising, and good at knocking your certainties off.
Anyway, good luck to you on the grant and your relationship. I wish you two my bitter best.

Hermann Rorschach said...

sometimes... just sometimes... my heart breaks a little when you post. Its nice to know that there's a little vulnerable part of me that can still be gotten to. Thank you.

Michael said...

Grace, you have the ability to paint the most emotional things in simple strokes, like a Japanese brush painting. Not many adjectives, just nouns and verbs. I'm envious. I really am.

Anonymous said...

Long time lurker and a (old) guy. Mei is right he'll leave. Not that its his plan or he has the intention of using you, but at some point the tie that binds you together gets loose and another life is of interest.

Lots of alimony is paid to ex-wives because they supported their husbands while they finished school or started a business and then found the marriage incompatible. A divorce lawyer friend says that's the easiest money outside of child support.

Rick said...


New reader here. I caught up on all your posts over the weekend. No real insight or anything. Just thought I'd say I love your writing, and your life is the stuff of hollywood blockbuster drama, though I'm sure you don't feel like it.

Hope all is well.

Anonymous said...

@ 12:33. Well, technically, you are wrong. If we are going to be "accurate about naming things", a pimp is someone who procures clients for a prostitute. RICO prosecutions of pimps have revealed quite a precise picture of what exactly is involved, and it goes far, far beyond "accepting money" from someone engaged in a legal enterprise such as dancing.

I support your right to be a bitter cunt who goes around stepping on young people's dreams, but at least get your facts straight.

Anonymous said...

Hello! The thing for me is: I feel that this blog doesn't show your readers how C. helps or supports or in any way adds to your life. As far as I recall, he gets high and paints a lot, and knows how to use your computer to search for teen porn but never found the time to type "scholarships" or "help with tuition" in the search box? Mei the waitress is worried for your future, but what about your present? What does C. offer you?

Clever Monkey said...

Man, a true Charles Bukowski moment.

Grace said...

^^Well, I suppose that's the upshot of this being more or less a journal. I tend to write about things that bother me or amuse me, and not write so much about the little normal things that go on from minute to minute. And it's the little normal things from minute to minute that make up "support" and "love" and "adding to someone's life."

C. does the dishes and brings me lemonade when I'm at the computer and fusses over me a little bit when I leave the house and a little bit when I come back. He listens to me all the time, even though I say the damnedest stuff and am hard to be around in kinds of other ways, too. He entertains me and gives me good advice and tells me to calm down sometimes and cares about me.

It's not easy to explain all this, or how it is enough, but it is.

Grace said...

Also, he tells me I'm beautiful all the time, which is really nice. Also, he is a tiger in the sack.

FAU5TU5 said...

I really hate this topic. It upsets me.

Scorned women a all seem to want to say that you should never financially support a man... yet, they are the same ones who say you'd better never depend on a man, (unless they believe in intentionally using/gold digging their men without guilt).

So what does that leave?? There is no such thing as a metered out 50%/50% relationship.. thats called a competitive partnership with contractual balances, caps and regulations. It sure doesn't leave room for a real relationship of any kind.

Either they are what they detest (either supporter or supportee) or they are alone, distrusting, and unable to love or be loved.

And basically the same thing applies to men. The only thing is they have generations of sexist examples of "little women" who in many religions dont even have their own soul without the help of a man (yes, many Xtian faiths too)to prove that a womans place is home, barefoot and pregnant, and watching that backtalk or daddy's gonna show you what for by GOD.....

The truth is that if someone is going to use you... they are going to use you on any level they can.. Regardless of which of you is making more money or giving more emotionally or domestically... There are plenty of men supporting their women,.. and USING THEM, and they still dump them when they decide to dump them. Who is getting what doesn't determine if someone is going to use someone and then dump them or not..

Sure, C. might dump you as soon as he graduates... But he might have done the same thing if he were a trust fund baby, or working full time and supporting you... Just like you might dump him for whatever reason whenever... Real life.. it could happen.

To think that anyone you help or support in any way large or small is simply exploiting you,.. well that is a philosophical state of mind best left for those with antisocial personality disorder and those that believe that everyone else is suffering from the same disorder.

Question: Eliminating bad relationships from the equation and just using Good and Loving relationships to survey; How many have nobody ever supporting one or the other at any time, or for any length of time????

So for your goal of a long and loving relationship.... I would guess that a pretty darned high percentage of those success stories have had one party supporting the other at some point, if not for the majority, of their relationship.

And then find out how many success stories you would think came from using the ideals and rules of those who are the naysayers... Yeah... you'll be hard to find em. (probably some great personal career success stories though...just lonely ones)

You can't fight someone changing (you or him) and you can't fight a complete and total deception if either of you decided to portray one.

But if you are to have a chance at a happy and loving relationship, you just have to be honest and trusting and expect the same... and hope for the best..

So far it sounds like you have a better relationship than most of the naysayers ever had,.. even for a short while..

Enjoy what you have.

Pamela said...

I will say this: If I had let that Irish idiot spoil any of my future relationships...


Love ya...

Anonymous said...

Grace I hope I've never suggested that you and C don't really love each other. It's obvious you do.

What disturbs people is that C seems to be someone who doesn't know how to take care of himself. Which shows a lack of maturity. And the pain you are in about the source of your income, would make any truly mature man stand up and start taking care of himself, so you don't have to go thru so much pain to do it.

He seems weak. I'm sorry to say that but it's not a judgment as much as an observation, because we ALL have our weak areas - that's part of being human. But, we don't ALL force someone we love to pay for our weaknesses.

Love is great. Pain sucks. Maybe you have more love than pain... I sure hope you do. Because that is the difference between being a victim and a volunteer.


LJ Ducharme said...

Does the patron not realize that if all the women were at home being 'taken care of' that there would be no women dancing for him or serving him drinks? DOH!

hara said...

I'm sorry honey, but, I'm with Mei. I think you're enjoying some sweet denial. But, it's your choice to be in that. It is your choice, informing your path & your life story.
If it turns out in that idealistic way you imagine it will, good for you.
And if it doesn't, if he was really just turning you out, as waitress or server of any type (the definition of pimpin' in my neighborhood) then so be it. It's your path. I hope you'll keep on writing no matter the twists and turns you take on it.

Anonymous said...

I should probably also add that 5 years together is an impressive feat. You guys are obviously doing something right...

Also, I think relationships are the best motivation for people to grow and mature, so maybe the fact that C got online and got that Pell Grant is evidence of exactly that.

Victoria said...

I love what you write, and the way that you write it. I can always relate to the things you say, just like I'm sure all of your other readers can, too.

Glamazoid12 said...

Let me preface this by saying that I'm very new here, but I was really moved by this post and the discussion it generated. So, hoping that I don't step on anybody's toes, I'm tossing in my two cents:

Here is some anecdotal evidence to support the other side of the argument: not every woman who works to help subsidize her significant other's education gets used up and abandoned. My mother worked a series of lousy jobs while my father was in medical school in order to support him (and herself, of course). He graduated, and then he was able to support her while she worked on establishing herself as an artist.

Relationships are about creating a partnership, cemented by bonds of (and here comes a loaded word) dependence. Of course, people in healthy relationships counterbalance this dependence with an independent sense of identity. I would never advocate that anybody be dependent on their partner for a sense of who they were or any measure of their self-assurance; but I think that you do need to rely on your partner, and your partner needs to rely on you. The two of you are a team.

(Just something to bear in mind and balance against Mei's advice, your fears, and other readers' input.)

Grace said...

^^Thank you. You put it really well.

Geo said...

IF - your "giving" to your partner is Substantially: 1.) One Sided - e.g. you're not getting that Much in Return Now and 2.) You are Entitled - Because of Your Giving to a Life - where he Gives to You and you "Receive Rather than Give" in Return,

Then - I think it is a set-up - which May Hurt You Badly in the Long-Run.

I would Hope that your relationship now is Mutually Satisfying where You may "give a little more" in some ways perhaps - such as financially.

I don't see your Partner as "owing you a future" as a result of what you've done for him. IF he's in Your Debt - substantially - you may "lose" in the Short-Run or Long-Run.

We Do need to receive and have relationships which are mutually satisfying - but aren't quid pro quo's which tie us to each other out of reciprocal Debts.

Commitment, Caring and Loving should come out of our Hearts and Souls. Where the Love diminishs or Ends - we Should be Ready to Move on - Feeling the Pain(s) While appreciating What We've received.

Betrayal is of course a different thing.

Where there is Love and Commitment we are growing and learning and being a Happy Person. That Commitment and Love may change over time for various reasons.

Using a Person and Being Used is bad.

You face a common situation where Many Women and Some Men get burned.

Hopefully you're in this honestly - mutually with your Love - so that You can Gain and Feel and Be - Yourself Happily for however long it may be.


aphaziak said...

"C. is optimistic to the point of insouciance. I am apprehensive to the point of madness. When I am in the grip of my worry and I look over and see him smiling, I think he doesn't care. I want to yell at him until he cares."

This gave me goosebumps. I've been with my boyfriend for 5 years and counting and we are exactly the same way.

Your writing is just amazing.

- Lor

katya_j said...

Just to balance things out a bit more... I'm in a long relationship with a great guy who I supported for a long time in a difficult situation. I had a work-related injury that required physical therapy and still worked two jobs while he went to school and got pissy with me when I didn't want to party all the time. It was a rough time, but when the time came, he stepped up and fixed his own weakness.

To echo the words of the other commenter, he was weak and wanted me to pay for it. But I couldn't, and he stepped up to learn. In fact, I am doing it again, though we now live in a stressful situation in a foreign country. In between, however, he took his turn, so to speak.

By the logic of many people posting comments here, I am "upside-down" on this, in terms of what he now owes me.

But I am happily and I trust him, and somehow it is enough... though, like you, I can't explain why.

Honestly, I think the key is refusing to feel entitled... refusing to keep track so that I can later demand that he pay back his debt.

Keeping score is what breeds resentment, I think.

Grace said...

Keeping score is what breeds resentment. I think you're right. Since I've stopped dancing and just adapted to being poor, I've stopped keeping count of what C. "owes" me, and we are both much happier. I didn't even realize at the time that I was keeping score, but I see now that he could ask me for the simplest things -- to rub his neck, bring him a glass of water, etc. -- and it would just burn me up...because in my mind I was already doing so much and shouldn't have to do anything else. Not a damn thing.

I've relaxed in the last few months, and things are much happier. Hope your situation gets sorted out happily, too. It's nice when the people we love can step up. And Casey's right, people can grow and change for love. I do believe that.


Anonymous said...

I’m in a similar situation with my boyfriend. I pay more rent than he does and I pay most of the bills, because he makes a lot less than me. I don’t tell anyone because of reactions like the 50 yr old waitress gave you. I know that he loves me and is not taking advantage of me. I asked him to move in, knowing he couldn’t pay a lot. Don’t feel bad. Different strokes for different folks. Yea, sometimes I wish he could contribute more, but I know where he’s coming from. He’s trying to find a better job but can’t in this crummy economy.