Johnny America


Cana­di­an Ballet


“Tell me this.” Nathan point­ed at his friend with the neck of an open bot­tle. The abrupt move caused a dol­lop of beer to leap from the bottle’s mouth and slap the table­top. “Why do they call it ‘Ex­port’ if they don’t ex­port it? You can’t get this back home.”

“I know,” Den­nis shout­ed to be heard over the grind­ing gui­tar notes. He held his own bot­tle close to his face. He squint­ed at the la­bel in the flick­er­ing red light cast by a cabaret can­dle at the cen­ter of their small round ta­ble. “This is like twice the proof of the piss wa­ter they send to Amer­i­ca. They hold back the good stuff for them­selves. Frick­ing Canadians!”

“And what the hell is ‘smoked meat,’ any­way?” Twist­ing his wrist, Nathan tipped his bot­tle, emp­ty­ing it down his ex­pec­tant throat. “The menu at din­ner didn’t say.”

“Horse.” Den­nis shook his head in dis­gust. “Got­ta be horse.”

With his oth­er hand, Nathan snatched his mot­tled green base­ball cap by the bill and tore it from his head. He waved the cap at the young blond wait­ress tend­ing to a near­by ta­ble. She wore a Day-Glo or­ange tube top and short shorts de­spite the freez­ing weath­er outside.

“An­oth­er round over here, Sweet­ie,” Nathan called, try­ing to make eye con­tact with her.

She fin­ished de­liv­er­ing the drinks to the oth­er ta­ble and left with­out ac­knowl­edg­ing him.

“See that?” Nathan set down his emp­ty bot­tle with a thud. “She’s ig­nor­ing me!”

“What do you ex­pect?” Den­nis de­mand­ed. “You’re dressed like a slob.”

“Are you crazy? This is my best flan­nel shirt.”

“Then at least tuck it in­to your jeans.”

“What good’ll that do?” Nathan, who had been mere­ly slouch­ing, slid so far down in­to his chair that his lanky frame was al­most hor­i­zon­tal. “I’ll tell ya, it’s be­cause I speak Eng­lish. Why don’t you try and get her at­ten­tion? You took French in high school.”

“And did very poor­ly at it. Be­sides, the Québé­cois speak a dif­fer­ent kind of French.”

“Oh yeah?” Nathan arched an un­tamed eye­brow. “And what kind would that be?”

“Lis­ten to them talk.” Den­nis leaned for­ward, the can­dle­light cast­ing deep shad­ows in the sharp lines of his round face. “They sound like a pair of fuck­ing ducks.”

“Huh? You mean like Don­ald and Daffy?”

“No — I mean they sound like a pair of ducks fucking.”

“Ohhh!” Nathan made an ob­scene ges­ture. “You mean like Don­ald and Daisy.”

A hid­den loud­speak­er spat a stac­ca­to burst of French. Den­nis point­ed a fin­ger at the ceil­ing, the gen­er­al di­rec­tion from which the sound had come. He smirked. “Quack, quack.”

Nathan threw back his head and laughed.

The an­nounc­er switched to Eng­lish. “Yeeesss! That was Marie, ladies and gen­tle­men. Next, for your view­ing plea­sure — Babette!”

“I hope this one’s a lit­tle eas­i­er on the eyes.” Nathan propped his scuffed work boots on the edge of the raised plat­form that served as a stage.

Den­nis glanced in that di­rec­tion. Just out of arm’s reach, Marie stooped over, stretch­ing calves the size of hams, and fetched her lacy bra and G‑string from where they laid on the stage.

“Yeah.” Den­nis took off his eye­glass­es and ca­su­al­ly pol­ished the lens­es with the tail of his Ox­ford shirt. “Marie’s a re­al sow.”

Marie made no in­di­ca­tion of hav­ing heard him. She straight­ened up, turned her back, and calm­ly left the stage, head­ing to­ward the dancers’ com­mu­nal dress­ing room by the bar.

Nathan snort­ed. “How do you know she doesn’t un­der­stand English?”

Den­nis re­turned his glass­es to his face. “Like I frick­ing care.”

“There you are,” said Grant, the third mem­ber of their par­ty, as he weaved be­tween ta­bles and dropped in­to his chair. “What I miss?”

“Not much.” Den­nis tugged at his goa­tee. “What were you do­ing in there for so long? Chok­ing the chick­en? Spank­ing the monkey?”

Grant wiped his fore­head with the sleeve of his gray col­lege sweat­shirt. His sandy brown hair was mat­ted and all to one side as though he had been sleep­ing. “I got lost. All these mir­rors. Kept bump­ing in­to them in the dark. It’s like a fun house in here.” He looked around. “Say, where’s my coat?”

“You left it in my car. Remember?”

“Oh yeah. Right.”

Den­nis rolled his dark eyes. “You’d for­get your bony ass if it wasn’t attached.”

“Talk about ass.” Nathan jerked his head to­ward the dress­ing-room door, where, along­side Marie’s fa­mil­iar form, the sil­hou­ette of a shape­ly woman wait­ed. “Get a load of her.”

On cue, Ba­bette emerged from the shad­ows, as­cend­ed the steps, and glid­ed bird­like on­to the plat­form. A flow­ing lime-green nég­ligée — her flu­o­res­cent plumage — flut­tered about her slim fig­ure. Spiked heels added three inch­es to her height. With her head bowed, a comb of raven hair hid her face, ob­scur­ing all but her del­i­cate chin and full red lips.

“That’s more like it.” Den­nis eyed her like a hawk.

“Take it off, ba­by!” Nathan reached in­to his pock­et, pulled out a wadded-up green bill, and tossed it on­to the plat­form at Babette’s feet.

With­out break­ing the rhythm of her slow, lone­ly waltz, she kicked the bill aside.

Den­nis turned to Nathan. “You moron!”


“First of all, that’s Amer­i­can money.”

“So?” Nathan shrugged his thick shoul­ders. “It’s bet­ter than their worth­less currency.”

“She wouldn’t know what to do with it.” Den­nis waved his hand dis­mis­sive­ly. “Sec­ond of all, they don’t do that up here.”

“Do what?”

“Tip that way. The strip­pers think of them­selves as artists or some­thing. You look like a stu­pid Amer­i­can when you throw mon­ey at them.”

“You mean they do it for free?” Nathan rubbed his cal­lused hands to­geth­er. “Wicked cool!”

Den­nis sighed and shook his head.

“Have you seen the wait­ress late­ly?” Grant re­trieved his beer from where he had left it on the ta­ble. Clutch­ing the bot­tle by its neck, he swirled the back­wash around the bot­tom. “I sure could use an­oth­er one.”

“No frick­ing kid­ding!” Nathan pound­ed on the ta­ble, knock­ing over his emp­ty, which rolled off and land­ed in­tact on the crim­son-car­pet­ed floor. “Where is that stuck-up ho?”

“I know how to get her at­ten­tion.” Den­nis placed an open hand over the top of the cabaret can­dle, his palm form­ing a seal on the red rim of glazed glass.

“Dude!” Grant ex­claimed. “You’re gonna burn yourself.”

With­out di­vert­ing his eyes from the can­dle, Den­nis growled, “Don’t be a pussy.”

The candle’s flame wa­vered and died. When Den­nis re­moved his hand, a thin wisp of smoke rose from the wick.

Nathan huffed. “Now what?”

“Now wait and see.” Den­nis drummed his fin­gers on the ta­ble. “Voilà! Here she comes.”

The wait­ress ap­peared. She pro­duced a cig­a­rette lighter from her apron’s front pock­et, flicked the lighter to life, and re­lit the candle.

“So who do you got­ta blow to get a beer in this place?” Nathan leered at the wait­ress, the cor­ner of his mouth ris­ing in a lop­sided grin. “Oh right. That’s your job.”

Her face a neu­tral mask, the wait­ress turned away from him and to­ward Grant.

“Uh, yeah… Right.” Grant bowed his head and stared at his hands fold­ed meek­ly on the ta­ble. “Could we have an­oth­er round of Ex­port?” He hasti­ly added: “Please?”

“Oui.” The wait­ress stacked the emp­ties on her tray and left with­out an­oth­er word.

“Nice go­ing, dumb ass.” Den­nis flicked a bot­tle cap at Nathan, hit­ting him right be­tween the eyes. “She’s gonna piss in our beer for sure.”

Nathan’s grin grew wider. “I usu­al­ly have to pay ex­tra for that.”

“Don’t be stu­pid,” Den­nis re­buked him, mak­ing no ef­fort to low­er his voice. “The wait­ress­es aren’t whores. If they were, they’d be up there in­stead of down here. Treat them that way and they’ll cut us off. No more beer. Get it?”

Still grin­ning, Nathan gave him a stiff mil­i­tary salute and barked, “Yes, Sir!”

“Whoa!” Grant mopped his brow with a cock­tail nap­kin and point­ed to­ward the stage.

While they had been ar­gu­ing, Ba­bette had dis­robed un­no­ticed. At the mo­ment, she hung up­side-down, her leg snaked around a brass pole. With eyes closed and arms out­stretched, she arched her back and bent her oth­er leg so the heel of that foot rest­ed on her knee.

“Nice,” Nathan said. “This girl’s got talent.”

Grant gaped, his mouth hang­ing open like a bro­ken tailgate.

Den­nis no­ticed Grant’s ex­pres­sion. “I told you you’d like this place. Maybe next time we won’t have to twist your arm.”

Grant’s eyes fix­at­ed on Ba­bette, who re­mained sus­pend­ed in midair, per­fect­ly mo­tion­less. “Are… are those real?”

“Can’t you tell?”

“I’d like to get me some of that.” Nathan stuck his hand in­to his pock­et, thought bet­ter of it, and pulled the hand out again.

Grace­ful­ly, Ba­bette de­scend­ed, her body re­volv­ing around the pole, her shim­mer­ing re­flec­tion caught in sil­very mir­rors be­hind her. As she reached the bot­tom, she placed her palms flat on the plat­form, dis­en­gaged her leg from the pole, and tum­bled away to hoots and


Once the noise — in­clud­ing the tech­nobeat ac­com­pa­ny­ing the per­for­mance — had sub­sided, a short bald­ing man in an ill-fit­ting black tuxe­do joined Ba­bette on the stage. He sprayed rapid-fire French in­to the cord­less mi­cro­phone in his hand, fol­lowed by: “Yeeesss! That was Ba­bette, ladies and gen­tle­men. Isn’t she lovely?”

Ba­bette cocked her hip and bowed her head slight­ly. Her hair fell back over her face like a cur­tain. Her mouth re­vealed no emo­tion at all. The an­nounc­er con­tin­ued, this time on­ly in Eng­lish. “Here at Chez Mag­nifique, we like our au­di­ence to par­tic­i­pate in the show. Is any­one cel­e­brat­ing a birth­day or an­niver­sary tonight?”

Den­nis looked at Nathan and nod­ded. To­geth­er they each grabbed Grant’s wrists. De­spite his protests, they yanked both arms skyward.

“This guy over here,” Nathan hollered. “He’s the birth­day boy!”

Be­fore Grant could wrench his arms free, the an­nounc­er hopped off the stage and ap­proached their ta­ble. Plac­ing a firm hand on Grant’s shoul­der, the an­nounc­er said, “Con­grat­u­la­tions! What’s your name, birth­day boy?”

“His name’s Grant,” Nathan an­swered for his friend. Grant shot Nathan a with­er­ing look.

Nathan — the pic­ture of in­no­cence — smiled back at him.

The an­nounc­er squeezed Grant’s shoul­der. “How old are you?”

He blushed. “Twen­ty-one.”

“Won­der­ful! Would you come join us? The girls have a sur­prise for you.”

Grant hes­i­tat­ed. The au­di­ence shout­ed encouragement.

“Come,” the an­nounc­er said. “The girls won’t bite.” Grant slow­ly stood and fol­lowed him.

As Grant climbed the steps, a nude Marie sud­den­ly ap­proached from be­hind. He peered over his shoul­der at her. She smiled at him, her ex­pres­sion match­ing what Nathan’s had been.

Grant stopped where he was told, at the cen­ter of the stage. The dancers flanked him on both sides and en­twined an arm with each of his. Lack­ing a free hand with which to shield his eyes, he squint­ed against spot­lights that blazed in his face.

Marie whis­pered in­to his ear, her breath like vel­vet against his cheek. “On your knees.”

Wide-eyed, he looked to the announcer.

“Do what she says.” The an­nounc­er shrugged. “She’s the boss.”

Grant knelt at Marie’s feet.

“Now go down on all fours,” she com­mand­ed, more force­ful­ly this time.

He com­plied, pre­sent­ing his left side to the au­di­ence. Sev­er­al men in the crowd howled like dogs.

“Yeeesss! It’s time to hon­or our young Amer­i­can friend on his birth­day,” the an­nounc­er said. “Does any­one have a belt?”

Den­nis kicked Nathan un­der the ta­ble. Nathan shot to his feet. “I do! I do!” He un­buck­led his

inch-and-a-half-wide black leather belt and whipped it from the loops of his jeans like a limp sword. He fold­ed the belt in half length­wise be­fore hand­ing it to the announcer.

“Thank you, Mon­sieur.” The an­nounc­er opened his oth­er hand and slapped his palm with the belt, pro­duc­ing a sharp re­port like a fire­crack­er. “This will do nicely.”

“Now wait a minute,” Grant sputtered.

But be­fore he could es­cape, Marie swept her left leg over his back. Strad­dling his neck, she sat down hard on his shoul­ders, pin­ning him in place. The an­nounc­er passed the belt to Ba­bette. She gripped the belt tight­ly in her right hand and moved in­to po­si­tion be­hind Grant, her back to the audience.

A record­ing of a drum roll be­gan rat-tat-tat­ting over the loud­speak­er. Grant’s friends roared with laugh­ter. Ba­bette drew her arm back, the belt poised and dan­gling over her shoulder.

“Ready?” The an­nounc­er raised his hand and let it fall like a sig­nal flag. “One!”

The belt cracked against Grant’s but­tocks. He lurched for­ward with the impact.



“Hit him again,” Nathan cried, al­most tum­bling out of his chair.



Den­nis cupped a hand to his mouth and yelled, “Faster, bitch!”

In quick suc­ces­sion, the an­nounc­er called, “Four!” Whack! “Five!” Whack! “Six!” Whack! “Sev­en!” Whack!

Grant tried rock­ing his hindquar­ters from side to side so as to present a mov­ing tar­get. Marie squeezed his face be­tween her fleshy thighs, still­ing him.

“Eight!” Whack! “Nine!” Whack! “Ten!” Whack! “Eleven!” Whack!

“C’mon!” Nathan bel­lowed. “You can do bet­ter than that!”

Grant, his head held fast, clawed at Marie’s knees to no effect.

“Twelve!” Whack! “Thir­teen!” Whack! “Four­teen!” Whack! “Fif­teen!”

One end of the belt slipped from Babette’s fin­gers, spoil­ing the shot. She re­fold­ed the belt and clenched it with both hands like a base­ball bat. The mus­cles of her arms, shoul­ders, back, and legs flexed, dis­tort­ing her fem­i­nine curves. She corkscrewed her hips and let fly. Whack!

“Six­teen!” Whack! “Sev­en­teen!” Whack! “Eigh­teen!” Whack!

Swing­ing the belt fever­ish­ly, her whole body con­tort­ing with the ef­fort, Ba­bette shrieked, “Es­pèce de merde! Va te faire foutre!”

A look of con­cern flashed across the announcer’s face. But he com­plet­ed his count­down nonethe­less. “Nine­teen!” Whack! “Twen­ty!” Whack! “Twen­ty-one!” Whack!

Ba­bette stopped. With her fore­arm, she stripped the sweat from her eyes. Then she re­newed the beat­ing, her arms pump­ing in fury, the blows slop­py, land­ing on Grant’s back and legs. Pushed for­ward by the as­sault, the top half of his head — flushed pur­ple — emerged from be­tween Marie’s thighs.

Marie set her jaw. A sin­gle tear rolled down her puffy cheek.

Ba­bette screamed, “Pigs! Go fuck your mothers!”

The an­nounc­er dropped his mi­cro­phone. An ex­plo­sive bang rat­tled the sound sys­tem. He wres­tled the belt from Ba­bette. “Taber­na­cle!” he snarled. “Qu’ as tu? Hein?”

Two large men rushed the stage, seized Ba­bette by the arms, and dragged her away as she thrashed and moaned. On­ly then did Marie re­lease her hold on Grant. He fell like dead

weight on­to the plat­form. Gasp­ing and shak­ing, he curled him­self in­to a ball.

His friends gave a stand­ing ovation.

The an­nounc­er stormed over to Marie and slapped her hard. She spat at his shoes and marched off, head held high.

The au­di­ence applauded.

The an­nounc­er helped Grant to his feet. With a sheen of per­spi­ra­tion chris­ten­ing his head, Grant swayed and stum­bled to his chair. A damp stain dark­ened the crotch of his khakis.

Wring­ing his hands, the an­nounc­er si­dled over to Den­nis and Nathan.

“I’m ter­ri­bly sor­ry. Ba­bette, she’s crazy. I don’t know what came over her.”

“Are you kid­ding?” Nathan punched the announcer’s arm. “That was great!”

“Don’t wor­ry about it, Pepe Le Pew.” Den­nis reached in­to his pock­et and flipped a bronze-plat­ed coin to the be­wil­dered an­nounc­er. “Here’s a loonie for your trou­ble.” The an­nounc­er ac­cept­ed the coin and slinked away.

Den­nis and Nathan put on their coats. They hauled Grant up­right. His legs wob­bled but he re­mained standing.

“Let’s get out­ta this shit­hole,” Nathan said.

Grant groaned. “I don’t feel so good.”

“Don’t be a pussy,” Den­nis told him.

“Se­ri­ous­ly, I think she rup­tured a testicle.”

“Walk it off.” Den­nis, with Nathan trail­ing be­hind, led a pale-faced Grant to­ward the exit.

The door­man nod­ded and opened the door for them. Nathan pulled his base­ball cap down tight on his head. “Where should we go now?”

“Home,” Grant croaked, bare­ly audible.

“I know a bet­ter place a few blocks from here,” Den­nis said, his breath puff­ing like smoke in the street­lamps’ sick­ly or­ange glow. “Club Su­per Eight. They got an all-Asian revue.”

Nathan clapped his hands to­geth­er. “Wicked cool!”

Den­nis and Nathan held Grant by the el­bows and urged him for­ward. The trio shuf­fled down the side­walk, carv­ing three pairs of tracks in the new­ly fall­en snow.

Filed under Fiction on October 13th, 2006

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