Grinders Corner by Ferris H. Craig & Charlene Keel
by Ferris H. Craig & Charlene Keel
Grinders Corner explores the world of taxi dance halls in the 1960s in all its raw hilarity. Saucy, sassy and sexy, but not the least bit erotic, it follows the adventures of three young women trying to survive in the glitter palaces of Los Angeles.
Like lambs led to the slaughter, Uptown, a newly divorced English major with panic anxiety disorder and no job skills, Voluptua, an out of work actress, and Mouse, a former child star trying to make a comeback all struggle to make enough tickets to pay the bills. Things get complicated when Uptown falls in love with a customer who happens to be a priest.
In Grinders Corner it was a simpler time, long before gentlemen’s clubs and pole dancers, and it happened in a place where shy, lonely men could talk to women, even dance with them, with no fear of rejection—for about twenty cents a minute.
By Ferris H. Craig
Downtown Los Angeles
The jukebox was softly playing Close To You. The lights were low and romantic, the red candles on the intimate little tables for two flickered seductively, and the many-faceted, mirrored chandelier reflected tiny droplets of shivering, shimmering light onto the dance floor. His strong arms were about me while his fingers were inching their way downward, toward my backside, and he was lightly kissing my ear. Then he spoke in a throaty whisper.
“Hey, baby, you wanna make a quick twenty‑five bucks? Let’s go to a motel.”
Oh God, I thought, as I looked at the clock. One more hour to go. I pushed his hands in an upward direction. I’m going to have to put up with this clown for sixty more minutes unless I get lucky and he runs out of money. Maybe I can get him to sit down and have a Coke if I say I’ll go to a motel. Then I won’t have to endure this tortuous ritual known as dancing, and he’ll get the hell off my ear. But then he might wait outside and follow me when I leave at two a.m. And if we get a Coke, I’ll have to make soporific conversation with him and that might be worse than dancing.
The only good thing about dancing is that I don’t have to talk to him. I only have to hear about the motel.
He was staring at me as if waiting for a reply, so I returned his gaze and asked, “What did you say?”
Okay, that isn’t particularly original but it used up a couple of seconds. Then he had to repeat it all, embellishing his sordid soliloquy with graphic references to his great prowess as a lover. That took a few more minutes.
I started to think maybe I could make it to the two o’clock finishing line, but I was wrong. He was breathing heavily, almost choking on his own exhalations, and I knew it wasn’t from asthma or respiratory failure. Or fatigue, either. He wasn’t slobbering on my ear anymore. Now it was my bare shoulder.
I knew what was coming next. Before he could get his hand inside my mini-skirted dress I said, in what I hoped was a casual, carefree tone, “Hey, I’m kind of thirsty—why don’t we sit down and have a Coke?”
He answered. I wished he hadn’t. “Baby, I don’t want a Coke. I want your soft, warm body.”
Then the inevitable hand started probing, searching for any available entrance into the dress. “Oh, hell,” I said as I deftly stepped out of his reach. “Let’s go to the desk so you can check out.”
He retorted with, “How about fifty bucks, Baby? You won’t be sorry. I’ll buy you a steak besides.”
I smiled and said nothing, but as I continued walking to the cash register, I was thinking how delicious that can of beans at home was going to taste. He followed closely, with the ante going up every few feet. By the time we made the desk, it was up to two hundred bucks. I shot him my recently acquired theatrical smile, the one that made my cheeks ache. “I’m sorry. I’m not in that line of business,” I said.
“Well, hell!” he yelled. “Whaddya wanna do—get married?”
That made me laugh, really laugh. The poor guy was so desperate he didn’t realize all the girls on the line could hear him, and were giggling and trying not to laugh out loud at him.
“Sixty‑three minutes,” said the cashier as my customer fumbled in his wallet for the only bill there. It was, thank God, a ten, so he could cover his time. I wondered where he meant to get the two hundred for the motel. Maybe he had a credit card. I smiled one more stilted smile.
“Thanks,” I said. Then I took my sixty‑three minutes’ worth of tickets and beat a hasty retreat up the well-trodden staircase to the ‘ladies’ room.
I’d had it. I just wanted to hide someplace where I could think about my holy lover (the bastard) and possibly shed a few discreet tears. But there was already a girl sleeping on the couch where I meant to suffer privately. There was enough room for me to sit down, gingerly, next to her feet.
One minute later The Mouse burst in, looking thoroughly incensed. She plopped her little body down next to the girl’s head.
“Did you hear him?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied, in a tone of weariness that said she, too, had had it. “Oh, Uptown!” she shrieked. “Those creeps don’t perspire! They sweat! Buckets! And my guy’s breath was so bad I told him to go out and buy a case of Certs! What do they eat to make them smell that way? It makes you wonder, you know?”
At this, the Sleeping Beauty on the couch gagged, leapt up, and ran frantically to the toilet, leaving us to our privacy. I guess she was new. She kept vomiting while we continued to discuss the various deodorizing agents our dancing partners needed. She alternated between throwing up and yelling at us to shut up. She had probably just danced with Filthy Foster, or Red Socks. Or maybe she was pregnant.
Mouse asked me if The Catholic was being nice. I said no and she said I should tell him to drown himself in holy water and I said I’d love to and she said you won’t, you’ll end up in the sack and I said I know.
Having dealt with my love life, we returned to our familiar dialogue: what were we doing there and what the hell kind of job was this, anyway?
The place had a name. Romanceland. Before the months I’d spent there I had felt that my experience with life, men, sex, and so on had been varied and comprehensive enough to entitle me to claim a certain amount of sophistication. I was the proud possessor of what I hoped was in the process of becoming a reasonably workable philosophy. But it was mostly bull.
I learned more at Romanceland about the whole damned Universal Predicament than I ever dreamed of in my former philosophy class. I had been an English major in college, but at Romanceland I suddenly had to cope with real life dramas playing out before my incredulous, sometimes uncomprehending eyes. Each night at eight the stage lights lowered and the play, (or foreplays) of the evening began.
I had seen an ad in the help wanted section of the newspaper, which read something like this: “Girls! Earn minimum wage, plus tips. Only 6 hrs. a nite. Have fun on the job as a Lovely Dance Hostess!”
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Contact Ferris Craig (aka Mouse): http://facebook.com/thecricketdance
Contact Charlene Keel: http://facebook.com/charlene.keel.1
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