It was a sweltering summer afternoon, deep in the San Fernando Valley. Shauna stopped at the light, looking in the mirror to check her makeup. She swiftly applied some more lip-gloss and pulled her oversized sunglasses down to cover her heavily made up eyes. The traffic light turned green, and she continued north along the dingy avenue, passing by run down plazas all looking pretty much the same. Liquor stores, video rental shops, “caregivers” aka medical marijuana dispensaries, and few random restaurants, interspersed with the ubiquitous 7-11s.
The Jetta air conditioner had been broken for months. Driving with all of the windows rolled down, the hot air whipped her long curly blonde hair around her head like a halo. She stopped at the next light. She pushed some of the hair out of her face, trying to put it back into place. She glanced over her ringing phone on the passenger seat, and as she looked in that direction, she noticed a man intently looking at her from a minivan on her right. He gave her a forced smile. She quickly looked away, glad she had her shades on. No eye contact was her cardinal rule.
Suddenly, Shauna felt hyper aware of her heavy makeup, lashes and glittery lip-gloss. She was on her way to her job as a dancer in a strip club, and she had gotten into the habit of doing her makeup at her apartment before leaving. It was easier for her than doing it at the club. She knew she looked out-of-place during daylight, but it was a routine she had gotten used to.
The stoplight was taking forever to change, and she could feel the man’s burning gaze. Suddenly, she heard a nasal voice through her car window, “Excuse me, miss?”… The light still hadn’t changed, so she turned to look in his direction. He had his arm on the window frame, and his hand was clenched into a fist. “Would you have a couple of minutes? Please, please miss. I’m desperate. Can you talk to me. Please.?” “About what? “ She barked in a sharp tone, glancing in his direction. Feeling annoyed with herself for responding, and even more irritated that it was far too hot to roll up her windows.
He stared intensely at her, and slightly opened his fist, just enough to reveal a thick roll of bills. She noticed it, just as the light changed. She pressed the accelerator to pass him, but he paced his vehicle alongside of hers with his window down. He leaned out and shouted into her car “ please, if you can pull into the Taco Bell up ahead, I’ll give you 200 dollars, if you can just talk to me. We can park next to each other. No contact. I just need someone to talk to me. Please. Please.” Now Shauna was no dummy, but she had seen the cash in his hand and it was broad daylight after all.
Maybe it was the heat, or simply the fact that she was broke, but for whatever reason, she said ok. He told her to follow him, which she did. Ahead she saw the run down looking Taco Bell. He pulled into a parking area alongside of the building. It wasn’t desolate, but there weren’t people walking around either. She made sure her doors were locked and rolled up all of her windows, except for the one on the passenger side, only keeping it partially rolled down, just enough to see and hear. He was parked to her right in his minivan, and now, upon closer inspection, she could see his red splotchy face, bloodshot blue eyes, and a yellowed blonde fringe of fine hair around his balding head. She could make out the silhouette of an empty child seat through the lightly tinted back window of the van. She took a deep breath, feeling nervous and on edge. He held out a fist of cash towards her window. “Take it” he said. “Take it. It’s two hundred dollars.” “Take it first, you can count it if you want. I just need you to tell me how bad I am. Tell me what you think of me. Say mean things to me. Don’t hold back!” His tone was desperate. She snatched the wad of money, swiftly counting two hundred dollars. He leaned his seat back with his window open, as he watched her. She didn’t really know what to say, but the money pleased her, so she just started rambling in a loud staccatto voice, staring straight ahead. “You’re a piece of shit. What a pathetic little bitch. You look like a fat pig…..you don’t deserve to live. You make me sick!! ” She could hear him moaning and she glanced over to see that he was obviously jerking off. Now she yelled louder “you filthy slut you disgust me!”. He particularly liked that one, and he moaned loudly as he slid down in his seat. She yelled, “you nasty scumbag, how dare you even try to talk to me! You make me sick! I should make you kneel before me and lick the bottom of my shoes!”. She smiled, trying not to laugh, and felt a sense of relief. She thought to herself how much fun this was. Maybe she had missed her true calling. Finally looking over towards the van, she saw that he had disappeared from view, except for the tuft of the blonde hair moving up and down. It was almost comical, in a surreal way. Finally, he got quiet, and when she looked back in his direction, she could see him sitting up and composing himself. As he smoothed back the few stray hairs off of his forehead. Red faced and short of breath, he repeated over and over, “Thank you, thank you, so much. Thank you.” She quickly rolled up the window, even though her thighs were stuck to the seat because of the heat. Shauna felt a wave of adrenaline mixed with nausea. Backing up the Jetta fast, she spun the wheels to make a fast exit out of the parking lot. Disoriented, she drove around a block, and rerouted herself in the direction of the club.
Exhaling, she laughed aloud to herself, and reached over to stuff the cash into the side inner pocket of her purse. She grabbed a canister of air freshener, and misted it in the direction of the passenger seat. At the next light she looked in the mirror, half expecting to see someone different. She felt like she had committed a crime. She had crossed a threshold with this random incident. Surprisingly, the face looking back was still hers, nothing changed. Just a few tiny beads of sweat that had formed on her downy upper lip. She wiped the sweat and laughed again to herself shaking her head.
Entering the parking lot, there were only a handful of cars, and all of them belonged to other dancers or staff. The parking attendant made his way over to her car. They exchanged the usual banter, and he helped her take her suitcase through the back entrance. Walking into the club, she felt the wave of cool air rush over her. Her eyes needed to adjust to the dark after being out in the summer sun. It was empty inside. Just the bartender setting up. Backstage a few girls sat applying their makeup, or on their phones. She went to her locker and began the process of getting ready, putting on a shiny black bikini and her go-to black lacquered spike heeled platforms. Work was pretty slow that afternoon, only a few random cheap customers. After a few hours, she decided to call it a night. She did have the Taco Bell Two Hundred after all. It had cooled off a bit since the sun had gone down, enough so that she could keep the Jetta windows rolled up. Exiting through the side alley of the lot, she turned onto a busy boulevard. As she drove home, turning the radio dial, she settled on a classical music station. Shauna let her mind drift away on the notes of the violin, and daydreamed of escaping to somewhere far far away.