Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Pin-Up Girl Dress

Two beloved ladies from the Sho-Bar, who have passed on.  Much love to Jenny and LaTonia.   Photo taken by Melissa Hermon. 

I always think back to her rubber ducky tattoos.  Maybe that is how we all remember Jenny.  I loved those tattoos, the to little sailor style rubber duckies, sitting on her chest, right above her boobs, as the two cheerful little duckies smiled at each other while bobbin up and down, like bobbing around in a child’s bathtub with each and every step Jenny took.  The rubber duckies and the pin-up girl dress.

Whenever I think of Jenny, I see her on stage at Big Daddy’s, slinking towards me, with her eyes down and her hips swaying to the Gorillaz, or the Bloodhound Gang.  I see her in her black patent leather heels, with her fish nets slung around her arms and her back, giving her long, sleek sleeves.  She is always wearing the pin-up girl dress. 

The three of us used to fight over that dress.  We were certainly always jockeying for position to wear it. I mean, it was so freaking cute.  It was a little black A-line dress, with triangular tops that tied behind your neck.  The dress was speckled with pin-up girls, posing and winking in all different directions.  And it looked good on all of us. 

But, now I always see Jenny in that dress.  Dancing through my mind, in the pin-up girl dress.  I think back to both of them, and I guess, in a way, those both suffered a similar fate.  I certainly lamented over both their deaths.  And now, I look back and see them together.  After all, the pin-up girl dress looked better on Jenny. 

Chloe often was the source of conflict on the pin-up girl dress, but then, Chloe was often at the heart of most conflicts that surrounded her.  Her nickname was ‘Crazy Chloe,’ and if you had to ask about the moniker, you obviously had not spent more then twenty minutes with the girl.  But Chloe and Jenny were thick like thieves, they always had been.

It was actually through Jenny that I came to love Chloe, but then we all came to love each other more from the time we spent with Jenny.  Like dear Reese and me.  The two of us will always share a special, and virtually unspoken bond, because we both still share that same love for Jenny.  When Jenny left New Orleans, I will never forget the morning she left.  Jenny, Reese, and I sat on his bed in his light and airy apartment, a really nice place with hardwood floors and a luxurious wooden framed bed.  I think back to that morning, and I can clearly see the sun shining through the windows, and the dust dancing in the room.  I can see the white comforter, and Jenny’s face, Reese’s face.  I remember what she was wearing; those red plaid pants, with her black boots and a black wife beater.  I remember the heaviness in the room, and the haziness in the room, and although I can see both their faces, so clearly with the hazy edges of that morning, contrasting with the bright sun, seeping into the apartment, seeping slowly into my world, I cannot remember a thing we said.  It is like I have that memory, so tactile in my brain that I can touch it, and all our lips are moving, but I cannot hear what we are saying.  I think about those silent, moving lips, as I think about tomorrow’s Day of the Dead, and I wonder if maybe I will be able to hear the whisper of dear Jenny. 

Almost every morning, Chloe and Jenny arrived at the club together, and most often they were already bickering about the pin-up girl dress.  They had bought the dress together, each going in half.  And each day, they proceeded to argue about who would wear it when.  When I first met Jenny, it was through Chloe, whom I had been aware of for years.  And they came into the club together, back in New Orleans after some hiatus, fighting about the pin-up girl dress and hoping to work the day shift at Big Daddy’s.

Clothing is a commodity in a strip club, but it is also something that is shared and passed around, but only amongst those you trust.  On the day shift, we were a tight crew, and we all trusted one another.  So, we shared and shared alike.  But, the pin-up girl dress was not often in the sharing pile. 

One day, when Chloe was not there, Jenny proudly suggested that I wear the pin-up girl dress.  She said she knew it was going to look better on me than it did on either of them, and she could not wait for me to try it on.  I had often admired the little black dress, speckled with the pin-up images.  I reached, out, feeling the soft, thick, and slick stretchy fabric.  It was smooth in my hands, and it slid right over my chest, fitting me like a perfect glove. 

I spun around in the mirrors, and it twirled around behind me.  Jenny clapped her hands with delight, as she began to bounce around a little, suiting me up with my black satin gloves, while swiping my layered, wavy hair up into a dramatic 50s style up-do.  With my 6-inch black, chunky, strappy shoes, I looked like I had stepped out of the pin-up magazine myself. 

“I knew it would look so good on you, Scarlet!” Jenny gushed.  We had so much fun the rest of the day.  Slowly sipping our cocktails, and working the customers together.  We slowly ingested our pills, took a few bumps, and made arrangement for more drugs later.  The day went by in a blur, and I was sad to see it end.  Without Chloe around, the tension of the threesome was relieved.  And to be honest, I am pretty sure Jenny was at her wit’s end with Chloe at the time.

The fighting about the dress was minimal compared to some of Chloe’s other stunts.  Chloe would turn on you in a heartbeat, suddenly turning around on a public street, flipping out at screaming and insulting you.  Sometimes, you really just were not sure what you would get with Chloe.  Many times, she was the most fun character I knew.  She was always up for an adventure, and her smile was bubbly and buoyant.  She had a good heart, and when all her chemicals were flowing in the right direction, she was amazing, but unfortunately those chemicals could turn on a dime. 

I didn’t see that I was suddenly put in the middle of the girls’ strange and volatile relationship, when I put on the pin-up girl dress.  And when I twirled around, admiring it, because Jenny had been right…that dress, did, in fact, look better on me.  I think this was Jenny’s plan all along. 

When Chloe worked the next time, Jenny gushed about how I should wear the dress, and how it looked so good on me.  Chloe grudgingly conceded, and from then on, I was also involved in the dispute over the pin-up girl dress.  Only I was the only one who held no true ownership in it, save for the fact that it fit me like a glove. 

When Jenny left New Orleans that day, she left the dress with Chloe.  Jenny had promised to return, as soon as she could get a little clean time under her belt.  Jenny got on a plane, headed for California, and we all thought we would see her again before too long. 

Jenny had a little boy in California, and she managed to get clean.  She even decided not to come back to New Orleans, because she wanted to stay clean.  While it broke my heart at the time, I now can see clearly that she would not have stayed clean if she had returned.  She met a guy, and she seemed to be turning her life around.  And one morning, she did not wake up.  She had taken her medication for anxiety and depression; she drank a few beers, and never woke up.  It always seemed a little mysterious to me.  But, we were thousands of miles away, caught up in the dope game, and through telephone conversations relayed back and forth; I still think the details are foggy. 

In the coming months, Chloe deteriorated.  I think a lot of it was losing Jenny.  We all thought we would see her again, and it struck us all really hard.  Reese would never quite recover from Jenny’s death, and there are times still today that I wonder if I will ever really recover from losing her.  Chloe was really strung out, and her actions became more and more insane, more manic, more depressed, more incoherent.  She would disappear for a week or so, and resurface, having traveled somewhere, or having hooked up with some new guy. 

My condition deteriorated, too, as I became more and more involved in the scene of the strip club, as I became more and more obsessed with my addiction.  I no longer worked at Big Daddy’s, and Chloe and I no longer worked together as often.    Although, sometimes she would show up at The Shobar, or Temptations, for a shift., and she always let me borrow the pin-up dress. 

One afternoon, Chloe came into Temptations.  It was late afternoon, and I could tell the sun was beginning to set when the big black door of the club would slide open in the foyer up front, and the light came beaming in a little slighter than before.  I was stepping off stage when I saw Chloe standing by the bar, with eyes wide and desperate. 

She seemed to be waiting for me, stalking me like a cat, motioning me with her flailing fingers, trying to hurry me off stage and over to her.  I made my way over, as I put my clothes back on piece by piece, finally arriving at the bar fully clothed once more.  Well, as fully clothed as a stripper could be. 

Her hands were shaking, and she looked like shit.  Complete and total shit.  Her hair was tangled and wild, and her make up smeared under her eyes, making the dark circles look even darker.  Her eyes flitted around like meth, like madness, like something inside is just ticking and ticking.  She clutched a bunch of clothes, tight to her chest, as she launched into this whirlwind speaking pattern that barely sounded like English. 

“Scarlet…” she slurry hissed.  “I need to sell these clothes, like now.  I really need to make some money.”

“I really do not have any money, Chloe.” 

“Scarlet, I will sell them all cheap, really cheap.  The pin-up girl dress is in here, with the G-string,” she looked at me, waiting.

The pile of clothes just looked like a wrinkled lump of shit, just a bunch of black clothes all waded and clutched to her chest.

“Let me see it,” I demanded. 

She let the clothes spill out onto the bar, while she sort through them with scarred and shaky hands.  Lifting the pin-up dress girl to the light, I saw that it was hardly wrinkled. 

“How much?”

“Twenty bucks.”

“For just the pin-up girl dress?” I asked, with a harsh and dismissive edge.

“OK, Scarlet, I will throw in the black robe, too for another ten.”  She held up another one of my favorites from her collection. A long, stretchy black robe that tied with one ribbon right in the middle of my chest, with edges lined with little sliver stones.  The bottom edge was so full, that when you spun it swirled and flowed behind. 

“Done.”  I reached down to pull thirty bucks out of the garter tied around my ankle.  She snatched the money, greedily, still shaking with the wide eyes of terror from either madness, meth, or a combination of both.  She darted out the door, and a faint impression of sunlight squeaked through the back door. 

I shook my head in disbelief.  I made my way to the dressing room.  I sat down, admiring my new bargain purchases, when I thought once more of Jenny.  A triumphant smiled spread across my lips, and I spoke to her as I slid the dress on.

“Well, baby girl.  I know you had wanted me to have it.  And it looks like that wish came true.” 

I thought of Jenny every time I wore the little black pin up girl dress.  I now was handed the torch of the guarded possession, the stripper’s most favorite dress.  Like the girls before, me, I was hesitant to lend it out and I wore it almost every night, sometimes.  Every time I saw the posed pin-ups, winking at me in the mirror on stage, as I slid past, twirling, I saw Jenny smiling down on me. 

Unfortunately that dress was among the things I lost during Hurricane Katrina.  I inadvertently left a bag behind when I finally evacuated.  I lamented about that bag for months, just thinking of the pin-up girl dress, or my cherry bustier, and of my black vinyl nurse’s uniform.  I hoped that when I returned to New Orleans, that Linda would still have my shit.

When I finally returned to the city, and ran into Linda, she had long since sold most of my shit.  She did say see had a few pieces left, and I could come check it out.  She had a few insignificant random stripper dresses, but I did not see the pin-up girl dress. 

“Linda, do you know what happened to that little black pin-up girl dress?  That was Jenny’s,” I told her.

“Oh, Jenny,” She sighed.  “I miss her so much,” her voice drifted off a little, and I noticed that faraway look that took over her eyes sometimes.  Then her breath snapped to, like she just woke up from a nod.

“Oh, yes, Scarlet, that is around here somewhere.”  She began digging through the pile of clothes, when I saw the edge of it piled in the dingy and dirty closet.  I reached forward grabbing onto an extended strap, slowing pulling the pin-up girl dress from the pile. 

I had barely pulled a few inches, when the fabric released, sliding out more quickly than I expected.  I looked down to see that I was not hold a dress.  Instead, the pin-up girl dress had been cut into a shirt!  The edges of the cut were rough and slightly jagged, like someone had taken so little care to just hack this dress apart.

“What happened to it?” I asked Linda, probably horrified.

“I don’t know.  I thought it was already like that.”

I took the pin-up girl dress, cut off into a really short and ugly shirt, rolling it up, and holding it close to my heart.  I thought about Jenny.  I thought about the destruction all around me, and  thought about all the lives I had lost.  I rolled the dress up, and went back out onto the cold, January streets of New Orleans.  Weeks later, I left the city in search of sobriety.  The pin-up girl dress came with me.

And I toted in around for a year and half, until my marriage fell apart, and I abandoned all my stuff in a broken home.  With the pin-up girl dress left behind, along with so much of myself, I walked on like a zombie, like a ghost.  It would be many more years before I thought about the pin-up girl dress.  And then, I had come to look back on all the memories surrounding it and smile.  Rest in peace, dearest Jenny.  Eight or nine years after you have gone, you are still so dearly missed.


  1. I dont believe you understood any deeper relationship I had with Jennifer, not "Jenny" Perhaps it was the drug haze, or the perpetually destructive relationship(s) you held yourself. Jennifer gave you that dress in an attempt to make me jealous,not that you noticed. I often couldnt stand to be around your "vic-tomb"act, and sold it to leave town and get sober, not high. I never got a number for Jen, who went to Nashville,Cali,then Nashville,where she killed herself after her miscarriges and drug "detox" This after her husband comitted suicide. That boy,as you say, let the paramedics leave the night she purposly oded. I loved and helped to keep her alive the last few years,believe me. Im so glad this scrap made you happy. I miss Jen every day, even now. You should reconsider how drugs informed your perspective. Im sorry you remember as you do. A dead alias

  2. So much anger, it seems, Jen. And I am truly sorry to have provoked that, as this was meant to be a loving memorial piece, with a humorous nature, staying in tradition with the Day of the Dead. I write about addiction and recovery, for a living, today, and all the personal pieces I write on my blog, are most certainly simply pieces from my perspective, which admittedly was a very drugged out perspective. While I most certainly had very destructive relationships in my past, I think we all did back then. We are all lucky to be alive, really. And the victim mentality followed me into recovery, where it was eventually broken down, and I began to understand myself, and my compulsions much better. I am thankful to have found that peace with my past, with myself, and with my altered perspective about things that I once had. For the last year, I have also been lucky enough to be paid to write about my addiction and recovery, which has enabled me to learn even more about all the situations of the past, and where I stood, and now stand, with it all. I am glad that you left town, and you got sober, believe me, I know what a feat it is. Yes, that night is the last time I saw you, and I am glad you are alive and well. Sometimes, people from my stories get upset when their ending seems so bleak, but it is hard for me to write more of ending when I never knew how each person's story has ended. I had hoped you would see this, and I might get an ending to your story. I might hear you were alive, and well, and clean, like so many of us today…I hoped I might get the chance to reconnect with an old friend. I am sorry that you were upset, or offended by my memory of a beloved friend we shared, as that was, by no means, my intention. And while I do not certainly claim to have had a deeper relationship with Jennifer than you, or anyone for that matter…we all had our own relationship with her, and we all had our own perspectives, and memories of those days, and many of our perspectives were quite skewed. And thank you, for clearing up those details of her death that we so cloudy, when we received them through the grapevine in the strip club, you know how that works. Anyway, I have always loved you, too, Jen, and I hope that you are happy and well. Much love, dear old friend. (Oh, and I write with the name Eliza Player...but it is just me, Toby, Scarlet...) :)

  3. I had read that Jenny was shot outside of the A&P..I had also heard that she had passed and then ran into her once in Monahans. I don't know what to believe anymore.

  4. I also wanted to add, that I am so, so glad you are alive and I look back at this story, it seems you and I are the only ones still alive from this particular piece. Reese passed away right before Halloween this year, and Linda has been gone for quite some time now. It kills me when I look at the cast of characters from my memoir, or from so many of my stories, because often at least half of them are gone today. And even more, that I have no idea what happened to them. It makes me smile to know another one of us has made it out, alive and well. Truly a blessing, each time I hear such good news. Seems like the news is too often in the opposite...much love to you, seriously.

  5. Yes, there was a rumor that Jennifer died when she really had not, and when she showed back up in New Orleans, a lot of people were surprised. I did not know her until she returned to the city. That is how the rumor mill works, I guess...there was rumors of my death, too...and when I returned to new orleans several years later, people were definitely shocked...