in the middle of hell is a piece of heaven in the middle of heaven is a piece of hell nothing is black or white there is only neutral gray eastwind firstname.lastname@example.org
My name is Bernie. Irene was my officemate at a local journalism school. We were a bunch of six rowdy reckless staff of writers and teachers. Irene was the only woman. She was the center of attention during lunch breaks and drinking sessions. On that fateful payday, we were about to call it quits, myself, Irene, George, and Ray after a hard busy day at the office.
RAY Hey guys, wanna hit Discovery tonight? They have a special show.
BERNIE Sure, why not, that would be fun.
IRENE What’s in Discovery, guys. What special show?
RAY Hmmm. Nothing much.
BERNIE C’mon. Don’t leave her in the dark. Tell her.
GEORGE Let me do the honors. Irene, you know, men often want to relax and drink beer in a bar after a hard day’s grind.
IRENE You don’t have to be a man to want that. Don’t get smart with me, macho boy.
RAY No, what he means is we’re going to a special place where women don’t normally go to.
IRENE And what would that place be? Wait, I get it. You’re going to a girlie show.
BERNIE It’s a strip joint, Irene.
IRENE A strip joint, huh? You maniacs.
RAY Yup, that’s it.
IRENE How about me? I’m one of the boys, right? What will I do?
GEORGE Read a book, I guess? [Everyone laughs.]
IRENE Ha ha, No kidding guys. You’re abandoning me for a lousy strip joint?
BERNIE Actually, you can come along.
GEORGE Are you kidding? What will she do there?
IRENE Well, I’m going where you guys are going. I can’t drink by myself.
BERNIE Have you ever been to a strip joint, Irene?
IRENE Never. But there’s always a first time, guys.
GEORGE Not a good idea. You’ll just be a nuisance. People will wonder why we brought in a woman. They’ll laugh at you. They’ll think you are dike. Besides what will you do?
RAY You could strip and join the fun.
IRENE Seriously. I can drink beer like the rest of you. I won’t be a nuisance. Just drink drink drink, that’s all. I will be in one corner, watching and getting drunk. I promise.
GEORGE Irene … you won’t enjoy the evening.
IRENE Who are you to decide what I will enjoy or not? I’m going, okay?
BERNIE Not a bad idea guys. It will be an education for her. First time, huh, Irene?
IRENE I am not an innocent kid, Bernie. C’mon.
GEORGE Okay, okay. Cut the fuss. Let’s go. Let’s go.
IRENE Yup. Let’s.
Discovery was just across the street from the office. I was a bit worried how Irene would take the ambience and the crowd. But what the heck. We couldn’t leave her out there alone. It was payday. Time to drink and relax and spend.
It was dim and the music was too loud and too corny. We got a table. Irene started to smoke. I could sense tension in her furtive glances at the empty stage. The balloons and colored lights and seedy wooden stage could give her a weird feeling. We ordered beer and started drinking. In no time, the first girls came out. They did not even strip. They were completely naked. I could see Irene puff and puff on her cigarette. George elbowed me and pretended we were watching the show. In no time, tears ran down Irene’s cheeks. She was agitated. She grabbed me by the shirt.
IRENE This place is terrible. You treat women like animals.
BERNIE Of course not.
IRENE [In between sobs] I hate you, Bernie. You’re the scum of the earth.
BERNIE You were warned. Perhaps I can take you home. Let’s go.
IRENE No, I’m not leaving. You are all so cruel. These women are people. They’re … [she began to sob. Ray was getting nervous.]
RAY They are not being forced to do anything they don’t like. It’s their free will, Irene. They want to do it. They’re in for the money.
IRENE And you, you’re in for the fun, right?
BERNIE Well, one can get a girl to sit beside him and he can paw her as long as he buys her a drink.
IRENE [She grabbed my shirt again and whispered.] Hey, look George is gonna get a girl, I think.
BERNIE Yes, he will. Part of your education, Irene. Life is not pink and rosy.
Irene gulped her beer and asked for Tequila. She was the best drinker in our group. During past drinking sessions, we would all be slumped on the table and she would laugh at us. She drank more but just got tipsy, never drunk. That night was an exception. She finished half a bottle of Tequila all to herself, with beer as chaser. For the first time, I saw her wobble. When she saw George pawing the girl’s thigh, she did not even sob. She just sat there poker-faced, tears silently flowing.
RAY Let’s go. I’ll take you home, Irene.
IRENE No way, Jose. Not on your life, ass hole. Waiter, more beer please. I need chaser.
There was a lull. The dancers were gone. The place was now all filled up, it being payday. The nicotine mist was unbearable.
IRENE Bernie, get me a girl.
RAY Don’t make a scene, Irene.
IRENE I’m not talking to you, asshole. Bernie, get me a girl, or I will make a scene. [She grabbed the tequila bottle.] I knew Irene. She was extremely capable of making a scene.
BERNIE Okay, okay. Simmer down. Which one do you want?
IRENE What do you mean ‘which’?
BERNIE Ooops. I mean ‘who’.
Irene chose a girl who was the youngest among all the dancers, Chari. By sheer coincidence, she was the girl I had tabled in the past. She was about 16, Quite attractive too. I signaled to her. She came over and sat beside me. I backed away a bit. Irene placed her chair closer to Chari’s.
BERNIE Chari, this is Irene. She wants to talk to you.
CHARI Hi Irene. Are you a lesbian? I really don’t mind. A customer is a customer, or else, we lose our job. We cannot refuse.
IRENE I’m not a lesbian. I just want to talk to you. If a guy is so ugly, can you refuse sitting beside him?
CHARI Nope. House rules. Besides, looks don’t matter to us. We see only money.
BERNIE Do you get lesbians here?
CHARI Occasionally. A customer is a customer. We are not biased. Ugly, dumb, weirdo. We can handle anyone, as long as they pay. If they don’t pay, he deals with the bouncer. [She points to a burly guy near the entrance.]
IRENE How old are you?
CHARI What is this, a TV talk show?
BERNIE Chari, wait. Please bear with us. Just talk to her. To be frank, Irene is upset how women are being treated in this kind of place.
CHARI What? Being treated? What kind of place? Irene, we are here on our own wish. They are in fact treating us well.
IRENE Okay, sorry.
CHARI I’m sixteen. And let me answer you before you ask the question. I have two kids. One is still breast-feeding age. Yes, yes, yes, I need the money so badly. I’m paying for my older brother’s tuition so when he graduates, it’s his turn. Now it’s my turn. My dad is a useless drunkard out with another woman. My mom is dead. That’s it. Short and sweet. Abandoned family. Got it? Satisfied? Actually men also ask those questions.
IRENE Can you not get a job as a waitress or something?
CHARI Bernie, I think your friend here was born yesterday. What do you do anyway? Look, I don’t need your pity.
IRENE Hey, relax. Just asking. Don’t get offended, please.
CHARI No problem with me.
IRENE Want a drink?
CHARI Sure. [She waves to a waiter.] Hey, Gerry, give me virgin-coke, please.
CHARI For non-virgins. It’s just coke really, with a teaspoon of gin. I don’t drink when I’m working. The pinch of gin simply makes the order a bar drink which is double price of plain coke. It’s a way of making money. We get percentage of drinks we order. Do you mind?
IRENE No, no, go ahead. Fine. Get two drinks.
IRENE Yeah, no kids.
Chari downed the gin-coke in one gulp and ordered two more from Gerry. When the order came, she downed both in ten seconds.
IRENE Give me five. [They touch palms.] I wanna ask a favor, Chari.
IRENE I kinda hate drinking alone. Can you join me.
Irene poured Tequila on her empty glass. Chari downed it instantly. Irene poured more. Chari downed it again. They touched palms again and screamed together. Irene found a friend.
IRENE Hey, Ray, Bernie, are you going to sit there idle. What are you, a couple of gays? Get some girls, for heaven’s sake. Enjoy, enjoy. Don’t worry about me.
RAY Awhile ago, you were in tears, Irene.
IRENE Yup, things change. People change when things change. No girl for you?
RAY Nah. I just want to drink. Bernie, you want a girl?
BERNIE Nah. I’m here for the show.
In between gulps of tequila, the two ladies talked animatedly. Occasionally, they took give-me-five routine, the slaps getting more violent through time. So there we were. What a fantastic night.
IRENE Are you ever raided by the police?
CHARI Occasionally, when they need a bit of bribe money. Or when our boss forgets to pay protection.
IRENE What happens to you during a raid?
CHARI Nothing much. They haul us to jail for one lousy day.
IRENE That’s no hassle for you?
CHARI No hassle. What I mind is – once the police raiding team was accompanied by a television news crew. We all had to cover our faces.
IRENE Why are you treated like scum of the earth?
CHARI Simple, everyone thinks we are scums of the earth. A stripper is a stripper, not a person. Most people think this way. You are a rare kind, because you see beyond the stripper in me.
IRENE I saw you as a person. I was angry how life was treating you.
CHARI It’s okay. Doesn’t bother me. I’m used to being looked down upon. Hey, we’re not drinking. [They take long gulps.] Even benevolent media people look down on us and shame us.
IRENE Unfair. You should be rehabilitated, not shamed.
CHARI Nobody can see that. They are angry at us. They cannot see that we need help. See that woman [pointing to a dancer]. She has six children, but she is still attractive at 35. She’s in demand more than I. Enough of serious talk.
They move into frivolous topics. At one point, Chari had to bring Irene to the powder room. Both of them almost fell. Coming back, they were giggling all over the place. Chari excused herself. It was her turn to dance nude on stage. Irene looked away as Chari wiggled on stage.
IRENE Bernie, I’m sorry, I stole Chari from you.
BERNIE What do you mean?
IRENE C’mon. I wasn’t born yesterday. I could tell the moment she sat down. Thanks for giving me an education. You know, her husband left her. That’s the time she started dancing. She breastfeeds her baby when she gets home from the club, even if she was drunk. She says, the alcohol does not get into the milk. The baby is sober.
BERNIE Life is hell.
IRENE Yup, so we look for a bit of heaven. I’m going to visit her tomorrow. I’ve found a new friend.
BERNIE Good for you. Bless your drunken soul.
___________________ READER’S REVIEW
I read your anecdote 24. If you want me to give you a “serious” answer. I must refer you to John Paul II’s First Encyclical, “Redemptor Hominis” (Redeemer of Mankind) where one of the central keys is the dignity of the human person redeemed in Christ. In the longest of his Encyclicals, “Veritatis Splendor” (The Splendor of Truth), he deals with moral relativism – the modern culture’s distortion of freedom. According to John Paul II, “genuine freedom is measured by our ability to choose the good in all areas of human life, that is, man must exercise his freedom and live in accord with his own objective nature.” With this mind frame, I can understand why Irene (when not in a drunken stupor) asks Chari the reason for allowing herself to be “in such a hellhole.” Obviously, when we try to define “heaven” in earthly terms (we are after all human), we are not able to aspire for or to strive toward better pursuits. Thank you.
Best regards, Albatross.
********************************************************************** APPENDIX – HEALING MINISTRY’S COMPLETE LIBRARY ********************************************************************** Browse thru the ministry’s extensive archives of inspirational materials – Powerpoints, Youtubes, prayer poems, meditation posters, anecdotes. Save this link for future readings. http://www.sisterraquel.com/2010/04/archive00-entire-ministry-library/ The Lord Heals in Cyberspace amdg