Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Dinner at the Park Plaza Hotel

Thank you for the overwhelming response to my final post. I have written an update and will post it soon. In the meantime, here is a short story I wrote. It is in the ex-millennial world, but it took place after Lake George – in September of 2000. I wrote this story a few months ago to submit to an anthology. It was chosen to be published, but got rejected at the last minute because I am an unpublished author. I could make a wry observation about the irony but really, I respect their decision – it is what it is.

But since it won’t see the printed page, I’ll share it with you. This is probably the first thing I put on my blog that has undergone many drafts and editing. So any criticism you offer will cut me to the bone!!! Just kidding.
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The waiter announced the specials. I never listen when they announce the specials. So annoying. I can't help but hold my breath and wait for it to end, smiling vaguely.

"And also we have our chef's version of Shrimp Provencal: a reduction of garlic, tomato, and parsley with a splash of Pernod, topped with grilled shrimps." After a short bow, he left us.

I cringed. "Shrimps? Why do some people say 'shrimps'? The plural of shrimp is shrimp."

My date didn't care.

I leaned into Mitchell's ear. "It's like people who put words in quotations to emphasize them, instead of just underlining. Quotations are not for emphasis." I didn't know why I was blathering on about quotations.


"I don't know," I sighed. "Anyway, I think it's very Midwestern. To use quotations like that."

It was my first date with Mitchell. I was 22, he was fifty-something, dressed in his standard expensive gray suit. His stringy hair was combed over, his flexible mouth always froglike.

The waiter came back. "Have you selected a wine?"

God yes. The wine was selected by Mitchell long before tonight. "Yes. We will start off with the La-Fitte Rothschild. I see you have the 1970," Mitchell thrilled.

"Ah, yes," the waiter's eyes glistened with lust. It was an $800 bottle of wine. "Yes, sir." He walked away, snappy.

Mitchell looked at me with sex in his eyes. "I want to see you taste it. I want you to feel…" he stopped, too emotional to continue. His left hand curled into a fist involuntarily.

I waved it off embarrassingly. "Oh, I know, you've been telling about that vintage for over a year now." And he had. He even called it "The La-Fitte", as if were a work of art or precious artifact; "The Mona Lisa," "The Hope Diamond." I never thought I'd get the opportunity to taste such a wine.

"And now I can watch as you taste…" he shook his head, wearing a theatrical expression.

"I'm sure it will be fine."

He glanced up quickly as if to slap me, but checked himself. "I think you'll find it better than fine." He laughed. "We'll order you some lobster to go with."

"Okay." I didn't care.

The waiter came back to take our food orders, sans wine. "We have someone in our cellar right now, fetching it," was his explanation. The Park Plaza Hotel had a huge wine cellar, for sure.

Mitchell laughed knowingly. In his mind, obtaining the La-Fitte, even if you owned it, should never be an easy task. I couldn't help myself, either: I pictured a rodent-like servant, one of Cinderella's coachmen, scurrying underground to find the prized, cob-webbed bottle.

The restaurant was golden, and all of the furnishings reflected light. Everything from the carpet, drapes, up to the chandelier. I looked down at one of my spoons and saw the Park Plaza's double-P logo. I thought of the children's book Eloise. By the end of the night, I managed to steal that spoon.

The waiter came to present the La-Fitte to Mitchell. Now was Mitchell's chance to perform the ritual of sniffing, swirling and so on that goes with the opening of a fine bottle of wine. I'd been a waitress once upon a time, so I knew the drill.

Still, it was obnoxious. After what seemed like ages, I finally held my own glass.
It didn't taste like any red wine I'd ever had. It tasted of perfumed velvet draperies and purity. The elements. Completely non-acidic and beautiful. After three sips, I felt a buzz, a combination of any drug I'd ever liked, in corresponding proportions: 50% heroin, 20% cocaine, 10% good ganja, and 20% fine cognac.

Oh damn you, Mitchell, you got me. He won. He laughed as I tried to find the words to explain The La-Fitte. Then we laughed together.

The lobster was beautiful and impressive, served on a bed of greens, presented to me on a silver platter. Cute, but I forgot I'd have to use my hands to crack the shell open. I didn't want my fingers to smell like a wharf. After witnessing me give up after just two minutes, Mitchell rolled his eyes and started cracking the lobster for me. He was too cheap to think that lobster meat was going to waste. That's why the dinner and the wine were so special. It all cost real money, something Mitchell had plenty of but didn't like to share with strippers like me.

Mitchell was my regular customer at the club, one of just a few who had my personal telephone number.

My favorite customer, Richard, was good for a free meal as long as I looked pretty and said very little, and Richard never tried to fondle me. With Richard, I could enjoy my dinner. Three crab cakes nestled in tiny poufs of herbed mayonnaise and generously topped with golden caviar, an earthy mesclun salad, flourless chocolate cake. I could order whatever I wanted, whatever the expense. Richard was a gentleman.

Mitchell gave me good money, but usually wanted value for his dollar. I think that's why I gave him my real phone number. It was a deal. Personal information meant intimacy, and he felt he'd paid the required amount for that.

I called Mitchell to set up our dinner date. He was shocked. I usually play so hard to get, fighting off his octopus arms when he visited me at the club.

Lately, I'd been getting behind on my rent. I worked as few days as possible to squeak by. Rent was due, I was drunk, and I knew Mitchell had $1000 to spare. I could call him up, act like I want to have dinner with him, and maybe he could bring a thousand in cash in his wallet…

After only ten minutes of talking to Mitchell, the real reason surfaced. He wasn't stupid. And I stupidly told him the $1000 was for rent money.

"Hmm, sure. Dinner," he purred.

A few months back, he'd offered to get me a little apartment on the Upper East Side so he could visit me on his lunch breaks. Could I go through with it? Could I ever fuck Mitchell? No way. Plus, I realized I'd hate myself even more if I lived in Mitchell's sleazy tryst apartment.

"Listen, let me get you that apartment and you won't have to worry about these things," he suggested darkly.

Working my way out of that argument was like fighting a jungle of man-eating vines, but I did it. We were set for Friday night at the Park Plaza Hotel for dinner, then a carriage ride around Central Park.

"I'd rather we skip the carriage ride," I said. "I hate seeing those horses suck down car exhaust. They should be on a farm."

"Those are old horses, don't you know? If they weren't pulling the carriages, they'd just shoot the poor bastards."

I started. "What about putting them 'out to pasture'? In a nice field Upstate somewhere?"

"At whose cost? Do you want to pay for their hay? Besides, horses like being put to work."

"Oh, alright. Carriage ride too. After dinner."

I heard his laugh.

After dinner, we walked leisurely through the halls of the Plaza's first floor shopping area, looking at the jewelry store displays.

"If this store were open, I'd get you that ring." He pointed to a cocktail ring fit for an eighty year old society matron.


"Doesn't that excite you?"

"Um. Yeah, sure." I always forgot to do that. To act excited.

"C'mon, let's go catch a carriage."

After we climbed into the buggy's cab, the horses started off, jerkily.

"Here, you two," the driver threw a disgusting fur blanket over our laps. He acted as if he were talking to lovers.

"Eww," I complained, pushing the blanket off.

"Come on, it's cold outside," Mitchell smiled. "Plus, it gives us a little privacy."
Mitchell made loud lovebird noises for the driver's benefit. The driver grinned back at us. Mitchell grabbed between my legs, prying them apart.

My eyes were hot with tears. "You're embarrassing me," I whispered.

"Why? Do you find me embarrassing?" He pulled back to stare at me.

"No," I whispered. His breath was rotten underneath. It was always rotten underneath. I felt like if I kissed him, I would come away with a hair in my mouth. He'd given me sloppy kisses on my hand before, and his dried spit smelled of Dumpster.

"Then pull on the blanket."

I did. I was much warmer with the blanket, which I imagined was coated with the semen of at least fifty guys. A brittle, protective inner layer. The buzz from the La-Fitte was gone.

He nuzzled with me. I let him, always watching for the driver's stare. Then Mitchell smashed his hand against my breast, working his fingers inside my blouse. This disgusting action was not covered by the blanket.

"No, please," I hissed, and he hissed back, "It's the money," and I realized he had dollar bills in his hand.

"Let me give you the money, this way."

I shook my head, looking more like I was convulsing.

"Listen, do you think I carry around this kind of cash? You called me, remember? I went to the bank for you!" He was almost yelling.

I nodded, and his hand entered my bra, the sharp bills poking my nipples as he smothered the rest of my breast with greedy grabs.

I held my breath, reminding myself that after he took his hand away, I'd be left $1000 richer and wouldn't have to worry for another month. After this, I'll work more. I'll show up four nights a week, I promise. Or maybe next time I'll just call Richard.