The dressing room was getting crammed as girls piled in, some of whom I hadn’t seen before but who seemed to know everyone. My brain couldn’t keep up with piecing together all the various strings of conversations. “Girl-l-l where you been at?” one exclaimed.
“I been workin’ at my homegirl’s club out in Jersey. They aint charge no fees if…” The cacophony of street talk and Spanish in the tight room swelled until Wayne opened the door and shouted, “Onyx, Alize, Summer, Lucia, Paola — you up on the half. That’s in,” he rotated his wrist to look down at the large, shiny face of his watch, “five minutes.”
Wayne had the privilege of being the only male allowed enter the dressing room. You didn’t feel like it was creepy but more a display of his prowess and dominance under the guise and auspices of professional necessity.
The cackling started up again as I extracted myself from between the bright, multicolored, sequined spandex birds. Two guys stood talking against the wall and I had to squeeze between them to get to the bathroom. That was my ritual: go to the bathroom before I went on stage so that I wouldn’t have to go after, and possibly blow the opportunity for money. After you get off stage is the best time to go around and get additional tips since you’re still fresh in everyone’s minds. Also, while you’re on stage, it’s common for someone to invite you for a drink so I wanted to be sure to be available for that.
I turned down the short hallway to go to the bathroom as a young man in a suit was exiting the men’s. “Come and see me, beautiful,” he reached out to touch my chest as he walked by.
“I hope you washed your hands!” I half-joked as he passed, realizing that was probably a weird thing to say — though, I was genuinely concerned about having his gross pee hands on my chest, especially so early in the night. I turned into the bathroom. A coughing, drunk woman was bent over with her hand reaching out from under the stall door. You could see her bright pink dress through the crack of the door. Her friend handed her a lighter. The tile floor cradled pools of dirty standing water and matted toilet paper clumps. It smelled like cigarettes and urine. The fluorescent light shook and cast a sickly, green haze over everything. I avoided touching anything whenever I was in there. I tiptoed past the dutiful friend into the other stall, half-wincing, half-smiling faintly, and shut the door behind me. There were no locks on the doors. I parted my legs and hovered above the toilet seat scarred with little tan cigarette burns. The water ran continuously down the inside of the bowl into a residual pool of toilet paper and yellow pee. I trickled what I could and wiped and noticed a tinge of red in my toilet paper. “Thank god I caught that now,” I thought to myself. My sequined black purse which my mother had not intended for me to use in such an environment was pressed between my upper arm and side. I pulled out a tampon and shoved it up deep inside along with the string.
Standing in front of the mirror I washed my hands, dabbing them dry on a bunch of toilet paper. “Mami, can you see my string?” I bent over asking the smoking woman in the hot pink dress. She bent down a little to get a better look.
“No mami, you good.”