It can be cold in the dark, fingers stiff from clutching the frozen metal pole with my flag waving at the end. Valet Parking Right Here it says, I wave it at the passing cars, speeding past our shitty little casino on the way to the brightly lit mega-gambleopilises a half mile up the road. We're more of a locals and employees joint, but somebody still has to stand out here with the flag, even at 11 o'clock on a Tuesday.

It can be hot under the lights. My eyes fill with tears from the smoke wafting through the hot purple and red beams of lighting painting across the dragon tattooed on my hip. Beads of sweat run from my damp hair, tracing glistening lines across my collarbones and over my tits as I swing a leg around the pole and flip myself upside down. The beads change direction as I flip upright and again upside down, flashing some ass at the loser that just sat down at my stage. Early 30s, dark thinning hair, wedding ring. He's like every other guy with nothing better to do than stare at naked women who hate him--maybe he'll want a lap dance, rent is due in the morning and I still need another two hundred bucks to avoid blowing my landlord for my roof.

It can be noisy in solitude, laughs drifting across the parking lot from the bar. Warm yellow light pouring through the windows, mixing with the red, purple, and orange of neon beer signs. Marie brings me a cup of cocoa, "I knew you'd be cold". She is in her forties, a quiet strong women working too hard tending bar, caring for her two teenagers. I feel a strong sense of belonging, these are my people, quiet hard workers who want nothing more than to do their jobs and kiss their kids and live their lives untroubled by others. Marie has left, I transfer the flag from my frozen left hand to the now warm right hand. The cocoa goes the other way, warming fingers stiff and chapped from hours of wind.

It can be lonely when crushed in by bodies. I lead the loser off through the press of people to one of the small private (except for the security cameras, there for my protection, as if Vince, the guy in surveillance, hasn't been posting our private dances on the internet) booths where we do the expensive dances. This guy, Mark is his name though I don't care, has ponied up for a $100 dance. We detour by the bar where I get him to lay out for a couple of shots--I'm drinking more and more lately, it's the only way to keep going. Later, after the booth, I realize that I've become disconnected from myself again. Like some passive viewer I watch my body play out the charade of interest in another loser, fresh from a jackpot at a casino up the street. "Hi, what's your name? Does your wife know you're here?" I giggle a little, stretch and shake my tits. I'm hustling tips hard now, I'm only $35 away from paying my rent in cash this month but there are only 25 minutes left until my shift ends.

Everything can change in a moment can change everything.

I'm drunk. As usual. The losers always buy drinks, as many drinks as you can throw back without throwing up. Rent is made, I'm driving home, twisting down the narrow canyon road back into town, back to my shitty little apartment in it's shitty little neighborhood where I live my shitty little life.

It's still cold, but my shift ends in 15 minutes. Other casinos have already started shift change, we've actually some business the last hour or so as cocktailers and strippers, bartenders and slot techs pour in to celebrate making it through another work day. I smile and wave at the passing cars racing home.

The radio starts to make horrible noises. Fuck, it's eating another tape. Looks like I'll have to stop using it, I sure as shit don't have the cash to fix it. Well, not after I stop by the liquor store I won't. I look up from the radio, I've drifted out of my lane onto the shoulder. Oops, not a good thing at 60 miles an hour down the curves. There is something in the way, I can't tell what.

I wave at Joanna as she pulls into the parking lot. Maybe I can convince her to come home with me tonight, she's been acting willing lately. I turn around just in time to see a Honda Civic with a crack in the windshield and one of those little oil change reminder stickers in top corner of the driver's side. I don't know why I noticed that little sticker, but it was the last thing I saw before the car made contact with my legs.

It can be lonely when crushed in by bodies. My chest feels like something enormous, my flagpole transformed to a sequoia, is sitting on me. There is a puddle under me, it's warm. Everybody from inside is crowding around me, a circle of faces directly ahead of me. I realize that I'm laying on my back, that the people are in a circle around my prone form. I try to tell them I'm ok, but nothing comes out. My neck hurts terribly, and this puddle seems to be growing. Somebody needs to turn off whatever pipe is pouring it out. I go to roll, but my body balks, flatly refuses to move in response to my fervent desires. "An ambulance is on the way," I hear someone say as the worlds goes fuzzy and dims.

It can be noisy in solitude. I try to force my way into the crowd surrounding whatever I hit. I'm dizzy and staggering from the drinks, nobody will let me through. I wander away to my car, the front of it ruined by impact with something big. I worry that it may have been a person. There is a shriek of sirens in the distance, screams and tears from the crowd. Maybe I should just go, this looks like it could turn ugly. The car is broken, like my soul, but it starts and goes. So do I.

It can be hot under the lights. I come to for a moment looking up at a different set of heads encircling me. These are wearing surgical masks and brilliant white lighting paints circles in my field of vision. I feel like I'm about to catch on fire, pain as hot as a jet fuel fire burns through my whole body. Somewhere off to my left an erratic beeping turns into a heart-rending steady electronic wail. I see a doctor shake his head in resignation and turn slowly, pulling the mask away from his face. The heat grows under the brightening and brightening lights until, after a brief eternal moment, everything stops.

It can be cold in the dark. The water of the river flows over my twisted and broken body. I slalomed through an S curve at 70, burst around a corner into the pulsating strobe of emergency lights headed the other way. Pulling hard to the left spun me away from the lights, the world starting spinning end over end like my body on the pole during a hardcore techno set. Somewhere deep in my mind I realized that my car was rolling over and over, a splash sounded impossibly close. I lay suspended from my seatbelt screaming in agony as my limbs become more remote, growing numb from loss of blood and exposure to the frozen water. The gurgling sounds of the water filling the car begin to fade away as my vision swims alarmingly. "I won't be paying rent in cash this month," I think as the world goes away.

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