Elissa Wald: Night Shifts
Wald explores the dark side of the day @ The Rumpus.
When I was a very young woman, I was enthralled by two promises, neither of which involved me. I heard the first at the wedding of a friend. She and her husband-to-be had written their own vows and they read them to each other at the ceremony. The groom led with this indelible sentence: If you wake in the darkness of your soul, I promise to hold you until light.
I read the second in a personal ad at the back of a gay men’s s/m magazine: I’ll have you praying for dawn.
These vows would seem antithetical to each other. One offers comfort, the other torment. But I was in my early twenties, an age when both of these seemed essential to romantic happiness. Moreover, both recognize night as the crucible in which our most harrowing hours unfold. Both are night promises.
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light;” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.
According to our creation story, night came first: darkness upon the deep. Put another way, night is older than day; night is older than time; night is the womb from which the world emerged.
Driving home is nothing like driving away, and night is nothing like the day. Life is different at night; we are different. Night tends to strip us of our titles, our worldly roles, our formal clothing and our credentials. Most of us retreat into our private lives and often we seek out secret forms of gratification. Our fear is sharpened, our loneliness honed. Fevers run higher at night and chronic pain tends to worsen.
Henry Miller wrote: Night is longing, longing, longing, beyond all endurance.
Mark Twain said: In my age, as in my youth, night brings me many a deep remorse. I realize that from the cradle up I have been like the rest of the race – never quite sane in the night.
I’m grateful to know I’m in good company.
My early twenties – the era of the two promises – also marked the start of my stint as a stripper. During my first month at a club I’ll call The Catwalk, I worked an afternoon shift that drew most of its customers at lunchtime, when they could avail themselves of a limited buffet (hot wings, spare ribs, rice) along with the view. The men would come in, fill their paper plates, and sit politely around the periphery of the stage. Most of them brought a thin sheaf of singles for the purpose of tipping the dancers, and these were yielded up one at a time until they were gone.
No one ever seemed to get too hot and bothered. Rather, the prevailing attitude was affable, companionable. As in: you’re working; we’re working; nice to see you.
Within a few weeks, I traded this early shift for the very late one – the one from 8:00 in the evening until 4:00 in the morning — and never looked back. The night shift was different from its daytime counterpart in every way. For one thing, there was real money to be made. By the time I walked in at 7:30 p.m., the walls of the place were pulsing with raucousness, testosterone and heat.
Because strip joints fill up at night. Lounges and clubs and bars fill up at night. They fill with people who come in and cast off their everyday, workaday selves like kicking off a pair of sensible shoes. They let their yearning rise to the surface. They’re raring to go for broke. They confess and plead and posture and preen and empty their wallets and don’t know when to stop. They come as their night selves.