The Working Women of Wellington

August 14, 2007 Wellington, New Zealand

Subject: The Ambassadors of Penzance

Boss, CJ’s was located a few blocks away from my motel in the capitol of Kiwi-land. Just a pink neon sign and an empty doorway painted sea foam green, sharing the building with an auto body shop full of dismantled 1987 Volvo station wagons. I had passed the doorway six times in the previous two days, but it was only on my way back from my sit down with the Ambassador that I went in. I suppose it was the confidence of American Style Government that fortified my courage and tightened up my panties because previously, I had avoided an investigation into the premises, fearing I might stumble into a Maori Tong karaoke party, but the pocket edition Bill of Rights and Constitution of the United States of America -- and my inalienable rights within those stalwart democratic fixtures -- finally allowed me to ascend the grimy concrete stairs with confidence. The bright-eyed bird smiling at me though the bars of her cashier’s cage was about seventeen years old. She asked if I was I was Alex’s five o’clock.

Five o’clock what?

“Five o’clock booking,” she said in that particular way Kiwis have of talking, a cross between Australian twang and English cockney.

But let’s get back to the Embassy.

As you might remember, boss, when you cast me out of the Third Estate (or did I resign? It’s hard to recall all the details), I was forced, due to unfortunate literary representation, to get a “Day Job.” When my shitbird agent failed to sell my novella about spice merchants during the Crimean War, (which was subsequently pilfered by Ray Romano and turned into Ice Age II), I got a gig as a greeter at a national seafood restaurant chain. It was in this capacity as door jockey that I first met the Ambassador, who was the co-founder of the operation. When he was appointed Ambassador to New Zealand a few years ago, he made the grave mistake of inviting any of his former employees to visit him in Wellington. I was the first person to take him up on his offer. Although it hadn’t helped when I dropped his name prior to losing my underwear at Customs, it was still a nice thing to say when anyone asked why I was heading to New Zealand. "I’m dropping in to see the Ambassador" comes off pretty good in the airport X-ray machine queue.

It took some finagling to get my name past the suits guarding the Embassy appointments schedule, but the Ambassador wasn’t so far removed from the restaurant biz that the words “Health Inspector” didn’t register. I was bumped to the top of his list, causing a minor uproar among the Kentucky Legion of Paraplegic Trap Shooters. I met the Ambassador in his corner office after passing through seven levels of military-grade security. The Ambassador was surprisingly happy to see me and to get news of the restaurant group, which he’d been forced to divest himself of when he entered government service. He wanted to take me out for drinks, but there were three aides hovering outside his office trying to get him to an out-of-town press conference. With what seemed like genuine remorse for not being able to show me the town personally, he loaded me up with souvenir pins, a pocket-edition copy of the Declaration of Independence and U.S Constitution and a hand-drawn map to get me to the choice spots around town.

CJ’s was not on the Ambassador’s list.

I hit up the Foreign Service watering holes recommended by the Ambassador, but on a bleak Tuesday night in the middle of winter, there wasn’t a lot of diplomatic intrigue in the works. I was on my way back to my motel when the pink neon CJ’s sign popped out of the fog, mocking my lack of investigative bravery. I knew you’d want me to at the very least find out what was up those stairs.

After determining that I really was not Alexis’s five o’clock, the receptionist said I could still come inside for a Speight’s beer. The girl seemed pretty wholesome in her big sweater, so I let her buzz me through the chickenwire gate. I don’t know if it was the big aquarium, the velvet sofas or the industrial-sized bottles of bleach that convinced me CJ’s was more than a rub n’ tug parlor, but any thought of it being just a signage-poor tavern were blown when I saw all the women in negligees. The females laid down their pool cues and OK! magazines to canter past me, each of them inquiring if I wanted to “book” a session upstairs.

A hooker can spot a prosti square like me a mile away, so the hustle was over pretty quick, and soon I was buckled up to the bar with the bartender, Maxine, and a couple of the working girls, enjoying the kind of conversation you can only get off bored prostitutes

Charity was a 6-foot Maori wearing high socks and a short baby doll dress that left a lot of cheek for contemplation. She’d lived in Provo for several years before getting sent back to the deep South Pacific for shoplifting one too many boxes of Twinkies. When I asked how bad pastry was her fondest memory of her time in Utah, she wistfully rattled off the entire Hostess product line: Chocodiles, Ho-Hos, Cupcakes, Snow-Balls, Ding Dongs. Just the thought of such bounty had her and a couple other girls heading into the laundry room to smoke skinny cigarettes.

With a silhouette tattoo of the Cure’s Robert Smith on her forearm, Charity’s friend Alexis was filling the “Rock n’ Roll Slut” spot on the brothel’s roster. “Alex” was more interested in news of Stateside music trends than the Johns who had started to creep into the cavern. One gray-haired gentleman sidled in between Alex and I to offer a champagne. Alex, who had been holed up in the laundry/smoke room, stared down at the gentleman’s tie for a long moment.

“Is that a kookaburra sitting on a dead possum?” she asked

The man took his champagne to the other room, where a pair of Filipino hookers were aimlessly knocking snooker balls around the billiard table.

“Fucking perv,” Alex said.

Someone mentioned that the image on his tie was actually a Kiwi bird.

“Whatever,” Alex said. “Bloke’s got any sort of bird on his tie and it’s guaranteed he only wants to slap tits.”

“So,” she said, turning on me, “are you going to buy me a drink, or what?”

“Yeah,” a grumpy blonde whore on the other side of the bar said. “This place is here for one reason, and it ain’t sitting around drinking beers and talking about Ho-Ho cakes.”

“Aw, shut yer hole,” the Maori girl Charity said. “It’s not like anyone’s got any bookings.”

“It’s the principle,” the blonde sniffed.

“We’ll have to find yis a job,” Maxine the bartender said, “or else these tramps will put you down the stairs.”

“Fair enough,” Charity agreed. “That an iPod in your pocket?”

Or am I just happy to see you, I replied.

“No, you fucking punter,” she said, “if you’ve got an iPod, you can plug it into the stereo and dj. Shut these hags up for a minute.”

I had just busted EPMD’s Rampage when Greg Kinnear staggered in with the tennis pro Andy Roddick and actress Jennifer “J.G.” Garner. Kinnear grabbed the bar with both hands while Garner stumbled to the jukebox and started flipping through panels.

“You know who the fuck I am?” Kinnear asked me.

I told him he was Greg Kinnear.

“Wrong, you fucking muppet!” he said. “I’m the Pirate of fucking Penzance! The original item, fair enough. I be jacking blokes for they cargoes!”

“Fair enough,” Roddick burped.”

As we all know, Penzance is the Cornish town where John the Baptist lost his head, so I imagine that the actors were in town working on a picture that had something to do with that. Whoever was doing make-up on the movie had really done an ace job on Kinnear, Roddick and J.G., because it really looked like Kinnear had crack pipe burns on his lips, and Roddick was missing two front teeth and Garner was wearing an authentic “Kiwi X-Press” postal uniform and pink Reeboks. Her first juke selection, “Cherry Bomb” by the Runaways cut into my I-pod mix. The three of them reeked of raw fish.

Maxine behind the bar asked them what they were drinking.

“What the hell do you think?” Kinnear roared. “I’m the Pirate of fucking—”

“—Penzance,” Maxine cut him off. “But what the hell are you blokes doing here? You fucking, drinking…,” she glanced at J.G.,” in for a threesome?

“My name is Lasorda!” Kinnear said. “I am the Pirate of—”

“—Bloody hell,” Maxine grumbled as she poured three Speight’s.

“His name is Lasorda,” Roddick said, dribbling beer down his chin.” He’s the top pirate in New Zealand.”

Lasorda grinned at the praise, but his reverie was broken when J.G. jabbed him in the ribs, demanding coins for the music machine.

Maxine asked Lasorda what kind of pirate he was.

“I be bloody well taking muppets for their catches, fair enough,” he said, slapping loose change on the bar for J.G. “Slide up alongside a trawler, transfer the fishies, take the nav computers, and cash in for me money. Made $5,000 today”

“Fair enough,” Roddick said.

“You owe me twenty for the beers,” Maxine said.

“Well…” Lasorda said, leaning over the bar, “the money’s on ice at the moment. You savvy?

“Give her the fucking twenty bucks, you cunt,” Alex, the punk rocker, said.

“Oi!” J.G. said, dropping her jukebox coins, “I’ll fuck you up, ya slag.” J.G. lunged at the hooker but tripped over her untied shoelaces and went down. She lay under the bar, blinking.

“How ‘bout this?” Lasorda said. “We’ve gots heaps of cell phones, see?” He nodded at Roddick, who pulled a grease-stained McDonald’s sack from under his Buffalo Sabres hockey jersey.

“Go on,” Lasorda said.

Roddick dumped the mobile phones onto the bar.

“And I suppose you pirated these, too?” Charity asked.

J.G., still on the floor, reached up to try and scrape her coins off the bar. Larsorda batted her hand away.

Maxine examined the mobile phones. Each one was out of service.

“Twenty bucks,” Maxine said, after the final phone failed to light up.

“You smoke crack?” Lasorda asked.

“The only crack getting smoked around here is your girl’s,” Max said, taking Lasorda’s beer away from him.

“Oi!” J.G. hollered from the floor. “Where’d I park the mail truck?”

At that moment, the gentleman with the bird tie slinked back to the bar.

Alex threw her arm around his shoulder. “You came back to bat my tits, didn’t you?”

“Oi!” J.G. said from under the bar. “Is that a kookaburra eating a possum on your tie?”

The gentlemen looked at the girl at his feet. “Do you work here?” he asked

“I’m the Pirate of Penzance!” Lasorda screamed, grabbing the man by his unfortunate tie .

It was at this moment that I felt the Bill of Rights in my pocket and remembered my Sixth Amendment guarantee of a speedy trial. I was halfway down the block when I looked over my shoulder to see J.G. careen out of CJ’s waving a wallet and what looked like the older gentleman’s Kiwi tie.

The water really does swirl down the drain in the other direction here.


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Sean Cronin