Today, we’re pleased to run an excerpt of Mila Jaroniec’s novel Plastic Vodka Bottle Sleepover, due this November from Split Lip Press. Jaroniec will appear in conversation with Chloe Caldwell on November 15th at the book’s launch event in Brooklyn. Darcy Steinke had this to say about the book: “In Plastic Vodka Bottle Sleepover, Mila Jaroniec writes with a seer’s wisdom and a poet’s touch. Emotions are evoked in language both lovely and dangerous. I love the honesty and the beauty.”
You Can’t Work in a Sex Shop Forever
The walk to work is thirty minutes every time, piano music in my ears. Always instrumental to make me forget where I’m going. All the way up 11th, detour to 10th where 11th brakes for a church at 4th Avenue, up 10th, cross Broadway, my hoodie always gets caught on the same rogue wire sticking out from the chainlink fence. I wake up in front of the bright lights and red neon and every time it’s what am I doing here, every time like the first.
You can’t work in a sex shop forever.
But this place wasn’t Eden. Instead of malt liquor under the counter, three a.m. closing shifts and uppers to help, there were sales incentives, policies about time theft and a whole plethora of official fine print that made the whole thing look like something approaching a career instead of a purgatorial gig for the desperate. I didn’t get into med school like the plan was. I didn’t come up with a work of genius like the hope was. I didn’t even disappoint my mother like I should have, her phone calls no longer containing the telltale sighs that felt like a degree marker for her belief in me. I didn’t end up doing anything except this one thing I was qualified to do. I had four years of credit there too. I was living the cautionary tale of the classically trained musician who wound up an insurance salesman. Like they all do, says the drunk dad at the dinner table. But it’s a less pathetic thing here, in a city that tries to eat you alive, because we all end up doing the same. Everyone understands when your answer to the intrusive Now What? devolves from the younger, grander Everything into the simple survive.
And here we all were, selling elegantly packaged sex toys to entitled strangers. Cosmo-soaked Sex and the City girls in bonebreak stilettos giggling over the Rabbit, lining up for the pink Elastomer one from the show even though it’s a worse quality material than the newer silicone ones, doesn’t matter how you try to explain. Crashing drunk straight couples with money clips and bleached teeth who’d had one too many gin martinis, forgot themselves at the door and now thought it hilarious to turn on everything in the store, everything but each other. Hairy-knuckled hands palming Pilates-firm asses. The young couples who would later become them, tasteful J.Crew-clad women with equally tasteful highlighted hair – neutral, classy, not too much – heaven forbid she ever be too much – nude-manicured nails, black pumps – can’t afford Louboutins yet but she’ll get there – their gelled and cologned investment boyfriends acquired through a friend or Match.com who haven’t quite grown out of their college days, who want to keep their nice pressed work shirts and beer pong tables in equal measure.
These couples are always looking for something to Spice Things Up, as they say, it’s a heartbreaking thing to say it that way, so young and bored already. Maybe he needs to pay more attention to her clit, maybe that’s it, maybe this one-speed vibrating thing will do the trick? How about this one babe, what about this? Thing after thing after thing, looking for the best deal for the least amount of money, you guys don’t have any discounts, do you honey. Once I had to spend fifteen minutes convincing a group of college boys that lube for anal sex was a necessary thing. They were astonished to learn that assholes are not self-lubricating. Almost insulted they were being expected to spend money on pleasure, hers especially, when sex was the oldest pastime of the world. Look at his parents, he bet they didn’t need some kind of fancy apparatus, he bet she was perfectly fine with whatever god endowed. They’ve been married forty years and they’re still in love, they kiss each other all the time for christ’s sake, his father buys her jewelry for all the important dates. She used to cut the crusts off his sandwiches when he was a kid, made all his Halloween costumes by hand. One year she even made him a Tin Man out of foil. There was no way Mom needed a vibrator. But was there? Oh fuck now he’s thinking about it. Oh fuck stop stop stop. Now every single thing in here, Jesus fuck, did she want that? There’s no innocuous place to deposit his gaze, the horse bits and the butt plugs have taken on a new disturbing context, he’s changed her, now everything is her –
Who was she before Mother, who is she besides Mother, would he have wanted to know that woman, could he have turned her on if he weren’t her son?
And this is the fantastic part, when their faces flush crimson and their eyes sparkle wild, because the more you think about not thinking about something the more you end up thinking about it, and you can always tell, in the sex shop, which of the flustered young men have accidentally started getting boners thinking about their moms.