The Coors Light Girl’s production had declined in the three months after her sister, Vanessa, had moved to Tampa Bay with their former boss to strip for real. During this period, the replacement boss, Daniel, an ABD in Econometrics from U of Florida, had introduced what he called, making quotes with his fingers, a “paradigm shift” in the way PromoGirls accounted for its efficiency. Daniel wore skinny jeans and boots with heels and introduced advanced accounting software and statistical models to measure the “economic impact” the employees achieved during their shift. Economic impact, he explained, referred to the number of merchandise (koozies, beads, T-shirts) distributed and social media activity (such as Twitter and Instagram followers, Facebook likes, Snapchat friends) recorded during a shift.
The girls bitched because instead of just getting paid to party, now they needed to keep track of values for Daniel to input into the computer to evaluate their performance. This particular Coors Light Girl I’m writing about, however, hated it especially because without her sister, whom she’d always been paired with, she was too self-conscious of her (she thought) rotund thighs and big nose to have the confidence to circulate and generate sufficient “economic impact.”Earlier that week, Daniel had ordered The Coors Light Girl into his office and, leaning closely over her before the computer, demonstrated via opportunity cost graphs and analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) models, that she was a liability for PromoGirls.
“I don’t want to be the bad guy here,” he said, flashing his palms in the air, “but I hope you can see how we can’t keep you on. I’ll give you this weekend to turn things around. If not, I’m sorry. After all, this is a numbers game.”
On weekdays, The Coors Light Girl worked as a receptionist at the office of Heart, Lung, and Esophageal surgery in Gainesville. In front of the sliding window partitioning the waiting room from the office, a piece of engraved enamel identified her as Cindy Keel. Abdaliz was the other receptionist. Cindy had recommended Abdaliz, a Colombian Zumba instructor, as Vanessa’s replacement at PromoGirls, a decision she regretted because Daniel had paired her with Abdaliz, whom Cindy felt intimidated by and blamed for not working with her the way her sister had. Just within the last week she’d heard guys compare Abdaliz to Shakira, Rihanna, and Nicki Minaj; Abdaliz was always surrounded by throngs of old men and frat boys, handing out merch and attracting social media followers while The Coors Light Girl watched at the bar, drinking alone, her merch bag full. Abdaliz had been the employee of the week for PromoGirls for what Daniel reported was an unprecedented six weeks in a row now.
“I can’t believe he said that,” Abdaliz said, referring to Daniel’s ultimatum. “He’s so simple.” She was at the other reception window, her bare feet on the wrist-rest of the keyboard, painting her toenails a vivid red. There was an open bag of Fritos and a Fanta’s orange soda next to her pile of callback charts. It was a Friday afternoon and they were alone in the office. “Just fuck him, that’s all he wants.” Abdaliz snickered. Her office phone rang and she made a pistol shape with her fingers and pointed it at her temple, waiting five rings to answer, responding, “Yes?” She rolled her eyes at Cindy and said “Would you like to reschedule…have a nice day then.”
“Another cancellation?” Cindy asked, because Dr. Christie’s wife, who did the office’s accounting, had lectured Cindy and Abdaliz just last week, explaining that the office was losing potential revenue due to cancellations and skipped follow-up appointments, and that they were responsible for “pushing,” as she put it, patients to make more frequent follow-up appointments and cancel less.
“Whatevz,” said Abdaliz. She canceled the appointment on the eCalendar and opened the patient’s file, maximizing the window and typing in the notes section slowly with her long manicured nails, her typing strokes interrupted by the backward swooshes of the delete function.
“Who was it?”
“Deborah Mast. Said she was sick.”
“That’s the point. She’s sick.”
Abdaliz shrugged. “Not my problem.”
“It’ll be your problem when you’re fired.”
“I hope they fire me,” Abdaliz laughed. She logged off of the computer and stood up, slipping her feet into sandals and putting on sunglasses that covered half her face, like a visor. “There’s one of those sales in the atrium, let’s get some stuff for tonight, the basketball thing at Dirtbags.”
“March Madness,” corrected Cindy, following her out of the office. “Florida’s playing, blah blah blah. It’s huge, I’ve done it for a couple years now.”
“Then you have nothing to worry about.”
“They’ll all just follow you and ignore me, as usual.”
“Oh stop,” said Abdaliz. “They’re just horny guys, simplest thing in the world.”
“Simple for you,” sighed Cindy, as they exited the elevator at the lobby.
The hospital’s atrium had been transformed into a mini-mall, providing distractions for the bereaved and ostensibly raising money for cancer research, the hospital claimed. The atrium was located between the hospital’s information desk and gift shop. The gift shop sold stuffed animals, Hallmark cards, and heart-shaped balloons attached to plastic sticks, but the woman who ran the counter had told Cindy that the most popular products were lottery tickets. When Cindy mentioned this to Abdaliz, she responded, “They just need hope I guess. I wouldn’t want someone sitting next to as I’m dying and stuff, looking all crunked.”
Cindy and Abdaliz listed through stacks and rows of hung bikinis, paisley swim trunks, Oakley sunglasses, flip-flops, beach bags, suntan lotions of varying intensities, Florida Gators hats and those big orange and blue Styrofoam #1 Fingers. They massaged fabrics, checked price tags, swooshing hangers around circular racks to expose particular items. In their Casual Friday attire, they commanded the attention of every male on the floor.
Abdaliz stacked Gators short-shorts and halter-tops on hangers and looked around, unbuttoning her blouse and held the top against her lithe body, twerking her hips and leaning forward into the mirrored wall by the Emergency Services sign, making duck lip faces. “I want!” she yelped.
Cindy scoffed. Her attention was caught by a teenage girl dressed in black holding the hand of a little girl in a dress, whom Cindy assumed was her sister. She wore those Madonna punk gloves that Vanessa used to wear but were out of fashion by the time Cindy’d gotten them. The younger girl kept saying “I Want, I Want” but the teenager shushed her and said harshly, “We have to go before Daddy wakes up.”
Vanessa was Cindy’s older sister by three years. Her entire life, it seemed now, Cindy had been chasing her, playing with her neglected dolls, wearing her hand-me downs, even dating the younger brothers of the high-schoolers whose virginity Vanessa had taken. From Vanessa she’d learned how to justify her declining grades to Dad, how to steal lingerie from Victoria’s Secret, what to say to Dr. Hagen to get pills she would either sell or snort at parties. Most importantly, Vanessa’d taught her a swagger and a confidence that she would always get what she deserved, that she was at the center of a thing rotating for her alone. “Cindy is for Cinderella,” Vanessa’d always said to her then. “And Cinderella got what she wanted, even if it didn’t start too good.” But Cindy’d been a teenager then—at 30, she knew not only that she wasn’t special, but that the world wasn’t a Disney movie, and that she was wasting her life with abusive men, eating disorders, posting photos about depression or quotes like “Love is Just a Four-Letter Word” on her Tumblr page.
“Got any cash?” Abdaliz asked. She carried the clothes in both arms like a swaddled baby. “These freaks don’t even take credit cards.”
I was the only person at Dingbats not wearing something orange or blue, unless you counted my jeans. My T-shirt was from Goodwill and said “Andola Elementary Track Day 1998.” I didn’t believe in supporting things or branding myself; I wasn’t a part of the system. Everyone wore Gators jerseys or hats turned backwards or those Styrofoam #1 Fingers they were waving around. I had my journal with my notes about the The Coors Light Girl and a printout of the Guaranteed Bets on the Florida game I’d uploaded to the website. At this point I didn’t care who won, I just needed to get enough bets right to not lose my job.
The guys in Florida Gators jerseys at Dingbats were balding and fat, sitting slumped at the bar wearing cowboy boots or Docsiders. The bald ones had complicated mustaches while those with hair were clean-shaven. The uniforms looked inappropriate on their atrophied bodies. They were arguing about whether the “Boys,” as they called the team, should receive financial compensation, or whether they should play for the love of the game.
“It’s just all of it a numbers game,” Barton said, re-filling their pitchers. He nodded his chin at me, inquiring if I wanted another Jack and Coke, and I indicated yes. We’d been in the Philosophy program at the university together but had both dropped out around after failing our comp exams (that’s another story). I saw the white Coors Light Girl coming my way, the one I’d seen before and written about, scanning the bar for business, and bent over my journal, pretending to write.
“Want some company, handsome?” The Coors Light Girl with a nametag that said Cindy leaned over me, smiling with her breasts in my face, the cheer in her voice fake. She wore a Gators shirt loose around the shoulders and cut to expose her abdomen, like that actress from Flashdance. “Think they’ll win?” she asked, smiling like it hurt and slithering into the seat beside me, crossing her legs so that our knees touched, tossing a merch bag next to my journal.
I shrugged. “I don’t care.”
She laughed but it was just as affected as her smile. “Why you watching then?”
I didn’t know what to say. I never did to pretty girls, as this girl was, which I guess isn’t surprising since she was a Coors Light Girl. Her blonde hair was up in a beret and her hazel eyes looked different colors at different angles. She was more attractive than the other, darker, vapid-seeming Coors Light Girl because of these unique factors. I knew she was only talking to me because it was her job, and it frustrated me that the people I wanted in my life ignored me, and the only people who paid attention were people treating me as a means to an end, as Kant advised against: scam artists asking for just a few bucks for the bus; commission-based agents saying they’d love to read my writing for a fee; girls like The Coors Light Girl who didn’t notice me in the real world but who rubbed knees and asked my name when they were on the clock. Everything was bullshit, but I realized that Cindy was just a small part of the system and it wasn’t her fault, and maybe she felt as bad about the whole system thing as I did.
“You’re Cindy?” I tried to look at her nametag without leering at her breast.
She pointed at her right breast and smiled. “And who am I speaking to, Mr. Mystery? I’ve seen you here before but you always keep to yourself. It’s interesting. You look more mature than the students, or at least don’t dress like one.”
“Killjoy,” I joked, smiling tightly. I removed the straw from my Jack and played with it. “They called me that in middle school.”
“Oh Fuck, middle school. Don’t remind me,” she giggled, thanking Barton for her cocktail. “Cheers!” she said. “We’re not in middle school anymore.”
We clinked glasses and sat in silence. I wondered whether she would think it was just some creepy line if I asked her what it was like being a Coors Light Girl.
She said something in my ear and I cupped my ear and said “What?” because the music was so loud. She leaned in again and grabbed me by the shoulder, screaming “It’s so loud!”
I made a face like I agreed.
She leaned across me again and pointed at my bets, asking what they were.
“Bets on the game.” I pointed at one of the TV’s and slid the printout between us.
She peered at the ATS bet and looked up at the screen’s score, and looked back at me. “I don’t know what that means, like at all.”
“It doesn’t matter, they’re all losing bets. My boss said I have this weekend to get my numbers back up, but doesn’t look like that will happen.”
“Hey!” She jabbed my arm. “My boss told me the same thing.”
“Your boss said what?”
“This shit,” she motioned towards her bag, “has to be given away, and I need to get a certain number of social media followers and blah blah blah it’s not interesting. But anyway I’m not any good at it, especially with her getting all the attention, so I’ll probably be fired too.” She nodded towards Abdaliz, who was dancing on a table surrounded by men waving Coors Light pennants, throwing beads at her. Her outfit made Cindy’s appears bland. Her eyes were closed in concentration—you could see there was something beyond sex and desire in what she was doing, something like art, that humming vibration when it feels like you’re in complete alignment with the world, a feeling I wrote vainly in hopes of attaining.
“Tell me what you’re writing,” Cindy said, “and I’ll give you my number.” She snatched my phone, typing in her contact info with her thumbs.
“Writing a story about a Coors Light Girl,” I said.
She stopped typing and laughed awkwardly. “Shut up.”
“For real,” I said. “I wanted to write a story about someone unlike me, someone glamorous, self-confident, popular. It’s all in here.” I pushed the journal towards her.
She took it in her hands and for the first time uncrossed her legs and twisted around so she sat at the bar like a normal person, not a Coors Light Girl. She looked down with her eyes close to the pages, squinting, turning pages back and forth, chewing her lip. “This all about me?” she asked.
“Someone like you, a type, like I said. The kind of person who can do what you do.”
“I can’t do it anymore.” She motioned to Abdaliz. “You should write about her.”
“Okay,” I said, “it wasn’t a type, it was you.”
She looked at me, her eyes large. She had this habit I’d noticed of touching the bump on her nose. “Why me…what’s special about me?”
“I was watching you here one night, with a bunch of frat assholes.” I played with my straw more, twisting it into gnarled structures.
“That’s my job.”
“They were making fun of you. They—.”
“Every time you left, they made faces.”
She tilted her head and sipped from her cocktail. “Faces?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I shrugged. “Just bad faces every time you left. Like making fun of you. Behind your back.”
Cindy opened her mouth but didn’t say anything.
“You were sitting by yourself over there”—I pointed to the front of the bar where all the bouncers hung out—“and they kept calling you back. Waving you over and scooting out a seat for you, like they wanted you to hang. And you’d pick up your bag and I’d see you put on this fake smile and sexy walk, but then when you got there they’d laugh and tell you to get them drinks, or give you their dirty plates to take to the kitchen, or hand you crumpled tissues to throw away. Laughing all the time, all looking the same, hats backwards, cargo pants, sandals, golf shirts or button-downs…and you did it. You mind if I ask why?”
She touched the bump on her nose. “I don’t know. I wanted them to like me, I guess.”
“If I were bigger, or if there weren’t so many of them, I would’ve talked to them, pushed them around a little. And I was thinking, if I weren’t so shy, I would go up to you and tell you not to take their shit, because you’re special.” I crumpled up the betting slips and shot them like a basketball into the trash. “I wanted you to know how special you were, that those guys were
just drunk assholes, too young to recognize that. I mean, we’re all monads, I think that’s Leibniz, monads, people are monads, unique, individual, not reducible. Irreducible. Singular. Not categories or types. I like to think when people are lonely and lost, they are monads without windows, but when they have friends they are monads with windows.”
She didn’t say anything but kept looking at me, inspecting me is the better word, not blinking. “What I hate about words,” she said, “is you can’t see through them. You can’t tell if they’re sincere. I have no idea if you’re a real sweet guy or just another user, another cheater who lies just to get some, who uses words like game pieces.”
“You came over here first,” I said. “You put your number into my phone. Or was that just for work?”
She inspected me for a few more minutes and returned to the journal, shuffling the pages. “Your handwriting is like my doctor’s.” She thrust it back into my hands. “Read it to me.” She pushed her merch bag across the bar’s counter and removed her beret, swinging her blonde hair out and brushing it with her fingers so it cascaded over her shoulders. She took off her nametag and removed a straw from the little kiosk on the bar and sipped from my drink, pushing away her empty cocktail. “Okay,” she said. “Listen, we’re just two people here, being friendly. No using. I don’t want anything from you and you don’t want anything from me, right? Except I want to read what you wrote.” She laughed sadly, in a different timber, her voice deeper and more relaxed, like she’d shut off her Coors Light Girl persona. “So read, Killjoy.”
I looked around. “Here?” The game was off, Florida’s Cinderella run over, my bets all lost, my job probably terminated. The bar lights were down, Strobh lights on, music turned up, the older drunks home, replaced by the hordes of co-eds who showed up after the game and were twerking and grinding against one another, arms up in the air or hands down cupping asses.
She reached over the bar to the Coors Light bag and pulled her keys and small purse out of it. “Let’s go then,” she said. “Someplace quieter.”
“They’re just things I made up,” I said. “Most of its made-up.”
She waved at the bartender to settle up, catching his attention and waving around us as if she were in some magical movie, where with pixie dust she could wave it all away. He nodded towards the second floor of the bar, where Abdaliz was swarmed over by a horde of men in orange and blue. She was no longer dancing like an artist, as before, but seemed throttled from side to side by the crowd, men’s calloused hands grabbing at her. She didn’t attempt to stop them. Her eyes were glazed over in a dissociative state and she wasn’t calling for help or anything. I mean her mouth wasn’t moving like it was saying anything. If she’d called for help nobody would have heard above the pounding music anyway.
“She gonna be okay?” I asked.
Cindy and I were standing with our backs to the bar. She juggled keys in her hand and said, “It’s what she wants. She wants money and to be the center of attention. That’s what she’s gets.” Cindy started to walk out, hugging the bouncers one by one, and then stopped and looked back at Abdaliz. She called her name, at first quietly, and then as a shout. “Abdaliz!” She walked tentatively towards the stairs to the second floor, pulling Mace from her purse. She stood at the bottom of the stairs and screamed her name again.
It was hard to tell if Abdaliz was still dancing to the music or if the crowd was throttling her in time to the downbeats of the EDM track, like they had become some kind of organism together. Her eyes were still closed, her mouth open, breathing hard, her arms either up in the air or fecklessly trying to ward off assault—it was impossible to tell.
It was then I decided to intervene, but I could only intervene by writing, by imagining situations that resulted not in tragedy, but something transcendent, with people coming together not in numbers, like the sweating, anonymous organism on the dance floor, but through mutual interest and curiosity. There is no love without curiosity. I recovered my journal from the bar and maneuvered through the crowd, thrusting my shoulders forward, grabbing Cindy’s hand and barging my way up to the dance floor, pulling her behind me, her other arm draped over my shoulder for balance. I lunged into the dancing organism, unlinking bodies until I reached Abdaliz, and led our violent escape into the parking lot. It was a warm spring night; it had just rained, one of those famous ten-minute Florida rains, and the puddles gave off a rancid smell of alcohol and nicotine. You could see lightning bugs blinking in the copse behind the parking lot, where there was a little trail going into copse where local kids got high and fucked.
“Who’s this?” Abdaliz asked.
Cindy said, “He’s Killjoy,” and laughed. The three of us were by her Jetta. “He’s writing about us.”
“It looked like things were getting out of hand up there,” I said to Abdaliz.
“It’s my job,” she said. “I’ve got a kid, I’ve gotta do what I gotta do.”
“You’ve got a kid?” Cindy exclaimed. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t want Daniel to know. He wouldn’t think I was sexy if he knew, you know how guys are.” She looked at me. “Right?”
“Depends on the guy,” I shrugged. “But those guys in there, probably better to not tell.”
The three of us fell silent. Cindy had her keys inserted into the door but hadn’t opened it. “I wouldn’t have told,” she said. “About your kid.” Abdaliz shrugged and hopped up on the trunk, lighting a Newport. I doodled in my journal, crouching down on a parking stud. Cindy asked her, “Where’s your kid now?”
“Let’s go,” Cindy said. I let Abdaliz sit shotgun and sat in the back continuing to make notes in the dark. Abdaliz’s place was a studio apartment under a baloney factory. Her cousin and his girlfriend were messing around on the futon when we got there, and sheepishly put their clothes back on and left without even asking for their babysitting money. We went into the bedroom where there was a single mattress on the floor with bras and thongs and sextoys and a webcam set-up, and behind a Japanese foldout wall an old pine bassinet with a little girl asleep in it.
Cindy made quiet cooing sounds while Abdaliz wrapped the blanket tighter around her daughter’s shoulder and removed the mobile, throwing it on her mattress. Her daughter looked like two maybe, long hair clipped back, small eyes tightly shut, her cheeks fat, like her balled fists. From the mobile, there hung numerous Disney princesses. Because of all Abdaliz’s makeup, I couldn’t really tell if there were a resemblance, I can never tell with kids that young, but Cindy swore there was.
“Ceccy, Cecilia, actually looks more like her dad, but he’s a prick,” Abdaliz said. “I have some tequila in the kitchen. C’mon, and be quiet,” she whispered. The kitchen was a counter on the far wall next to the fridge, about six feet from the futon and the table in front of the futon where we she poured our glasses and I threw my notebook. The floor was covered with toys and more clothes. It smelled like baloney, I had to admit.
“To unemployment,” Cindy said, tapping my glass. They weren’t actual shot glasses but those little plastic cups with straws infants use. Sippy cups, I believe.
“To unemployment,” I said.
Abdaliz looked at us in confusion, and then scoffed and said, “Whatevz.”
It was quiet again except for the sound of neighbors yelling and car doors slamming on the street level with the room’s barred window. Abdaliz picked up the journal. “So you’re a writer?” she asked.
“Sometimes,” I said.
“Okay, finally,” Cindy said. “Read to us, about us.”
They sat on both sides of me, the cheap futon creaking, still dressed like Coors Light Girls but actually real people now, Cindy and Abdaliz. They sat Indian style with their Sippy cups of tequila, like little girls around a fire. I didn’t know where to start so I picked out a passage at random, about a Coors Light Girl and the older sister she loved not wisely but too well.
JAMES MCADAMS has published fiction in decomP, Superstition Review, Amazon/DayOne, Literary Orphans and B.O.A.A.T. Press, among others, as well as creative non-fiction and academic essays in such venues as Kritikos, and Wreck Park Journal. Before attending college, he worked as a social worker in the mental health industry in Philadelphia. Currently, he is a Ph.D. candidate in English at Lehigh University, where he also teaches and edits the university’s literary journal, Amaranth. His creative and academic work can be viewed at jamesmcadams.net