“Hi, men,” said Cindy Minto, Pastor Ron Minto’s wife. “Tonight, we’ve got some special rules for the wait staff, and your manager Jane Wong said that I should go ahead and brief you because she is busy. There are only three rules, so I’m just going to go ahead and tell you real quick, so you can all go back to setting up the tables and chairs.”
Cindy Minto looked down at the legal pad in her hands. She tapped the cardboard back of the pad with her long red nails, and then smiled again. Cindy Minto was an aging beauty with an aristocratic and chipper mien. She had bright blue eyes, and a full, firm bust. Her tan arms and neck were besprent with white sunspots, and her shiny black hair was gathered into two youthful plaits which fell down to her shoulders She wore a shimmering blue gown with a slit up one leg, and high, black heels that she held locked together -- demure -- at the ankles.
“It’s real simple,” said Cindy. “One, don’t talk to any of the girls. Two, don’t talk to any of the dads. Three, absolutely no cameras or alcohol.”
Cindy dropped the legal pad to her side.
“So does anybody have any questions, or can we go ahead and get started?”
“So, how come there aren’t any women working tonight?” asked
Manchego, the head chef, gave
Manchego on the other hand was a weighty, ponderous man – a thick, grey-skinned force of nature that ran the hotel kitchen like a Pharaoh cozening his stupefied slaves into building his tomb. It was a good thing that
“Your manager Jane Wong is a woman!” said Cindy Minto. “Or hadn’t you noticed, fellas?”
Cindy laughed, but none of the other dishwashers, waiters, cooks, or busboys laughed along with her. Cindy sighed.
“Tonight is a celebration of purity and the special relationship between a daddy and a daughter,” said Cindy. “Some of the women who are on staff here at the Cold Creek Hotel felt that they would rather not participate, and we respect their opinions and wishes, and we even respect the opinions and wishes of the Cold Creek Hotel management team who has decided not to take any retaliatory action against them, even though in MY opinion your politics should have nothing to do with your job.”
“Daddy and daughter relationship,” said Jesse the bartender, a wiry time-server with a bald head and a waxed mustache. “Like leather? Discipline?”
No alcohol meant that Jesse would be serving fruit juice and soft drinks all night long, and that meant no tips.
“Purity and the special relationship between a daddy and a daughter,” said Cindy again, blinking very fast and tapping her legal pad with both hands. “Okay, men, let’s all try and do our best tonight!”
Cindy Minto left the kitchen with a stiff neck and a duck-like waddle. As soon as she was gone, the Pine Room catering staff relaxed again and leaned against whatever was convenient.
“How are we supposed to take orders if we can’t talk to anybody?” asked Jesse. “How about that?”
“She just means socially,” said Manchego. “No chatting anybody up. All business tonight. Everybody stop freaking out and being a baby.”
“That’s easy enough for you,” said Jesse. “You are back here in the kitchen.”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Manchego. “Yeah, yeah.”
Jane Wong, the Pine Room catering manager, came back into the kitchen on Cindy’s heels, rubbing at her temples, frowning at her gathered staff.
“If any of you are uncomfortable with any of this religion stuff, you are welcome to leave for the night, and Cold Creek will not hold it against you,” said Jane. “That is a solemn promise. And just so you know, they are paying me time-and-a-half to be here, otherwise I wouldn’t be. These
“It’s hard to know what to be uncomfortable about since we don’t know what’s going on,” said
“Bart,” said Jane. “Shut up. Does anybody other than Bart have any questions?”
“How come I’m not getting time-and-a-half?” asked Jesse. “I mean there’s no tips, and that’s how I make my bank.”
“Jesse,” said Jane. “Shut up. Alright, we’re done here. The wait staff has to come with me. You guys have to get in costume. You too, Jesse. You have a special costume. One of a kind.”
Bartlett, Jesse, and the others followed Jane, while Manchego and his cooks returned to their chopping and boiling for tonight’s meal. The dishwashers began setting out the chafing dishes and cans of liquid flame on white appetizer carts that were almost ready to be wheeled out to the hallway.
The wait staff followed Jane to the back entrance of the Pine Room, where a sandwich board advertised that tonight’s “Hearts of Ancient Rome SuperLife Purity Dance” would begin within the hour. There was another sandwich board out front by the main double doors that led to the parking lot.
The placard listed the coming events in raised, purple calligraphy, surrounded by a coruscating golden border made of laurels and tridents:
7 PM -- Greetings from Pastor Ron; Blessing
7:30 PM -- Presentation of Daughters to Fathers
8 PM -- Dinner & Dessert
9 PM -- The SuperLife Daughter Dancers
9:30 PM -- Purity Pledges
10 PM – Invitation to Dance
The staff peeked through the back entrance porthole. The room had already been decorated. Piles of grapes lay in the middle of each table, and there were cardboard columns grouped around the room in tasteful groves. Patterns of interlocking squares dotted drapes of cream-colored fabric, and there were divans scattered around the room for sitting, adjacent to the Pine Room’s huge wooden dance floor.
Jane led her staff into the room and around the room’s darkened edges.
The Roman motif covered everything, right down to napkin rings sporting the winged-helmet of flashing-eyed Mercury. Oriflamme hung from the ceiling, fabric stalactites representing eagles and the sun. A bronze bull filled the stage at center, framed at either side by immense purple curtains. In front of the bull, a brazier of perfumed charcoal sent plumes of thick, lazy smoke around the room in winding entrails.
With a laugh in his throat,
Behind the bull was a tremendous wooden cross, with rubber pegs driven into the wood and shackles hanging from the arms.
Jane Wong nodded with her lips pursed, and led them all to one of the tables, where there was a cardboard box wrapped in plastic. She opened the box and pulled out a plastic centurion’s helmet, with a red satin cockade. She handed it to
“Everybody gets one,” she said.
The waiters and bus boys all did as they were told and put on their togas and helmets. When it was Jesse the bartender’s turn, Jane smiled and dug deeper.
She pulled out a purple turban and silver robe, and handed them to him.
“You are a conquest from the East,” said Jane. “You are a eunuch.”
“At least I won’t look stupid like the rest of you,” said Jesse, fixing the turban on his head, and draping himself with the flashing, argentine gown. From the box, Jane also pulled out a mallet and a gong the size of a serving platter that hung from a metal gibbet and gave them to Jesse.
“You have to gong at the changes,” said Jane. “Since you won’t be slinging booze, you’ll have time to watch the clock.”
Jesse mumbled something crude and specific, but took the gong and walked over to his bar in the corner to make sure everything was in order. He experimentally tapped the gong a few times to get it right, and immediately grabbed the plate to muffle it as soon as he found the sweet spot.
Jane looked at her wristwatch.
“Okay, everybody,” said Jane. “I’m going to open the doors. Remember Cindy Minto’s rules.”
Jane walked across the floor to the double doors, as the waiters and attendants helped each other into their costumes. There was a thick scrum of people waiting right outside, and even as Jane bent down to prop the doors open, people came pouring into the Pine Room, their faces fresh and glowing, dressed from heel to scalp in their finest ballroom attire.
No man who entered the Pine Room was under 40, and no woman was over 25. Most women were in their late teens, and most of the men were on the cusp of retirement. Each spit-shined, smiling old man was accompanied by a flushed and happy young woman, intertwined on his arm like a clump of plump grapes on a garden trellis. The youngest of the girls was just entering puberty, and the oldest was at the thrill end of the rosebud years. These were women who had spent all day at beauty salons and getting manicures, and their makeup was exquisite – concealing every flaw, and making the girls each look like porcelain dolls come to life and shepherded by their clumsy, oafish craftsmen to a night of magic and mystery.
The women and girls wore their hair piled up high, done up in lavish curls with hanging tresses, and the style of the times demanded a judicious application of glitter to the eyes and lips. As a result, under the dim Pine Room chandeliers, it looked as if the whole room was sparkling – lit up by the female glitter, and by the glints of light that reflected from the spectacles, tie tacks, and cross pendants of the men.
For a good thirty minutes, people pressed into the room at each other’s backs. They each had invitations, and Cindy Minto was in charge of directing them around the room to proper tables, while chatting for a few moments with each couple. She seemed to know a great many of them personally, and many of the people in attendance seemed to know each other. Cliques formed, and girls shrieked to see each other in their finery, as old men slapped each other on their backs and said things like: “praise Jesus, praise God, the dealership is doing business this quarter like you wouldn’t believe.”
Much as at a grade school dance, the crowd segregated into separate sexes, shy of one another, more comfortable with the easy social categories that peers represented as opposed to the risks that their dates posed.
Jane Wong and her crew were soon busy taking drink orders and directing people to the bathroom, handing out crab puffs and tiny sandwiches. Every time
“I am just a guy,” said
There was a sudden crash of noise.
Jesse the bartender had rung the gong out to signify seven o’clock.
The men and women found each other again, and arm-in-arm, they took their double seats at placards that bore a single name -- a single, cursive surname.
“I think some of the younger dads are giving some of the older daughters the bedroom glare,” whispered
“Please don’t make me think about anything that is going on,” said Jane Wong. “I am not here to think. I am here to make sure nothing goes wrong, in the same way that a warden pulls the switch for the electric chair. I kneel before my society and am absolved.”
“I’m just saying,” said
“You didn’t and you are a liar,” said Jane.
A DJ arrived, and began setting up his turntables and checking his levels, his hands turning knobs with casual contempt for everything around him. He was hefty, stoned, and had a long goatee, and he refused to wear the toga that Cindy Minto brought to him. There was a brief argument, but the DJ dismissed her summarily with the words “not in my contract,” and there was nothing that Cindy Minto could do.
While people were taking their seats, one couple materialized from the crowd like the King and Queen of the prom and walked toward the stage where a microphone was already prepared. The man had eyes that slanted upwards into his nose, giving his face the thin lean of a perpetual beatific smile. Even though his wrinkles were deep and wide, he had a head of curly brown hair and no middle-aged paunch. A fat wristwatch sparkled on his arm.
Also sparkling on his arm was a young girl – seventeen at most – with luminous blue eyes and perfectly pink lips. Unlike the other girls, she wore no make-up, but her cheeks were dusted with a natural blush that accompanied her jet black coiffure and snow-white skin becomingly. She pressed against her date’s arm with one lean hand, and walked with him to the stage as if he were taking her across a dark parking lot instead of through a room filled with glowing, congenial affluents.
In short, she was shy.
Cindy Minto was adjusting a dish of punch and helping the busers bring in cheese carts. But when the couple took the stage, she stopped what she was doing and narrowed her eyes. Finally, she began to clap and everyone else joined in.
“Let us all bow our heads and receive the Lord’s blessing,” said the man, who was none other than Pastor Ron Minto himself, Cindy’s husband, accompanying their only daughter. His flock obeyed him with such stunning speed that backs were heard to pop, and at least one pair of spectacles went crashing into the ground.
“Lord, here we are tonight before you, the stewards of your grace, and stewards of the purity of these beautiful young women who you have brought into our lives,” Pastor Minto said. “Help us all to grow closer to one another tonight, and to learn to cherish and understand these special, beautiful women who are the most important creatures in our lives as fathers and as men.
“And Lord, help these young women to realize how beautiful they are, and to understand the precious and special purity that they must guard and keep safe in these fallen times, where every aspect of the traditional family is under assault by the ignorant, the blind, the malicious, and the broken.
“Lord, teach these women to be women of virtue. And teach us men to be men who will face the flames, and the sword, to keep that virtue intact.”
Pastor Minto raised his head and let the smile from his eyes trickle down to his thin lips that were now dotted with specks of white foam.
“Amen!” said Pastor Minto joyfully, and the room echoed him.
He held his daughter’s hand up to his mouth and kissed it with the outstretched tip of his tongue. She lowered her eyes and gave the room a shy smile. Then, his daughter stepped backwards, and Pastor Minto took the microphone out of its stand and began to pace.
“Welcome, fathers,” Pastor Minto said. “Welcome, daughters. Welcome to the Cold Creek Hotel’s famous Pine Room, and tonight’s Hearts of Ancient Rome Purity Dance. I say welcome because you ARE welcome. This is a safe place, and you can let it ALL go tonight. Let the fun of the Lord overwhelm you, and don’t be afraid to get crazy. You don’t have to tell Mom and little brother how much fun you had tonight.”
A few girls in the room giggled.
“Men, let me ask you something,” said Pastor Minto. “Men, I’ve got a question. Tell me: how many of you in here were once YOUNG men? It’s alright, you don’t have to yell: a simple show of hands will do.”
The room was game. The men in the room raised their hands and looked at one another, as if surprised. More giggles.
“Why, I guess it would be safe to say ALL of you men were once young men!” Pastor Minto said, grinning. “So I’ve got another question for you. And you don’t have to answer because I’ll answer it myself, because I was once a young man, too. Do you remember what a young man thinks about? Do you remember what a young man thinks about when he is around a young woman? The thoughts he has, the thoughts he can’t control, the dreams, and sweats, and lusts? Because I sure do. I know it and I think it and I FEEL IT and I SEE IT every day when I work with young people. You remember it, don’t you? And you remember that no matter how many prayers you said, the feelings didn’t just GO AWAY, did they?”
“No!” shouted a few of the Men.
“But then you became Daddies,” said Pastor Minto, lowering his voice and beginning to sweat. “And not just any Daddies, but Daddies of beautiful young ladies. Beautiful young ladies, surrounded by new young men, new young men doing the same things you used to do.”
The Men were now Daddies. Some of them exchanged nervous glances.
“Nothing ever changes, folks,” Pastor Minto roared. “Nothing ever does. But too often we tell our daughters that they don’t mean anything to us, every day of their lives, with how we treat them. Not with our words. We tell them with our WORDS that we love them and they are beautiful. But we tell them with our ACTIONS that they are cheap trash. That they are alone out there in the world, like cheap trash waiting on the curb. That we won’t protect them from the young men who want to steal their pureness. That we won’t watch it, and guard it, and cherish it, until we are ready to march ‘em down the aisle and deliver it to a young man who is worthy. To a young man we respect, and who proves that he is a CHRISTIAN young man. Instead, we put ‘em out there on the street for anyone to pick up, like cheap trash we don’t even want. We treat our daughters like hookers, men. I’m not afraid to say it. That’s what we do. And something’s GOT to change.”
“Amen!” squealed someone from the back of the room. It was Cindy Minto.
The gong crashed, and everybody turned and looked at Jesse.
“It is 7:30,” said Jesse with a shrug. Pastor Ron smiled.
“This here is my beautiful daughter, Meredith,” said Pastor Ron, taking his daughter by the hand and shoving her forward. “She is going to help introduce you to your daughters, and tell you the story of the girl Lucretia who lived in ancient
“Now men, I want you to take your daughters by their hands and look deep into their eyes.”
As the couples did as they were told, Pastor Ron handed the microphone to his daughter and whispered in her ear.
“Hello,” said Meredith with a breathless, high-pitched voice. “Hello, everybody. Hi. Once upon a time in ancient
Meredith looked over her shoulder at her father. Pastor Ron nodded. The dads all gazed into their daughter’s eyes with serious expressions.
“You see your daughter before you,” Meredith said. “Here is your daughter, men. You have to protect her so she won’t have to jump out of a window when she gets raped.”
Pastor Ron coughed. Meredith looked back over her shoulder at him again. Pastor Ron stepped forward and took the microphone from her. Meredith looked like she was about to cry, but finally, Pastor Ron hugged her with one arm and she lowered her eyes.
“Now I want you to tell your daughter that you love her, and I want you to ask her if there’s anything she wants to tell you,” Pastor Ron said. “And girls? You have to tell your daddy anything, no matter how painful.”
The couples all began to talk to one another in low, excited voices. Pastor Ron and Meredith watched from on top of the stage while Jane Wong, Bartlett, and the others scurried around laying table settings and filling glasses with water. Finally, after a few tears, and many, many awkward hugs, Jesse rang the gong again, and Pastor Ron said “let’s eat!”
The meal was thick slabs of lasagna and Caesar salads. The Pine Room staff did what they were best at, lifting plates from the carts in the hall and taking them to each table, four at a time, as professional as possible. There were baskets of breadsticks to deliver, and five waiters went around with the pepper mill and the cheese grater until everyone was satisfied with the amount of spice and parmesan on their pasta loaf and salad.
The Pine Room became a hypnotic blur of noise – clinking plates, water slurped from crystal goblets, stirred cups of coffee, great heaving guffaws from the old men, brays of laughter from the girls.
At three separate tables,
Between the meal and dessert, a few of the girls slipped away behind the stage, kissing their dates on the cheek and running away on the tips of their toes because they were so excited.
Dessert was tiramisu, a fact that made the girls squeal with delight, and the men nod with satisfaction. More coffee and dessert plates followed the empty lasagna plates, and the dessert went fast. There were seconds offered, but most declined. Everyone smacked their lips with satisfaction and wondered what was next. Was it time to start dancing?
When the last plate was taken away, Jesse rang the gong again and Pastor Ron stood up and started clapping.
“Let’s give it up, everybody!” shouted Pastor Ron. “Let’s all give it up for the SuperLife Daughter Dancers!”
The lights dimmed, and from backstage came ten young girls, all now wearing togas and laurels around their head. Everyone began to clap and cheer. The DJ flipped a switch, and a Christian rock song began to blare from his speakers. The song was sung by a soft-spoken, soprano man who seemed to be begging for forgiveness for something he’d done, while guitars crescendoed and synthesizers beeped out scales that broke into shimmering fragments of sound at dramatic moments.
The girls leapt and cavorted, leering and gyrating their hips with great big smiles on their faces. They ran all around the room, tumbling and making embarrassed men stand up and dance with them before making them sit back down while everyone laughed. They all lined up and kicked to one side, and then to the other. The bent their heads back and then rolled their heads forward and pointed at no one in particular. Then they hit the floor and began drawing their legs apart and then together again, kicking up the hems of their togas in seductive billows. They formed a line again and ran to the stage. They dragged two men from the audience with them and whispered instructions, and they put plastic armor on them and gave them plastic swords while still dancing to the beat of the song. The girls grabbed Pastor Ron, who looked at the crowd in mock surprise, while they lifted him over their heads and carried him to the cross. Stiff as a board, light as a feather, they lifted Pastor Ron onto the cross and locked him down. As the music reached a climax, some of the girls climbed the giant bull, and the rest fell down in a heap in front of Pastor Ron. The two men in plastic armor raised their swords up and crossed them over the swooning “Daughter Dancers.”
“We give our hearts to Jesus!” shouted one of the dancers from the ground.
“And we will protect your hearts for the Lord,” said one of the men, stumbling with the words.
The held the tableau for awhile until everybody got the point.
The crowd broke into cheers, and Pastor Ron whistled through his teeth. The song was over. The dancers got up and took a bow.
“Are you girls going to let me down, now?” asked Pastor Ron.
The girls feigned like they wouldn’t, but quickly unshackled him and helped him down when Jesse rang the gong.
“I think that was the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” Jane Wong whispered to
“I don’t know,” said
Jane Wong hit him in the shoulder.
“Run along now back to your daddies,” said Pastor Ron. The dancers all went back to their fathers and received hugs and kisses from their tablemates. As the room recovered from the excitement, Cindy Minto ran around the room dropping stacks of purple cards down at each table, along with a handful of ballpoint pens.
“We are almost ready to start the dancing,” said Pastor Ron. “But first, we’ve got something very important to do. All of you girls need to pick up one of those cards and look at it. Those are your purity pledges. Meredith? Would you read off one of those cards, please?”
Meredith Minto picked up a card from the nearest table. The microphone squealed as she held it upside down. Everyone winced. Meredith stared hard at the microphone and then turned it back over. The squealing stopped.
“Hello everybody,” said Meredith. “This is your purity pledge. Uh, you have to sign it and give it to your dad to keep. And then he’ll get you a ring to wear to show that you belong to God. The pledge says: Dear God and Dad, I promise to always be on guard to protect my purity from anyone who wants to soil it and I will always keep my body a sacred vessel for the holy spirit. I will always dress in a way that pleases God, and I will not give men the wrong idea with my behavior and speech. I will guard my mind from unnatural thoughts, and I will always help my companions in Christ do the same. I will be in the world, but not of it. And then you sign your name at the bottom.”
“Why doesn’t everybody go ahead and do that?” said Pastor Ron. “Thank you.”
The girls began to sign the pledges. Rings were brought out of vest coats and revealed to daughters, who jumped up and down and hugged their fathers. The signed purity pledges themselves were tucked away in back pockets. Before the girls could begin to chat and compare their jewelry, Pastor Ron took the microphone again.
“And now everybody,” said Pastor Ron. “Let’s dance!”
Everyone began to cheer. The DJ punched some buttons and began to play a warbling waltz over a woman singing in a tremulous quiver about “Daddy and Me.” The men all grabbed their dates and headed for the dance floor. Timidly, tentatively, the girls began to dance with their fathers, beaming radiantly into the faces of the men who were once young men, with young men’s thoughts.
Pastor Ron and Meredith climbed down from the stage and began to dance together. The room cut them a wide swath as they began to twirl and cavort. Meredith put her hands shyly around her dad’s strong shoulders, but he was graceful and stepped lightly, and the two took off across the dance floor – the envy of everyone there.
“Where that preacher’s wife going?” asked
“Who knows?” said Jane Wong. Jane was mesmerized by the dancing couples. She picked up one of the unsigned “purity pledges” from a vacant table, read it, and put it back down.
The couples basked in a strange kind of magic. In many cases, they were a perfect match as far as height and dancing ability, and they were having so much fun that they seemed to glow. Bartlett and Jane Wong watched together, and found themselves creeping closer and closer to the edge of the dance floor as they helped clear the dinner dishes away.
The couples twirled and laughed, and the men and women only had eyes for each other, unlike at other dances. No one was cutting in. No one wondered who they would be going home with. Some of the younger girls leaned in close against their dads, and closed their eyes. What were they thinking? What made them smile so serenely?
Suddenly, Jane Wong grabbed
People around them stopped dancing and stared.
“What did I do?” said
Jane Wong pulled
The whole room was watching now.
She held up her left hand like she was about to flick everyone off. Instead, she merely waggled her empty ring finger while she stroked
The dancers gasped, and the only sound in the entire room was the DJ laughing so hard that he was sprawled backward against his equipment. His twitching arm tugged a cord from one of the speakers, and there was an electric pop.
The four closest men to Bartlett and Jane Wong grabbed them and pulled them apart. They grabbed Jane and Bartlett under each arm and started dragging them back to the front doors.
“Hi men, hi girls,” yelled Jane Wong as she was being dragged away. “Hey Bart, want to go back to my place where I live alone and fuck our brains out?”
“But remember,” shouted Jane as the old men on either side of her dragged her across the Pine Room by her flailing arms. “Always use condoms! And remember! Respect comes from inside!”
Bartlett and Jane didn’t fight. After a few moments, they realized they were standing next to each other in the parking lot. They heard the door locked and bolted behind them.
“Never in life,” said Jane Wong.
She started to walk to her car, but someone yelled at them from the alley, and Jane stopped.
In the alley, Manchego the head chef and Jesse the bartender were smoking cigarettes. Jesse was grinning, and Manchego looked desperate, like there were cops after him.
“Jane just got us kicked out of the dance for political reasons,” said
“Nah, man,” said Manchego, shaking his head.
“What’s going on out here?” asked Jane Wong.
Jesse started laughing and grabbed either side of his waxed mustache with his fingers while his eyes bulged.
“I just got a blowjob from Cindy Minto,” said Manchego. There was a dazed, hard look in his eyes and he smoked his cigarette with a shiver in his fingers. “I was just telling Jesse. She wanted me to pee in…in her mouth…but I wouldn’t do it.”
“Are you serious?” asked Jane.
“Don’t look at me like that,” said Manchego, tossing his cigarette on the ground and stepping on it. “I didn’t want to touch her at all, but she started crying, and so I had to. Have you ever got a blowjob from a crying woman? It makes you sick in your stomach afterward. That’s how I feel right now. Sick in my stomach.”
“You probably aren’t the only one,” said Jesse.
For a second, it looked like Manchego was going to punch Jesse. But instead he closed his eyes, lit another cigarette, and put his back up against the dumpster like a chameleon trying to blend in.