The Entertainer

I attend my first bachelorette party.

FRIDAY

I steer my rental car up a gravel driveway and park at the turnaround of a lifeless farm, nestled in the marshy flatland beyond Ottawa’s suburban outskirt.

It's a clear late-August night. There are no lights on anywhere, just the cool glow of stars; without them I may not have found the courage to exit my metal armour and wander around the property.

You see, I'm here for a surprise party, and part of me thinks it’s just very well hidden.

It's a bachelorette for my friend C-, who's getting married to my friend Y-. I was asked to come down from Montréal and play some songs, tonight, at 8pm.

My phone says it's half past eight, and after being spooked by a skunk behind the barn, I'm back inside the vehicle. Y- doesn't pick up when I call. I check Google Maps to make sure I'm at the right address, and find a phone number for the farm.

A few rings in, a woman's voice answers. She's the owner, currently driving her son to Montréal. I describe my situation, and am cautiously informed that the party is on Saturday night, not Friday.

Alright.

A few hours later, I get a call from the bridesmaid in charge of organizing things. She’s on her break, working overtime as a nurse in Halifax; apparently it’s pretty bad with the pandemic. She's not even going to be at the party.

I hear gurney wheels behind her, clopping on linoleum.


SATURDAY

Whereas Friday's skies were light and breezy, Saturday's are turbulent, bruised.

I spend the entire day procuring and subsequently dicing commercial quantities of vegetables to help the friends I stayed with make a minestrone. I leave their apartment before dinner, arriving 40 minutes later in the now-familiar countryside.

There's clearly a party on the farm tonight: lights, cars, and two balloons tied to the mailbox, desperately trying to escape in the wind.

A young woman greets me as I arrive; she's the sister of the farm's owner, and a member of the bridal party. She apologizes for last night, and recounts the funny conversation she had with her sister, who thought I was a stripper.

(As the male entertainment for a bachelorette party, you can bet I’ve heard every stripper joke there is—my friends have been at it for weeks.)

(I don’t know much about these kinds of events, but there seems to be an element of sexual liberation, or frustration, or both inherent in them.)

Damp grassy air blows through the barn doors as we walk in, rocking the yellow string-lights draped from the rafters over a table in the centre, where a small group of women are gathered around a scattering of empty wine bottles, half-eaten cupcakes, and discarded foil candy wrappers.

C- does a double take. Somebody shouts that she's drunk, which she echoes, grinning. We stand off to the side to catch up.

Our conversation jogs past the surprise, last night's miscalculation, and the inevitable stripper jab. I comment on the stark-white jumpsuit she's wearing relative to her glass of red wine, and confide that I could never dream of donning such an outfit without it fast becoming a napkin.

Catching my drift, she hurriedly digs into her pocket and produces a miniature Tide-to-Go pen. This action causes one of her upper snap-buttons to unclasp, momentarily revealing her left breast.

I shift my eyes skyward while she repairs her costume. We try to recover our momentum, but it wanes. Other people cast out their conversational lifeboats, and we drift apart.

Electronic music thumps from a bluetooth speaker over the group’s rowdy banter, reverberating between the hayloft and the concrete floor. I make my way over to the crescent of empty chairs in the back corner of the barn.

While tuning my guitar, I realize that I haven't played in half a year. I recorded an album and wrote another in that time, but I haven't actually performed for an audience since the pandemic began. I feel a pang of worry that my songs aren't right for this evening; too heavy, too cerebral.

Early settlers find their seats, while stragglers pour more wine into their plastic cups. A woman in a leather jacket says she’d be nervous in my position; I feign confidence as I reply that it gets easier with experience.

Gulp.

C- slumps down in an oversized wicker chair and reflects aloud about how lovely this all is, how happy she is, and how physically relaxed she is after being massaged earlier in the day by somebody named Adamo.

Apparently Adamo did much work to "open up her hips," with the occasional whisper of "relax" as he went about his business. This is received with nervous tittering, followed by aimless silence, followed by everybody looking at me.

I start playing.

The first song renders smoothly, as do the second and third; my hands and voice are behaving, despite their lack of practice.

The fourth one is a love song, and it goes like this:

It was an accident
I couldn't turn away
You grabbed my hand
We painted every colour
Between the outlines
Of the day

I was a slave to nature
You were water on the fire

And right between our eyes
Right between our thighs
Between our arms
Between our stomachs
In our bodies every night
There lied an answer

It came pouring out
Like water on the fire
On the outcry of our lives
Every night

I hear your voice in empty rooms
I just wanna be with you

Until tomorrow comes
Behind a cloudy sky
I’ll be someone else
And you’ll be someone I don’t recognize
Except when I see your eyes
I’m reminded of a brighter time
In my life

But of course:
You never pay just once
You never change just twice
Before I met you, I would go out
Smashing bottles every night
It’s alright, it’s alright
Pour the water on the fire
It’s alright, it’s alright
Pour the water on the fire
Every night

The trees still call out in your name
Mercury in retrograde
Cold blood on the windowpane
In June

Deserts flood in tides of endless green
Upon the liquid earth, if only you were there
Birds don’t tangle quite the same
In your hair

I hear your voice in empty rooms
I just wanna be with you

(I cried the entire time I wrote it.)

The last chord rings out. I take a breath—then: “that's the one that opens up the hips."

There’s a moment of shock, followed by a wave of uninhibited laughter. Red faces, hands slapping jeans and tights on thighs and knees.

I’m relieved. The air is cleared of electricity, as if a thunderstorm blew over. We're all on the same side now. I’ve done my job.

Six of the seven women smile contentedly as they relax back into their seats, while one who looks older than the rest flicks at her phone screen, oblivious to our climax.

I play a few more songs, then wrap it up.

Background music resumes, drinks are poured. Some of the women come to me with glossy eyes, others are not so moved. One says that she was able to release all of her pent up anxieties while I played.

(None of us have heard live music in six months.)

The mood settles down, and I sense it’s time for me to leave. I say goodbye to everyone, smiling, waving, giving and receiving hugs.

(None of us have been to a party in six months.)

I’m honoured to have been invited tonight, into the privacy of these women.

As I walk back to the car, I wonder if strippers feel the same.

(They must.)


Painting: Valentin de Boulogne, Lute Player (ca. 1625–26)