I was only thirty-five, but in all my years I'd never known anyone as large as her. She was huge in every way. She allowed no scale in the Royal, but I'd guess that she'd a broke it anyway. She made her own clothing. She'd send away for the most colorful cloth imaginable and sew these magnificent rainbows of color she'd then wear just as if she were the sky itself, or maybe I sometimes thought, she's Mother Nature Herself right here living and loving among us.
She owned the Royal. But as she always said to our guests, she wasn't royalty. She was Divine. Not a bone in my body would think otherwise. She had the biggest heart I ever saw. All the drunks, users, dealers, merchants, diners, writers, artists, soldiers, truckers, across-the-trackers, everyone who came to Chinatown, they were all treated like royalty divine by Lola. She was the best preacher I ever heard. She'd say things like "Don't you believe otherwise. Everyone is a child of God. Touch anyone, touch anyone at all, and you are touching God."
Monday was doctor day. Every Monday. She took care of us in every way. Once, after I'd been there just a few weeks, the doc who served us was threatened by the Chamber of Commerce. They'd decided to clean up Chinatown and the "houses of ill repute" were the first one's in their cross-hairs. The good doctor wrote a long letter to Lola explaining and apologizing but he just couldn't see us girls any more. His schedule would no longer permit it. Red as a Nebraska sunset, she told me to get my shoes and walk with her.
We left the Royal, headed directly for the railroad tracks. I was terrified, trains were approaching from both directions. Passengers in one, sugar beets in the other. She held up her arms and they slowed down just enough for us. I was thinking, they parted for the Red Sea to cross! I'd never imagined such a large woman walking so far and so fast. We walked all the way to Romie Lane "the doctor district". She proceeded to walk into every office one after another, in each one demanding to know if there was a doctor present who had balls of any weight. I counted every door, it was in number nineteen that a young doctor answered, "Why are you looking for me?" he laughingly said. Lola explained. He said he was fresh out of medical school and was just setting up shop. We'd be his first patients. That was that, except that Lola required that he drive us home -- very, very slowly right down Main Street. Lola lowered her window and waved to folks as if she were indeed Queen of a one car parade. When we got out of the doc's car back at the Royal, she told him to arrive 9:00 am sharp next Monday, and added, "Honey dear, we're not prostitutes. We are the servants of God and this is our church. When you come in you'd better remove your shoes -- or you'll lose your pants!"
It was that very same day that Junior, an ancient looking drunk, knocked at the side door. Could we spare some food? Lola gathered all us girls together. We cooked him dinner and served him like he was our favorite grandpa. Lola was the Red Sea, the deep Pacific blue, and the dark greens and browns of the Earth itself. I came to think that maybe even some planets somehow revolved around the Sun that was her good heart. But when she showed me the letters that she'd drafted to send to the Mayor and a number of the leading Chamber members, I also realized that she was a raging wildfire -- if you crossed her, she'd burn you to a crisp. She described in exquisite detail each of their private parts -- even mentioning what and how they'd moan when they came -- she wondered if the newspaper and their wives should receive copies? Needless to say, the Chamber decided they had different priorities after all, our new doctor became very successful, and we were free to keep serving God, without worry of disease. For me, this episode confirmed Lola's divinity.
A few years later, Lola left on vacation to New York City. She gave us the time off as well. Most of the girls stayed home most of the time. Frannie and I hitched a ride with a soldier over to Cannery Row. I hated the smell of the sea -- maybe not the sea -- but the fish, the sardines. The stench was mind-numbing. Lola always made sure the Royal smelled heavenly, perfume and flowers were everywhere. I missed Lola terribly. The soldier kept trying to get Frannie and I to "service" him. We said we were on vacation. He got mad and refused to take us home. Frannie gave in and went into an unlocked shed with him. I stood at the door keeping watch. Mostly I was watching them. Frannie was good. She got him completely naked and on his back. She stood above his face rotating her hips and dropping her panties. She gave him a good look. I scooped up his clothes. We left. He raised an un-holy hell. But what's a naked man gonna do very fast out in public? Frannie drove us back to town. We parked his car in the police parking lot and scurried away without being noticed. But all of this is really just beside the point...
Lola returned from New York with a large painting. She said she bought it in a little out-of-the-way gallery. She loved it so much she tracked down the artist. She took him out to dinner to learn his story and the story of his painting. He called it "The Burden of the Psalms". It was all too abstract for me, too dark, and the blood-red sun seemed to drip red light from the sky. I told Lola it made me think that maybe the universe is just a long sad story with a bad ending. She said no, the "burden of the psalms" is a single tear of God turned into a ruby for each of us to hold and to be healed by... she hung the painting in the hallway next to my door...
The best part of Lola's return was Sunday story nights again! Before she left she'd started reading "The Little Flowers of St. Francis" to us. She wasn't Catholic and none of us were either, but she always liked to read about the saints. We all just liked the sound of her voice and how she loved us. So she starts reading about Rufino and then Margaret interrupts with a question. "Sorry Lola, but I have to know something. I know that you say we're servants of God. But I still think of myself as a sinner, as a prostitute, as someone too dumb to really make a go of life. I'm just a fuck-up and so is everyone else I know. While you were gone I listened a lot on the street. Everyone was talking about some Mexican lady, a heroin addict. Everyone was saying that her daughter used to be on the street with her. They would turn tricks together. The daughter gave birth to a little girl. Eventually she went to jail. The grandma took the baby. When the baby was three, grandma started selling the girl to men to have sex with. That was how she made money for her drugs. Now she's in jail too, and the baby is somewhere. If God isn't just a fuck-up like us, how does this make any sense?"
I held my breath. I needed to hear Lola's answer! I remember being a little girl in Nebraska, I never planned to be working in the Royal, I just got lost along the way -- actually I didn't get lost along the way: I was raped by three boys after a school dance. I had been a virgin, I wanted a boyfriend, I wanted a home and maybe children. I got a child and nothing else. And I got shipped to a house for girls. The priest there raped me too, and I was eight months pregnant! I never went home after my baby was born and they took it from me. I never even got to hold it or look into her eyes. Three days later when they handed me my bus ticket, they said they'd named her Dolores. And here I was, years and several lives later, hanging onto whatever Lola might say...
Lola said, "I took these Little Flowers with me on the train. I read most of them, and this one about Rufino was one of my favorites. Let me just tell it to you... The Ragged-Man and his brothers were living in a wooded area, in the forest near Assisi. Every Sunday, the brothers would take turns going into the city to speak in the Cathedral. Mostly all of the brothers rejoiced in the opportunity to speak of their love for the Lord and for the lepers. Mostly, that is, except poor Brother Rufino. You see, Rufino had been very well to-do. He had made something with his life, yet he had thrown it all away to love and follow a Ragged-Man. His love was truly genuine, yet he was embarrassed to be seen dressed in rags himself. What's more, he was extremely shy. Speaking in public was always a terrifying trial for him. Anyway on this particular Sunday, it was poor Rufino's turn...
With the utmost humility, Rufino approached the Ragged-Man, saying, "Dear Father, you know how I struggle with words, please excuse me from this Sunday task. I beg you!" The Ragged-Man didn't yield, responding with, "Dear Brother, let Love speak through you! You will be fine! Go in peace to your duty." Rufino walked away with his head bowed. Twice more he approached the Ragged-Man with the same request. On the third request the Ragged-Man lost his temper and scolded Rufino. He said, "Since you have refused your blessed duty, according to your vow of holy obedience, I command you to walk to the Cathedral naked. Get up into the pulpit naked. Preach the holy Word of God naked as the day you were born -- all the while think of Him who carried His cross naked through the streets of Jerusalem. Think of Him, the Lamb of God, hanging upon a cross, naked! A poor God for all of us poor people! Go now!" Under the vow of Holy Obedience, Rufino walked out of the forest naked, humbled, and broken in spirit."
Lola continued, "Meanwhile, the Ragged-Man realizes his mistake. He realizes that Brother Rufino was always so kind, humble, and gentle. So what if he was shy? Why should he suffer this humiliation? So the Ragged-Man could think of only one thing to do. He took off his ragged tunic and climbed the hill to Assisi as well. When he arrived in the Cathedral, Rufino was already in the pulpit, crouching low and trying to hide. The Ragged-Man strode like a bold giant right down the center aisle of the church. Everyone, at first mortified that a naked man had climbed into the pulpit to preach to them, now thought this was the funniest thing they had ever seen! Two naked men in the pulpit! Fathers were quickly instructing their sons about the virtues associated with money: "See what voluntary poverty will do to you. It'll make you stark raving mad!"
Lola ended the story by saying that according to the legend, the Ragged-Man spoke so passionately about love that soon everyone in the church that day started to weep over the hardness of their hearts. Many lives were changed to shine with the light of God. Margaret spoke for all of us when she said, "But Lola, that doesn't tell us anything other than men have always liked to get naked -- even holy men!" I asked, "Lola, what did he say? What could the Ragged-Man have said to change so many lives? Why doesn't the story tell us what he said? I really need to know, what about that Mexican grandma and how we're all fuck-ups."
We all clamored to know what the Ragged-Man said. Lola leaned back on the sofa and closed her eyes. After a minute or two, she said, "Sometimes I can hear the heartbeats of God. When I'm real quiet -- sometimes orgasms help, sometimes they're a distraction, though -- you have to be still, to hear the heartbeats of God... This is what the Ragged-Man said, I am certain of it: "If there is a God, then God is a cup. And this cup is always, in every moment, saying 'Pour your pain into me, and I will hold it for you'." That is what the Ragged-Man said! And of course much more, but that is enough for me! Is it enough for you too? Do you understand how these words somehow answer Margaret, the Mexican grandma, her daughter, her granddaughter, and everyone else besides? That's all we need to know girls, and that's all we can do. For each of us, we just need to tip over a bit to pour out our pain into the Holy Cup. That's enough! Then, maybe on our better days at least, we can likewise serve in our way as little cups of the Lord. Oh, I know how it is: in this crazy world we have each broken and ended up working sex in the Royal: but we can leave whenever we can or want! We get to say yes or no. No man gets away with hurting us here. And maybe someday I'll have enough money to buy us a little "Rancho Paraiso" -- a place of paradise: that's what the Ragged-Man really wants for all of the world."
That night, alone in my bed, thinking of "The Burden of the Psalms" hanging on the wall outside my door and hugging my pillow tight, I was able to hug my little Dolores somewhere in the world. I knew that I would never be "okay". But perhaps I could be "good enough"! And then I began to wonder if I might, somehow, be able to find my Dolores? What if? And what if we could find a little paradise -- and for certain and for sure, every single one of us could enter? Why not?