(ok, i apologize as this entry is extremely long. but if you're really bored and have some time to kill this is what happened my first night at work)
When I was in college, my roommate and I tried to have plenty of, what we called “background boys.” We were only half interested in these guys, but we still maintained an off again, on again relationship with them. That way, if our current foreground lover suddenly spilt, we would always have someone to take us out to dinner. Our philosophy was, “Always have a plan B.”
When it came to my career, Plan A was always a job in advertising. But after I graduated from ad school, we had to take a little break. But I was not about to sit at home on a Saturday night. So I immediately called on my background career. The one as a waitress.
I got a job, In a trendy Manhattan nightclub. I was looking forward to easy money, free champagne and all the thrills of playing the career field. But instead I was introduced to Nikki, the girl who would be training me for the night.
She had the face of a caramel colored Goodyear tire. Under a disco ball, you could almost mistake her for a relatively attractive, typical blonde cocktail waitress. Turn on the lights and all the scars were revealed. She was 33, had a 13-year-old son, and had obviously worked in clubs her whole life, choking down packs of menthol cigarettes during every one of her breaks. When we were introduced, I stuck my hand out, attempting cordiality. She ignored it and looked up at me with a wrinkled rubber sneer.
“So where have you worked before?” she asked.
“At..um, a place called Pearl for two and a half years, and then another place called Tantra all summer.”
“Good, so you have experience then.”
She said “experience” like you needed to go to med school to bring out a bottle of Grey Goose. With her back to me, I knew she couldn’t see my involuntary eye roll. But she must have read my mind, because she whirled around on her heals and stuck her finger up in my face.
“Look, bitch,” she began. “I’m not gonna be fucking nice to you. I’m not friendly like the other girls. I’m a bitch. I know I’m a bitch, and I don’t give a shit.”
For a second I wondered what would happen if I were to reach down and bite off the finger she was wagging in my face.
“I was head waitress at (some restaurant I’d never heard of) and head trainer at (some other restaurant I’d never heard of).” She started punching in some numbers on the server’s computer. “I like my job, I like what I do. I’m a people person.”
She looked up from the computer, “I’ll either make you or break you tonight. You’ve only got one chance to prove yourself, you got that?”
Make me or break me? Was I missing something? This is a waitressing job, right? A “bring out the bottle of vodka and stand there and look pretty” job. I wanted to argue my case and tell her I’d survived Ad school and had a portfolio. But like she’d informed me before, she wouldn’t give a shit.
“Oh,” she said, shaking a tube of pink lip-gloss at me. “Always wear lots of gloss.”
Advice for life.
I followed her out to her first table, knowing this was going to be a long night. Trainees don’t make any money. And since there wasn’t much for me to learn, all I had to look forward to was 6 hours of getting bounced around by a bunch of drunk people wearing four inch heals. At this particular table, there were three guys sharing a bottle of Jack Daniels. She sat down next to the one on the right and turned into this embarrassingly flirtatious character. I was embarrassed for her at least. And since there’s no point in flirting unless there’s 20% gratuity attached to it, I chose to sit there and quietly observe. This went on for about fifteen minutes, until she looked across at me and smiled. “Come with me,” she said. I followed her to the back room.
Again with the finger in my face. “I need you to open your fuckin’ mouth.”
And, what? I thought. Get on my knees like you?
“Do you know what your fuckin’ job is? “
She reached in her bag. For a second I fully expected her to whip out a cucumber and, like my more experienced friend did in the ninth grade, give me instructions on how to give a blow-job. She only pulled out lip-gloss.
“It’s to make sure customers have a good time.”
She looked in the mirror and smeared a little on her lips. Looking satisfied, she turned back to me.
“You know, all these other girls come in here and they’re all about making money. You know what my goal is?”
I didn’t know what was killing me more. The suspense, or the pain from my four-inch heals.
“My goal is to get drunk. Because If I get drunk then I have a good time. And if I have a good time then my customers have a good time.”
Although it was dark, her insights shed a whole new light on club-going. Little does anyone know, but these places don’t exist for our own drunken pleasure. No, no. That’s just silliness. Apparently the secret to having a good time is not getting yourself drunk, but rather the waitress. The next time you’re out, and your dinner date isn’t acting like a good trophy should, what better way to bump up the fun meter than buying your server a shot? Sure you won’t be able to drown out the pain of your meaningless clerk job with an excess of Friday night tequila. But think of all the fights, crying and general drunken stupidity that could be avoided by devoting your paychecks to intoxicating the club staff. Who knows? Your waitress might even get drunk enough to give you a hand job while you pay the bill.
But as the night went on, for one who’d cited intoxication as a goal, she wasn’t doing much to ensure her success. Until finally one of our tables offered her, and me “the happy trainee,” a drink. I was about to accept a Grey Goose and tonic, but she shook that finger at me again. Then she turned to the man and said with complete conviction, “I ain’t drinkin’ no vodka.”
Well then what do you drink? I thought. Something tells me this place is out of Boones Farm.
“I only drink champagne,” she continued.
And to my shock, the man replied, “Well then go get yourself whatever you want.”
An aside for those who have never worked in the service industry: You cannot EVER get drinks from the bar unless you ring them in on the computer. This allows the venue to keep inventory of everything ordered, and everything that’s been paid for. So if you ring up a five hundred dollar bottle of champagne, you cannot clock out and leave until the bill has been paid. And if it’s not on a customer’s credit card, then it’s coming out of your pocket. And trust me, nothing was coming out of this chick’s pocket anytime soon.
After he gave her the green light, Nikki confidently strolled to the bar and rang up a bottle of Perrier Joet Rosé. She carried it out carefully. Smiling flirtatiously, she presented it to the customer. And behind her sleazy smile was the full assumption that this guy would be dumb enough to pay for the champagne.
“What’s this?” He asked.
She twisted her face into the sort of “come hither” look, the kind that should be abandoned by age twenty-six. Not used by a leather faced thirty-three year-old cocktail waitress. “It’s the champagne you bought for us,” she replied.
“Us,” she pointed to me and then to herself. I shook my head subtlety, trying to telepathically communicate to him…”No this is all her. I have nothing to do with this.”
“Well how much is it?”
“Five hundred dollars.”
Now this man was wearing a fire chief jacket. So I’d assume in his career he had seen some pretty shocking things. But I’m sure he had never seen anything as unbelievable as a cocktail waitress ringing up a $500 bottle of champagne on his tab, offer him none and expect him to pay for it.
“What…uh…no, honey. Not tonight, I’m sorry.”
Poor man. If only he knew the secret to having the time of his life. Maybe he would have even gotten a hand job out of it.
I nodded and smiled again in his direction. “See, I knew you wouldn’t go for it.”
“What are you looking at?” She asked as she stormed past me. She was now carrying the champagne bottle like it was a bag of garbage, and she was a child who’d been told to take out the trash, or face three weeks of grounding.
Instead of looking at her, I tried to convince myself that I was lucky I had another career. It got me to New York and kept me from having to (gasp) live at home with my parents. The DJ started playing that Cold Play song, “Speed of Sound.” I took a step back to watch and the club lights, smoke and crowds. It made everything seem hopeful and …possible.
Until the DJ fucked up the song and had to cut it off in the middle. When Beyoncé started singing, I realized I’d better get on Plan A as soon as possible.