Days after I graduated high school, many moons ago, I sat my mother down for a heart to heart. We concluded that we were wasting our lives living in the suburbs and we began apartment hunting in the city.
My mom is a cool cat who always looks after her youngest child so naturally she did not charge me rent for our sweet pad downtown. Not feeling any pinch of paying the bills while earning minimum wage, I began to coast from menial job to soul sucking job getting fired whenever I flagrantly deviated from protocols. Being cradled in my mother's supportive bosom allowed me the freedom to perform any job as half assed as I pleased. I was fired from Starbucks for refusing to take out my tongue piercing. For this I was grateful as the Frappucino was about to be introduced on the then sparse menu and there was no effing way I was going to blend multiple ingredients at 6 a.m. four days a week.
Three months later, I quit my shipping/receiving role at the novelty candle factory when I was told that I couldn't smoke while I worked anymore. I transferred to their novelty candle retail store down the street from my apartment and scheduled hourly smoke breaks.
I had recently completed a bartending course and based on the curriculum I was certain that bartenders are routinely required to make timeless and intricate cocktails such as a Golden Cadillac or a Brandy Alexander. I opted to apply for waitressing positions and the first joint I walked into hired me on the spot. I massaged my overwhelming fear of carrying three plates and navigating a commercial kitchen by telling myself that my sass and charm got me the job. I was going to be the best bloody waitress out there since Flo from the wonderful TV show, Alice.
My coworkers were awesome. Trish, the skinny lifelong waitress with the not quite conquered drinking problem, Charles the head chef who could see fear in my eyes and never yelled at me. Jimmy the only dude waiter was all work and did not bore anyone with his personal problems.
I quit that job when I decided that my boss was not recognizing my skill set and I envisioned making bigger tips at a finer establishment. I rang up my girlfriend who was bartending at a strip bar, admitted hella nervous with the prospect of working at a strip bar but I lacked the motivation to pound the pavement with my thin resume. The only opening her place had was a coat check girl. I was cool with that idea as it seemed easier than remembering lunch orders and mixing martinis.
I dressed up as sexily as my wardrobe allowed for my interview, fully accepting that I looked more like Shirley Manson than an irresistible floozy.
The manager conducting the interview, was a kindly fellow named Chris who looked like everyone's Greek uncle. I ignored his gentle warnings about the world I was about to enter, convincing him that the petite and unblemished young lady in front of him wasn't afraid of anything.
On my very first night, I was trained by a woman twice my age who introduced herself not by name but with a throaty warning of "You won't make it past tonight." She quit soon after I came along and I scored her plum shifts of Monday through Thursday nights. The job was physically demanding and emotionally taxing. My coatcheck cubby was beside the front door and a safe distance from the real depravity. Each interaction that I had with a customer lasted only seconds, occasionally peppered with shocking displays of verbal abuse. When one of these boners called me a worthless bitch, I cried in the cab ride home wondering what the hell I was doing with my life.
My lack of post-high school education or real workplace skills tied me to this job, as did the sweet sweet cash. I placed myself in a questionable space where I profited from disgusting behaviour between men and women. I only had to stuff my bra, I didn't have to slowly remove a shiny bra and panty set whilst grinding on a grandpa for a measly $20.
There are five categories of strip bar patrons:
- The jacked up bachelor party bros carrying blow up dolls
- The rich dudes who wish to continue their work day dominance in a more conducive environment
- The recent divorcee who never looks you in the eyes when he arrives for his weekly girlfriend experience
- Drug dealers and their cohorts
- The reluctant participant who drinks the most out of his wolf pack, quickly turning vengeful once the bill comes
For the most part, I didn't look at customers any longer than I had to or speak to them outside of "That's $2.25 please. Thank you." The characters that stuck out made fantastic case studies during the summer time when coats were rare.
I nicknamed him Steve McQueen.
He was rugged, blonde and quiet. The first time I saw him he leaned against my counter and gave me three packs of bubblegum. I didn't ask for gum but I wanted that gum. I took that gum and chewed the fuck out of it. He bought me a drink and left.
He would come to the club maybe every three months or so and then not come for a year. I hardly ever saw him. I didn't want to know his name.
I was in love with the mystery. He looked so much like Steve McQueen and I fantasized about having his callused hand in mine, leading me to his vintage motorcycle parked outside. We would ride to the airport and fly to France. We would live in his rustic country home and pick lavender together every Sunday.
The recent divorcee loners were few in numbers and similar in their weirdness. One guy, looked like a thin santa, so we called him Santa. He drank one glass of pop for hours leaning against a decorative shelf beside the kitchen. I saw him at a wine and cheese show years later visiting my friend's parents in their small town. I watched him like an animal in a zoo.
The least weird weirdo was a man we called Jay Leno due to the facial and hairstyle likeness to Jay Leno. He also wore head to toe denim. He rarely spoke to anyone, came in at 10 p.m. sharp every other Friday and only tipped me at Christmas. So naturally I hated him.
Once in a blue moon a man would walk in and I could picture him as my boyfriend.
A group of young men came very late one night, clearly it was a drunken idea and not a planned outing for boobs and $10 beer. One of these men stood out to me as he was so precious looking in the face. I asked one of the doormen to talk to him on my behalf. I didn't provide a script or talking points so the doorman simply ordered this young man to "Go talk to the coatcheck girl. She likes you. Go!"
This sweet young thing did come talk to me (out of fear likely) and we giggled over our shared embarrassment and totally mutual attraction. I was full of gin that night not wanting to waste this opportunity so I asked him out.
Our brief love affair made for a great story of how we met and that was not enough of a foundation for a satisfying relationship. I still think of him tenderly even though our breakup was not my finest hour.
Years later while I working at a hair salon, I shared this story with my co worker. Turns out my ex amour is the brother of her boyfriend. "Oh my god! YOU are THAT Lisa??!!"
Some classy moments include:
The time a big spender asked me if he could lick champagne off of my clitoris. I declined but found his use of proper anatomical phrasing quite tasteful.
A particularly cruel bastard made me cry when he stared me in the eyes and called me useless. He elaborated on that statement with "No wonder all you do is work in a place like this. You'll never amount to anything. Useless." His lost coat check ticket brought out cold rage for some reason.
The time I checked Billy Zane's jacket and he was impressed that I knew him from Dead Calm and not Titanic. He tipped me $20 and I got lost in his eyes.
My four year career as a coat check girl shaped my personality as a 20-something-year-old woman and provided me enough salacious material to fill seven diaries. Some 10 years later I can now properly digest and spew all the mental activity I witnessed. Thankfully, this was long before I had ever tried drugs so I totally remember everything.