I quit S____’s, I don’t remember why. I went to A____.
“You’re going to hate it,” the manager of S’s assured me.
Starting at a new club is like starting a new romance: you’re so happy it’s not the old one it’s hard to see the new flaws.
I liked the dressing room: after being squeezed–with five other girls!– into the tiny closet that was the S’s dressing room, A’s was exciting. It was the only room upstairs and it had a door to the roof where, from a rickety reclining lawn chair, you could watch the freeway or the creek. The whole club, more rickety and ramshackle than the lawnchair, perched on the bank of that creek, out of which the odd shopping cart poked. Picturesque! with the side benefit that if you needed to go outside and yell, let off some steam, no one could hear you over the noise of the water and cars.
No one expected us to leave the dressing room and hustle drinks when we weren’t onstage. As a newly sober person, one freshly woken to the fact that drunk people are infinitely more annoying than sober ones, this was a big deal. More time to read: I could run up to the dressing room after every stage set, pull out my book, and read for a blissful and uninterrupted twenty minutes.
And it gave me more time to devote to the other new thing in my life, an actual romance. I have a commitment allergy, and I’ve had it my whole life. I disappear on people, I can’t help it. Even friends. It feels like being being suffocated when people want things from me and I just can’t come through, so I stop answering calls.
This was one thing I was willing to commit to, however. My high school geometry teacher once called me monomaniacal, and she’s not wrong. I dedicated myself to becoming the perfect girlfriend with all the fervour I usually threw into hiding from my one night stands, and the more signs there were that this couldn’t possibly end well for me, the more I determined to remake myself into someone for whom it would. Part of this involved being available at times I would normally be at work: weekend nights.
There was an extra shift at A: 7-11am. All the drunk guys who’d been out partying so hard they hadn’t yet slept would come in, cringing at the music and begging me not to talk so loud. You wouldn’t have expected it (I didn’t, anyway) but they tipped very well.
Thus, Saturday morning, 9 am.
I sat in the corner by the staircase because the angle of the stairs meant there was only room for one chair, squashed between the mirror and the bannister. Someone would actually have to be deliberately snooping to get anywhere near my stuff, and after having both my iPod and computer charger swiped I tried to make any more thefts as difficult and obvious as possible. This tactic was only marginally successful (I had a g-string and a set of bikini bottoms stolen before I eventually hated the place so much that I stormed out) and it didn’t protect me at all from the real menace:
Orla and I worked together at least two shifts a week. On afternoons or nights she had a customer who would buy her drinks and he took the brunt of her conversation, but on mornings–when no one else wanted to be on rotation with her because the girl actually danced to songs like “If you like pina coladas”–we were in the dressing room alone together and Orla was just one of those people who cannot bear silence. Even if the other person is reading or watching movies on their laptop, as I usually was. And once she started talking, I felt compelled to bear witness. She was so fragile and weird! She had braces and the biggest natural boobs I’ve ever seen, and anxious blue eyes that made me feel guilty when I ignored her.
Sometimes I would go downstairs just to escape her, but the dressing room was the only room in the bar with central heat; as the winter wore on and the shiny newness wore off I found myself shivering more and realised that the rest of the club was heated by the solitary (though giant) woodstove. It didn’t heat up until around 6 or 7 in the evening, when the customer population hit a critical mass and started warming the place up through body heat. Before that you just had to shiver and suffer. Customers, wrapped in heavy winter coats, would irritably demand why I was wearing a hoodie and when it was going to come off. I’d flash them halfheartedly, try to explain how hard it is to get naked when every instinct you have is screaming for you to put more clothes on. They didn’t buy it.
“Dance harder,” the real assholes would say. This was why I liked the hungover customers best. In their hungover misery they were sympathetic to my frozen misery.
Plus once you were on the floor you were fair game for any time wasting customer to come up and talk your ear off and the management had very strict rules about what constituted acceptable conversational topics. Telling them to go away, I’m reading, was not within these parameters. I had to be very desperate to resort to that, most of the time it was just easier to listen to Orla talk.
Her two main topics were her boyfriend: a cheating asshole
and her roommate: our coworker, Flower Fairy
“She’s cut her shifts down,” Orla was complaining. “She won’t do mids anymore because that’s when her team goes on raids. She’s barely even working right now!”
Orla perked up at this sign of interest. “I guess it’s a World of Warcrafty thing. They all get together and raid? But they raid at five so she can’t be at work or they’ll get mad.”
“Flower Fairy plays World of Warcraft?”
“Oh yeah. Like all the time. When she doesn’t work she’s just online, like until four or five in the morning.”
“And… She can’t work mids because they raid?”
“Yeah.” This was more interest than I’d shown in weeks, Orla looked really happy. “She’s a sexy elf lady I guess and the rest of her team or clan or whatever is like a troll and a warlock and a thief? But if I make noise when she’s playing she yells at me! And she just got these new headphones so now she doesn’t have to listen to me.”
I’m jealous. “So who do they raid?” I asked, fascinated. I made a mental note to sit Flower Fairy down and have her tell me all about it.
“Other teams. Those are real people mostly, other nerds. It’s huge, they all dedicate their lives to it.”
“Ladies!” The bartender wasn’t happy. “I need music and someone onstage now, please, the song has been over for two minutes.”
“Ugh,” I said. We made faces at each other. “Do you want to do first stage again? I just want to sit and read.”
“Sure,” she agreed, one reason I liked being on rotation with Orla. She let me slack as much as I wanted.
1-I used to decompress by getting off work and mumble/yelling obscenities but A is actually the place where this stopped working. It beat me down so hard that just breathing became difficult. I developed a new and terrible habit of faux-whistling when I left work, puckering up and exhaling hugely, like my tension was some weight anterior to myself that I could just diffuse if I blew hard enough.
2- Because if I wasn’t around on those nights, who knows what could happen or who my date would have hooked up with. This is not my paranoid mind, you understand, this is what I was told as an incentive to get me to stop working nights. It worked.
3- And if you sat too close to the stove the soles of your shoes melted.
4- Everyone gets a pseudonym here, although Flower Fairy is sort of close to her actual stage name.