That's what we call it. It means that, in dollar-per-hour terms, you didn't make any more for dressing up and curling your hair and offering yourself to the general public for $20 a rub than you would have made deep-frying chicken mcnuggets for the drive-thru.
Usually when we say this we're exaggerating. Minimum wage being what it is, and taxes being what they are, you would be freaking lucky to leave the Fry Hut at the end of the shift netting $50. And it is darn, darn hard to make less than fifty bucks as a stripper most days, if you bother to leave the dressing room at all. Then again, having manned many a deep-fryer in my time, with the splattering of ancient grease-burn scars up my forearms to prove it, I might still rather dance.
It's been a long time since I've made McDonald's money, though it has happened before. My worst shift ever, I made $4. Actually, I'd paid the house $15 to work, so technically I left the club $11 in the red. It was a tough day.
This month I had two days under $100, which is worrisome. The first night, I failed to sous out and escape from a real vampire of a customer, the kind who just drains you of any will to live. Early in the night he told me he didn't buy dances, or if he did, he would only pay 2-4-1, because "really, they're not worth it. You know that right?" I should have walked away right then, but it was slow. Plus, he said he did give girls money to sit with him. "I want to be like your friend," he said. "Just come by and talk to me once in a while, and at the end of the evening, I'll give you whatever it takes to help make your night a good one."
Do I even have to tell you the rest? I sat with him periodically throughout the night, which continued to be slow, endured his jabs and put-downs, flattered his insufferable vanity, fed his self-obsession. At the end of the night he asked me how I'd done. "Not good," I said. "I could really use some of that help you mentioned."
He smirked. "I think I spent all the money I want to spend," he said. "You haven't really been coming by that much. And you haven't been that fun for the last hour or so. You must be tired."
"I am tired. I'm really, really tired, and I haven't made any money." I stretched my arms out on the table and folded forward onto them. I let my back and shoulders shield me from the room and the lights and the Top 40 rock and Mr. Whatsisname shifting around uncomfortably in his chair. Stillness came over me and I rested my head for a long time.
"I have to go," Whatsisname said. I heard him getting up and I felt a bundle of bills bounce next to my ear. I know the sound and smell and feel of money even in deep repose. When I sat up, with no idea how long I'd been down, I gathered the money up and took it back to the dressing room. Unfolded and smoothed out the crumpled bills and turned them all the same way up. It was $7.
People like that will ruin as much as you let them. Your coffee break, your evening, your best years, whatever you let them have. I can't remember the last time I felt so profoundly negative towards a customer, and in that way I gave him even more of my time. The next night was bad for me, and the next night, too.
But yesterday I said a prayer and put on my fightin' fishnets and had a decent afternoon. It was slow again. By five o'clock, the youngest girls were either drunk, crying, going home, or all of the above. I had no single good customer. The crying girls were right -- they were all cheap bastards with attitudes. But you hit it, and hit it, and hit it, and in the end it adds up.
The 19-year-old brunette with the glasses and the premature worry lines is crouched on the floor between two rows of lockers, whispering into her phone. "Forty dollars," she says. "Forty dollars, baby. I made forty dollars." I don't know why they all call their boyfriends when things go wrong. Like there's anything he can say or do.
She has her pants half on and the contents of her bag are spread across the floor. It's quitting time for this one. Times get lean enough, you don't even feel sorry. You just think "more for the rest of us" and you just keep walking.