I push through the swinging doors into the dressing room. I just want to sit down for a minute. It's a lousy night. There are twenty waitresses on the floor and probably about that many customers in the whole stupid club.
The club's response to an ever-weakening economy has been to jack up cover prices, which has run off a whole tier of customers. They've also hired more dancers, so that the house can collect more fees from them. I don't know why they've hired a bevy of new waitresses and scheduled twenty of them on a Tuesday night, but if I had to guess, they're trying to turn them into dancers. In a week, the youngest and prettiest of the new waitresses will complain to the managers that they aren't making money and the managers will say, "Why don't you dance for a night and see how you like it." The older, uglier waitresses will just drift away.
I always had a feeling if I knew too much about the runnings of this bar I'd hate it. When I was a dancer I came and went like a ninja. I made my money and got out, keeping interaction with management to the bare minimum possible. This is harder now that I'm waitress. Now that I have to sit in meeting with the managers for thirty minutes after the shift starts and thirty minutes after we close and wipe the tables down. Now that I have to ask the managers permission for everything I do, and report every dollar I make. Something in me that does not love a boss. No wonder I've been fired from half the straight jobs I've ever had.
I just want to sit down. Unfortunately, the waitresses' corner of the dressing room is occupied. The shift manager lounges in the ass-sweat-saturated wheelie chair, legs spread like a pasha. Waitresses perch around him, and one brand-new little blonde teenager crouches at his side with her head on his knee. He has one arm draped heavily over her neck, a lordling posing with his favorite hunting dog.
I get just a flash of this as I walk past, back into the dancers' space, where girls are re-curling their hair and bitching in familiar ways about familiar things. I want a cigarette. I even carry them on my tray, for customers to buy from me. But I don't smoke any more and I'm proud of myself.
I can't shake it. I can't shake my distaste for that frat boy gone to seed, with his white-blond hair spiked up and his pink-pink skin. His baby-faced smugness, eyes opaque as marbles. I can't shake my distaste for the whole stupid scene and I'm not sure why. I hope that little blonde girl has an epiphany some day soon and realizes that even if crawling on the floor for men's approval is her thing, she could be doing it for somebody a lot more worthwhile than the little oinker in the chair there. For fuck's sake.
Later in the night the same manager comes up behind me and raps my tray with his knuckles. "That's one," he says. As in, that's one strike.
"Don't put your tray there."
My tray is sitting on a wide ledge that lines the ramp down to the main floor. It looks pretty safe there to me, especially since I am standing next to it with my hand on it.
"Yes, really. Because someone could come along and just do this."
He puts his hand on my tray and gives it a sharp shove. It flies. Matches and lighters and cigarettes and ballpoint pens scatter while cocktail napkins and credit card receipts drift down slower, like snow.
We look at each other. "Really?" I say, finally. "But, who would do a thing a like that?"
He doesn't say anything and he doesn't have to. He folds his arms. I stoop to pick up my stuff, and here I am, on my knees, at his feet. He wins. I lose. I've been out-pissed in this pissing contest.
I sort everything back onto my tray. I go back to the dressing room. The chair is empty. I take one of my rescued cigarettes and roll it lightly in my fingers, put it to my mouth and light it with a kiss. It tastes like, fuck you. And it tastes like, enough.