I waitressed at the same night club for eleven years, once.
It was just the once. But it was long enough to notice a definite time-warp that seemed to occur within the boundaries of that job - be they the physical boundaries of building itself, or involving something less tangible.
No one who worked there ever left the night club. Even the few that tried to leave came right back. Sometimes days later. Sometimes years later. After a disappointing stint at an accounting firm, or low-security prison, say.
It didn't matter. Such employees were always brought right back into the fold like nothing had happened. And really, nothing had.
There were weird things. Like how no one got any older or changed.
And there was a ghost. Specifically, a ghost that hung around the northeast corner of the room, better known as Section 6 & 7.
People spoke quite a lot of this ghost when I first started working there. It was always in one of those phony, louder than normal conversations - the ones where you know without a doubt that what is being shouted a mite too pointedly in your direction is actually for your ears.
My even louder, mock response being:
A ghost? Oh my, maybe I should QUIT?
Of course, I wasn't worried. This ghost was pretty great.
For one thing, he was industrious. He might do things for you like clear your tables or put money around for you to find accidentally. This especially when a customer had failed to leave you a tip.
Or, he might straighten out your chairs and leave chocolates kisses hidden here and there, just to be playful. One time it was a Monte Christo sandwich. I had really wanted a Reuben, but being that that would have been too messy, the ghost came up with an alternative.
A Monte Christo? That's genius!
We were friends, the ghost and me. Not that the ghost didn't have his drawbacks. He did make it a bit cooler in Section 6 & 7. And there was a constant blowing wind because of the ghost that never could be resolved (as it's source could never be located). Which was bad for ones carefully placed cocktail napkins. The hard and fast rules pertaining to cocktail napkins having been clearly outlined in the waitressing handbook.
Yes. I had signed the paper stating that I understood the cocktail napkin policy. And, yes, they whisked that document away before I could ask any of my many follow up questions. So the loss of controll over the cocktail napkins in my section did present a bit of a problem.
Yet, there was no doubt in my mind that it was in spite of himself that the ghost created this kind of havok. I simply asked the customers to hold down their cocktail napkins at all times in exactly the place where I had originally positioned them. And wouldn't you know it, nobody minded!
The ghost more than made up for all of this with money and candy, of course.
Obviously, I took the job.
It was like an agreement had been made, that, for whatever reason, I could only remember bits and pieces of the negotiations.
It was something about how - as long as you worked there you would make lots of money, never age and enjoy the benefits of a helpful ghost but, you could never, ever, leave. Not under any circumstances.
It's up to you. Go ahead and think it through for a few moments.
Then, seeing the look on my face,
Would you like something - a crab salad served in half an avocado, perhaps? Because we could simply bring you a vodka? It's no problem.
And, finally, as I sat there chewing on my pencil,
Okay. We'll be right over here. You take your time.
So, my rent being due, I signed the contract:
I will hereby spend the rest of my extended adolescence here (bla, bla, bla)
Great! Here is your name badge, your five-inch-platform heels, your waitress handbook, your complimentary box of altoids--!
But that happy moment of knowing I was again employed, that is to say, safe money-wise, was immediately (upon punching-in, that first day) replaced with a relentless, never ending dread of losing that job.
And it never let up. Even as years passed, even as they promoted me to head waitress and put me in charge of the VIP room, I worried.
Even as they told me I was the only person in the world whom they trusted and handed me the keys, I worried.
So, the fact that I walked away from that position (as opposed to being torn away, screaming) astounded quite a few. All those forever-young faces looking at me incredulously as I left.
You can't leave!
The above issued plainly, as a statement of fact.
And it was true. No one could leave.
I got a design job.
I was overjoyed. All I really wanted in the whole world was to work during the day. And have a weekend at the end of my work week, each and every week. I imagined sweater sets and lunches all packed up in Tupperware.
The normality of such a job meant as much to me as the design element did. And, apparently, much more than even the money element did. I did not get right away, that, with a salary there would be no more incredible, life altering tips that could change everything, just like that.
I got thrown into the job. Literally thrown into a still sticky douglas fir, a few birds nests still intact. It was very heady, very fragrant, very prickly time.
My arms, cut to shreds, were not bleeding only for the sap that had dried over all of the wounds. And I learned that skin covered in sap mixed with blood held things like lint and debris. Even pairs of scissors.
And such sap did not wash off.
I smelled of pine trees. All the time. Understandably, this was mistaken for gin & tonic more than once. And, it's true that when people have decided that you have been drinking, almost everything you do or say in protest will support the notion that you are drunk.
Within a week, however, I found my way out of the maze of branches and, having added pale colors and candles and soft glitter, I created both a tree and mantle in a set that whispered, Christmastime:
A few bells rang barely audibly in the distance, their clarity undeterred by time. No, there would be a goose that year. And all the trimmings. Even if we had to spend our birthday-dollars...
I was all in.
But then it was spring.
Then fall, again.
Then it was the next year. Then the year after that. Then it was the election. Then, one night, out of nowhere, Tom made beef stroganoff.
Then, the following weekend, I went on and on about how much I loved my job.
And I think that that might have been my undoing.
Because the very next day, a Monday, the lay-offs began.
Despite the economy, I didn't see it coming. Maybe I felt safe because I was at the bottom, salary-wise. Maybe it was that this simply couldn't be happening to me.
Whatever it was, I learned I was wrong about the inner workings of life. And that my little eleven years as a trusted, valued waitress did not translate into the real world.
I cried into my sleeve for thirty-five minutes during the entire lay-off meeting (even as every part of me did not want to cry) and, of course, there was not a kleenex to be found anywhere.
To this day I wonder how my boss could sit there and not run out to grab me a paper towel or something.
I made no noise as I cried, mind you. It was tears running out of one's eyes independent of one's intentions. And without the slightest grimace.
I said my goodbyes.
I was sad not only for the job loss, but the people-loss. We were friends. We had gotten each other out of jams and had, on a daily basis, made useless, ugly merchandise look good employing every trick imaginable.
We laughed. We played jokes on each other. We came to each other's family funerals and Easter parties.
And now some of us were suddenly being scattered into a cold January world.
A place without design! A place without paychecks!
Three of us that were laid off that day.
Other, totally non-layed off people cried as we three came back to the design office, stunned and sort of automatically emptying our desks into boxes - boxes kept on hand just for such situations. Like so many terrible things, these boxes stood by, stoically, awaiting duty:
The worst will happen. Be ready. Buy boxes.
One of the other designers who had been layed-off insisted I take with me one of her faux-abstract paintings she'd mocked up for the studio. I had used this painting in nearly every one of my shots. It had that quality of never looking the same twice yet expressing something authentically modern with as little effort as possible. And it never struck me as a mock-up. It looked real.
So I left. With all of the contents of my desk (really just many cans of soup) and this huge painting. Not that it was hers to give me, exactly (even if she had painted it) but, just that no one was going to argue about the things we were now taking out of the building with us, seeing as our lives were going down in flames right there, right then - before their very eyes.
Actually, I have two such items from that job. The painting and a very long, beautiful pink scarf. I got the scarf when were were giving away part of our prop clothes to charity. Even though it was understood that the employees could take whatever they wanted, I never felt good about taking that scarf.
It was because I had been in charge of preparing the clothes for charity that I had first access to the give-away clothes. And, seeing that this was a scarf, I knew very well that I wasn't making any real room by removing it. So, it's reasonable to assume that this scarf wasn't what my boss was had in mind when he asked me to make room in our clothes storage.
Maybe as an item, it was too small and too nice to give away, let alone let employees take home.
Maybe it was bad karma that I then simply kept it for myself.
So, it isn't strange, I guess, that I never got around to wearing it.
Until now, that is. I wore the pink scarf last week for the first time ever. I have no idea why.
I wore it to my job. The job I found after nearly a year of being unemployed. The job I've had for the past ten months.
The job where, not ten minutes after I walked in the door on Friday, I was complimented on this, my wonderful, long pink scarf. And then (in practically the very same breath) layed-off.
In the nicest possible way.