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Somewhere, an American girl takes off her rhinestone tiara and weeps. Prince William has just announced to the entire world that he and his long time girlfriend, Kate Middleton are betrothed.
“But we were planning our engagement announcement, our future, our corgis names!” I wail to my mom. She doesn’t respond. Typical. She’s too busy clipping out the USA Today article featuring the happy couple to notice my pain. She’ll add it to her scrapbook she keeps of the British royal family, a hobby she’s had since before I was born.
If anything, she’s to blame for my current heartbreak. She’s the one who passed along her fixation of all things British and royal to me. With all the issues of Majesty magazine lying around, it’s no wonder I set my tween heart on the sandy-haired blue-eyed pup second in line to England’s throne, Prince William. Majesty magazine became my Teen Beat and I spent many Saturday afternoons flipping through the glossy shots of William, trying to decide which one I would tape to my bedroom wall. I read that Diana did this with a photo of Charles so I thought it prudent of me to do the same with William. Each month a new photo of William went on my wall: William with his mom, William playing rugby, William arriving at Eton, his boarding school in England. Every night I gazed upon those photos pondering the very serious hurdles in our love affair… my status as a commoner, the Atlantic ocean. Yet instead of being discouraged by the unlikelihood of us ever meeting and falling in love, I found myself invigorated by these setbacks, taking whatever small coincidence that occurred as a sign direct from God (whom the Royal Family has on speed dial, don’cha ya know?) that we were soul mates.
This is a quote, written in pink ink, from my fourth grade diary.
Guess where I’m going tomorrow?!?! EPCOT!!!!!! I’m sooooo exciiiiited!! And guess who was just there just last week. Prince William!!! He’s a boy I have a crush on right now. Maybe I’ll sit in the same seat he did! Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!
It didn’t matter that William and I weren’t at Epcot at the same time. Or that we missed each other by only a week. My fantasy of becoming Mrs. Windsor was kept alive because we lived on a planet where we could miss each other at an Orlando theme park by only a week. I was ten years old and already had a (sort of) missed connection with a Prince! What will happen when I’m older, armed with a passport and a license to steal hearts?
St. Andrews, Scotland is a really small town. I found this out when I went there to participate in a theater internship at the Byre Theater. I was 19 years old and on foreign soil for the first time. I had no idea what I was doing. As an example of my naiveté, I brought three bags of extremely stylish and impractical clothing, which I regretted immediately after trying to climb up the stairs of the London Underground. Seriously guys, pack less is on Rick Steves list of travel tips for a reason.
Coincidentally, Prince William was now a student at St. Andrews University. Imagine that!
I sure did.
While waiting the 2 weeks before the theater opened for the season, I figured I’d get a job working at a restaurant. Gotta fund this six month trip somehow.
I ended up working at a real deal fancy restaurant. This restaurant had things like a reservation system, silver spoon service and a second floor. I’m not sure why they hired me since my only serving experience was at a casual chain restaurant in small town, Florida but soon enough, I found myself trying to wrestle two silver spoons into scooping a dinner roll from a bread basket with iron rose embellishments.
“You almost had it that time,” said my patient guest.
It was all I could do to keep from reaching my grubby American hand into the basket and throw the bread on his plate. “Yes. Almost,” I said, without any of the perky inflection my accent carries.
After our shift, the servers would gather for a family meal. This is where I discovered I was working at Prince William’s favorite restaurant.
“Which one is he again?” I asked, trying to play it cool. I couldn’t believe this latest coincidence! I managed to get a job at Prince William’s favorite restaurant?! Oh, if my ten year old self could see me now! Actually, she could since I’m still her just older… so, uh, yeah. Anyway.
Could this be how it all happens? Am I about to find my face splashed across the front of the Daily Mail as William’s new American girlfriend? Do I want an autumn or spring wedding? What’s my shopping allowance once we get married? And most importantly, is Zara Phillips about to become my new best friend? Because I need to take horseback riding lessons if she is.
It didn’t take long for me to hate my new job. I dropped and broke wine glasses almost every night. Appetizers never made it to the table. Sweat broke on my brow from running up and down the stairs. According to my manager, the new war in Iraq was my fault. He told me this during a sit down meeting we had about my work performance. He meant it as a joke but I was too busy planning my escape from St. Andrews to pretend to laugh.
“Why don’t you take a lunch break, think about this and come back at four. We won’t have another shift like we had this morning, will we?”
“Nope!” We won’t have another shift together at all, actually.
During my break, I walked back to the hostel where I was temporarily living and did some deep movie style thinking. The novelty of being abroad and living in St. Andrews had worn off. There were several reasons why: my job, my inability to find a permanent address, my general disinterest in the St. Andrews golfing scene. Plus, the theater wasn’t returning my calls and I was supposed to start my internship two days ago. It was clear the universe was telling me my time in St. Andrews was over.
But wait!! What about your true love Prince William?
Ugh. What about him? He’s the one who was playing hard to get by never eating at his favorite restaurant and wearing an invisibility cloak around town. So. Over. Him.*
I never returned to the restaurant. Instead, I left St. Andrews that night on a one way train ticket to Edinburgh. It was a dramatic way to exit, packing my bags in the middle of the afternoon and telling no one, but that was how it had to be. I arrived in Edinburgh and finally met the real love of my life, (insert any man wearing a kilt here).
*But not really.
Lately, I’ve had a lot of questions about my life and what I should do with it. Do I want to write or act? Travel or stay in NYC? Marry Zac Efron or marry Chase Crawford?
These are challenging questions that I’m not equipped to answer on my own. I need guidance. Psychic guidance.
It’s time to go to Cassadaga.
Settled by a group of Spiritualists from Pike, NY in 1894, The Cassadaga Spiritualist camp is not a typical stop for tourists hitting the Orlando-Disney circuit. It’s in the woods off of I-4, by a lake that has “unusual energy properties”. The camp is home to about 90 certified mediums and healers who give readings at pretty good prices, considering the price people are willing to pay for this sort of stuff. There is a bookstore, cafe, a small hotel and three short streets lined with good old-fashioned southern homes.
My two pals, Amy and Brittany, and I arrived a little after seven P.M. Unfortunately, we discovered that even psychics like to keep normal business hours.
I asked Amy if she thought if we’d still be able to get a reading even though it was after hours.
“Somehow psychic doesn’t scream 9 to 5 to me.” Good point.
We snooped around the porch of the closed bookstore, aimlessly looking for a sign or flyer that could lead us to a psychic. We ended up finding a small information center located behind the bookstore. The lights were still on and it sounded like people were inside. I gave Amy a nudge and suggested she go in first. She awkwardly pushed open the door and interrupted about five people sitting in a circle discussing ghost orbs.
“Can I help you?” asked a tall man with red cheeks and the most amazing handlebar mustache ever.
“Um, can we come in?” asked Amy. We were already inside.
“Uh, Sarah.” Alright Amy. Pass the awkward off to me.
“Sure, Sarah can come in! But only Sarah. The two of you have to stay outside.” He was joking but we were too dazed by his mustache to realize it. “So Sarah. What are you looking for?”
“A reading?” The badge pinned to his shirt said Official Cassadaga tour guide.
“Yep. We have those here. Most of our mediums work during the day but we do have one that works at night. His name is Thomas and he’s across the street. Go over and ring the bell. If he doesn’t answer he’s probably with someone. Just wait and he’ll come out. If you’re interested, we also do night-time orb tours. Tomorrow’s tour is going to be a good one. Got a lot of people coming for it. Gonna be plenty of energy orbs. You all should come too!” His exuberance was unparalleled. “Lately, there’s been a bunch of activity with the fairies, elves… ” He looked at me and gave me a big grin, as though he were saving this next one especially for me, “and trolls. Do you believe in trolls, Sarah?”
“Then let me show you something.” He gestured for the three of us to follow him to his desk. He pulled out a thick binder full of photos taken on the orb tour. “See this little guy? That’s our troll. He was out last night, bouncing all around.” The photo was of a tree, taken at night, and sitting on one of the branches was a yellow glob of light. It strangely appeared to have the facial features of an old Brother’s Grimm troll.
“Huh.” I said. I didn’t know what to make of that.
Mr. Handlebar flipped through all the photos, explaining all the spirits and fairies caught on film. The photos looked authentic enough but I figured most of these spirits were brought back to earth by people who don’t know how to use the flash on their camera.
While the photos were interesting, we weren’t there to do no troll hunting. We said good-bye to Mr. Handlebar and headed across the street to meet Thomas.
“I’m not paying more than 40 dollars,” announced Amy. Amy was planning to lie to him to test his abilities. She had created an elaborate back story and was confident she could fool him.
“It’s going to be more than 40 dollars,” I said. Brittany, who was experiencing Cassadaga for the first time, chimed in and said that she wasn’t going to pay more than 20 dollars. “Maybe you’ll get palm reading for that price but not a psychic reading,” I told her, even though I knew it didn’t matter. The idea of Brittany participating in a psychic reading was ridiculous. She’s too practical of a person to believe in this stuff. I imagined her reading ending in a completely calm and rational argument of logic vs. the metaphysical.
We marched up the brick stairs leading to Thomas’s front door and huddled together under his awning. “That seems like an excessive use of exclamation marks,” Brittany said, pointing to a small handwritten note taped under the doorbell.
SASE RING DOOR BELL
LONG AND HARD
IF I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!! THEN I CAN’T
I pressed the doorbell and held it for a borderline obnoxious amount of time. No answer. I rang the bell again. The door opened and a man, slightly shorter than me and looking more like a fish bait salesman than a psychic, stepped out.
“Can I do something for you, mmmyes?”
Oh my God. It’s the Slingblade of Cassadaga.
“How much for a reading?” I asked.
I looked at Amy with surprised glee. 40 dollars!? I said with my eyes. That’s your cut off price! I ignored her flat and unenthusiastic face and said “We’ll do it!”
“Wait in here.” He opened his door wider to let us in. We stepped into his unlit patio that he had turned into a makeshift waiting room, complete with uncomfortable chairs and old magazines. He disappeared into his house and left us alone to quietly ponder the questions posed by the religious paraphernalia cluttering the room. “Heaven or Hell?” asked one of the posters tacked to the wood-paneled wall.
“I think I’m going to pass,” said Amy.
“What?” I knew I couldn’t count on Brittany to leap into the future with me but I didn’t think Amy would bail. She was my partner in all of this! The one who, just a few hours earlier at Subway, was telling me her mischievous plan to thwart the psychic. “I was born in Massachusetts. Salem. Wait no, Deerfield. Salem’s too suspicious. And my grandmother’s name, Patsy. She was a seamstress.”
“Died in the war.”
With Amy out, I felt trapped. I didn’t know what to do. This night was about getting answers to all the questions I ever had about my life. I couldn’t quit now. I was desperate to hear that my future contained phrases like “Oscar Winner” and “Married to George Clooney”. But with the uneasy feeling we were getting from Thomas, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to spend 40 bucks on a potentially lame reading.
Before I could decide what to do, I heard the hinge on the house door squeak. “Ready?” Thomas grunted.
I couldn’t make up a lie quick enough so I said, “Yep!” Amy and Brittany shot me a WTF are you thinking look and I shrugged my shoulders. We did come all this way. Might as well go whole hog.
The screen door slammed behind me. I was officially in Thomas’s lair. Lair may sound dramatic but that’s what it felt like I was entering. I didn’t know what nefarious objects I would come upon. Medieval torture tools… a functioning meth lab… a corner designated to his taxidermy hobby…
Or, I’ll find the sweetest little dog ever and a collection of Shirley Temple commemorative china plates.
“You like my dog, yes?” His speech pattern was so unusual that even though he spoke clearly I still had a hard time understanding him.
“You like my dog, yes?” He repeated himself, which initially I thought was odd. But as I started put it together, his collection of knickknacks, the note with broken syntax on the door, his aversion to eye contact, I realized that he must have Asperger’s.
And getting a reading from a psychic with Asperger’s only means it’s going to be THE BEST PSYCHIC READING EVER.
After asking one question (where I was from), Thomas started throwing down. He immediately brought up how worried I’ve been about my family and noted the reasons for my concern…A mom with cancer who needs help taking care of my younger brother*. He mentioned dates that would only have significance to me. Announced a trip to the Jacksonville area and how he senses a north coast connection. (Uh yeah. I was born there and just planned a trip to visit in Dec. Say what!). It was all so specific and accurate. I was amazed. I couldn’t wait to hear what other things I had coming my way in 2011. A Golden Globe nomination? A trip to India?
“You’re getting married. Next year.”
Um, okay. That’s exciting to hear. I guess. Slight problem though.
“I’m not dating anyone,” I said, offering the only piece of insight into my personal life.
“Doesn’t matter. It’s a strong marriage.”
Oh good. At least my out-of-the-blue and completely impulsive marriage is a strong one.
Suddenly, two phones started ringing, his cell phone and his house phone. He excused himself to take the calls, placing the reading on hold.
Normally, I would have laughed off such a ridiculous prediction but since he’s been right about everything else, I have to take this seriously. Married by next year?! To whom?! Is it Zac or Chase? Or does George come back into my life, years after our last kiss goodbye, apologizing with Princess Diana’s engagement ring? Tell me Thomas!!!
“I’m sorry. I have to cut this short. Just pay me 20 dollars.”
Excuse me, what? You’re going to tell me I’m getting married next year and then cut off my reading?!
I dumbly put twenty dollars on the table and left. Didn’t even try to question or protest it.
Now I don’t know what to do. Should I go back in a couple of weeks and get part two of my reading? Or should I see if he remembers me, get a reading from scratch and see if marriage comes up again? Or should I just let fate take over and marry the first guy I date in 2011?
Also, here are some photos I took from a previous day trip to Cassadaga.
*Mom’s officially cancer free as of a week ago. Yay!
The email sounded promising enough. “You have been selected to audition for the Roots and Branches theater company.” Key word: Selected. You see, being selected, as opposed to being asked or invited, automatically makes me superior to all the other actors in this city, as if they pulled my headshot from the massive stack of mail and said,“Her! She’s the one! She’s got talent! Pizzaz! A real dynamo this one!”
Yes, this may sound like a scene from a Shirley Temple movie. And?
I continued reading the email.
“Roots and Branches is an inter-generational community of artists, interested in exploring past and present situations to combine individual moments of personal growth into a collaborative creative presentation.”
Whatever. Just give me a job. Please. I can’t feed my two kittens. I say kittens because even though I don’t have kittens, you can believe that I do. I thought about saying children but really, the idea of me having a child at this point in my life is just ridiculous. And I need you to believe that I have some sort of desperation to go to an audition that will ultimately take me nowhere. Cause why else would I keep putting myself through these useless and often humiliating auditions? Why?! WHYYYYY????
Because I have hungry kittens, damn it!
I arrived at the location provided by the theater company. From the outside, it looked like one of those recreational facilities where you play basketball or indoor soccer. But when I entered, I didn’t hear the usual squeaks of sneakers on wood or grunts of defensive play. There was only silence. A stillness to the building. I took a look and saw no one around. I stood in the empty lobby, alone with my thoughts about how I was alone. However, instead of being creeped out by this Unsolved Mystery waiting to happen, I had an odd sense of familiarity, a feeling like I was home.
I was at a retirement complex.
Growing up in Central Florida, I am no stranger to the elderly lifestyle. Living in conjunction to the second largest retirement community in the United States, The Villages (spreads over three counties!), old people silence is something you learn to live with. Occasionally, a golf cart hums by at 3 miles an hour. Or a house will blast Maury and Montel at full volume. After seven P.M. the silence fills your ears and starts to eat away at your brain. Soon you’re talking to yourself to fill the emptiness in your head and phrases like, “Baby needs Mr. Q to bake something. Banana. Banana.” or “Mr. Q ate my tulips. Baby wants her red ones.” start to make complete sense.
Lauren, head elder of the Roots and Branches, came out of an elevator and greeted me in her wheelchair. I volunteered to push her to where ever we were going and she directed me to the back of the complex, to a large rehearsal room she called their “jam space”. A group of elderly men and women sat in a circle and applauded as I rolled her in. I noticed there was only one other actor there to audition. His eyes kept darting from the group to the door. I sat down next to him, away from the elders. He nodded his head at me.
“Hey, I’m David.”
“Looks like we’re the only ones here to audition.”
“Good.” The fewer the better in my opinion.
One of the elderly men rose and a hush fell over the group. He groaned the entire way.
“Boy, them knees don’t work like they used to!” Knowing laughter filled the room. “Well let’s get started here. Kids, this isn’t going to be your typical audition. We’re going to do a little improv, story-telling to see what we come up with. Sort of like we’re workshopping you. That’s what we do. We workshop and tell stories and then we write a play. We’ve got Dina here on guitar, so if you want to start singing, she’ll start a melody and go along with what you do. Dina, why don’t you stand up. Where’s Dina? Dina!?”
A woman with a shaved head stood up behind him. Stickers about saving Mother Earth adorned her guitar case. “Hey guys. Who’s ready to jam?”
“Sarah, why don’t you go first?” The elder pointed at me with his cane. Seriously?
“O-okay.” What was he going to make me do?!
“Sarah, take this cane.” He handed me his long knotted walking cane, maple oak in color. “Take this cane and tell it something you want it to know. Anything. Just something you feel it needs to know. I’ll speak if I feel the cane wants to know more.”
I held the cane tenderly and began to tell it a story. Sadly, this story is true.
“So, um, I was doing my laundry the other day. Um, and, uh, I had a sort of bad week. And I hate doing laundry. I mean, I HATE it. And I was really tired and stuff and I went to put in the quarters into the dryer and I hit the wrong button and refilled someone else’s dryer with the quarters. MY quarters. And, um as I said, I had a really bad week and when I did that I started to cry. In the middle of the laundromat.”
“How did that make you feel?” asked the elder, or should I say, asked the cane since, while it is capable of creating thought, it is unable to vocalize its concern for me.
“It made you feel what?”
“STUPID!” I shouted this line to make my story sound more meaningful.
“What do you want the cane to know about that sad story?”
“Um. That people are good. Cause this man, he didn’t even speak any English, he came up and put four quarters into my machine. Of course, that only made me cry more. But it was still nice.”
“Sarah, do you sing?”
“Do you dance?”
“Yeah.” Crap. “I mean, I used to.”
“Would you do a little dance with this cane?”
‘Yeah, I’ll give you a beat!” shouted Dina as she began to strum a cheerful melody. I figured my dignity was shot with that laundromat story, so I began to dance a beautiful dance with my partner, the cane.
We twirled in circles together. We tangoed. We did the twist. I lifted the cane high over my head and pandered to the elders, tapping my feet vaudeville style. I could tell they were enjoying my performance even though what I was doing couldn’t really be considered dancing. What I was doing looked more like what a four-year thinks dancing is; an uncooordinated mix of hip thrusts, arm poses and funny faces.
“Now say something to the cane,” the elderly man commanded.
I looked at the cane and, in a rather inspired moment, said, “You’ve been so good to me, baby.”
Laughter and applause filled the room. I had pleased them. I sat down and a female elder leaned over and whispered, “That’s how I always feel.”
After I watched the other auditions (two more actors came late), I felt pretty confident that I was going to be jamming with the Roots and Branches full-time. While the other actors may have had better stories, I beat them all with my dance.
They never called me back.
And somewhere, in New York City, a cane sits alone, wanting just one more dance.
It was my birthday a few weeks ago. I generally don’t like to make big plans for my birthday, not because I dread getting older, but because once I start planning anything, I start having expectations. And I know all too well what happens if those expectations aren’t met. Tears. Lots of them. I prefer to go to bed after a day of not celebrating my birthday, content with the knowledge that I may have gained a year in my age but I have also gained in my awesome. This isn’t an over inflated ego talking. It’s science. Take a look at this graph chart taken from Google images. You can see precisely how my awesome increases after each birthday.
Even though I don’t like to make birthday plans, I’m not going to say no if my friends want to celebrate or do something special for me. My friend J.J. called me with the news that we’d both be getting our hair colored and styled into a “red-carpet up-do” courtesy of a L’Oreal celebrity hair stylist. Apparently, the L’Oreal salon hosts hair workshops once a month featuring a celebrity hair stylist and people come from far away to learn their secrets. “Models” are used for these workshops and in exchange for modeling, L’Oreal does their hair for free. If getting a free hair makeover wasn’t enough (and for me it definitely is), they provide breakfast AND lunch. Oh, and what’s this? A goodie bag of hair products? Can I say happy birthday to me or what!
The night before, instead of dreaming about birthday cake and presents, I had dreams of hot rollers and frizz free hair. In one dream, the stylist, represented by Ken Paves, highlights my hair while saying things like, “Jessica Simpson’s hair isn’t nearly as soft as yours” and “Why don’t you start your own hair extension line?”
“Maybe one day.” I demur.
In another, strangers stop me on the street to compliment my glamorous hair. “So this is what it’s like to be beautiful,” I whisper, as my new boyfriend, Ryan Gosling, leans in to kiss me.
However, when I woke up that morning it was raining. And it wasn’t just regular rain. It was old-testament-gonna-flood-this-city-till-everybody-dies rain. It didn’t help that the L’Oreal salon is in the West Village, where I’m lost the moment I step out of the subway station. It took asking two strangers, a pair of ruby-red slippers, Gryffindor’s Sword, and a golden ticket to get me heading in the right direction but eventually I made it to the salon just as they were removing the cellophane off the breakfast buffet table.
Bagels, I’m a-gonna eat you.
I was the first model to the salon. I thought the man who greeted me looked familiar but I figured he was just another fah-bu-lous! hair dresser getting ready for another long day at the salon. I didn’t realize it was David Evangelista.
THE David Evangelista.
David Evangelista: A red carpet stylist and friend of celebrities
Not to be confused with the other David Evangelista: Your neighborhood magician and friend of birds
By 9:00, the other stylists participating in the event had arrived. But David Evangelista was the only one who mattered. His words.
I kept looking for the cameras filming David. He was, as the people in the entertainment industry like to say, “on”. He danced around the salon. He bemoaned the horrible weather. He name dropped. He kept half yelling at me. “Oh, this ONE! She looks scared!”
Turns out, there were no cameras around. This is just how he is at 9:00 in the morning.
My friend J.J. was swept away by David’s celebrity stories. “What’s Rosie O’Donnell like?” asked J.J. after David made a casual reference to the time he was on her show.
“She’s great when she takes her meds.” he said in a sort of world-weary, seen-it-all tone. I thought that was a pretty honest answer.
Soon it was time to go in front of the people who paid a lot of money to learn how to style hair. David decided that J.J. would get a 60’s beehive, a la Mad Men, and I would get highlights and waves like Rita Hayworth.
Let’s start with my before picture, taken right after I came in from the rain.
After my hair went through the highlighting process, David went to work. He started by placing my hair in rollers.
And then he– well that was pretty much it. He did take my hair out of the rollers and sweep it to the side, though.
J.J.’s look, however, required a lot more hairspray.
After lunch, the students had to practice recreating these looks on bodiless mannequin heads. The live models were dismissed.
I couldn’t wait to show the world my new look. My hair looked fantastic. It had a weightlessness to it. It bounced. It no longer looked as though I wrestle rabid raccoons for a living. I’m a somebody! I’m going places! I’m–
Missing my umbrella.
“A couple of students left early, they had flight to catch. One of them probably took it.” said the receptionist.
“But it’s still raining!” This was a terrible turn of events. I couldn’t ruin David’s work! Not when I’m so close to having it all!*
The receptionist handed me a shower cap to protect my hair.
“Thanks.” I meant it. This woman saved my hair and my birthday. Of course, I didn’t realize that David’s work would not hold in the shower cap as I headed home, losing myself twice in the W. Village, but I’d find that out later. It’s okay. I have a second chance at hair bliss as L’Oreal contacted me and asked if I wanted to get a free haircut on Monday. Uh, you better believe I do! I can’t wait. I hope David’s there and he remembers me.
PART TWO COMING SOON…..
*I don’t even know what “having it all” means but I pretend like I do, just like I do with a lot of other sayings like You complete me and Love means never having to say you’re sorry and Superman that ho.
Until he fixes his face situation, I can’t keep posting photos of him with a half beard.
Anyway, I’ll be thinking of another celebrity to celebrate on Tuesdays and right now the front-runner is Willow Pinkett Smith. Why? Because I want to… whip my hair back and forth.
Fine, Zac. Be angry at me and keep your beard, I didn’t do anything wrong except love you with all my heart. If you want to be spiteful and stand in front of that photo of you sans beard, go ahead. I can’t do anything but play Love is a Battlefield by Pat Benatar on repeat.
Why do you hurt me so bad?
It’s just not working out, they say. I don’t blame them. After working three years in various Manhattan restaurants, it’s inevitable: I’ve acquired the bitter waitress syndrome. I couldn’t care less about working in another restaurant and learning five different ways to fold a napkin. They can take their Zagat rating and shove it.
Yet here I am, in a heap of tears on my bathroom floor.
It’s January in New York City. Fucking January. Nobody is hiring in January.
After this restaurant and many others have so readily disposed of my services, it might be pragmatic to stop waiting tables and do something else. In my defeated state on the bathroom floor, I think about bartending. That’s an upgrade, right? It’s not waiting tables but it’s still a night job that allows me to pursue auditions and write during the day. I don’t have much experience but I like beer and know how to pour a pint. I also like to dance and be sassy.
And if there is one place in New York City where dancing, being sassy and pint pouring come together, it is at Hogs and Heifers.
New York City lore has it that the inspiration for the late ’90′s feminist movie, Coyote Ugly, comes from this bar. According to the movie, the bartenders or “coyotes” that work there are wild and unpredictable. They dance choreographed routines on the bar and cut men’s ponytails off while pouring pitchers of water over their svelte model-esque bodies. One coyote is so talented she can stop a bar brawl by singing. I know! She’s that good. These coyotes make a ton of money every night (the movie never shows them working the day shift) and they do it by capitalizing on their sexiness. Or sluttiness. However you want to look at it.
Sitting on the edge of my toilet seat, I dial the phone number for Hogs and Heifers. It is 7:30 PM. I hope I’m not calling too late.
“Hogs and Heifers,” a husky voice answers. I can practically smell the cigarettes through the phone.
“Hi!” I cringe at the perkiness of my voice and attempt to lower it. “Are you hiring any new bartenders?”
“We’re always hiring.”
“I will be there in thirty minutes.” I hang up, exhilarated.
I rush to put on some appropriate clothing. It is a frigid night so layers are a necessity. My white lace tank top peeks out from underneath my lavender argyle sweater. I pull on some jeans and sling a black knit scarf around my neck. A pair of black platform boots adds extra height to my 5’7 frame and keeps my double socked feet warm. I check myself out in the mirror. Not bad.
The Meatpacking District in Manhattan is where Hogs and Heifers is located. Like Space Mountain at Disney World, you can’t miss it. The outside of the bar is rusty and worn down and a row of motorcycles rest on their kickstands along the curb. Blasts of Johnny Cash are heard whenever someone steps out for a cigarette. A red neon light displaying the name of the bar sizzles and pops with danger.
A large tattooed bouncer checks my ID. He lets out a tiny smile when I tell him I am applying to be a bartender. “Good luck, honey.”
It may have been the dead of winter but judging by the bikini tops and cutoff shorts donned by the bartenders we were in the middle of a heat wave in August. I approach the bar and ask for an application.
“For what?” the bartender wearing an American flag bikini asks.
“To bartend? I brought my resume…” I trail off feeling hot and itchy under my sweater. The bar is empty, except for about eight bikers, all wearing serious amounts of facial hair and leather. A lone female wanders back and forth from the bar to the bikers, until she finally loses her battle against testosterone and settles in with the bikers by the jukebox. A mountain of bras hang from the ceiling, sloppily discarded as the remnants of a good time had. I notice the other two bartenders are having fun being complete smart-asses to one of the bikers. This could work, I think. I bet I’ll become one of the favorites here…
“Sweetie, you want something to drink?” American Flag asks.
Caught up in the atmosphere, I slam my hand down on the wooden bar. “Gimme a shot of Jack!” My voice growls with an unusual ferocity.
“That’s my girl.” She pours the shot and slides it to me. I slug it down, the alcohol burning my throat. I’m not a Jack drinker. American Flag grabs a megaphone from underneath the bar and it crackles as she turns it on.
“Hey. Hey. Listen up!” She glances down at my resume. “Saaaarah wants to work here!”
Oh my. It’s exactly like the movie. I start hooting and pumping my fist in the air to make it clear that I was the Sarah she was talking about.
“So you know what she’s gotta do! She’s gotta show us her moves! Get up here and show us what you got!”
I continue hooting and hollering like an over excited ape. I proceed to clumsily mount the bar. It is higher than I expected. My stomach turns, partly due to the shot and partly from the realization that I can’t clog or two-step my way out of beginner’s dance class, let alone freestyle on a bar as a prerequisite for a job interview.
A country western song starts to play on the beat-up jukebox in the corner. I gently start to sway my hips to find the rhythm. I glance at the men below me, trying to entice them with my smile and upbeat attitude. They are unresponsive. It must take them a minute to warm up.
My mind flashes to one of the scenes in the movie, where the main character Violet is trying to survive her first night. She can’t handle the pace of a packed bar. She balks when the owner tells her to dance on the bar. She pisses off the fire marshal. She fails at everything. Things are looking grim for Violet. But right before she gets the boot, she figures out a way to win over the crowd and her boss by auctioning off a really cute Australian guy for the ladies.
So since this place has been just like the movie so far, it’s clear that the key to getting a job at Hogs and Heifers is to interact with the crowd in some manner. Show them I know how it works here in this bar. And what better way to do that than encourage the bikers to buy a shot for me, their new favorite bartender?
“Who’s gonna buy me a shot after this?!” I shimmy precariously in my platform boots.
“That’s cool!” I skip to the other end of the bar. That’s right. I skip. I skip because it has become apparent that I am a terribly unsexy bar-top dancer. My moves are generic, uninspired and limited. In addition, my platform boots have shifted my point of balance causing me to awkwardly teeter after any move I make and my thick sweater is wearing me down, making my body appear shapeless and bulky.
“Why don’t you take off your sweater?” suggests American flag, via megaphone.
American Flag has a point. Why don’t I take off my sweater? I wriggle out of my sweater and with a bucketful of sass, toss it out into the crowd, hitting the only biker slightly interested in my performance squarely in the face. I’m left wearing an ill-fitting tank top with a hole in it and my hair is sticking straight out from sweater static. The bikers start to notice me.
“Yeaaaaah, watch out!” I shout, energized by the slight breakthrough I have made with the crowd. Thinking it the appropriate time to pull out one of those cool knee slide moves demonstrated in the movie, I prep myself and go for it. I slide a mere two inches, more of a heavy plop than a slide, my knees catching on a sticky film of spilt alcohol.
“Get on your knees in the bedroom, not in my bar,” chastises American Flag.
Embarrassed that my knee slide did not garner awe and appreciation, I stand up with a broken spirit. I tap my right foot to the beat. It is no longer exciting to be a potential hog. Or heifer. Not really sure which one is better. The song finally ends. The megaphone crackles.
“It’s a two song minimum, honey.”
Sometimes the desperation for a job and the panic of not having rent money gets in the way of common sense. In this case, it would be to accept defeat and get down from the bar. Call it a night and circle want ads in the morning. Not to keep dancing in a trashy dive bar where the bartenders encourage quickies in the bathroom.
“Let’s hope the next song isn’t a slow one,” comments a bartender with braided pigtails.
Another upbeat country song begins. Going by my last performance, it is clear I need to do something other than dance. Like the singing coyote, what I need is a gimmick. My eyes fall to the lone female. Two is better than one I figure.
“You! Get up here! You know wan-na!”
She responds in a baby doll voice. “I’ve always wanted to dance on the bar.” Her hopeful eyes look up at me, glazed over in a way only a kitchen made narcotic can do.
“Then get on up here, you crazy lady!” I pull her up next to me. She stumbles as she stands, her thin figure hidden by a men’s white T-shirt. Her stringy brown hair falls flat in front of her face and over her eyes. She’s missing one of her back molars but I think I am the only one who can tell. Basically, this is girl is stone’s throw away from sitting out by the local truck stop taking whatever she can get for a blowjob. Which makes her perfect for making me look good. Of course, assuming that this isn’t a bar full of truck drivers and/or vagrants.
Almost instantly, the men in the bar swarm to her and gather at her feet. I pretend not to notice the snub and attempt to capitalize on the attention she is getting by dancing harder and faster, much like an insecure cheerleader overcompensates by yelling the loudest, forcing everyone to look at her and not the real star of the squad, that damn Kelly Kapowski girl.
Any hope of gaining attention was lost when she removed her white T-shirt, leaving a pair of pale floppy breasts exposed, sunny-side up.
“Tits at 8:15! Tits at 8:15!” yelled American Flag into her stupid megaphone.
My right eye began to twitch with suppressed rage. How dare she? I was the one who invited her up, the one who made her bar-top dancing dream come true, the one who desperately needs this job. And here she goes, getting naked and distracting everybody, taking their focus away from where it should be: on me. Now I have to deal with the fact that I am standing on a bar next to a topless woman whose name is Gina.
This is officially not how imagined my night would turn out.
Since I wasn’t going to join her and go topless myself, I decided the only other option was to acknowledge the situation and support her in her nakedness.
“Whoo! Yes. There it is. Yes!” I clapped my hands hard, in vain. It’s not like anyone was paying attention to me, not with a pair of boobs jiggling about.
As she twirled her tits around on the bar, I sensed it was time to for me to get down. I lowered myself from the bar and back to the sticky floor. I felt a disorienting mix of things: embarrassment, anger, shock and oddly enough, accomplishment. Even though none of the bartenders would look me in the eye, I still thought I did okay. I mean, I made it through the two song minimum. I waited for American Flag to tell me when I could start training.
“At least you gave it a go.” American Flag said as she wiped down the bar with a rag and walked away. Excuse me, what? She didn’t care about giving me a job at all. She probably didn’t even remember my name. Later on after her shift, she’d refer to me as “that girl” who came in and skipped on her bar. How depressing.
A biker came over to talk to me, probably out of pity. “Can I get you that shot you hollered for? Whatever you want.”
I looked at American Flag who was now licking Gina’s face. Maybe not working here was a good thing. For everyone involved.
“Yeah. Make it a Jack.”