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.”