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Hog or Heifer? Or Both?

Fired. Again.

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.

Silence.

“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.”

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I’ve got a license to… sign?

“I have to tell you something but you have to swear you won’t tell anyone. Like, no one. I don’t even think my mom and dad know and if they do, their lives might be in danger. I’m not supposed to tell anyone but I know that if I didn’t tell you, I’d regret it on my death-bed.”

I was on the phone with my cousin Kate.

“Oh my god, I’m scared. I mean, I swear.”

“Megan is going to work for the CIA.”

“WHAT?!”

The news that one of my cousins was going to work for the CIA was definitely a surprise. As far as I knew, I was the only one in the family who harbored aspirations of life as a spy. I wasn’t mad at Megan for wanting to work for the CIA but I was sad because I knew one day we would both be spies on the same mission, probably somewhere exotic like Estonia or Seychelles or George Clooney’s Italian villa, and despite being of the same blood, we’d be forced to double cross one another and become rival spies, each unable to rest until the other is dead. Most likely I’d be the one to survive and after an epic six hour spy showdown, I’d find myself alone on a bluff overlooking an ocean, holding the body of my dead cousin, beautiful even in death. In that moment, a peace would settle over me and I’d finally understand the lyrics to Bitter Sweet Symphony by the Verve.

I couldn’t dwell on the inevitable though. I had an in at the CIA. My years of watching Alias were about to pay off.

“Yeah, she has an interview to be a sign language interpreter.”

Anything other than international super spy would have disappointed me but to find out that the job was for sign language interpreting was particularly annoying. None of us, myself and my three cousins, desired a career involving American Sign Language even though our parents are deaf. Our hands are very tired after years of interpreting for our parents. They need a break. They want the freedom to do other non-signing things, like pet a cat, catch a frisbee or receive a kiss from a handsome prince. Yet, despite achieving finger freedom in adulthood, Megan found herself seduced at an Indiana University job fair by the CIA’s promise of benefits and a healthy salary. This bizarre act of rebellion against us Fitzpatrick/Walker CODA’s (children of deaf adults) only fueled my “Megan is adopted” theory. Her sisters and I don’t desire normal lives, why must she hurt us with hers? And why does the CIA need sign language interpreters to begin with? How many deaf people work at the CIA? And are these said deaf people actually deaf? I had so many questions.

“That’s why I think that sign language interpreter is really code for spy,” said Kate. I agreed with her. Of course the CIA needed ASL fluent spies. If the Russians think we can’t hear them, then they’ll accidentally spill the code to the underground bunker holding the really terrible thing that will destroy man kind.

There was enough intrigue around this situation for me to do further exploring. I went to the CIA website and filled out the application for “Sign Language Interpreter”. It was easy to fill out. It reminded me of one of those internet surveys from Old Navy. Sorta long, a few stupid questions, but worth it for your 10 percent discount on your next purchase or job with the CIA.

The holidays were coming around so I didn’t think much of my application after I hit send. I went to Florida for Christmas and it was there that I received a phone call from an unknown number. I sent it to voicemail.

I nearly choked on my Pizza Hut breadstick when I played back the message.

“Hello, this is Dino with the Central Intelligence Agency. I am calling for Sarah Walker. I have some questions for you. Please call me back either today before four or on Monday and Tuesday between the hours of 8-3 or Wednesday between 12 and 5. Don’t call this Thursday or Friday because my office is closed. My office will be closed again the week of December 27th. Thank you.”

Oh my god. This is it. My spy career is about to begin. I wonder if it’s too soon to start fantasizing about my bad ass code name.

I called Dino from the parking lot of Pizza Hut. It seemed like the appropriate place to make this kind of call. He picked up the phone on the third ring.

“This is Dino.”

“This is Sarah Walker.” A longer than necessary pause followed while I debated whether to add, a.k.a Cobra. I didn’t. “I’m returning your call.”

The conversation was brief and consisted of a re-hashing of my application. How did I know sign language and how proficient was I? Am I willing to re-locate to Washington D.C.? What other languages do I know? Could I pass a drug test? I must have answered all these questions to Dino’s satisfaction because then he said, “You’ll be receiving an unmarked envelope in the mail at the end of January. There will be instructions on what to do next.”

“Can’t wait!” I immediately wished I hadn’t sounded so excited. Real spies play it cool, always keeping their emotions in check.

I took the long way home, which really wasn’t very long, and narrowed my eyes as though I were already living a life full of fake passports and lies. Everyone and everything looked suspicious. I passed my old elementary school and shook my head. That place, I thought, there’s something just not right there. Too many swing sets.

My parents weren’t above my squinty eyed scrutiny either. Especially not after I told them I was in talks to work for the CIA.* My dad reacted in the usual manner, a positive exclaim that supported my latest scheme followed by an incorrect pop culture reference. “That’s a great idea! You always liked the X-Files.” Not the same thing dad, but okay. However, my mom had this to say.

“You can’t be an interpreter, you don’t know sign.”

“What?” I shook my hands in front of her face. “What am I doing now?”

“Well, you need to work on it.” And she went back to reading her book, expertly ignoring my angry face.

I knew why she was acting like this. My mom wanted to keep me as far away from the CIA as possible. I was getting too close to the truth, to the secret she’s been keeping from me my entire life.

That she too, is a spy.

Around my mid elementary years, I started thinking my mom could actually hear and was a spy for some government agency. I still think this and there are several reasons why:

  • She can never remember if she was born deaf or lost her hearing at a later age. To me, things like your name, eye color and how you became deaf are easily remembered. My Aunt can’t remember her deaf story either and every time someone in the family asks about it, she always thinks hard, as though today will be the day it all comes back to her. It never does. My cousins think she’s a spy too.
  • Store sensors beep as she walks through them, entering and leaving. You can shrug and act confused all you want, Mom, but I know there’s microchip implanted into the base of your neck to keep your whereabouts known to your people.
  • One day I was driving with my mom to pick up some dinner. I was listening to my favorite pop station on the radio. I went in to get the food and by the time I got back into the car, dinner in hand, a Barry Manilow song was playing on the radio. Someone had changed the station. And just like Shaggy said, it wasn’t me.

When I was 9, I came up with a test for my “deaf” mom. I was certain she’d be unable to keep up her charade of being deaf after I said the worst word I knew, fuck. If she really loved me, she’d blow her cover by taking me straight to the bathroom and washing my mouth out with soap while saying things like, “No daughter of mine’s gonna talk like that” and “Surprise! My ears work after all.”

I planned to say it after dinner as my brother and I watched Wheel of Fortune. A big risk for me, considering my brother’s tattletale history, but I knew saying fuck in front of a boy so young and innocent would make the offense even worse.

I made sure her back was completely turned toward me before I said it. I didn’t want to give her any reason to use “I can read lips” as a justification for hearing me. As she washed the dishes, I said it.

“Fuck.”

No reaction. I must not have said it loud enough.

“FUCK.” Still nothing. That’s okay, I expected this. If your mom is a professional spy she’s gonna be hard to crack.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.” This time I thought I saw her freeze for a half second. Or maybe I just blinked. No. She’s breaking. Definitely. Time to drop another bomb and this time it’s not going to start with the letter F.

“I hate you.” Five painful seconds passed. My mom didn’t react at all. What?! I just told her I hated her for the first time and it was without cause or being a teenager. I decided she was crying on the inside so I quickly followed with a “But not really!” She rinsed off the casserole dish and stuck it in the dishwasher. She didn’t even look at me. It was time to acknowledge my defeat.

My mother’s lack of confidence in my signing abilities didn’t stop me from wanting to sign/spy for the CIA. That happened when I called Kate for an update of Megan’s interview status.

“Supposedly, they’re flying her down sometime in March but she hasn’t gotten any paperwork yet.”

“Me either! Did they tell her what the interview is going to be like?”

“Yeah. It sounds pretty intense. She has to stand in front of a panel of deaf people with a moderator. The moderator will speak and Megan will have to sign what she says. Then the deaf people will all say something to Megan and she’ll have to translate to the moderator.”

“THERE’S A PANEL OF DEAF PEOPLE?!”

“I know. Megan doesn’t want to go anymore.”

“Well, yeah! That’s so scary!”

It wasn’t until this point that I realized my interview was not going to take place on The Farm. The CIA was going to fly me to D.C. to sign in front of a group of deaf people. For a real person job. That I don’t want. What am I doing? My mom’s right, I don’t know how to sign!**

Dropping off the CIA’s radar is easier than you would think. They never sent me the paperwork to set up the interview! The same thing happened to Megan. Since Megan actually wanted the job, she tried to follow up but her contact yelled at her saying they’ve sent her paperwork three times already and they weren’t sending it to her again.  Our CIA careers were over before they even began.

…Or were they?

*I’m the worst spy ever! I told my parents about the CIA like, 5 minutes after I got home from Pizza Hut.

**I do know sign language pretty well but my mom and aunt made up their own signs before they learned ASL. So my cousins and I know more of a slang version. Signbonics, if you will.

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Career advice from my Dad

“You gotta make a video, make it go viral. That’s what Beiber did.”

Thanks Dad!

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Now Casting…

This is a real casting notice I saw today.

NEW YORK LOCAL HIRES ONLY.

[ ALIEN BABY ]
Male. Open ethnicity, open age. We are looking for a little person. No acting experience necessary. U/5

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