Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Chapter 3 Meet the staff

Chapter 3 Meet the staff

My dad’s response on the phone when I tell him that I am now working at a gay bar is interesting.
Dad: “like in the Birdcage.”
Me “I wish.”
Dad: “(exhales cigarette smoke then chokes on his own laughter) To bad, I love that Robin Williams. He’s no Eddie Murphy, but he was great in Moscow On The Hudson when he says, “I am job!”

There are so many different kinds of people employed there. It’s an eclectic, cutthroat group that work there to say the least. Everyone is in their own realm and version of reality compared to greater society. There is something in this place that makes us all similar which therefore creates a cohesive staff. It’s not just because of the fact that most of us are fudge-packing, Nancy-boy-queers and dykes. In comedy, when there are a group of gays on one show it’s called an “alternative showcase.” The question I always ask myself when I hear this is “alternative to what?” Working at this bar is similar, only we consider a “regular” hetero-normative bar the alternative showcase.

Here, very few people have “partners.” Something with the environment of working in a bar, I assume makes it hard to date. I get asked more frequently since starting to work here is if I have a partner or not.
When gay people use the term “partner,” it makes me just want to punch them and say, "Hey, he's your fucking husband! Are you living as a couple who occasionally gets down or business partners who play golf? That word makes us look even more like outcasts of greater society than we are or have to be."

I hate when gays use the term partner almost as much when straight people use it. This is not their fault though. They are making an effort to treat us the way they are told we want to be treated, even though the term just alienates gay people more. "Partner" makes gay people sound like they are talking about a business venture. If you are gold-digger and marry a person old enough to remember when the Louisiana Purchase was in escrow then, you should call your “lover,” “partner,” or "investor" in Anna Nicole's case (may she rest in peace stuffing her face with fried chicken). To sleep with an old sack of skin for some of their fortune seems to be a fair deal when it comes to this kind of partnership. If you are a well-to-do hippy, who now shops at the Mac store and Whole Foods, get over the PC crap, because lets be honest, you already sold-out the second you paid your taxes and invested in that family-van.

Back to the story, here, we all have become each other’s chosen/adoptive family. We watch eachother’s backs when customers gang up on us. We are even more cohesive when it is us against the owner of the bar. He is the be all and end all. He simply runs a tight ship and keeps that bar packed while keeping everyone within a camera monitor, big brother sort of a hand’s reach. All the alcohol pours are watch, record, counted and then scrutinized from his office at the bar. The cameras are even connected to his home computer. Keeping this in mind, we know that even when no one is watching, he could be watching us from home maybe right after an episode of “Golden Girls.” He could be smoking a doubie and maybe eating a pack of flaming-hot cheetos while watching us work. He doesn’t need cable for sure. We are observed like fucking pandas at a zoo. We deal with the cage because we know there isn’t another bar in San Francisco where we would make the kind of money we are making there at that maze of a bar. Gay bars are much like zoos anyways. People dance horribly, like idiots on a dance floor to the latest. They have no problem dancing to Kylie or a Madonna single and look for every reason to take their crop tops off in hopes that Mr. Right Now is watching. It’s very animalistic.

When it comes to each other, I have also noticed another approach my coworkers seem to have. We are all oddly “friends.” We all keep our friends closer and then their enemies even closer. It’s hard for me to tell which of us playing this game and who is truly genuine. If they like you, they seem to actually help you from getting out of trouble with other co-workers, our boss and patrons. If they hate you, it’s like working with the little girl from “the Bad Seed.” For those who haven’t seen the film, it’s about a little girl who is a murderer, but no one suspects it because she plays this whole innocent act that people eat up like lifetime movies. We all keep a game face going while working. On the turn of a dime we can go from friend to killer. Most of the others have no problem stepping on a “friend’s” toes to save their ass or make a few more dollars. I guess time will tell who is a friend and who is a foe.

This is how I’m told it works here. People here either work at this place for a hot second, a week, maybe three, and others are here for years. Some work here so long that they become a fixture there like the booze in the cups they serve. While the barbacks and doormen employed here keep a revolving door open for new drifters. The bartenders seem to be solid from first glance. Bartenders get fired for various reasons. Sometimes the reasons can be obvious and understandable like “over pouring” and giving away free booze. Other times the reasons maybe more vague, less reasonable and more superficial. There is though always a “valid” reason even if it is completely fabricated by the owner of the bar.

For the owner, sometimes it looks as though we are just pawns. More like shoes. One could always have extra pairs of shoes in their closet, and then use them to walk from point A to point B. Then, when you purchase a new pair of sneakers, you start to wear them at all the times you used to wear your old sneakers. Then those old sneakers make their way to the shadows of the closet and eventually you may decide to get rid of them. This is all because they are worn down and or just less shiny than the new ones. One day you could be his pet and the next, he can simply make up reasons to get rid of the old and move on to the new. For all of us, keeping our jobs seems to be a calculated guessing game of watching each other’s backs mixed with a shit-load of luck.

The group of people who work there, are more interesting than words can tell. This is because everyone employed here, all see the value in who they are in relation to the bar. They know where they stand in the larger gay community or at least they think they do. This is even if the rest of the world didn’t give a rat’s ass. While here, these individuals all seem to think of themselves as hot shit. Most of them are recovering nerds and misfits. Most of us here are recovering kids that were teased in high school for being fagots and not being what hero-normative society tells us we are supposed to be and support. Here our uniqueness is applauded and precisely what people like about us. The shoe I hope is on the other foot. We now get to see what it’s like as the big kids on campus. Just this campus has disco balls and more sex.

Gina has been there for 2 years at that time. She is the resident, self-proclaim bitch and Queen bee. She is what I would call a career bartender. She is of those who knows their job, does it well and doesn’t apologize for rocking. Being the only woman there, she demands respect from all of us and will not settle for anything less. Gina is about 25 years old. I guess the bitch attitude concept is her replacement for her lack of balls, literally speaking. She seems like the type of girl that probably at one point had and may still have those stupid hanging nuts dangling off of the rear bumper of her truck. If she didn't, she has guy friends who do for sure. She is a recovering party-girl who went to San Diego State a few years prior. She is an ex-sorority, Capa-Delta-something. She was apparently the only lesbian there, so she said. Gina has a masculine haircut accompanied by curves that only could be described as feminine and gentile. Her frame and tits perkier than a bottle of adder often overshadow her rigid-masculine persona. I guess it is because she has to compete in a bar made for gay men, in a staff of men. The thing that many people misunderstand about her is the fact that they consider her a bitch and often write off the rest of her as being anything but. In truth, she is the most straightforward of the whole bunch. If she had problem with you, she would tell you. If she likes you, she will tell you, if not in words, actions. If you get in her way, she will make sure you get a good swift kick or step on a toe. The odd thing is that she actually does guide people whom she likes. Help them do better at their job. She always offers unsolicited criticism to those she loves and even worse critiques to those she hates to working with. When she walks through a crowd she demand attention and the same is true when she is behind the bar. Gina often offers management that doesn’t necessarily require her intervention. She is our know it all. What people seem to rarely understand is that is her way to help? She truly is the foster mother of the bunch, in a semi-butch sort of way. It is like she is the big sister I never knew I needed.

There is also James. He is a newly appointed bartender. He has been here for about a year and a half as a barback and has just recently been appointed to the ranks of bartender. He is also roommates with Johnny, the “all American” guy from dinner. It is rumor that the two had dated at some point but I am not one to subscribe to rumor rubbish. James always talks about how he is at the bar just to pay off a few debts and then go back to traveling the world. It’s ironic since he has already been working here for a while. “It is just the mobile to get from point A to point B,” so he says. He is about 23, skinny, blonde, average height, He seems to be of the type made for the Labyrinth. Everything about him screams it. He always jumps and waves his hands when his “jam” cams on, which is usually Mariah Carey or Kylie. He LOVES those bitches in a way that I simply can’t grasp. James does to not look like what I have imagined a bartender to look. At the end of shifts with him, he often offers to drive me home. I will admit that I do love these moments, although I would never say this out loud. We often roll up to McDonald’s late at night, get milkshakes, fries and soak our sorrows by listening to guilty pleasures of cheesy pop and talking about cute boys we meet or don’t meet throughout the week. We both pinky-swore and promise to never tell anyone about Mc Donald’s because it’s really a gross place and we don’t want anyone knowing that we ate from there. In San Francisco, going to McDonalds is like driving a Hummer there, it’s just asking for someone to slash your tires or throw red paint on it.

There is Michael. He is tall, skinny, with dark hair and light features that made him look somewhat exotic. He is a loudmouth who always assumes he is right. We are very similar in the fact that we are both pig-headed. Like me, Michael is the cynic, but in a different style. I consider myself more masculine, than Michael is, although he finds a way to bring out that part of me. He is a complimentary mixture of masculine, male hormones, with slightly feminine undertones, yet he himself is a package is more masculine than not. I love him for the fact that he is so comfortable with himself. I admire it and aspire to get there some day. He is like the jester of the bar. If he has something to say he doesn’t hold back and just says it. He is not one to hold back or sensor himself at any time in any way. No bullshitting, no blowing smoke up people’s ass. He is also the first guy I have ever met in a committed gay relationship. They have been together for 3 years. That span of time together is equivalent to a lifetime in gay years. Having been tied-down for so long, he always tries to live vicariously through me by pushing guys he thinks are cute on me even though our tastes differ vastly. We also have become friends over the love of our friend, Mary. She is would bring us up when we are down and down when we are up from the adrenaline of a long work shift going to the ladder parts of morning light.

There is also Aaron who is probably barely 30 years old by that point. He is the most exocentric person I had ever met. He is really tall and always commands that everyone notice his presence in a room. His outfits, jeans to the tiniest details where all custom made. His fashion sense is a mix of punk, high fashion and drag queen glamour. His hair would change color, shape and style more often than an infomercial. While he probably became a life bartender, I don’t think that this has been his goal. But, who end up doing the job or career they plan? He lives like a rock star. He parties with them and when he goes out he is treated like one. Going out with Aaron is like going out with rock royalty with a gay twist everywhere we went. I love working with him, I lately have started to call him “Gentle” due to the fact that he is the only other Jew other than myself who works there and has a love of Barbara Streisand. The only other person I know who loves her more than him is my mother. My mother will gladly sell her left arm to meet that woman. Aaron always fascinates me by hitting on every fuzzy little bear man who crosses his path. He always talks about how he loves their “chubby, mushy, furry, little, average bodies.” The first time I heard him say this, I didn’t know how to react to that comment. Now I just laugh.

Aaron is known for many, many things. The tag line, for which I will always remember him is the first sentence I hear him say during my first shift with him. “The human body is so resilient, I have been up for 3 days.” Aaron truly lives like a rock star. He is also a self proclaim – J.A.P. With taste more expensive and gaudy than any Jewish American Princess I ever did meet.
It is interesting how there are so many different types of people who work at that bar. Everyone works there for very different reasons. For some, it is a lifestyle, a career, a means to an end, a way to pay for their habits, a social mechanism, and for others a summertime job. It is like when I studied abroad. I’m living in Florence, Italy for a semester. I’m 18-years old. I am always fascinated when walking through the various outdoor markets of Italia and by all the random people I meet who work there. Many Americans live there, all there for very different reasons. Some come through on vacation and simply never leave. Others start off at a local university studying abroad and essentially defect there. There are some who stay for love, while others are running from the mob, or something back home.

Whatever the reason is, like Florence, the Labyrinth is a place many people run to in order to escape stuff in their lives for whatever reason. Like Florence can, it kind of consumes people. You would start there, with one goal, end with another. Eventually you are just there and unsure why. Your initial reason for being there is now irrelevant. The question all of us working here wonder is, why am I here? Where am I coming from? Where am I going? what will follow?

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