Thursday, May 30, 2013

Friday Night Bull...

It’s the normal Friday hustle and bustle routine, song and prance that we get accustomed to working at the Labyrinth.  It’s in between rushes, during the usual Friday night 9-10pm lull.  The time, in between, where the happy hour crowd leaves the bar for a short intermission.  This is the time often used to go ride the “white-tiger” or whatever the kids call it these days.  For squares who may be reading this, and unfamiliar with the lingo, the “white tiger” is when people snort their evening’s hungers away, talk shit about their bosses, forget what ails them, maybe grab a quick low-carb bite or bowl of “American Fries,” then come back out to the bars and proceed to drink their way to love, getting plastered out of their fucking goards.  It’s the American way.  Some call it Alcoholism. Here we call it Friday…,Tuesday…,Wednesday, pick a day of the week, they all run together here.  There is no concept of time really here.  Like Vegas casinos, there are no clocks here.  I don’t need a watch.  I can tell time by observing the crowd.  Here people get wasted enough to not feel embarrassed (dancing alone like little deaf-white-girls to any Madonna tune) on a dance floor full of men who are all dancing to different beats and sweating profusely with moth-ball breath.  Sounds appetizing, doesn’t it?  A gay bar’s dance floor has a certain stench that I can only describe as furniture show room meets a yoga mat, with a hint of Axe body spray.  It’s one of those smells that initially made me feel like puking on first contact, but eventually, I stopped noticing.

Customers leave and chase the “ski-lopes” with their dollar bills that they later spend on booze or put down a go-go dancer’s jock strap.  Your hands can go numb from these bills.  First there are the fat cokeheads, which is essentially putting your hands in the air and admitting failure in life.  What’s the point of doing lots of blow if you can’t look skinny while doing it, right?   (Insert sarcasm here.)  Then there are the cokeheads looking to hook up.  They are the “Larrys” from Three’s Company of the bar, if Larry liked the poppers and had a deviated septum.  They come to the bar almost every day and weekend cruising for ass.  Hours later these saps are forced to explain why they can’t get hard and are grinding their teeth.  (That’s what they forget to mention in the “this is your brain on drugs” commercial.  Now that’s a selling point!  Tell teenage boys about issues with their wieners, then they will listen!  It’s everything they told you in every after-school movie/driver’s Ed video, minus the hip 80’s haircuts.)  Unfortunately, in this world, in this place, cocaine is the social lubricant, if you will; what many people use to have fun and numb their feelings, nose, and face, much the way Botox does.  Who needs feelings when you can numb them?  The “key-train”/coke-parties are both assumption and observation based on the fact, that many of the weekend customers can often be found grinding their teeth, while their noses run into their and mouth to create that “mothball breath” with a whiff of regret that is only too common in these parts.

In general, I have never understood the mindset of the cokehead.  Sure, I’ve tried it several times, just to make sure it wasn’t my thing.  I’ve never been a coke person, though.  I just don’t get the appeal really.  It’s not a feeling I enjoy enough to pay that much money for, only to feel lousy the next day, be snappy and have to lie to those around saying, “I’m getting over a cold.”  Upon observing the cokehead in their natural habitat (a bar, bathroom stall or bus), as a non-participating observer, I have noticed a few things.  One line is never enough.  It’s something no one wants to share.  With other things like pot, food, booze it’s more like a buffet.  The more the merrier!  With coke, however, normal, descent people become greedier than Wendy Williams at a wig sale  (Side note, I love her almost as much as I love ice cream and peanut butter). I realize now how prevalent and stupidly obvious cokeheads often are at the Labyrinth.  Within a 5-minute period here, one can observe three customers in a row order a drink while they have boogies run down their face and into their numbed noses, into their mouths and over their lips, that undoubtedly are covered in the latest lip-gloss Claire’s offers.  This guy walks past me at the bar with a face like I just described.  I point out the mess on his face, and similar to the way one treats a toddler, I offer him a napkin and wiggle my nose like I have the sniffles.  I’m trying to be coy and not embarrass the guy, because I can be a nice person.  Then the asshole customer smiles, tells me to “fuck off” and tells the bartender he is recovering from a “cold.”  Everyone knows that nothing compliments a cold like a night of coke and booze.  I’m thinking if you were recovering from a cold, why are you at a bar?  Then I remember the mantra I have learned: Gay men aren’t quitters.  If drinking were a sport, we’d Gold-Metal in it.  A second later, as he is walking away, the Bi-Polar Bitch leans into my personal space, like the way one does when they talk to an old-person and tells me that I am “adorable,” with a big insane smile showing off his veneers.  Getting a compliment from an asshole like this guy is like bumping into someone you’ve slept with but don’t remember their name, but do remember their breath smelled like a rotten egg.  It’s awkward and generally not worth getting that worked up about.   (Not everyone has had that experience?)  Being that I am adorable as this asshole puts it, the compliment is always lackluster from these cokeheads, since it’s usually said in a sarcastic tone, where you cannot tell if they are complimenting or putting you down, like when it’s in in a text message.  If you are going to be a dick and try to insult someone, do it correctly, to their face and in a way they can understand.  It’s at this very moment that these gay men use every mean trick they learned from when they were teased by the popular kids growing up, and use it now as material on people like me, who call them out on it.
My self-esteem is really low these days.  It’s lower than my SAT score, which was awful, since instead of completing the math section, I just drew a picture of Kurt Cobain because I didn’t expect I would do well and didn’t.  I had worked the night before at Carl’s Junior.  My co-workers were wasting time with that age old argument of “Who Killed Kurt?,” which segued into an argument on which Nirvana song was better.  Needless to say I was exhausted.  In times like this, when I am down I think about other times in my life where I felt just this way and it got better.  When I was a chubby 12-year old and Monica Gambini would yell at me across the playground, “Hey, ever heard of a thigh-master?”  If this had happened now, I would have had some choice words for that bitch!  I would tell her that she would be lucky to have an ass as big as mine, and furthermore to go fuck herself.  In those days, all I had to do to handle that situation was an eye-roll.  This was during the day of both the Thighmaster and that infomercial where Cher would yap on and on about hair. I would pretend not to listen to that bitch Monica, who I always hoped to hear did something classy with her life, like turning into a stripper with 5 kids who ends up becoming fatter than the lady from Donald Trump’s wallet.  It’s not that I’m bitter.  After Monica’s bullshit, I would then walk to my best friend’s (a janitor), and eat three of those Carnation ice creams, which of course they sold at my school.  This made for easy feelings eating.  Then follow with a healthy bag of flaming hot Cheetos, just to compliment my white-trashiness.  It was moments like this that made me wish I could be Bulimic.  I’m too Jewish, though.  I would hate to see good food go to waste.  Presently, I do not know where Monica is.  I guess I shouldn’t have used her real name for the story.  Please don’t tell her she doesn’t read.  I hope she is just graduating from ITT Tech and realizing that karma’s bitchier than even her. 

The second the guy finally walks away for good, and all I can smell is hospital scent: That of mothballs and regret.   This is, of course, after he purposely spills some of his drink on the floor and makes eye contact with me to remind me that, after all, I am merely “the help.”  It makes me want a sedative or at least a magical brownie to tide me over and keep me from slicing up the overly manicured faces of the lovely patrons around me.  Not that I would really do that, especially if my mother is reading.  Being that my job at this point is bar-backing, which is to clean everything up here, I am not into making more of a mess than necessary.  As I come behind the bar, James is cleaning his bottles and chatting with Johnny about how he’s seen Johnny’s trick of the week out earlier with another guy.  Johnny is the first guy who ever called me “Stud” when I first started here.  He popped my cherry in that regard.  Conversations like these make makes me call the bar “Castro-High” or “9021-uh-oh”.  Then Johnny tells James that his guy is like every San Francisco gay man and in an “open relationship.”  Come to think of it, in my infantile experience, this seems to be true.  In San Francisco, for some reason, most long-term Gay man relationships are actually open ones.  Being a young, inexperienced Gay who is still optimistic and still clinging to the idea that love exists, this concept makes no sense to me.  This was in a world that was different, before we knew that Ricky Martin was in fact a Mary, queer, sissy-lala too.  These couples are committed to each other, but also openly have some things going on side.  Why this is acceptable, I will never truly grasp.  I guess you can’t have your cake and eat it too.  Actually, you can, and it is delicious.
As I walk past the rambling bar gossip, I go back to my Friday routine.  I stock pint glasses at every station.   Even though I try to be working in my own cocoon of thought, insecurity and cleaning products, I can’t help but notice that everyone around me is gossiping.  If it isn’t about their boyfriends of the moment, it’s yesterday’s tricks and tomorrow’s Ex’s.  It’s like an episode of 90210 sometimes, but with more sex and less plaid.  It is kind of making me sick just listening to everyone’s boring drama and makes me less engaged in being here.  All I can think about is how I want to somehow end up at a better job than this.  Somewhere I can make a difference.  I am getting to the point where, while at work, it’s hard to be productive.  While I look like I am working, mentally I am 2,000 miles away.  In my mind, beneath the little afro of hair on my head, I am on a faraway island watching the tide.  I am getting fed grapes by bronzed cabana men, ‘cause why settle for boys in fantasies when you can have chiseled men?  While my physical being is at the bar, working this bullshit job, my metaphysical self is working through that bronzed daydream.  Then, Gina quickly snaps me out of it.  She comes up from her station to yell at me.  At this point, I am already in a bad mood and want to tell the bitch to relax and that I’ll get there when I get there, but actually say nothing.  She points out that she is in dire need of cold pint glasses right away.  She then adds in her Gina way, “You need to wake up and start paying attention for god sakes!”  In my head, I am thinking, “Bitch, get your own fucking pint glass and stop being rude!  I have some day dreaming to get back to!”  In my head I am also imagining Julio and Avi arguing over who gets to wash my clothes.  They, of course, are in Israeli Military uniform that is all tailored, because that’s hot.  The world knows that Israeli men are utterly gorgeous, so I always have at least one on hand in my dreams.  Word to the wise: Israeli men are much like Latin men of the Middle East, without the Catholic-guilt bullshit, and less likely to live with their mothers.  Gina likes being the resident “belabusta”, which is Yiddish for bossy person who thinks they’re in charge, even, and especially, when they aren’t.  That person who always has to be the leader of the group or whatever they take part in, because that’s just how they roll.  What I probably am not considering or caring about at the time is that she really is trying to get her job done so she could make both of us money.  She is simply calling me out for not focusing on my job, which today happens to be true.  She’s like that teacher that interrupts you to answer a math question while you’re busy playing MASH.  Gina gives me honest constructive criticism, and like most people in that situation, I write her off as being a bitch.  I also find out later, that Gina, herself, is stepping on eggshells because she had just been reprimanded for apparently over pouring a drink a day or two earlier by one second.   Our bar’s shot pour standard was four seconds then.  The cameras apparently caught her going over that by a second, which equals one ounce in theory.  One extra second on your “pour” here is the difference between having a job and filling out unemployment paperwork.  Now, apparently, somebody is out to get her.  She just wants to keep her job, because it allows her a good standard of living.  The over-pouring slip/moment in question is, of course, caught on the surveillance camera of our elusive bar owner who is always watching us.  Shit, he is probably watching from home right now.  I imagine one screen with “the Bachelor,” “Matlock” or whatever he watches, and another screen with us working.  I rush over to Gina’s station to stock her precious pint glasses.  As I reach into the drop down of her station, Nick the one in Medical School /bartender is performing for some customers right behind me.  Being the show-off that he is, he bounces his big ass around while shaking some drink.  He’s one of those black guys, much like Wayne Brady.  He acts stereotypically black only when he needs to, but generally acts like a typical white guy raised in the burbs.  When he works, he often is not aware of his surroundings.  It’s like working with Bigfoot.  You never know what he will do.  He’s usually too busy looking for “hot” Jewish Doctors and Lawyers” in the bar.  Essentially what I’m saying is that he has the same taste in men as my mother.  The rest of us have developed a third eye on the back of our heads that help us maneuver our way around the Labyrinth bar.    Nick has no idea about this third-eye business, nor does he care about those around him when he is working.  He is very into making his money and calls himself a “Self-Elected Jew of the Bar” (even though he was raised Baptist); and as an actual Jew, I’ll speak for all of us when I say the following:
1.             No one wants to be Jewish, it just happens. 
2.             No one goes to a plastic surgeon and says, “Can I get a little ski-slope nose no, no, no I want the Barbara Streisand Beak. 
We don’t want Nick; the rest of the world can have him.  Like a whore in a red-light district, Nick always focuses his attention on the person with the money in their hands that is within his hand’s reach.   He is almost as good at guilt trips as my mother; and that’s saying a lot!  He can guilt anyone to investing in anything he does, from cocktails to a date.  The Goy has the skills of an old Jewish woman and the money sense of a Donald Trump.  Nick is hitting on some customer and putting a bottle back in place which belongs behind him, near his register.  He did this without looking.  In this course, he also accidentally pushes me into the pint glasses I am putting away.  This causes a domino effect of problems.  This is when the nightmare begins.  This action, in turn makes one of the pint glasses shatter into a beautiful glittery rain that looks like an explosion around my hand of glass dismemberment, which drizzles everywhere.  Then a huge shard of glass is then pushed into the skin about three inches above my inner left wrist.  I am so in shock that, I almost don’t believe that this happening. As I pull my arm out of the drop down cooler, I could see a piece of my flesh just dangling.  I can’t see how deep the cut is, but all I can see is blood.  I drop everything and run into the back room.  Nick is still chatting with the customer oblivious to what just happened.  On the way to the back room, I leave trails of blood.  In a fluster flurry, I open the first-aid kit that the bar had.  Like a cruel joke, it’s of course empty, full of just a pile of napkins, three tiny Band-Aids, and one tampon.  I have a double-take moment.  Being that this is a men’s gay bar, a tampon is highly unusual in our first aid kits.  I would more likely expect to find lube or even glitter before a fucking tampon.  I start laughing hysterically, in that awkward way the way I do when someone tells me a joke that I already know they think is funny and I get why they think it’s funny, but it’s not.  Then they inevitably try to explain it to you, like you missed the point and then you laugh louder to make it sound like you care. Meanwhile, I’m still unsure as to why I am laughing during a horrible moment like this.  I am a person who tends to always laugh at exactly the wrong moments.  I am the guy who laughs at funerals, any religious ceremony, any of life’s generally awkward ceremonial moments.  Like when I look at any full-length mirror and during romantic moments in movies when most people cry.  I laugh at the sight of bad news, and most people find it revolting.  Sorry.  Get over it.  I pick up the napkins I find to soak up all the blood, James walks by and asks if I am okay, while he stares at my arm from a distance.  His face looks horrified.  James asks me if I will be able to work the rest of my shift, and whether I have insurance.  Right after the words leave his mouth he sees my face instantly turn red.  This is the point where, if I was a cartoon, steam comes out of my ears.  I start laughing uncontrollably.  It’s the type of laugh that is more scary than cute.  I am getting even more upset by this point.  I am starting to simmer with James’s question and the evening’s predicaments.  The fact that he has the gall to ask me such a bizarre question as I have a piece of my own flesh dangling from my arm is ridiculous.  I switch from laughing like a crazy person to complete silence, giving James an evil stare and telling him, “Yeah, I’ll work.  We can turn this place into a fucking making Bloody Mary bar tonight!” As I stare at my mangled arm I begin to feel a subtle sharp, throbbing.  It is getting worse with every second that I stare at the blood-infused napkin covering up the glass battle wound.  I catch a glance of my face in the Hello Kitty mirror of the back room.  My own expression freaks me out.  It’s like a weird Mona Lisa expression and my face looks even more pale than hers.  I have a look of “What the Fuck Should I Do/I Want my Mother” sort of face.

             I am almost in a trance staring at my arm as Gina storms in to the back room, which seems to just be adding to my angst.  My heart starts beating faster and there now is a vein on my forehead popping up that I have never seen before.  Gina asks me if I am okay.  She then picks up the injured arm and looks at the dangling piece of flesh and inspects it like she knows what to do.  She is inspecting my arm like a mother does.  It’s like she instantly turned into the professor from Gilligan’s Island.  Maybe she will turn my arm into a radio, but we don’t have coconuts.  Gina then goes to tells James, who is freaking-out at the other end of the backroom, to get us more napkins and to “chill the fuck out.  I am truly loving her style at this point.  She looks into my horrified eyes, which are now more upset and worried about losing my job, than the actual injury.  She reads me very quickly, even though I try to conceal my emotions from her.  She tells me that I will be employed next week and have nothing to worry about.  She says that I need to relax.  (Which is like telling Rush Limbaugh to make sense, not happening right now.)  She then shows me a scar in the same spot as my dangling flesh, on her right wrist.  I start to think, “Great, she is trying to fucking bond right now and turn this into an episode of Oprah.” Apparently, she cut her self similarly five-years prior. I get pissed for a millisecond and all of a sudden, I calm down.  She speaks calmly, petting my shoulder in a way that only a woman can and tells me that I will be fine.  She says that I like her, am “tough as nails.”  I don’t know how true this is, but for the moment she makes me feel like a tough lesbian, which is way better than I felt before this conversation and tougher than any man I know.  Gina hands me $20 dollars and tells me to go take a cab to the hospital for stitches, to call her later and let me know how it all turns out.  She makes it seem like it was just another normal day.  She has this way about her that makes me calm down.  From that moment on, the pain is gone and I have adrenaline which is getting me through this.   I have been waiting for four hours, alone in the emergency room to get seven stitches. It’s now 5a.m.; I arrived at this sanitized, odd-smelling hospital ER at 11:30 pm the day before.  I find a Vicodin that I guess someone slipped into my pocket before leaving the bar.  I don’t know who the magical fairy is that left this treat.  I don’t think about it, though do consider where it came from.  I assume it’s a gift from the Gay Gods.  I, of course, take it instantly and start to choke in the emergency room.  Needless to say, no one notices, until I come up to the receptionist and show her my throat and stomp on the ground.  She hits me hard on the back, which causes me to swallow the pill.  I wait another hour.  The odd thing is that, if it wasn’t for Gina I could see myself freaking out in that cold sterile place that is the ER.  But, because of her, I don’t feel alone in the waiting room and know that good will prevail.  I’m like a little kid; excited to see what kind of scar this adventure will leave me.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

You should be a minister.

As a kid my great grandma Clara didn't speak any English.  While Russian was my first language there were some things lost in translation since I grew up in the US.  She would always tell me in Russian, "Yuri, remember one thing you can be a minister here."  I would smile as she handed me a rotten apple she had stollen from the "home," give me a kiss on the cheek and walk away to clean her dentures.

 I would as my mother the following questions, "We're Jewish right?"

Mom, "yeah."

Me, "Why send me to Hebrew school if grandma wants me to be a minister?"

Mom, "She means Prime-Minister."

My great grandma Alla

     My great Grandmother Alla was born in the late 1800s.  When I was born she was already in her mid-80s.  She never learned English really.  She grew up in a small Ukrainian village, similar to the one in Fiddler on the Roof.  Much of the village spoke Yiddish and had common Jewish names like Moishe, Reevkah and Motle.  She came to the US with my father and his parents in 1980.  Like most Russian immigrants of that time they came to the US as refugees from persecution for being Jewish. 

When leaving LAX to go to their new home, grandma Alla is looking out her window and starts crying compulsively.  My dad asks what's wrong. 

She says, "Every where I look I see Motle, Motle, Motle! My god! Only in America a Jewish man with so many businesses!"

 My dad interrupts, "No grandma M-O-T-E-L."

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