January 30, 2005

A Step in the Wrong Direction

I enjoy writing about old jobs. The fact is, I'm not sure I'd run out of topics in this vein. Generally speaking, I'm not what one might refer to as "career material." Assuming that I will eventually retire from my current job (attempted save, incase anyone from my job reads this), let's just say that I've had a rather colorful employment history.

Years ago I was hired as a cocktail waitress at a swanky, new nightclub. The name of the club was Dillinger's and I was to be featured as their Lady in Red. I could write from now till next Saturday about the fine world of cocktail peddling, but the overuse of improper lingo might be frowned upon. For now, I'll share one memorable experience during this short-lived career.

Clearly, it was a theme club. Everything in the place was shiny, sparkly, red and black. There were plastic gats and machine guns on the walls, as well as photos of Chicago and New York back in the days when the word "gangster" had nothing to do with music (as in "gangsta-rap" for the more innocent of readers). Our bartenders, male or female, wore tuxedo shirts tucked into black pants, red cumberbunds and black or red bowties. We waitresses wore skimpy but not whore-ish dresses that were blood red with way too many sparkles. Hey, it was a job.

The club hadn't yet opened when I was hired. We were all pitching in each night to set the place up and get things in order. Most of the folks who worked there were in their early twenties. I was the grandmother of the crew at twenty-nine, but I didn't look a day over twenty-eight.

On opening night, we all met at the club two hours before our first customers would arrive. We were briefed on etiquette and standard operating procedures, all of which pretty much went out the window within a week's time, still it was a reason to get us all there well before the doors opened.

Opening night was going to be quite special. We anticipated a full house due to some clever advertising schemes. The place was the talk of the town for the two weeks that preceded opening. We could easily accommodate three hundred "guests" and inside of the first hour, we were about two thirds full.

But let me take you back to the first ten minutes of my experience as Dillingers' Lady in Red.

There I was, dressed to the nines in my sparkly, would-never-wear-this-thing-anywhere-else-on-earth dress, my low black heels, my lip and cheek enhancement in place and my hair stiff as a board from hair-lock. Hair-lock was this nifty product that all the employees in the place passed around. You could parachute from a plane in full jump-gear and during the entire 10,000 foot drop, not one hair on your head would budge.

They had just painted our dance floor ... metallic red. It was lined with little lights and in the shape of a big kidney bean. Tables were placed around all sides. As I stood waiting for our first customers to choose tables, I double checked my tray which held napkins, a glass with change of a twenty dollar bill, some match books, a small writing pad and some straws. I wondered where I was going to put drinks but figured I'd sort that out later.

People were shuffling in pretty quickly and I watched as some headed straight for one of our three bars. Finally a couple of tables filled up so I walked toward them and made some small talk as I took their cocktail orders. As I turned to walk away, my left foot never connected with floor and I flew ... ohhh I'd say a good six feet ... down the small step and directly into the center of the dance floor. I was face down and so damned embarrassed that I couldn't move for about ten seconds. Let's just say there was now plenty of space on my tray (wherever it landed) for drinks. The glass containing my money was hurled clear across the room and broke into a thousand pieces. Napkins were still airborne and landing all around me, and there wasn't a set of eyeballs in the place that weren't planted directly on me. As two kindly gentlemen were helping me to my feet, I noticed a run in my stocking that started at my ankle and ended in a rather unmentionable place. My knee was scraped and bleeding which immediately reduced me to about eight years old on an emotional level. The deejay compounded this special event by stopping the music and announcing "...and I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce our very own Lady in Red."
Everyone applauded and I just stood there taking a pathetic bow before heading to the back office to compose myself. My elbow was bruised and my ankle quite sore, but my hair was perfectly in place!

The rest of that first evening went smoothly ... well, how could it not? I made good money and had some great laughs.

It didn't take me long to realize that the big bucks were made by the bartenders so within a month, I retired my tray and took over one of the bars. At first, I was nicey-nice to all my customers and greeted everyone with a smile. That lasted for quite awhile until the club started to take a nose-dive, allowing riff-raff through the doors and eliminating our dress code completely. Sometime shortly after being clocked in the head with a beer bottle (it wasn't aimed at me) I started to wear a button that read "TIP ME OR DIE OF THIRST." It worked wonders.

One of these days I'll have to write more on Dillinger's; it was an eye opening experience in so many ways.

One lesson I learned at the club was that when you begin a new job, although it's important to put your best foot forward, you must be careful not to take a step in the wrong direction!


Blogger Wally said...


Absolutely loved the story! My mother was once a coctail waitress at a bowling center/lounge, back when we lived in Burbank, California. I remember that my father was NOT very happy at all about the outfit that she had to wear. Yeah, he'd let "out" with one hell of a shout, and throw one hell of a "fit," too! ;-) I also remember my mom always fixing me a "Shirley Temple," whenever my dad and I went bowling. Funny, but my dad never cared much for bowling, well; until my mom started working there! For some reason, yeah! He was a lot happier when she quit, and went to work as a waitress for: Gene Autry's Hotel and Restaurant. I was pretty happy about it, too! Because, then she'd fix me up a big ol' bowl of pistachio ice cream. Not to mention, my getting Gene's autographed picture.
*I am so glad that I found your site. I truly enjoy your stories.

2:14 AM  
Blogger Swifty said...

You never cease to amaze me!

1:35 PM  
Blogger brooksba said...


This was a great story. I can just imagine the scene of the bar and I feel for you. I would have probably left after falling. I can't wait for more stories!


2:46 AM  
Blogger Green-Eyed Lady(GEL) said...

Entertaining story and engaging. I love your writing style. I feel for your "red with embarrassment!." I, too, have waitressed when much younger, but turned down the cocktail waitress job... however, I love music and some very kind people years later have called me "Lady in Red", but I wasn't wearing that outfit! :)

12:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another great story. Wish I had your talent for creating a picture in the readers mind..

7:16 PM  

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