25 years ago, a fucking quarter century, I was working in a bar downtown. East Village.
I didn’t even know where I was, except how to get there from the subway. On my way, I walked past the Palladium and a bunch of junkies.
It was winter, so I wore my black wool coat there. It had jeweled buttons because it was vintage, and a thick stink of cigarette smoke because smoking was still allowed in bars and restaurants. Stale cigarette smoke on clothing still reminds me of bartending. So does the odor of old beer and turned citrus. Kombucha tastes like that smell. I hate it.
I wasn’t a good or experienced bartender.
Actually, I was a shitty bartender. If you asked me for a draught beer, I would mutter, “Draught beer…draught beer….” and have to think for a few minutes, what is that, oh yeah, from the tap. And then I’d have to remember where the beer mugs were. Drinking just wasn’t my thing. I’d been super fast as a Steve’s ice cream scooper/ mix-in specialist. M&Ms and Reeses in a scoop of Cookie Monster, that was my thing.
Because of my slowness, I got quickly demoted from weekend night shifts – working with a gruff, “seen it all” co-bartender who looked a little like Cher and was named Stormy – to the Monday-Friday daytime shift.
When I got to the bar, I’d take the “rock and roll” cassette out of the tape deck and put in my hip hop mix, even though I knew that soon enough, Sammy the daytime manager would come in, wrinkle his nose at the sound of Naughty By Nature, switch the tape back and tell me, “What does the sign say outside? Does it say ‘Space at Chase, a Hip Hop Bar?’ No, it says ‘The Space at Chase, a Rock and Roll Bar.’”
My regulars were Con Ed workers who wanted a buzz before going back to work on the power grid, and a bald, toothless doorman named Gus who came straight from his overnight shift and waited outside the doors for us to open and pour him his first drink.
There was also a big, hairy guy who worked at The Vault, a Chelsea sex club. He liked to drink whiskey and play darts or thumb through his Tattoos ‘n’ Tits Magazine. I don’t know what it was actually called, but all I could glimpse were those two things.
And, once in a while, my friend Arielle (almost her real name) would come by to say hi. Actually, she’d come by to say, “We have to get you a real job.” She was a meddler.
I didn’t drink any liquids on my shift, because I didn’t want to have to use the bathroom. It offered the stench of public potty, and walls slung with graffiti and who knows what else. Like the one in Trainspotting.
Perfectly fitting of the establishment:
On my very first shift, I’d spilled some popcorn on the bar and started to pick it up and eat it.
A customer shrieked, and I dropped the pieces of popcorn.
“Don’t you know what happened in here last night?”
I did not.
“GG Allin played here.”
He then told me what that meant.
GG Allin, head of everyone’s mom’s favorite band GG Allin and the Murder Junkies, was the original “fecal punk rocker:” Before a set, he’d eat an ex-lax candy bar, timed precisely to kick in when he got on stage. Then, throughout the course of his shouted “songs,” he’d reach down his pants, pull out handfuls of his own poo, and fling it at the audience. He’d also grab fans from the front – usually female – and violate them in all kinds of ways while smeared in his own shit. (Know that these audience members signed up for it. They weren’t expecting The Monkees.) Most would run out of the club when the poo antics began, and GG would chase the crowd.
It was like the running of the bulls in Pamplona, but with a shit-covered punk rocker.
In short, the 3-second rule for dropped popcorn was off.
This bar was not my scene.
I wasn’t their scene, either. Sammy got tired of changing my cassette and of hearing complaints from doormen who wanted to get drunk faster than I was capable of serving them.
He fired me.
I wasn’t sad. And, luckily, I wasn’t worried. I lived at home with my parents, who didn’t charge me rent. (All my dad asked was that I turn off the lights when I leave a room. He still does when I visit them.)
It sucks to work in a place that’s not your scene.
And it’s the best feeling to work in a place that is. I’ve done both.
The beauty of having your own business – online or otherwise – is that you get to make it your scene.
That doesn’t happen by accident.
Especially online, you set the scene and attract the crowd with the messages you put out.
The words you choose.
If you don’t want a bunch of drunks coming to your virtual door, don’t make constant references to booze. If you don’t want to attract jocks, don’t make a bunch of sports references. Stop saying “knock it out of the park.”
If you find sparkles and sprinkles and pumpkin spice basic and insipid, don’t be all sparkly and sprinkly and pumpkin spicey.
If you don’t want overly sensitive bitches who clutch their pearls when they see a curse word – or, in their words, “cuss word” – then DO curse.
If you don’t want airy-fairy, woo-woo goddesses, don’t start your sales pages with “Dear Beautiful Soul Goddess.”
If you hate those banal, overused inspirational quote cards, don’t post them. If you do, you’re putting out a welcome mat to people who swoon over “Just Breathe” on a sunset background. That’s someone else’s scene, and it’s fine. But if it’s not yours, don’t create that scene.
And of course, if you don’t like fecal rock, don’t hire GG Allin. You can’t anyway, he died long ago from a combo of heroin overdose and blows to the head from his raving fans.
If it’s your business, you get to choose the music.
Have you worked in a job that was not your scene?
If you have your own business, have you ever felt like you’d accidentally made it *not* your scene?
What can you do to make your business, or the place you work more of your scene?
TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS.
ps – If it’s your business, you also get to choose the pictures. Damn straight I’m finding every excuse to use the photos from my recent shoot.
UPDATE: There were no pants. GG Allin was naked. Just informed by a friend that I could find the actual gig on Youtube. If you think I exaggerated anything, you’ll find I softened it.