Sunday, November 24, 2013

The golden road - NY Stories

March of 2011 landed me working at a bar in the West Village on the corner of Houston and Sullivan. Cayenne Lounge was owned by a sweet and gentle soul, Shai, whose face very much resembled Hoggle, Sarah's dwarf counterpart in Labyrinth. He was an older man in his late 60's and had opened the bar only 3 months before I began working there. His daughter Talia, a wide eyed beauty blessed with the mane of curls I spent much of my youth trying to create each morning, was a freelance web designer. She had bartended all throughout college and helped him get the place up and running. She was the one who hired me and the only other bartender on staff, Rainbow.

Cayenne should have thrived. It seemed to have all the necessary ingredients upon first glance. Beautiful space, wonderful location catering to both business people and NYU students, friendly and bubbly staff etc And yet it closed 7 months later. I wish I could remember what Shai had done for a living before opening it but I suppose it doesn't matter. He didn't really know much about the business and was too kind and too trusting for his own good. A month after opening, the scavengers arrived. A duo of apparently longtime New York club promoters who made a deal with him to throw parties Friday and Saturday night guaranteeing a crowd. The catch was that they would bring in their own bartenders and he was to have none of his own people on staff. Only of course it was phrased differently, dressed up pretty to make it seem as though he wouldn't have to worry about a thing. The day I trained was a Friday night for a few hours and Talia had told me I would split half the tips at the end of my training. Working alongside one of the promoters I immediately became protective. He was absolutely physically beautiful. I don't think I met a man as striking in the entire course of my years in New York. He was also charming as any good bartender is, which of course I saw right through. At the end of my shift, I counted the tips, split them in half and handed him his telling him how much and asked if he wanted to count it. He smiled an irritated smile, closed eyes and shook his head slowly leaning to his right. "Darling, I don't know how they do things in California, but you're in New York now. You don't get paid to train but here, take $20 so you can take a cab home to Brooklyn.", with the word Brooklyn rolling out of his mouth as though it were maggot infested. So I smiled my own sweet charming smile and instructed him that I had earned my tips and was taking them. "You won't last long here. Shai will not be happy with you." was his best retort. Slowly, I started seeing what was happening and that Shai was being blindsided and taken advantage of. After working a full Friday night as one the promoters bartenders was ill, I knew the register ring should have been higher and saw how they gave top shelf liquor away to nearly everyone and pocketed the generous tips.

But the days belonged to me and Rainbow. She brought life with open mic nights and I kept the neighborhood visitors happy. Shai's mom got sick and he rarely came in and my own happiness began to dwindle because I hadn't made time to do what I loved and was in NY to pursue, makeup. Every weekend Cayenne was the last stop on an interactive mystery theatre tour, the theme of which was the Wizard of OZ. Groups would come in and watch a video of modern day Dorothy stressed out at NY prices and the chaos that ensues there, instructing the crowd to find a key and collect their treasure or something of the sort. Joe, a little person who would show me photos of him and Will Smith in MIB every chance he got, would pop out and scare them delivering a painting of the emerald city as they had solved the mystery! Though the munchkin land music played with each group finale got repetitive, it was my favorite time to work. There were kids and tourists happy to be on vacation in contrast to the darker nights filled with people spilling their pain.

One night a beautiful woman walked in wearing a very convincing wig. She ordered a drink and shared that she was an ex model having just moved back to NY from Australia, her home. She asked if I liked her hair and then sighed "what am I doing?" and slipped it off her head. I hadn't actually realized it wasn't her hair until that moment. We chatted on and off while I served other customers and played with Tambu, a beautiful terrier pup who belonged to Molly, one of the regulars. Hours later, the beautiful woman still sat in front of me and asked "How are you so happy? How can you stand in front of me with a beaming smile on your face in this?" I asked what she meant exactly. "I know you're here to explore and pursue your career, but since I've been here you've had to deal with me and my life rants, I've watched you calm a drunk, irate man screaming and crying and pounding the bar about his wife cheating on him rather than call the cops, clean up the pee of someone else's dog, and you did it with a smile and don't seem to be bothered by any of it. You deserve better than all of this."

I don't know who she is, but I love her. My response was that we choose our mood and being irritated never makes a task any more fun or easier to complete. She needed an ear and I love to hear people's stories. The man who's wife cheated on him was obviously in a tremendous amount of pain and I've felt that same pain before. Sometimes, having someone validate your feelings makes you feel better. And Tambu brightened my day every single time I saw her, she was my favorite customer! Cleaning her pee didn't bother me. While I still stand by my words, the reason I loved that woman so very much was because amidst her own darkness, she illuminated my world and made me really think about what the fuck I was doing. Settling. Passively standing by just letting shit happen and (mostly) smiling while I either played with what came or cleaned it up.

All of yesterday and this morning I've had Oz in my head, echoing the now cliche term, "There's no place like home" while visions of Dorothy's ruby slippers clicking together dance across my current reality. Tomorrow I'm moving back to San Francisco. Home. I have walked the golden road, explored the emerald city and now I'll figure out what the next step is after learning all that I have about myself.

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