Tiny Dancer

Lilly's between shifts...that's Elmer eating soup

Today is going to be a long one. Double at Lilly’s with a holiday happy hour from 4-7pm – it should be busy. I make myself coffee after setting everything up. It’s the first coffee I’ve had in a week; tastes good. Brunch starts slow but picks up a little toward the end. I’m really perfecting my barista skills with all these cappuccinos, lattes, macchiatos, americanos, and espressos. Once you learn how to make a cappuccino you can make them all. They’re all just fancy names. Typical of the French.

I have to close and do the paperwork, and by the time I’m done, it’s already almost 4pm. Usually we don’t open again until 5:30 but Lilly’s is launching a new happy hour menu tonight. Along with it, there’s an artist displaying his pieces throughout the restaurant: part of the proceeds go to some charity. And there’s an oyster bar set up. This guy supposedly gets the best from the area. Elmer gets one for me before we open. It’s incredible.

It starts OK. Slow even. By 5pm I’m slammed, by 6pm I’m in the weeds. Oh god, it’s first Friday all over again. There’s one server tonight – Corinne – and me. I don’t have a barback, and there’s no busboy. Just a food runner. I DON’T HAVE A BARBACK. It makes no sense. I really don’t understand how I don’t have a barback. I have to clean glasses, set people up with place settings, clear all the food, cut fruit, make stupid coffee drinks, and, oh yea, bartend. You know, make drinks for the bar, and the entire restaurant. And that’s even difficult because of the obstacles I have here – a $6 beer is not $6. It’s $6 plus tax. And we don’t carry coin. I just start rounding up a whole dollar. I start taking people’s cards, like you would at any other, normal bar. I start tabs. Francis comes behind the bar and sees I have a lot of tabs open. He does not like a lot of tabs open. “Ohh you have a lot of tabs. You need to close them. As soon as they order just close them out.” But Francis, what if they want to order more drinks? “Then close them out again.” Oh yes, if it were only that simple. But I can’t just take their cash every time. I have to print their check and close it out. It takes a long time. Wasted time. I should just start a tab. So I do. His way is wrong and slows things down. I take it upon myself to just do it the right way. I don’t even care at this point. I’m trying to bring in money. I’m trying to make tips.

I’m stressed out. People start yelling at me. Snapping at me. They either get ignored or get my death stare. Go ahead. Keep yelling. See how much service you get. Asshole. Some people are awesome. Charlie and Peter, for instance. Never met them before tonight, and I might never see them again. I remember their names because they were cool and understanding and undemanding. That’s how you get free drinks. Not by asking me for one because you’ve been waiting for so long, or because we ran out of your alcohol of choice.

I’m always stressed out, or at least look like I’m busy. At my last bar, Turtle Club, my boss, Cory, would always ask me if I was OK, if I needed anything. No, I’m fine. In my mind, I’m just trying to stay ahead of the rush. Always. Even if I’m not busy. Get everything done quickly – just in case. Better safe than sorry. So when I am actually busy, I look even more focused and serious. I don’t really know what I look like but I’m sure it’s not pretty. So that’s the mode I’m in when Francis comes back behind the bar. I’m just trying to get it done. And the computer has just stopped working. Completely. Frozen. He’s trying to figure it out as I stand over his shoulder, staring, tense. He must notice this. He pats my shoulder. “It’s OK. I’ll get it.” He is totally fine. He starts singing. A little dancing, too. Wow. Well. If he’s OK with this, then I shouldn’t be stressed out, right? Wrong, because I have a lot of angry customers, but right because my boss is in no way mad at me for what is happening. I’m certainly not relaxed, but at least I’m not about to cry.

The computer is working again, thank god, but my printer isn’t, so I have to go over to the server station any time I want to print a check. Something I just have to deal with at this point. It finally slows down and I get my shit together. By 11pm I’m spent, and cut, thankfully. I clock out and park myself at the bar with a glass of wine. Corinne has to close. Elmer has been DJ’ing all night. He’s feeling pretty good by now, too. I sit at the bar and talk with him and his other ‘DJ’ friend, Terry.

Corinne gathering all the candles at the end of the night

Terry is an actor. Elmer tells me a bunch of movies he was in but all I hear is Almost Famous. LOVE that movie. And Terry is just cool. He literally just got back from Canada today. He was shooting a sci-fi movie with Matt Damon and Jody Foster. It’s the next Neill Blomkamp film (District 9). We start talking and I’m such a dork. You were in Almost Famous I love that movie. He laughs and looks at Elmer. “Lindsay, you weren’t supposed to say anything.” I’m sorry. I’m not cool at all, I love that movie! We talk about bartending for a while, because he bartends as well. “I’m gonna tell you something my Dad told me, and I’ll never forget it – ‘Don’t let ’em see you sweat.’ True words, Terry. Eventually I tell him I’m an actor, too. “Well, you were already cool because you were hooking me up tonight but I didn’t know you were an actor!” High-five. His next bit of advice is better than the bartending bit because, of course, it is about acting. “If you love it, eventually, it will love you back.” I like that. A lot. By now, Elmer has refilled my one glass of wine and I hate him for it. I have to drive home. It’s two glasses of wine (the way he poured it, maybe three). I enjoy the company, though. The bar is closed, and they are getting ready to go out. “You’re coming with us. You need something to blog about.” Ha. Obviously, Elmer knows about my blog. It’s true, I think about blog material every day. If I didn’t have to drive 30 minutes home, I would join them, but if I have another drink I’ll have to crash at someone’s place, and we’re not on that level yet. We say our goodbyes.

*Elton John

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