That was the figure staring back at me. The ATM screen pulled no punches. I had less than seventy-five bucks to my name. I was jobless, and rent was due next week. I logged out of my bank account, then like the desperate person I was, logged back in just to make sure the system hadn't hiccupped. Groan. $70.81 it was, no joke. Two weeks ago, I'd had a job as a receptionist, nothing glamorous, but it paid the bills. It dove into the toilet when my boss pulled sexual harassment on me in the break room. A total trigger, I told him off. The lowlife fired me on the spot. I've been applying for every job in sight. Nobody's called me back for even one interview. The Manager of the coffee shop around the block won't hire me. I'm 'overqualified,' which is code for no experience need apply.
New York, New York is a wonderful town as long as you're gainfully employed. It's not so wonderful when you're unemployed, broke, and going down fast. It's more like the worst city in the world, my grand, old hometown.
Something's gotta give.
I closed my laptop to consider my options. My credit cards, maxed out; my close friends, just as broke as I was. My mom and I hadn't spoken since I'd graduated from high school and left the West Coast for good, seven years ago. My father had moved to Europe with his new French wife before I headed for college. I had no eccentric great-aunts whom I could tap for a cash advance. As far as options went, I had none.
So far, not so good. My life had been a long series of sad mistakes and unfortunate coincidences. I was a week away from going belly-up. Which reminded me, I was hungry, in need of greasy bodega food. I was sick and tired of ramen. Ugh. Donning my coat, I headed out for the corner store. For November, it wasn't crisp and cold yet. Summer hadn't moved on altogether. By the time I hit the store, and the little bell over the door jingled, I was sweating.
The smiling, somewhat chubby dark-haired guy, Ricky, at the sandwich counter spotted me. "Yo, Glenny, how's it goin'! The usual?"
"Yeah, sure. Thanks." It was cool that he knew my usual by heart. "You make the best salchichas in town!"
While he made my feast, I checked out the fliers posted along the side of the counter. One of them caught my eye: 'Cocktail Waitress Wanted, Experience Necessary.' There was no address, just a phone number. I ripped off one of the hanging tabs. I didn't know anything about either cocktails or waitressing, but I would do what I'd have to do. Fake it till ya make it. How hard could it be? My mission, which I chose to accept-get that room rent!
I paid for my salchicha and beat it back home to my cracker-box, fourth floor studio in Battery Park City. I lived alone, and liked it that way. I wasn't living with a roommate material. I heartily embraced the loner lifestyle. I downed my delicious, nicely-spicy sausage goody first, and washed it down with a splash of Poland Springs with a twist of lemon. It was still early in the afternoon, a good time to call about the waitressing job. I phoned; someone picked up on the first ring.
"Silver Star Men's Club," a feminine, smoothly sing-song voice spoke.
Men's club? More like a strip club? I'm poor, but that doesn't mean I'm not picky. "I'm calling about the cocktail waitress job," I said, striving to sound as sophisticated as she'd come across.
"We're holding auditions in the morning," the woman informed. "Come at 10, tomorrow. I'll give you the address."
I scribbled it down. In the Meatpacking District. Strippers amid the carcasses. Classy. "Is there anything other than my resume I should—"
"No, just dress appropriately," she emphasized. "Silver Star is an upscale establishment. I'm sure I don't need to explain."
"Could you tell me what's considered appropriate attire?" I had some vague idea that it involved black miniskirts and high heels.
"What you choose to wear is part of your evaluation," she stiffly said. "We'll see you tomorrow." She ended the call.
I went to my laptop, and investigated the address she'd given me. It definitely was in the Meatpacking District, close to the waterfront. Then I ran a search for 'cocktail waitress outfit.'
There were scores of A-lister girls dolled up, looking like waxy mannequins. Their uniform was short skirts, low-cut blouses, and sky-high platform heels, not my wardrobe choices. I wasn't a clotheshorse, and wearing a lot of make-up was like saying I loved swimming in shark-infested waters. Yeah, I needed a job, but buying into the world of 'sex sells' didn't grab me.
And yet, I went ahead, and texted Sophia Mah, my best friend about what I planned on following through on.
She texted back a few minutes later, words to the effect: Girl, u need help. I'm there in 30 mins.
I scrambled to clean up a little. Not that Sophia would be judgy, but I didn't want her to see my flirtation with living in squalor. She'd worry. By the time the doorbell buzzed, and she identified herself, I had managed to get things more or less tidier. I buzzed her in. When she stood at my door, she toted an oversized duffel bag. "You got here fast," I praised.
"Wow, it's hot. Is this November, or the beginning of July?" she commented.
"I know. Weird." I stepped aside so she could walk in. "Thanks for coming. I'm freaking out." I fleshed out the details surrounding my upcoming job interview. "So I guess I have to dress up, but I don't really know what to wear," I semi-whined. "But, girl, I need this job. Seriously."
She dropped her bag on my pullout sofa, turning to look at me with hands on her hips. "You really gonna cocktail waitress? Since this place is in the Meatpacking District, better to play it cool. Looking hoochie won't fly."
I sat on the sofa, looking all kinds of grateful. Sophie took over. She was a maven, knowing exactly what to do in any situation. I was her willing mentee, which was probably why we were such good friends.
She pored over my laptop, pointing and clicking for a while. "Okay! This is a classy joint f'sure. Did you even look this club up? It's a Wall Street guys hang. They go there to unwind, cut loose with capitals 'c' and 'l.' You need to look beyond amazing; not like some cheap trick."
"Okay, I get it. But, how do I do that?" My thing is relaxed jeans and oversized T-shirts when I'm on downtime. When I worked as the receptionist, I could get away with black pants and a cardigan. "Looking beyond amazing? That's about as far out of my reach as Mars."
"I'm going to build you your own personal spaceship!" Sophie boasted, not rolling her eyes, and dug into that bulging duffel bag of hers. She pulled out lots and lots of clothes. "If what I've got doesn't get you that job, I'll eat your laptop."