It happens with all nightclubs. A spot opens, gets popular because of famed celebrity clientele, and “everyone” goes. Then, after the article in AM New York (like the one below) becomes old and crusty on your fridge, “everyone” goes somewhere else.
This is beginning to happen to Carnival, the circus-themed nightclub I’ve been moonlighting, and the transition has not been a gradual one.
On Saturday I was tending and there was an inordinate amount of cheap jewelry present at the bar. Suddenly, I heard screams coming from the other side of the liquor shelves. I looked over to see who I presume was Miss New Jersey yanking the hair extensions out of another girl’s scalp. She had a vodka soda in one hand and a tuft of synthetic braids in the other without a single look of remorse on her face.
The attacked girl retaliated and the two went at it. I’d seen two girls fight before in junior high, but here there was real intent and they were doing it in heels instead of Etnies. Both girls used only one hand and kept their bodies poised outward in a way that would look flattering on camera. I was terrified. They clawed at eyes and breasts, tearing each other’s party tops in the process. The huskier of the two (and one who was accused of being a “stupid ass ho bitch”) managed to pour her drink in the cleavage of the other before she tackled her onto a bright blue lounge couch, knocking over someone’s platter of mini corn dogs and tater tots (we only serve carnival style food of course) in the process.
Without taking a minute to ponder what to do next, the tackler, who was roughly the size of Kristie Alley on a good day, tossed her head of blonde cornrow weave, ripped out the torn dangling extensions that were hitting her in the face, and straddled Miss New Jersey with two sizably chunky legs clothed in none other than Apple Bottom jeans and yes, boots with fur. Then she performed what I assume was her signature move: she placed her hand directly over the other girl’s face and just simply applied pressure. Her victim kicked and swatted but homegirl just kept her hand there, squeezing that face like a ripe fruit. The original “talk to the hand.”
They were only a few grabs and pulls in when the women’s boyfriends attempted to pull them off of one another. The men quickly realized it was more fun to join them instead of getting scratched by their girlfriend’s acrylic nails (adorned with Yankee logo appliqués), so they started fighting each other. Soon, there was an all out bar brawl that only ragtime piano music would have stopped. Thirty people (I’m not kidding) from the same birthday party were smacking the shit out of each other. The only words being uttered were the screams of the birthday girl, who wore a fuzzy tiara and gigantic rhinestone studded earrings with her initials on them.
Handicapped by shock, security took a while to break it up. This was not something they had expected in such a classy venue. Days before we’d had “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” filming a really fancy show here, and now we have just plain people from New Jersey.
Almost as soon as the participants in Fight 1 stopped calling each other “mother-fuckers” and “bitches,” ANOTHER fight broke out ACROSS the room. As if we were an ocean, the hungry spectators and I ran in unison from one area to the next, catching many drunk couples making out in our riptide. Over here it was the same story. Skilled, ninja warrior princesses held their drinks and their cores upright while they worked to tear each other’s hair out. Then their boyfriends got into it to prove that they too, could fight like the women.
The room shook as security rolled their eyes. It took almost a half hour to remove every offender from the club. Over the screams and drunken slurs, I could hear the bells and whoops of one of our many carnival games. Amidst the chaos, someone had scored a 92 on the HighStriker and won a stuffed Bart Simpson doll.
I was already in a bad mood because someone had chundered on the bar earlier in the night and the dark spot that remained seemed to be watching over me like a ghost, specifically the ghost that eats all the junk food in Ghostbusters. That character would always make me throw up in my mouth a little anyway.
Since I wouldn’t turn my head in the direction of the phantom vomit, a customer got angry that I wasn’t taking his order for a “Blue Cotton Candy martini,” and to express this anger he dumped all of his buffalo wings into my tip jar. His girlfriend proceeded to pick a few wings out because she “wasn’t done.” There was a five dollar bill hanging from the wing she was chewing on, and as I reached for it she told me, “This is mine, bitch.’ Now that I think about it, maybe she thought I wanted the chicken.
I tend to eat my feelings on the days that I work, so on Saturday my feelings were an entire package of Chips Ahoy and nothing else. Around 2 a.m. I was past the point of hungry, I was shaking and in need of some sort of sustenance that didn’t come in a box with a cartoon character on the front. The bar was packed and I wasn’t moving fast enough to get the ten chilled Patron tequila shots per person that seemed to be everyone’s order (“and can we get some water and a few more limes when you get a minute?”). I was already a mess, but it was about to get even worse.
When Shakira’s “She-Wolf in the Closet” song came on, I knew it was getting late because it was the third time I was hearing it (the DJ of this place is the “working out” mix on someone’s ipod) The bar was still packed and I was losing steam. Someone wearing a Kangol hat and dark glasses ordered a Corona. I used the bottle opener attached to the beer cooler to take the cap off. To my dismay, the top of the bottle exploded in my hand, treating me to a lovely shower of Mexican beer and also a thin stream of blood running down my forearm. My hands were shaking, my stomach was churning, and there was some trashy girl from Queens dancing on the bar. It occurred to me that she was probably stepping in dried puke. This made me laugh for a moment but I stopped when I saw more blood bubbling out of my palm. Perhaps it was because I already had vom on my mind, but I immediately Chips Ahoy’d onto my sliced hand.
Before I had time to cry about puking or wonder why I was a college graduate covered in vomit and blood while wearing fishnet stockings and working in a Coney Island-themed nightclub, the barback, Raul, produced some sort of anti-septic, cleaned the vomit and the cut (which turned out to be miniscule but mighty) and put a BandAid on the whole mess. “Esta bien.” He said. I thanked him, blinked, grabbed another Corona, popped off the bottlecap and gave it to the Kangol hat dude. He hadn’t even noticed me chundering two seconds earlier, and if there had there been chunks of chocolate chip cookie vomit on my face or in my hair, he didn’t say anything. He clearly cared more about the Corona than the hygienic state of the person giving it to him.
When I came home, I fell face first onto my bed. I took off my vest and fishnets and threw them into my laundry hamper. As I did so, I noticed that I had knocked a very small mouse off of the netting of my hamper into my pile of clothes. I closed my eyes in annoyance. I hate mice, and now this one is probably going to suffocate from my gin soaked vest and I’ll have to deal with a dead mouse in my laundry. I intended to get up and trap the mouse in a shoebox and set it free outside, but instead I just fell asleep and had a horrific nightmare about a horde of mice swarming into my bar, ordering Coronas, then drunkenly making out with each other and yelling on their phones.
The next day when I was wiping barbecue sauce from several hundred one-dollar bills, I thought about the leftover red velvet birthday cake that had been in the break room when I left and how I wished I’d had a piece because I’ve never actually eaten red velvet cake, but it was probably for the best because my stomach was uneasy from the chundering. Oh yeah, I remembered, I puked last night.
It was that same realization that comes after a night of blacking out from drinking. And though my body was covered in scars and bruises and I had that empty feeling of inexplicable embarrassment and loneliness that one usually gets after a crazy night out, I hadn’t had a sip of alcohol. Plus, I was wiping barbecue sauce off of something, so it really was like a typical morning-after.
And from this realization I have been led to a new point of intrigue; how far can this job push me until I snap? I’m rather amazed by my stamina. I have withstood fear, anger and nausea in this town without so much as a blink. Here in New York, I’ve dealt with blood, sweat, vomit and vermin, and I spend a good portion of time in a damp trench that smells like whiskey, much like the soldiers in WWI. I truly fear that I will get dysentery. But I’ve never had to “take a minute” or cry in the bathroom stalls while at work, which I’ve had to do at jobs before that didn’t involve corn dogs.
Had I something to be working for like school or a career, perhaps I would have given up on this job earlier. But giving up hasn’t even occurred to me. This is part of my hustle and what I have to do to be able to put cookies on the table. It’s quite liberating that I don’t have internal arguments with myself that are telling me to quit. I can’t.
At this point I feel like I can do anything. I wake up feeling fine and go to work feeling fine. It’s just a job. Anthony Bourdain needed drugs to get through New York and its service industry, but all I need is a barback with a BandAid.
I am worried that I’m compartmentalizing the stress and eventually I’m going to snap Tyra Banks style if another fratboy refuses to tip me because we don’t carry Jaegermeister. But I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
I don’t think I believe in “taking a minute.” I puked, so what. I have a job to do. Raul and I have never mentioned it again, because neither of us particularly want to relive that moment. But, I did pre-order the new Shakira CD on Amazon to give to him as a gift.