Authors: Judy Greer
Once the winter was over, there wasn’t much use for me in the coatroom, so I dabbled at the door for a minute. I was the girl on the stool in front of the door, holding the clipboard with the VIP list on it. I was terrible at this because I just wanted to
let everyone in, and apparently I was supposed to be taking tips from people waiting in line and sharing them with the bouncers, but I didn’t know, no one told me, so the bouncers got pissed, and I eventually got moved to the box. The box is where I sat and would take the cover and stamp people’s hands when they paid and came in. It was the most boring of all jobs because it never ended and I was sort of forgotten about, I would get thirsty or have to pee really bad, but there was no one around to cover for me, so I would just sit there and squirm until I could flag down a fellow Stardust team member. One of the security guys asked me once if I was stealing money from the drawer, and I nearly choked on my own saliva. “No way!” I told him. “I would never do that!” He told me, totally deadpan, I was stupid and everyone skimmed off the top, that it was expected and I was an asshole if I didn’t. I had been raised to believe that I was an asshole if I
steal, so this was really hard for me to wrap my brain around. The longer I worked there, the more it made sense. It was a nightclub, not a children’s hospital. I guessed that the owners weren’t looking to run a completely legit business, or wouldn’t they open a Subway franchise or something? I wasn’t getting paid much to sit on the stool all night, so maybe I could at least slip some cab fare in my bra or something? I was starting to buy my justification argument. I had taken home my fair share of unclaimed cashmere scarves and gloves from my previous Stardust post. Isn’t that kind of the same thing? Yes, it kind of is. If a twenty-dollar bill just
to fall on the floor while I was taking money that night, and I just
to pick it up and forget to put it in the drawer, and I only did it once a night for my cab ride home at 5:00 a.m., when no girl should be on the streets waiting for a bus or train, wasn’t I actually doing the nightclub a favor? I was saving them the headache of trying to find my replacement while I was recovering in the hospital from a potential mugging. Yes, taking money would
make me a team player! I was going to do it—I was ready to break the law in the name of private business owners everywhere. What I didn’t anticipate were the immediate pangs of guilt I would experience. Literally, the minute after I tucked the bill into my knee-high boot, I was doubled over with cramps. I had no idea how to steal money. Just taking a twenty-dollar bill and stuffing it in my pocket seemed too on the nose. I needed to be stealthy—I needed to remember one of the millions of scenes I had seen in movies where girls were undercover and sneaky and cool, but I was drawing a blank. My method of stealing goes as follows: drop a twenty on the floor and leave it there for about three hours, obsess over it being on the floor, begin mild cramping in abdominal area, drop hand stamp on ground near twenty, bend over to pick up hand stamp, cramps worsen, pick up hand stamp and twenty, slip twenty into knee-high boot, sit back on chair, cramps hit a ten on one-to-ten pain scale, wait for what seems like days for someone to check on me, cramps almost debilitating, the second I see another employee I yell for that person to cover for me, bolt to the bathroom, jump the line of drunk girls, get in stall, no time to wipe down seat, and do something that no one wants to ever do (or smell) in a nightclub bathroom. A thief, I am not. I literally don’t have the stomach for it.
I did use my dirty money for a cab ride home that night, although in retrospect I should have left it in the bathroom attendant’s tip jar—she had a thankless job and no stealing opportunities to speak of. I never stole again, and shortly after I got promoted to bartender. I started working at the downstairs bar, in a more quiet, lounge-type room. I made a lot of money for a twenty-one-year-old, and the hours were perfect for doing theater. I only worked weekends and didn’t have to be there until 11:00 p.m., so I could do a play and then head to work. The weekends were long, but I had a direct line to Diet Coke at my fingertips,
I was making my rent and still able to act, what more did I need?
I was lucky, and once I moved to L.A., I didn’t have to get another job besides acting. But I wouldn’t trade my previous jobs for anything. They played a major part in the person I am today. I firmly believe that everyone should have to work in the food service industry at least once in their lives. Like joining the army in Israel, when all Americans turn eighteen, a mandatory year of waiting tables. Yes, you’ll have your bitter moments. You will cry during a shift; you will snap at your co-workers, customers, and boss. You will eat combinations of food you would never admit to now, some of it off the plates of strangers, you’ll learn to roll silverware in your sleep, go through more bottles of Febreze than shampoo, you’ll learn swear words in other languages, but ultimately it will make you a better person, or at least a bigger tipper.
MY COLLEGE GRADUATION GIFT FROM MY PARENTS
was a car. I don’t remember when my mom and dad decided on that as a gift, and I don’t know why I felt I needed one when I was living in Chicago, which had amazing public transportation, but that was what was decided and that was what I was going to get. I’d made it through four years of acting school, and I deserved a reward. Since my dad worked for Ford Motor Company and we got an awesome employee discount (in fact, we still do!), our family has always bought Fords. My first car was also the first exception, since I got a Dodge Charger when I turned sixteen. It was purchased used from my cousin Brett, who was a used-car dealer somewhere in Michigan. The only reason my parents made a non-Ford purchase was that Brett was family and we must have gotten a really good deal, which is almost as important as being loyal to a brand if you’re from the Midwest. If you’re loyal to a brand, you get a good deal,
a family member works for the company, that is a midwestern trifecta. You’ll talk about that for years to come. The Dodge Charger was two out of three, so we didn’t really mention it much.
My Charger is what I would have described as a burnout car.
It had a hatchback and smelled of old cigarettes, and not mine (I didn’t start smoking until months later), so I insisted on burning incense in it. Sometimes I even burned a candle in the cup holder. Not smart, but it improved the stench a bit. My biggest hurdle with my Charger was leaving the lights on. I could never remember to turn those damn lights off. Ever. I started by putting a Post-it note on my steering wheel that said “lights.” Well, I got so used to that Post-it being there that I had to add another, and another, and another. Soon there were Post-its all over the interior of my car. My father eventually had to buy me my own jumper cables because I was constantly asking strangers for a jump, and if they didn’t have their own cables, I had to wait for the next stranger to walk/drive by. It could end up being hours before I found a willing driver who was packin’ his own cables
didn’t look like he would rape/murder/kidnap me. Those cables were and remain one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. I got really good at jumping my car and at flagging down random people in the parking lot at Laurel Park Place, the mall where I had my after-school job. I’m certain that just about everyone who worked at that mall gave me a jump start at some point. I always got unnecessarily annoyed at people who weren’t willing to help me out—especially considering how deft I’d become at jump-starting my car. I know it probably didn’t add up—here I am so stupid that I left my lights on, but smart enough to know how to conduct electricity from one car to another without killing myself or blowing up either car.
Putting those pesky lights aside for a moment, I loved how much crap I could fit in the hatchback of my Charger. One Halloween, my high school boyfriend Eric and I went to pick up my dog from the kennel. There were hundreds of pumpkins on the lawn and the woman in charge told us we could take as many as we wanted for free. I think we took around fifty. We took so many
pumpkins that it weighed down the hatch of my car so much that it was almost dragging on the ground. We definitely grounded out when pulling in to and out of parking lots. However, the pumpkins proved to be a great bribe for people skeptical of my battery-jumping ability. Turns out people will let anyone under the hood of their car for a free pumpkin. I probably would. Why not? Eventually, I added an empty gas can to the loot in my hatch for the (many) times when I ran out of gas on the side of the road.
You see, these were pre-cell-phone days, when it was easier to just take care of shit myself than walk all the way to a pay phone, call my dad/mom, and wait for them to come to my rescue, or call AAA and wait for some strange man to come to my rescue. Or worst of all, wait for my mom/dad to call AAA to come to my rescue. I have come to believe, though, that the only modern-day Prince Charming comes in the form of a AAA tow truck driver. Every other Prince Charming is just an impostor who will, no doubt, end up borrowing money from you and eating the leftovers in your fridge you were saving for after work. I guess I’m just a do-it-yourself kind of gal. I’m also way too controlling to be a good damsel in distress.
So, there was only one other little hiccup: I got in the car one morning to go to school, and the driver-side door wouldn’t close. The damn thing opened mid-ride! Have you ever driven a car while holding the door shut? It’s, like, really hard to do. The door is heavy, especially on a two-door hatchback made in the late 1980s. Turning a corner was torture, and I was extra thankful for my seat belt that day. I had to rethink my usual route in order to turn less. Eventually, I had the door fixed for good, but the fewer-turns route became my usual route, since, as it turns out, fewer turns spilled less wax out of my burning candle. So, you could say my Charger did me well for about a year.
After I left for college, my parents immediately donated the
car for the write-off, and I felt a little sad that I didn’t get a chance to say good-bye. It was my first material object that offered me independence and seemed to signify my parents’ trust in me. My best friend, Nicole, made the two of us these clay figurines for our cars that hung on a rope. I still have mine. I have had him in every car I’ve ever owned. Sadly, Nicole’s is gone because she got carjacked in Detroit after we graduated and it was stolen along with her car. I felt really bad (but not bad enough to offer her mine). Mine has lived in my Escort, my Explorer, both Lincolns, my Audi, and now in my Prius. I call him my hang-in-there guy because he hangs on, no mater what. I think he is good luck. I hesitate to even type this, for jinxing purposes, but I think he is the reason I haven’t gotten in a terrible accident, even though I’ve been told repeatedly that I’m a horrible driver.
So, back to college graduation. As the date neared, my dad asked me what color car I wanted. He told me it would probably be a Ford Escort but wanted to know if I had a color preference. I was getting a free car; I wasn’t going to be picky about the color! Bad move. He chose pink. Hot pink. My dad bought me a hot-pink Ford Escort. It shimmered. It was my new car, my graduation present. It is the car I would have to drive until the second I could afford to (a) buy a new one or (b) have it painted a different color. The best/worst part of my new car was that my sweet dad painted a vanity plate for me. In Illinois at the time, you didn’t have to have a license plate on the front of your car, so you could put anything you wanted or could fit there, or leave it empty. Well, my father painted me my very own vanity plate that said “
2 B” on it. I know, I know, I should have just taken the plate off, but I couldn’t do it. Something about taking the front plate off made me feel like I was embarrassed by my dad and how much he loved me. I felt like that plate was my dad in a way, and I didn’t want to forget him as I embarked on my postcollege life.
I didn’t want him to think for a second that I didn’t love all the work he put into it. Just like the lunch bags he drew pictures on for me every day when I was a kid, it was an artistic expression of his love and support, and for an engineer that’s a lot. Besides, when you’re driving an iridescent fuchsia car around, people don’t really notice the license plates.