Sink or Swim

I didn’t stop at The Rainbow Room.  I loved bartending: still do.  I wanted more of it.  I guess now is a good time to mention that I’m a bit gluttonous once I find something I really enjoy.  It’s like an incessant need to gorge on as much of it as I possibly can.  A woman, alcohol, horror movies, chocolate, The L Word, ice cream, apples and peanut butter, writing, 30 Rock…the list goes on, but at this point in life, I’m very confident in my skills at moderation.  That’s the key.  Too much of anything is never a good thing – no matter what it is.  But, when the opportunity came up to get a shift at Turbulence in Ybor City, I jumped on it.  Wednesday nights: Sink or Swim.  I was so in.

I must give thanks to a new friend I made at the time.  I don’t remember her name but she was to Tampa what Anna Nicole Smith was to Hollywood.  So we’ll call her Anna.  A lot of issues, but buxom, blonde and beautiful.  She was a lot of woman and an attitude to match.  I really liked hanging around with her and she’s the one who recommended me for the job.  Before arriving at Turbulence, I should have known that it’d be a black club: she was into black guys, like so many white strippers I’ve worked alongside.  And thanks to her booty, hips and blonde hair, black men were into her.  What’s with that?  I don’t know, but we can explore that topic later.  But I was uncomfortable for many reasons:

  1. Black club: what could I expect by way of tips?
  2. Black club: don’t out yourself.  It probably won’t go over well.  Maybe now I’d fare better since Obama has given black people the okay to approve equal rights.  Really, NAACP?  That’s all it took?
  3. Black club: this music is going to give me a headache.
  4. Beer tub: wait, I thought I was bartending?

So, the gig ended up being a beer tub off to the side of the dance floor.  Great.  I decided that life was about experiences and this would just be another one to add to the list.  To which list, I wasn’t sure: the ‘I’m so glad I did this!  It was so rewarding!‘ list – or – the ‘What the hell was I thinking?  I’d have done better begging in the park!‘ list.  Here’s how the shift starts…

  1. Arrive with $35 of your own money.  This is your bank.
  2. The bar back brings out all the beer, fills up your tub and ices it down.  This is your product.
  3. Wait.
  4. Sell.
  5. Wait some more.
  6. Tip out.

The whole process is like stripping.  You work, wait, work and then pay someone else for the privilege.

My first night was interesting, to say the least.  It didn’t get busy until after midnight and even then, it was dismal.  First of all, the night in question – sink or swim – was more of a beacon to all of the cheapest people in Tampa.  $5 gets you in and gets you a cup.  Drink up and fill up.  All night.  The lack of tips was nothing I took personal – the sexy bartenders weren’t making much either – but the fact that I’m trying to sell beer in a bottle while they’ve already got cups for drinks that are already paid for…what was I doing here?  I was sinking.

I asked Anna for some tips.  She fared a bit better than I did that first night.  Of course, she was right by the front door so that proved to be a distinct advantage.  And her good looks, sass and booty didn’t hurt.  But I was determined to make the best of this opportunity and make it work for me.

The following week I put her number one tactic to the test: I threw ice.  Now, when throwing ice, it’s important to remember some basic rules: aim low (no, not there, lower), make sure he’s by himself or at least with male friends and make sure he doesn’t already have a drink.  It worked about 60% of the time.  I got some laughs, mostly because they’d look around wondering who kicked them, but others would nod and acknowledge my existence.  So the second week was an improvement, easy.  Even got some more sales out of it, thanks to black men’s incessant need to double fist.  For those who don’t know what I mean and others who may have their head in the gutter, it means holding two drinks at the same time :-).  Which is pretty smart when you think about it…in a busy club, who wants to wait over and over just to get to the bar for a drink that’s only going to last so long.  Then you get to fight your way back to the bar and wait again.

At the end of the night, I did better, but not great.  My sales were okay, but the manager told me that I was still short compared to what the bar back said he put into my tub.  Hm, I thought.  How could that be?  I said.  Well, it probably means that you didn’t keep an eye on your tub and some beers may have walked away.  Oh, I see.  I had to tread lightly in this situation.

I took a good, hard look at the manager: short, fat, balding – sitting in his chair at the desk, not looking me in the eye as he told me that I owed him an additional $12.  He didn’t know me very well.  That is, he didn’t know that, as a dancer, I know how to keep track of my money.  And keeping track of beer bottles was no different.  Every beer bottle meant a sale, which meant a potential tip.  So, he could bet his flabby white ass that I was very much in control of my tub.  While some guys would walk by and pretend to snag a beer…I caught them, whether they were joking or not.  Something else that people don’t know about me right away – I am a meticulous observer.  I’ve always been very good at that game where you compare two identical pictures and site the differences – except I do it in real life.  I knew each and every time someone was in my room as a child…the blanket on my bed was wrinkled where someone sat (my mother would search my room at random), the sliding closet door was ajar when I knew it was closed when I left, a picture on the wall askew, a coaster out of place…I am OCD with visuals.  I’m pretty certain I’m destined to live alone for the majority of my life.  I like things to be exactly where I left them.  If something that was previously there is there no longer – I’ll know it.

I knew then that I’d have to keep a tighter eye on the beer, the bar back, the patrons and my manager.  I had a feeling that I already knew who my culprit was, but I was determined not to judge…yet.  I had a plan for the next week.  Subtle enough to not anger anyone, but deliberate enough to say, I’m not one to fuck with.

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