Wages Plus Tips

wages plus tips

Twilight streamed through floor-to-ceiling windows and between buildings of downtown LA skyline. On the bar, chunks of pineapple, watermelon, diced apples, shots, yes, shots, of cheap red wine to wash down mouthfuls of produce…Redemption point…Two knives lie on the cutting board like avocado slices or flower petals…so we stood chewing the cud in our brains, parking lot conversations at 3 a.m., talk of a dinosaur spawned from an Italian digestif, 40 herbs and vegetables, plus codeine…I don’t open it. I will tomorrow. And I think of that time that hardened me, the active ingredient, transformation. In the aftermath, marinating, pending further corruption. But the dooming transition, going beyond the point of no return, had already occurred by the time I migrated to West Hollywood…gig economy…struggling to fuse raw memories inside a “Where are they now?” story – engineering degree, good schools, music dreams, troubled past, fell into bartending, stayed too long, for the money, cracked. How many are there similar to this one, and what happened to those threads, tracks we tread, into the rabbit hole, and all we left behind…back to LA, MJ’s, early days, training to work at the DTLA club…couldn’t survive on New York State unemployment payments, catapulted into full-time-part-time wage labor, no benefits, just work and tips and endless hustle ‘til you go over an edge, crash, pick up the pieces and figure out which struggle you’ll commit to next…speaking in the vernacular, terms and semiotics of night life, songs that seeped past ear plugs and into my brain during the apex of bartending angst, because we gave up, got out of the trade to pursue other dreams, find or rediscover ourselves, revive something we’d lost or that was suffocating or dying. But which dreams did we give up when we left it all behind – and were they dreams or were they something else? Or was it all of one piece…synthetic brown leaves on a scratched wooden floor after a summer detour to avocado country, sun-paved roads, paradise north of the promised land…far easier to write about bags of fruit than barriers in a bar…the glare of that dark side is blinding so instead of facing it I look away, turn inward, fearful to confront it, seeking an answer in those fields we passed through but knowing full well any illumination comes at a cost and requires a dive back into the so-called belly of the beast…willingness to jump, but there’s a price…reconciliation never realized, love of the work, contempt for the additives, long hours, a mist of substances, the night life and all its tainted glory, darkness in light, inability to negotiate two extremes so you left it all behind, chaos, the little credit card machine we had to run toward to swipe cards every time we had an order because the system was broken, arriving at night, cool, warm, bright lights in the parking lot, stone walls, entering the club from the back, parking attendants and a bartender, dressed in all black, leather, with her motorcycle helmet under one arm, we got there at 8 p.m., early…a green traffic light in the late morning, shortly before noon, look East, toward Jackson Avenue, how drastically one block to the next changes…“I can’t do this anymore”…words ride on a river of emotion elicited by details past and present, allowing the five senses to pull me wherever they may, pursuing a chronological re-telling of the tale to make sense of it, while drifting throughout…across the dark parking lot after the meeting, I saw him and he saw me and I nodded to him as I passed and he said, “Good luck, man,”…buyouts, posturing, politics, but that night, it was all over, and again I went home frustrated for all the toil, sweat, yet can’t even reap rewards…LA paradise, bitter bliss, treading on afternoon light, manufacturing danger and superstars, because we can’t find it other than amidst these chthonic sultans doing it for the thrill of it who speak a language of crime because there’s something violent about working in a club.