Last time: Tracy found an apartment covered in glitter, and decided it would work for her summer of freedom before the real job started in the fall.
By the time I drag my bags up the stairs, all I really want to do is pass out on the bare mattress of the Murphy bed. The apartment has actually been cleaned from the last time I was there. The glitter is gone – for the most part – and the cat hair is no longer embedded in every surface with a static-prone covering. I didn’t really expect the landlord to follow through on his promise. I half expected it to be just as bad as it had been last week. The shower does little to actually rejuvenate any energy but I feel more human.
It’s deceptively cool when I get outside. I curse briefly, wishing that it had been this way when I was lugging suitcases up the steep steps an hour ago but New York’s weather is fickle. It was eighty degrees with way too much humidity before the sun had set and now is a still-sticky sixty. The only bonus of it is that the stench of trash isn’t quite as powerful.
The sidewalks in my neighborhood are blissfully busy, and I wander without much thought, looking in the windows of various bars and restaurants, reading menus and wondering if I will even be able to afford anything in the near vicinity. The blocks pass by slowly and the storefronts lose the slickness of new paint and happy chatter.
I took the time to stop into a few restaurants, coffee shops and bars to ask about jobs but was met with the same responses every time.
“Come back at three on Tuesday. Bring a resume and ID.”
“Do you speak Spanish?”
Maybe it was the small-town atmosphere I was used to, but I liked the little hole-in-the-wall places more than the fancy table clothes or chain places. I’d rather actually get to know my customers.
I was striking out left and right tonight. Every time someone said to come back, I checked into the place through my phone so I’d remember it. I never thought I’d need a resume to get a job as a waitress. I’d done it before in little family places back home, and then in college at the local dive bar, but I had always just filled out an application and gotten a job.
I paused in my casual saunter to take a closer look at a darker window, one that gave off little glow of a happy interior but was more like the places I was used to.
The window was hazy with dust and frames a dark, worn interior. An old bar just inside the door stretched the length of the space, and there were patrons dotted throughout the restaurant. There is not a child to be seen at the scant tables to the right. It looks like exactly the kind of place that I might be able to afford a meal in.
The bar – and it’s definitely a bar when I gets a closer look – is loud, but the clientele seems more focused on their pints and their friends than on picking up their neighbor. The bartender is an older woman with large arms and a stern expression. She looks hassled but quickly takes my order before turning back to her liquor shelf with a pad of paper and a pen between her teeth.
With a sandwich in front of me, I turned my brain back to the problem of employment that sat in the front of my brain. I needed something that I could do for a few months, pay my rent and keep me in food, and that I wouldn’t feel too terribly guilty about ditching in the fall. The only experience I had that didn’t involve calculators and finance included waiting tables and the occasional beer-slinging job at the bar in my college town.
I wasn’t terribly good at it but the customers seemed to like me. At least I had the sense of humor to laugh at myself when I dropped something or broke a glass. And it didn’t happen so often that the owners noticed or anything.
My eyes ran around the bar again. There weren’t a lot of tables but there was more to do than the girl currently handling the floor could do on her own. The bartender looked ready to spit nails every time a customer interrupted her inventory, which was exactly what I was about to do.
With her next turn towards the room to check on her customers, I raised a hand and smiled, hoping that a friendly face would get me somewhere.
“Yeah?” she questioned from half way down the bar, making no move to come any closer.
“Um, can I have a check?” I ask, deflating a little bit.
She makes her way down the bar, checking on other customers as she goes, until she comes to a stop in front of me. The slip of paper rips neatly off her pad. She slaps it down and starts to move on without addressing me.
“Wait!” I choke out. My heart is suddenly beating too fast, and my palms are sweaty enough to make me fumble my wallet out of my purse. “Are you hiring?”
She raises one eyebrow skeptically. It makes me stumble over the next part even more. For a second, I forget that I’m everything my mother and father have drilled into me: intelligent, experienced, worthy.
“I have experience!” I spit quickly. “And it looks like you all are busy. I’m just looking for a summer job.”
Her eyebrow doesn’t fall, but I take the lack of response as a signal to continue.
“I can give you references,” I say. “I can work weekends. I’ve worked behind bars and as a waitress.” I can hear the nerves in my own voice. My brain is smacking itself in the forehead with embarrassment at this point.
Her eyebrow resumes its normal place as she purses her lips, looking me up and down. There is little to go on what she gleans from my appearance but she must like something she sees because her eyes move to the dingy surroundings and the other waitress who is running back and forth between the kitchen and the tables.
“I suppose I could use the help,” she admits. “Give me a reference, and come back tomorrow night.”
I scrawl my last boss’s name on the back of the receipt with his number below and slide them back across the scarred bar with a wad of cash to cover my sandwich. I worked for Lou at The Nest off and on during the last two years of college as did most of the girls in my sorority. It was a local bar that served local guys and the college community during the school year. He will be able to tell her I’m capable of handling a bar and a tray. And he owes me for all the hours I put in during graduation week. I’ll have to call and remind him that he owes me, but he does.
“Don’t you want my number?” I ask hesitantly as she turns back towards her inventory.
“Don’t need it. No skin off my back if you don’t show up tomorrow. Dress to work when you come in. Your reference goes okay, and I’ll try you out for the evening.”
Her tone is curt, and she doesn’t spare me another glance as she moves back down the bar.
My heart starts to slow down a little. She’s clearly not going to give me any more details. But this is the best response I’ve gotten all night, right?
College didn’t prepare me for the rudderless existence that waited for me after graduation. Nothing really did. Sure, I had a job set up in a few months but nothing else to look forward to in the long run. This was apparently what being an adult was about?
This at least felt like a step in the right direction. It felt like maybe a job doing this kind of thing would be the distraction I needed to get my bearings in a new city, and give me something to do every day while I figured the rest out.
It wasn’t until I was half way home that I realized she hadn’t told me what “dress for work” meant and that I hadn’t given her my name. I’m off to a great start.
Cover art for Headed towards the Right Decisions was created by Maritza Lugo.