25 years ago, a fucking quarter century, I was working in a bar downtown. East Village.
I didn’t even know where I was, except how to get there from the subway. On my way, I walked past the Palladium and a bunch of junkies.
It was winter, so I wore my black wool coat there. It had jeweled buttons because it was vintage, and a thick stink of cigarette smoke because smoking was still allowed in bars and restaurants. Stale cigarette smoke on clothing still reminds me of bartending. So does the odor of old beer and turned citrus. Kombucha tastes like that smell. I hate it.
I wasn’t a good or experienced bartender.
Actually, I was a shitty bartender. If you asked me for a draught beer, I would mutter, “Draught beer…draught beer….” and have to think for a few minutes, what is that, oh yeah, from the tap. And then I’d have to remember where the beer mugs were. Drinking just wasn’t my thing. I’d been super fast as a Steve’s ice cream scooper/ mix-in specialist. M&Ms and Reeses in a scoop of Cookie Monster, that was my thing.
Because of my slowness, I got quickly demoted from weekend night shifts – working with a gruff, “seen it all” co-bartender who looked a little like Cher and was named Stormy – to the Monday-Friday daytime shift.
When I got to the bar, I’d take the “rock and roll” cassette out of the tape deck and put in my hip hop mix, even though I knew that soon enough, Sammy the daytime manager would come in, wrinkle his nose at the sound of Naughty By Nature, switch the tape back and tell me, “What does the sign say outside? Does it say ‘Space at Chase, a Hip Hop Bar?’ No, it says ‘The Space at Chase, a Rock and Roll Bar.’”
My regulars were Con Ed workers who wanted a buzz before going back to work on the power grid, and a bald, toothless doorman named Gus who came straight from his overnight shift and waited outside the doors for us to open and pour him his first drink.
There was also a big, hairy guy who worked at The Vault, a Chelsea sex club. He liked to drink whiskey and play darts or thumb through his Tattoos ‘n’ Tits Magazine. I don’t know what it was actually called, but all I could glimpse were those two things.
And, once in a while, my friend Arielle (almost her real name) would come by to say hi. Actually, she’d come by to say, “We have to get you a real job.” She was a meddler.
I didn’t drink any liquids on my shift, because I didn’t want to have to use the bathroom. It offered the stench of public potty, and walls slung with graffiti and who knows what else. Like the one in Trainspotting.
Perfectly fitting of the establishment:
On my very first shift, I’d spilled some popcorn on the bar and started to pick it up and eat it.
A customer shrieked, and I dropped the pieces of popcorn.
“Don’t you know what happened in here last night?”
I did not.
“GG Allin played here.”
He then told me what that meant.
GG Allin, head of everyone’s mom’s favorite band GG Allin and the Murder Junkies, was the original “fecal punk rocker:” Before a set, he’d eat an ex-lax candy bar, timed precisely to kick in when he got on stage. Then, throughout the course of his shouted “songs,” he’d reach down his pants, pull out handfuls of his own poo, and fling it at the audience. He’d also grab fans from the front – usually female – and violate them in all kinds of ways while smeared in his own shit. (Know that these audience members signed up for it. They weren’t expecting The Monkees.) Most would run out of the club when the poo antics began, and GG would chase the crowd.
It was like the running of the bulls in Pamplona, but with a shit-covered punk rocker.
In short, the 3-second rule for dropped popcorn was off.
This bar was not my scene.
I wasn’t their scene, either. Sammy got tired of changing my cassette and of hearing complaints from doormen who wanted to get drunk faster than I was capable of serving them.
He fired me.
I wasn’t sad. And, luckily, I wasn’t worried. I lived at home with my parents, who didn’t charge me rent. (All my dad asked was that I turn off the lights when I leave a room. He still does when I visit them.)
It sucks to work in a place that’s not your scene.
And it’s the best feeling to work in a place that is. I’ve done both.
The beauty of having your own business – online or otherwise – is that you get to make it your scene.
That doesn’t happen by accident.
Especially online, you set the scene and attract the crowd with the messages you put out.
The words you choose.
If you don’t want a bunch of drunks coming to your virtual door, don’t make constant references to booze. If you don’t want to attract jocks, don’t make a bunch of sports references. Stop saying “knock it out of the park.”
If you find sparkles and sprinkles and pumpkin spice basic and insipid, don’t be all sparkly and sprinkly and pumpkin spicey.
If you don’t want overly sensitive bitches who clutch their pearls when they see a curse word – or, in their words, “cuss word” – then DO curse.
If you don’t want airy-fairy, woo-woo goddesses, don’t start your sales pages with “Dear Beautiful Soul Goddess.”
If you hate those banal, overused inspirational quote cards, don’t post them. If you do, you’re putting out a welcome mat to people who swoon over “Just Breathe” on a sunset background. That’s someone else’s scene, and it’s fine. But if it’s not yours, don’t create that scene.
And of course, if you don’t like fecal rock, don’t hire GG Allin. You can’t anyway, he died long ago from a combo of heroin overdose and blows to the head from his raving fans.
If it’s your business, you get to choose the music.
Have you worked in a job that was not your scene?
If you have your own business, have you ever felt like you’d accidentally made it *not* your scene?
What can you do to make your business, or the place you work more of your scene?
TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS.
ps – If it’s your business, you also get to choose the pictures. Damn straight I’m finding every excuse to use the photos from my recent shoot.
UPDATE: There were no pants. GG Allin was naked. Just informed by a friend that I could find the actual gig on Youtube. If you think I exaggerated anything, you’ll find I softened it.
robin b. says
Did you know that his real birth name was Jesus Christ Allin…?
Unreal!! You have SEEN things, Child! I’m currently working somewhere that is not my scene and it’s a huge long story of a thing but reading that line “It sucks to work in a place that’s not your scene” totally made me smile.
You get me.
Although, now that I compare it to THIS example – IIIIII think it could be worse.
Alannah Avelin says
First of all I am speechless about your shittiest job story.
Secondly you have the couch I have been looking for! Which evidently they don’t sell ANYWHERE in New Mexico.
Thirdly, I am a little jealous about your photo shoot. I feel like you cheated on me.
The way my imaginary boyfriend cheated on me in junior high.
He only ever paid attention to his pretty, popular, cheerleader girlfriend.
(And I was still loyal to him and loved him all the way through 7th grade…cheater.)
Maybe one of these days you will be my photography girlfriend.
Sarah Reed says
Well, my shittiest job, and I’ve had many, was 3 days of canvassing for Greenpeace when I was 16. I took it because I love the planet and want to be able to continue to live on it, but I didn’t realize how much it would suck to try to get paid doing something to people that I would resent them doing to me. I wanted to apologize every other sentence.
Now I have my own business and I HAVE found that sometimes it’s not quite my scene. In fact, I think I am still trying to help take care of the planet without feeling like I am a naggy, Birkenstock wearing, pipsqueak. I feel far more edgy and punk rock than I probably am. Thanks for the help and I love the photos!
I feel so bad for the Greenpeace people! Or anyone with clipboards. But not bad enough to stop for them. It must be worse now that everyone can pretend they’re on a phone call.
Luckily, taking care of the planet is no longer just for hippies. Leo DiCaprio’s big on it, too.
I would say that all of my teenage jobs were ‘my scene’ from bakeries to Baskin Robbins to Wendy’s – where my friends would come and sit and giggle at me each time I announced “single with cheese, hold the pickles” so that I laughed uncontrollably into the microphone next to my cash register. Then I grew up and somehow decided that putting on control top pantyhose and pumps and working behind a desk in an office building was a better choice than joining the Peace Corps. It wasn’t. Still working on figuring out what my scene is, but I believe it looks a lot like yours does for you right now. Or I may even join the Peace Corps afterall. BTW….Love the punk look in your photo. And I especially love the sofa you are sitting on. It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for. Are you able to share where the sofa came from?
Control top was one thing I always knew wouldn’t be my scene. I didn’t want to work in an office because I was afraid I’d have to buy and wear L’Eggs. I did find an office where I could wear anything (and I did), and where I loved the people and the work. People talk about breaking free from the cubicle, but I loved my cubicle for a long time.
I love what I do now most of all, though. You’re right, it’s my scene. Especially the part where I don’t have to be anywhere but that couch.
(It’s from Cassina – the Mexcube Sofa. We’ve been through more sofas than most people go through rolls of toilet paper. This one’s the keeper.)
Nicole Lentfer says
I had to Google GG Allin and found this delightful article.
Thank you for the entertainment!
That’s the best story ever! Thanks for posting.
Oh Laura Belgra, I love your words. Sometimes I don’t comment ’cause I can’t come up with something pithy to say and I don’t want to mar your comments with inanity. But when you talk about he East Village I get so excited! I remember my time there in the 80’s, a naive virgin from the mountains of California with a dream to be on Broadway. Such a learning curve!!!
You could never mar the comments. You’re always an asset here.
Especially now that I know you were in the EV in the 80s. That’s before I ever ventured down there. West Village, sure. But East? DANGER!
Great post. I played in that bar once with Washboard Jungle, but not until after GG Allin was dead, so I hope it was disinfected by then. In response to Shazia’s question, GG was indeed a real, actual east village rock shit-head during the 80s and early 90s. He got a lot of press, but because i dislike other people’s excreta, i never went to see him. I’ve heard recordings of his songs and they
are boring crap. I was amazed he could even convince people to play in his band, but i understand he paid them in heroin. When he died, the obits all said “good riddance.”
I love that you played there! You are mad legit.
Remember when GG’s brother w the Hitler ‘stache made the talk show rounds?
I’m of course wondering how much you like your own excreta.
doto rwalter says
thanks for email a blazing trail oh my copy it’s so sloppy
what can i do i may need you but i’m so poor and so unsure
look left and right don’t pick a fight look high above and learn to love
from your new friend begin and end
finally your dashed off rhymes
are in the public eye to shine
that’s all I got I should abort
cause rhyming words ain’t my forte
(That e is silent, though the crowd
makes it a syllable and says it out loud)
ps – if you want skills that will endure, spend your dough on the copy cure
You’re da best, Laura Belgray. I agree – one of the best parts of working my own biz, solo, is that I DO get to choose the music – for example ramping up the christmas carols immed on Dec 1, and setting my own scene. Here’s my example of doing my thang my way: a client emailed me yesterday and asked me for some copy I’d written for her before the holidays. Of course, since it was more than 2 weeks ago, I had no idea what copy she was talking about, so I sent something along and invited her to get back to me if “these were not the droids you’re looking for.” Yup. my scene involves nerd jokes. Like it or lump it. Thanks for reminding me we’ve got a good gig. Cheers.
I love a good nerd joke! And copywriters do have it good.
I don’t remember anything I wrote more than a week ago. Sometimes I’ll look over a repeat client’s copy and say, “I LOVE this line. That’s great,” and the client will remind me I wrote it.
It sounds like I’m bragging. I guess I am. Cheers!
Danielle Hoover says
I stumbled upon your blog about 6 months ago and I look forward to every post! As soon as I see your name pop up in my email feed, I’m instantly giddy. Thank you for sharing your life and especially your tangents….those are my favorites!
Danielle! Now you made ME giddy. Payin’ it forward. Thank you so much.
Agh! Is that REAL?! Sooooo gross!
Love the advice about what to put out there…going to mull over that because I want to attract the beautiful soul goddess who shakes her booty while discussing metaphors in nature and life and then laughs at fart jokes with her friend sitting on her Mitchell gold couch sipping tea with a nice yogi tag quote hanging out of the monogrammed mug and plotting how to take over the world with their riches and brains…nicely of course. 🙂
You bet it’s real! (See McPaul’s response below.) I’d tell you to check it out on youtube, but that would be cruel.
You just wrote your mission statement right above! Or your “Who’s this place for?” statement. I’m totally serious. Use that on your home page or about page. No joke.