Everybody’s had one of these jobs, where a new unknown world appears and you slowly get sucked in. Help Wanted is a portrayal of just that kind of workplace that comes with a language and culture of its own. The familiar sense of community in a foreign backdrop where you almost belong, but don’t quite feel a part of. Words, Pauses, Noises is proud to showcase this debut piece from one of our own, Cais Jurgens; part one of his short story.
By Cais Jurgens
They call bullshit an art form. I’ve always found there to be a fine but noticeable line between art and dumb luck and my job at 1674 Broadway at the top end of Manhattan’s theatre district was a result of the latter. I wish I could tell you I’d sauntered in, put on a show of flaming cocktails poured expertly into a chilled martini glass and was hired and highly paid but it didn’t exactly happen that way.
The reality is that I was on the verge of giving up on that unseasonably warm November evening. I was salivating at the oddly satisfying thought of ending my job search for the day and heading back to a friend’s couch in Brooklyn to hose down my empty stomach with what would be the first of several beers that night. Instead, I pressed uptown with my rejected resume, watched the sun dip a little lower into New Jersey with every city block and eventually wandered into the swankiest Sushi joint I’d ever seen.
It was beautiful as well as classy. Floating globes lit the room and in a warm essence that mingled with the lingering scent of skirt steak and hot oshibori towels.
I was nervous yet beaming dumbly from ear to ear and hired on the spot just for showing up it seemed. Bar-back. I was satisfied with the title. My other title came to be White Boy, as I was the only person featuring both white skin and male genitalia employed at the establishment.
I never expected what would happen next. The materialization of teenage wet dreams were blooming just below my feet and I had no idea.
Follow me to America, my friend. These words were Pablo’s. He had spikey, dark hair, a deep laugh and was a young man who’d made his way to the United States as a child from south of the border in search of a better life. He was now beckoning me to follow him to that end. I followed. At the front of the restaurant by the hostess was another door I’d missed entirely on my way in. A tall, thin man wearing a captain’s hat and a long, maroon coat stood guard. He opened the door, he closed the door, he lit your cigarettes and he could hail a cab. These were the extent of his duties and he was tipped heavily for performing them.
You’re also a runner, have you ever been a runner? I had never been a runner and was told that in reality I would do very little, actual running. I was to carry sushi from the restaurant above, down into this cavernous, strobe lit room. First I was introduced to the bouncers. They were mostly Russian. They were all very large and extremely well dressed. Their number one rule was that you simply must check your coat.
This way please, sir.
Second I was introduced to the cashier, he kept the books and made snide comments about people not doing their job correctly. Last, I was introduced to the girls. Tall and beautiful and topless they danced for everyone but me, to me they smiled and waved for I was close to their age and I wasn’t made of money. The way they moved was mesmerizing, I was sure I’d drop something very expensive, perhaps a lobster roll. Either that or I’d trip over a table or chair and fall on my face. Everyone would know why and I’d feel terrible.
One of the girls finished her dance as the thumping music faded into the rhythm of a new song. She hastily collected her money into a wad of twenties and replaced her slip. It gave her the look of a rainbow trout in the morning sun of shallow water. She walked over to me and stopped.
Hi. She put a hand on my lower back and smiled.
I’m Nicki. She massaged my shoulders and pushing her breasts into my arm. They were massive.
Would you like a dance?
I’d love a dance but I’m working. Behind me Pablo started laughing. He put his face in his palm and laughed so deeply and so loud that I could hear it above the club music.
Jaaaa ja ja ja ja. Nicky, this here is Fish. He slapped my back. It’s his first day. She looked embarrassed but recovered quickly.
Oh, well in that case I’ll have some French fries. She pealed away one of the twenties, handed it to me and walked off. This became the first of many long hours I would spend with the dancers and patrons of one of Manhattan’s largest gentlemen’s clubs.
This was to be the day I would learn a plethora of useless trivia and carry it with me for the rest of my life. For example, when giving a lap dance at least one of the dancer’s feet must be on the floor at all times. If both feet come off the ground at any time the dance is then considered a form of prostitution. It was because of this that I was forced to learn to carefully navigate the club, carrying a large oval tray of expensive food while also staring at the ground. Long, bare legs attached to stiletto shoes stuck out at odd angles all around the room. Fat, salivating men lay motionless as they watched a pair of silicon tits bounce in their face. It was an incredibly expensive way to ruin a perfectly good pair of underpants. I brought them all something to eat when they were done and like the doorman, I was tipped heavily.
In edition to the more erotic aspect of my job were the normal bar backing duties. I cut limes, filled buckets of ice, learned to make expensive cocktails with a bit of flare and was given a key to a very special room several floors above out heads. The liquor room was a dimly lit office but to me still a beautiful place indeed. A faint smell of cannabis always hung in the air from the janitorial break room across the hall, this put me at ease. The room itself was a gross bordel. Boxes of alcohol were stack to the ceiling, waiting to be sorted. There was absolutely no order to the place, despite its contents being valued in the tens of thousands of dollars. I was told this would be a huge part of my job. I was to keep inventory, re stock and make a list of what had to be ordered at the end of each week. I was responsible for the flow of liquor in and out of the building. Moet, Kettle One, Sapporo, Chivas Regal just to name a few as well as an endless, ever changing variety of sake went in and out each week. Needles to say, Pablo and I took our liberties.
In addition to liberties, we also kept tradition. My favorite of which was the shift drink. It was the only drink of the evening we could flaunt and really, truly enjoy. Pablo poured me round after round of ‘ginger ale,’ which became his code word for scotch. I knocked it back rather quickly.
Ja ja ja. Can’t you wait?
Wait for what? I asked.
Sit and enjoy it, smell it. See why you like it, become a connoisseur.
I stuck my entire nose into the tumbler and inhaled the fumes of the amber liquid. It burned the inside of my nostrils. It was a good burn, I continued from smelling into another sip. It was difficult not to finish the whole thing at once. I just wanted to feel it pouring down my throat, warming my stomach, that immaculate rush to the head and the unmistakable feeling of the chemical boxing it’s way into your blood stream.
Ja ja ja, drink it slow or you get no more. I tried my best and I took my time. I picked up my pen and got to work.
We can almost feel the muggy warmth from this sensory snap-shot of a world foreign to most. Your shoes stick to the floors as you follow Fish around with his large, oval platter, navigating past the enticing extremities’ of his co-workers. Cais captures the mundanity of an erotic dance club, stripped of its glamour, revealing the behind the scenes that’s mixed with a woozy, one too many ‘after-work drinks’ effect that acts like an anaesthetic on our reading peripheral.
Okay, avid culture vultures, tune in next week to Words, Pauses, Noises for part two of Help Wanted by the talented Cais Jurgens. Until then, hold tight and keep submitting!