Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Shooter Girl

Serving booze isn’t at all like serving food. In food service, you’re facilitating the satisfaction of a basic need, and the goal is to anticipate and provide for patrons’ wants seamlessly and unobtrusively.

In a bar, interactions with patrons are unsubtle negotiations based on the exchange of juice for cash. “Juice” is whatever the patron wants, whatever he needs to make his experience satisfying and complete: the snappy come-back when he teases you, your gush of laughter when he cracks a joke, the view of your cleavage as you set his drink on the table. You make him look good in front of his buddies, and he helps you buy that new pair of boots you've had your eye on. The negotiations can go on for hours, often ranging far outside your job description. The line seperating sex workers and cocktail waitresses isn't a particularly wide one.

It’s Friday night, and I’ve been at work for an hour when Tracy the bartender asks me if I can manage my section plus be the shooter girl for the evening. The girl she had scheduled has just called in sick. “Sure. Why not?” I’ve never been a shooter girl before, but how hard can it be?

It’s nine, and she doesn’t need me on shooters until ten, so I go back up to my section to drop off the drinks I’m carrying and get orders for more. I maneuver around the pool players, careful to avoid the cue as a man draws it back, stretching across the table. He makes his shot and straightens. I wait. Without taking his eyes off the table he thumbs a bill out of his wallet and holds it out to me. “Keep the change,” he says, “and put it down over there.” I leave his pint of Guinness on the table.

A group of rugby players has pulled three of the small tables together and arranged themselves around them. I have to lean over them to set down the two pitchers of beer they ordered. I look around the circle. “That’s nineteen dollars,” I say. “Whatcha got to eat?” says the beefy guy right in front of me. He twists around and makes as if to bite my right breast. I hop back out of his reach and pluck a bar menu off a nearby table. Smiling with a rueful amusement that I do not feel—Ooo, you almost got me, caveman-guy—I put the menu in his hands. Without opening it, he says, “Bring me a chili sub. No fries.” He tosses a fifty on my tray. “That’s for this round and the sandwich, and bring us another couple of pitchers. The rest is yours.” As I’m walking back to the bar, I hear the bubble of their laughter burst behind me.

By ten o’clock my section has filled up. There are women on the lower level, but up here where the pool tables are, it’s mostly guys. I make sure everyone has fresh drinks and then I go down to the far end of the long mahogany bar where Tracy has lined up shot glasses in groups of twelve. She’s pouring shooters.

“Aphrodisiacs,” she says, “and these are Blowjobs.” I put six of each on my tray while she pours nine Cuervo Gold shooters. She takes the remaining three shot glasses in her hand and fills them with a gold-coloured liquid from a glass under the counter. “Flat ginger ale.” She puts them on my tray. “Keep these for when someone wants to buy you one.” I’m not sure that I’m okay with this. “You can’t drink a bunch of shooters on shift,” Tracy says, “and they’re going to want you to. Just play along. Take their money, drink the ginger ale.”

With eighteen shooters on my tray, I make a circuit of the lower bar, but I don't sell a single shooter. I realize that I’m going about it all wrong—approaching tables the way I would if I were serving cocktails. These people all have drinks in front of them already, and nobody needs a shooter. I'm still puzzling it out when I glance up at my section and see the rugby players craning, looking for me. I'll go practice my shooter girl tactics on them.

“We need more drinks,” the beefy guy says. His face is red, and there’s a red blot of chili sauce on his shirt. “You’re in luck,” I tell him. “I’ve got some right here.”

“Not shooters. Beer.” There’s an almost-full pitcher still on the table, and I use it to fill his glass. “I’m sorry. It’s going to be a few minutes before I can. I’m covering for our shooter girl. People need shooters, you know.” He rolls his eyes and asks me what kind of shooters I’ve got. “Blowjobs?” he barks laughter. “Blowjobs for everyone!” But there are ten of them and I’ve only got six on my tray. I put them on the table and explain that I’ve got to go get more. “No-no-no-no.” He puts his hand on the small of my back to detain me. “What else? Aphrodisiacs? Give me some of those. And you’d better have one, too.” No thanks, I tell him. I can barely contain myself as it is. He insists, just like Tracy said. I agree to tequila, and we clink glasses. His buddies make noises of approval as we drink. The round costs $35.75. He gives me a fifty and waves away the change.

It goes on like this for the rest of the night. People who barked drink orders at me earlier now want me to hang out and party. I take their money and drink my flat ginger ale. I let them hook an arm around my waist as we upend the tiny glasses. The next time I go to the rugby players’ table, there are only six of them left. Beefy guy wants me to sit down, but I plead duty, and he accepts some bright green shooters. I can’t remember what they’re called, so I tell him they’re called Serpent’s Kiss. He gives me a twenty for a bill of nineteen fifty, and when I proffer his change, he grabs my hand and yanks me down toward him. “You’re so beautiful,” he says. “I want you to come home with me.” My smile doesn’t falter as I pry his hand loose and give it back to him, with the two quarters tucked securely into his palm.