It’s All in the Verbage

September 29, 2009

Photo by Stephanie Hopkins

Photo by Stephanie Hopkins

Photo by Stephanie Hopkins

Photo by Stephanie Hopkins


Dear Stella,

It begins as pure energy, created first with words, like gossip or rumor. Is something going to happen? Twitter forecasts potential meet-ups. Local newscasters speak clichéd truths, “We are honored to be chosen for the G20.” The buzz comes first. Then the thing.

But what is the thing?

Is it the image of a young man—anarchist!—in black kicking a smoking canister of tear gas back toward its thrower? Is it the uneasy tension between cops and protesters three blocks from my house? Is it the thing that happens to the body in proximity to such tension? The pin-prickling fear and excitement that such tension creates?

Dawn and I stay in that first day (Thursday)—from laziness? From caution? From the inaction that stems from questioning our own motives? Is ours the rubber-necking impulse, we wonder aloud. The impulse to slow down, drive by, and stare? We reminisce about our own protest days, what it felt like to believe in protesting’s effectiveness. The fervor of 18 year olds rushing into the world to create change.

Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t even know what the G20 was, never mind what the protests were all about. But still, I feel something. An accumulating energy seeking a kind of clarity, the unborn urge seeking language to define it.

By day two (Friday), the thing has become the thing told as well as the thing that happens. It is impossible, of course, to distinguish between the two. These days, especially, an event consists not only of what occurs, but layered perceptions of what occurs. Language—through twitter, facebook, news, word of mouth—shapes the thing, not in retrospect, but as it’s happening.

The news replays the same image (anarchist in black kicking tear gas canister) over and over again. They say, “This isn’t as bad as it could get. It’s been much worse in other places.” Expressing relief? Down playing potential violence? Challenging protestors to step it up? This is nothing; you are nothing; no one can hear you.

Dawn and I ride our bikes downtown to watch/participate/bear witness to “the people’s rally.” I shouldn’t be biking anywhere, as I’ve got a 12 hour shift in a few hours, but I can’t stay home.

At the rally, people take pictures of people taking pictures. The riot police line up and it appears, at times, as if they are posing for a photo shoot. A massive tank rolls by, a helmeted head sticking out its top. I search for faces behind the helmets. As always, I am on the prowl for the human. It is hard to find in the you tube images of head-to-toe riot gear, cops marching like harbingers of the apocalypse. But I glimpse it in the cop who has let his robot posture down, hands resting on a relaxed belly. I wonder what he might be thinking. If he is tired. What his orders were. If he is scared. If he is afraid of himself. Of what he might do if shit breaks out.

A man on a bike with a love-bubble-machine zips in front of us. Bubbles float through the air. A cop swats a bubble with his hand. Is he annoyed? Playful? I can’t tell.

We pass a single policeman in regular gear, not part of the doomsday squad. “Everything’s a mess,” he says. “Good luck getting anywhere.” He has a nice face, this cop, and I notice he paces back and forth. “I’m going on 28 hours of no sleep,” he says, appropos of nothing.

Events will become stories, stories will solidify into narratives. Perhaps I want to bear witness to the time before the narratives take over and I, too, forget about the messy “real,” what slips out of our linguistic grasp, like those moments of waiting for something to happen, to which each of us brings our own expectations, fears, desires, nostalgias. They float in the air, spinning, gaining momentum until… POW! – some noise, some yell, and suddenly the thick cover cracks and things start to happen, crazy things, that then become the things that people talk about, as if all we were waiting for all along was some kind of clarity.

Getting shot with a rubber bullet is clear. Breaking a cop car window is clear. Now the city has something to fear. Now the protesters have something to mobilize against. Now the cops have something to justify.

That’s what verbs do—they cut through ambiguity and give shape to actions, provide an irresistible clarity. The cops shot students; protesters broke glass. Can we say the cops assaulted? Can we say the protesters provoked? The stronger the verb, the more severe the clarity of action, and ironically, the more questionable the truth. We have entered the Land of Fox News, though to be fair, isn’t Fox News just doing more visibly what all news does? “Police forced to use weapons against protesters,” and there you go, a massively complicated dynamic reduced to a single skewed verb.

What really happened when police gassed and shot students in a Pitt building? What really happened when a Boston Market (gasp!) was vandalized? The closer we get to naming what happened, the further I feel from the possibility of knowing.

Friday night I go from girl on bike to bartender, from “the people” to the ambassadors’ circle. The Prime Minister of Australia is celebrating the end of the G20 by watching a rugby game with 40 of his peeps in my bar.

A helicopter hovers overhead. Riot cops block the next street. A teenage boy, who I waited on earlier with his family, saw cops shoot protestors in front of the hotel.

A string of black government cars passes the riot police, heads toward the hotel. Secret Service Men who I served earlier this week when they were just men at the bar (pleasant and likable) strategize for the Prime Minister’s arrival. They make sure the back door to the bar locks.

A filthy girl slips through the front doors and into the bathroom. 10 minutes later, a filthy young man heads to the bathroom. I hear him say to someone as he passes, “They just open-fired onto my best friend.” I am not about to turn them away from using the bathroom. I may physically be on the inside, I may be in uniform now, but I am still me. No more protesters come, though, and later I hear that the hotel security chased them away.

Soon, the Prime Minister is here. He drinks an Aussie beer brought especially for him. This group is fun, vivacious, sweet. There is an abundance of cake. I wonder what is happening two blocks away, what I will read tomorrow. The People’s Protest. Who are the people? Surely the dirty kids looking for a clean bathroom. Surely the boy too young to smoke who witnessed his first police violence. Surely the secret service man whose wife in North Carolina awaits his return. Surely the riot police, somewhere inside their gear, going on very little sleep and some clear or ambiguous notions of duty, perhaps also fear, adrenaline. Surely the Prime Minister, quiet in his red sweater as he watches the game. Surely the other bartenders. And me, finding myself in the middle of a life, this life, messy and not at all the place I intended to be, but here I am nonetheless, at the intersection of a whole host of random events. Me, ready to bear witness to these undocumented and perhaps undocumentable moments, and (always) what happens inside—to face the self, whatever comes.

love,
Stephanie

Photo by Stephanie Hopkins

Photo by Stephanie Hopkins

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Thanks for being my warm towel

September 24, 2009

My dearest Stephanie,

A couple of nights ago at the bar, an older woman sat consoling her younger friend. Apparently, the younger woman is a two-time cancer survivor (and mother of four young children) who had been told that her cancer might be back. For quite some time, they were the only two at the bar, and though I tried to make myself scarce, keep myself occupied with my endless little tasks, you know how it is—even if you don’t want to eavesdrop on people’s conversations, you can’t help but overhear in such a small space.

At one point, the older woman turned to me (it’s entirely possible that I looked visibly upset) and said, “Did you ever have this experience as a child? You’d get out of the bathtub, and whoever it was—maybe your mother or father or grandmother—would wrap you in a big, warm towel, and you’d feel like you were safe? That’s what’s friends do—we’re that big, warm towel.”

My dad has always taught me that the strong should take care of the weak. He didn’t mean this in a condescending way, but you should be grateful for everything that you are and have, and to show your gratitude, you should give whatever you can. It’s your human responsibility, he said. I couldn’t possibly do justice to all that he has given in such a confined space as this. Suffice it to say that as long as I can remember, he has given his time and his money in ways large and small. Trust me when I say that I am a reliable witness.

When I was growing up, the “weak” I was intended to take care of were my mother and my older sister. Both were known to fly into fits of rage and/or despair rather frequently though unpredictably. Not to be melodramatic about it, but it created quite the chaotic environment. The way that I could take care of them was by not making trouble. Be very small and invisible. Be obedient and don’t talk too much. These don’t really come naturally to me, but I learned how to because “be neither seen nor heard” was a pretty good motto to live by.

I don’t actually have a whole lot of childhood memories, probably because I don’t want to, but one particularly vivid memory has stayed with me despite my best efforts. I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth. I must have been about four or five years old because I remember that I had to stand on my tiptoes to reach the faucet. I was leaning over the basin spitting toothpaste into it when my mother came in to check on me.

The next thing I knew, she’d backhanded me across the face, hard, and I stumbled backwards, still clutching my toothbrush. For some reason, it seemed deeply important that I not drop the toothbrush. Don’t compound the wrongs! Don’t show weakness! Maintain your dignity!

I didn’t say anything, just pressed my palm against my cheek and looked up at her.

How many times have I told you not to leave your hair in the sink?” she screamed.

“But that’s not my hair,” I said softly, speaking to the bathmat. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Too late. She glanced at the basin. My hair was short, chestnut brown, and curly while my sister’s was pin-straight, long, and black, so there was no mistaking what was in the sink.

“Oh,” she said. Then she walked out of the bathroom.

At this point, I would like to delete this whole document and start this letter over. Partly because I hate to sound self-pitying (maintain your dignity!) and partly because it’s not such a big deal, though I suppose the fact that I still remember this incident suggests otherwise. But I mean, people are starving and dying, victims of war and disease as I type, so what’s my gripe? Boo hoo. I took a lot of beatings as a kid. So did a lot of people.

I have a theory about why I remember it. Perhaps it’s so that I never allow myself to forget that bad shit can come out of nowhere, so don’t get too comfortable, don’t expect too much, and above all don’t trust anyone no matter who they are and what they tell you. Depend only on yourself, and don’t expect to be safe anywhere ever.

“You’re too nice of a person,” my manager told me after I bought the two women fondue for dessert. “You probably get taken advantage of a lot.”

“Well, yeah, by some people. By a lot of people actually,” I told him. (Not by those two women, though. They were lovely.) “But I’d rather be hurt than hurt someone.”

The thing I didn’t say (because I didn’t think to) was that I feel this way because I know that I’m strong. I know that I can survive being hurt, but I don’t know how much someone else can take. So it’s my human responsibility to endure, to be the warm towel.

“Are you always this cheerful?’ A middle-aged man dining at the bar asked me that last night. He’d been watching me move up and down the bar doting on my customers, and now it was his turn.

“Pretty much,” I told him. “Like maybe 85, 90 percent of the time. I can be, so why not?”

“Well it’s good that you can do that, chemically,” he said.

And the thing is that I can. I don’t really give a lot or in any significant way, and I’m pretty self-absorbed. So the very least I can do is give my compassion and good cheer.

But I must admit that maybe 10, 15 percent of the time, it does make me feel a bit soggy.

Love,

Stella

Dear Stella,

I can’t sleep. It’s almost 5 am, and I am too filled with everything. I try reading, and the words go on and on. I try squeezing my eyes shut and the awakeness rushes to my toes. I turn to music—a bad idea, for tonight songs fill me with wanting so clamorous the whole neighborhood might wake.

In dim street light peeking behind dark curtains, letters write themselves in my head. They won’t make it to paper. They’ll never be sent. Everyone reading this and even those who aren’t: though you won’t hear from me, I am thinking of you.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is on the edge of an epic narrative.

“Did I miss anything today?” my neighbor asked as she passed me on the porch.

“I don’t think so,” I said. I wondered what she might have missed.

She’s talking about the G-20, I gather. In a few hours, Important Financial Ministers from 20 “Developed” and “Developing” countries will get together and solve the World’s Global Financial Crisis.

If the event is anything like Snoop Dogg’s visit, there will be a whole lotta anticipation met by a giant smokescreen.

Everybody, it seems, wants something from the event.

Protestors rally for countries left out of the esteemed 20.

Green Peace heroes scale bridges, hang a gigantic sign calling attention to climate change.

People from all over the country have come to protest ambiguous things. On the news, a young man argues passionately for “the right to live differently.” The young man, or perhaps just the news clip, doesn’t say differently from what.

A gaggle of well-intentioned folk march the streets with clarinet, saxophone, tuba. Except for the fact that it is dark out, they could be one of those local parades, a gathering of townspeople celebrating an obscure or forgotten saint.

G-20 participants began arriving at the hotel early this week. “Portions are gigantic in America!” one said. I couldn’t really argue as I laid the ginormous mound of nachos before him.

Other Hotel Bar customers gossip amongst themselves. “I hear there might be snipers,” one says. “And poop bombs,” says another.

“Really?” I say. “Poop bombs?

People want answers. They want attention and air time. Some want genuinely to change the world. Some want excitement and an opportunity to feel proud of their city.

I’d like to sleep. Beyond that, I want the chance to make a couple of bucks, and, if I might be so greedy, the extraordinary and profound sensation of being alive.

love,
Stephanie

Why I bartend

September 22, 2009

Dear Stephanie,

I bartend at two restaurants, which are in the same town and owned by the same family. On weekends, I’m at the smaller, less busy restaurant, so it’s not unusual for me to arrive at 4:30 for my shift and find the restaurant populated by staff only, especially on Sundays.

Tony, the buser, sits at one table talking softly in Spanish on his cell phone. G stretches out at a banquet, feet up on a chair, staring blankly at the bar television. Boo is at the end of the bar texting. In the distance, the kitchen staff chats in Chinese.

While everyone else is at rest, I’m setting up the bar. Count the drawer, put the white house wines and juices on ice, set up the garnishes, fill the ice bin, make sure candles are lit, napkins, straws, plates, forks, spoons, and chopsticks are at capacity, and do any necessary restocking. After spending all day inside my own head, staring at my computer, it’s a release to be occupied by physical, tangible, finite tasks.

“I really hate making Coconut Martinis,” I remark to no one in particular as I set out the honey and coconut flakes. One of our “specialty” martinis, the Coconut Martini is a highly unoriginal combination of Malibu and pineapple juice served “up” in a martini glass. The razzle is in the dressing: we rim the glass with honey and dip it into the coconut flakes, creating a big, fat mess.

“Oh, I know!” Boo says, looking up from his phone.

“The honey container always gets so sticky. It’s gross.”

“Totally disgusting,” he agrees, moving behind the bar to grab a handful of coconut flakes.

We’re rounding five o’clock, the restaurant is still empty, and we’re looking for ways to amuse ourselves before what we hope will be a late rush. Cue the crunchy noodles and duck sauce. As we chow down, a disagreement breaks out over what to watch on television. Tony and G want soccer; the manager wants football.

“Pull some managerial muscle,” I tell my manager, “and put on the Pittsburgh game!”

Boo wants anything but sports.

“Next Sunday,” he warns, crossing his arms across his chest, “it’s gonna be all about me. I’m putting a moratorium on sports. It’s gonna be either the Hallmark channel or Animal Planet. We’re going to do things my way, and I don’t care if you all think it’s selfish.”

“Hmmm,” I muse. “You must have testosterone.”

Eventually, the dining room begins filling up, and we’re all business. When I get backed up with cocktail requests, the boys take care of the soft drinks orders. A few bar customers trickle in and out, and the dining room starts to slow down. Just as I’m contemplating going outside for a cigarette, a couple, pleasant regulars who tip well, shows up to dine at the bar.

“Hi! You’re back!” I say. “It’s great to see you!” And I really mean it.

“There’s going to be three of us this time,” the girlfriend tells me. “His son is going to be joining us.”

“Fantastic!” I proclaim, expecting a kid of maybe 13 or 14 at most. What I do not expect is the 6-foot tall dreamboat with dark wavy hair and milk chocolate eyes that rounds the corner just as I turn to look.

“This is Paul,” says the girlfriend.

Gulp.

My shock divests me of my usual vivaciousness, but I manage to eke out a smile. When he gets up close, I note the absence of a single line on his face, leaving me no choice but to request id. He pats his pockets and asks, “What if I don’t have id?”

“Ummm,” I stall.

“He’s 24 next week. I promise,” says his dad.

[Note to self: Consult with an astrologist about the strange phenomenon I refer to as “1985.”]

To serve or not to serve? I decide to serve him. His father is a regular, so I don’t think it would benefit either of them to lie. He orders hot sake not a long island iced tea, so he’s not here to get wasted and drive around town.

Throughout the dinner, I suffer from a bout of overcompensation, studiously avoiding eye contact and talking mostly to the girlfriend. After they’ve finished dinner and cashed out, I offer them a round of dessert shots on me—a little concoction now known as “Black Forest Cake.” Only Paul takes me up on it but with a caveat.

“Will you do one with me?”

Vampira, the owner, is lurking in the dining room, but I’m well shielded by two large banquets, so I decide to be a little dangerous. It’s the end of the night, after all!

Daaaamn,” I tell Boo later when we’re both outside smoking cigarettes (even though he’s supposed to be minding the bar for me). “Did you see my customer? He was hawt.”

Boo laughs appreciatively.

I go in first to finish my side-work and catch the end of the first half of the Giants game with Will, another regular who’s sweating the outcome of the game. It’s fun to be able to work and watch football with a fellow Giants supporter, especially one who has also observed that Jerry Jones has had too much plastic surgery and Tony Romo is annoying. He wants a shot of Café Patron, but we don’t have it here, so I ask the manager to run over to the other reataurant to get some. We do this kind of thing for our regulars.

The manager, Will, and I are the last to leave, just as halftime begins. I get home in time to watch the second half.

Final score: Giants 33, Cowboys 31.

Love,

Stella

Of Glass and Other Pleasures

September 21, 2009

Photo by Jenny Downing

Photo by Jenny Downing

Dearest Stella,

It’s Saturday night, and I’m at the new local bar by myself. This is the cool neighborhood haunt I’ve been waiting for. Technically, as you know, I don’t drink these days, except when I need a review of the lesson, bad things happen when I drink, which is more often than an intelligent person should need. If I did still drink, though, I would be drinking tequila, which is what the bar specializes in.

Becoming a bartender after giving up-ish alcohol might strike some as either curious or obvious. On the one hand, as a bartender I can keep my finger on the party pulse while not having to actually endure extended conversations with drunk people, conversations which, I’ve soberly observed, are—who knew?—agonizingly boring.

Michael Chabon has this great passage in Wonder Boys (I love love love that book!):

I drank for years, and then I stopped drinking and discovered the sad truth about parties. A sober man at a party is lonely as a journalist, implacable as a coroner, bitter as an angel looking down from heaven.

As a bartender, I don’t have to cut off my entire relationship with the substances and atmospheres I once loved. I don’t need to consume liquor to appreciate light reflected off bottles in afternoon sun, the weight of heavy glass against a palm, the satisfying sound of crushed ice against a tin bottom.

My relationship to alcohol has gone from a kind a nihilistic cannibalism (the pleasure of ingesting, of becoming the thing) to an aesthetic and kinesthetic one (the pleasure of making, looking, and feeling).

My old lover tequila used to cast a soft, sensual hue over the world, like a cheesy 1970s photo. I feel everything then; all my sensory apparatuses at attention. The problem is what happens after, when I dip into the Netherlands of Flatness.

The deal that seems to have been made, or dealt, to me is this: I can have either the exquisitely delicious and simultaneously painful sensory acuteness that drinking brings or the less intense (thus also less painful) sensory lushness of the everyday. I can’t have both. Worse still, a couple of years ago my body decided that if I was going to continue drinking, I could actually have neither. It would be sadness then flatness. No fun all around; hence tequila and my little break-up.

I love the film My Blueberry Nights because in it, Wong Kar-Wai creates a world, much like mine, in which bodies interact with material objects in a way that seems beautiful, harmonious. Scenes are saturated with glorious color. We see the way light might enrich a particular shade of red, for example, or conversely, the way a vibrant red can infuse light from a street lamp and render it a pulsing, living thing. A cafe window frames a conversation between strangers. Human bodies plus architecture plus material world make art.

Tonight, I drink a jam jar of ice cold water topped with a fat, juicy lemon. I have a conversation with a charming stranger, eat a delicious mushroom empanada, listen to Manu Chao, and watch hot bartender chicks with tats (Oh! to be able to dress as yourself while bartending!).

I watch light play off crushed ice as the bartender scoops it into three glasses. I watch, too, as she accidentally spills a margarita onto the ice below and quickly shovels it out so as to not ruin the batch. Getting new ice would set her back for time and the bar is packed.

I feel at peace as I sit here, albeit it is a tentative and delicate version. Not a being settled, because lord knows, I will not settle at my current job at Hotel Bar, nor anywhere most likely—this I understand about myself. But it is a peace akin to that feeling after exercising where the body hums, all its parts in tune. It’s the kind of fleeting stillness born of movement, a punctuating breath, like a comma, already suggesting the next thing.

It is a pleasure to be on this side of the bar tonight, to be the observer, and, of course, the writer again. My new part-time schedule has me feeling human once more; I’m able to tend to my daydreaming self, that part of me so necessary not only for writing, but for living.

After an era of turning inward, this moment out in the world feels powerful and reassuring. Working has changed who I am even on the days I don’t work. Time feels different, more precious, and so I am less wasteful with it when I’ve got it. Rest feels more productive because it is not haunted by guilt.

Through my new adventures, the outline of my whole self stretches to meet its new potential. There is more becoming to do.

love,
Stephanie

My Blueberry Nights

My Blueberry Nights

Boo and G

September 17, 2009

Dearest Stephanie,

For a while now, I’ve been saying that I pick my friends carefully. If you’re my friend, it’s because you enrich my life somehow. If you were my friend but then I jettisoned you, it’s because you ceased to provide that enriching function.

This sounds kinda mercenary, and I feel a little bad about that. But I’m not interested in wasting my time and resources, emotional or other. To be quite frank, I give a lot to the people I choose to love, so I can’t really afford to choose foolishly.

Ruben and I had this exchange a while back:

Me: Can straight guys and girls be friends? What are your thoughts on this?

Ruben (who is not straight): No. (pause) Unless the guy is really hot, and the girl is really unattractive.

Me: That’s disappointing, Ruben. I just find that very, I don’t know, unacceptable.

Ruben: I don’t make the rules, baby doll.

Me: Baby doll? I love baby dolls!

Obviously, I became a bartender because I was looking for something intangible that would enrich my life. I couldn’t name it exactly but my previous career path could not or did not provide it for me.

I think I’ve mentioned that my favorite server ever is Bri Bri. He laughs at my most ridiculously silly jokes and never lacks for a snappy comeback. No matter what else is going on around or within me, somehow I know that if I’m working with Brian, I’m going to be laughing. What’s not to love?

One evening as I read the ticket he sent into the service bar, I asked him, “the customer want vermouth in that martini, boo?”

Sometimes, customers say they want a martini but what they really want is vodka in a cocktail glass with an olive. I suspect they feel more urbane and sophisticated calling it a martini. That’s fine with me though, as I can pad the price of their drink by also ringing it in as a martini. Tee hee.

Anyway my moniker for Bri Bri puzzled our co-worker, an Indonesian late-twenties male with whom I also get along just fine. Then again, he’s puzzled by many of the conversations that pass between Boo and me as we enjoy using a bit of slang and other uncommon verbiage in our banter. Other times, we talk too fast and finish each other’s sentences making it difficult for our non-native speaking co-worker to keep up. So Boo and I make an effort to keep him in the loop. It’s quite the education!

“What is that? Why you call him that?”

“Boo? Oh, that’s just an affectionate nickname,” I explained.

“Why you not call me that?” he wants to know. “What are you gonna call me?” He was very concerned about this. His brow was furrowed. He may even have been wringing his hands.

“Well, I can call you ‘G,’” I said. “That’s also an affectionate nickname.”

This made him smile appreciatively.

Hence were christened Boo and G.

One gay and one straight but both dear to me.  Hopefully, I’m choosing wisely.

Love,

Stella

Snoop Dogg in the House

September 16, 2009

empire_gambling.flv

Things are bad before Snoop Dogg arrives.

Banished to cocktail waitressing five days in a row, my hands, once deftly wielding bottles of Svedka and Jack, now finger other people’s leftovers. Knives caked with ketchup and burger jizz to the right; plates greased with house dressing and primavera curd to the left; bread boards slicked with butter straight ahead.

To top things off, business is dead all week. I walk out with 2 dollars in tips on a Saturday. The next night I make 12 bucks, and the next a whopping 14.

I have that quitting feeling, but I don’t quit. Not yet.

The Waiter, of the acclaimed blog Waiter Rant, says that waiting tables is like gambling:

[S]lot machines operate on the principle of intermittent rewards. When you pull the handle on a slot machine, the odds are good that you’re going to lose. But occasionally, you win back a few coins.

Punctuate losing with intermittent rewards and you’ve got a recipe for addiction. Waiting tables, or, I would add, tending bar, operates on similar principles. The unpredictable nature of the work, the fact that the big money could come at any time, keeps you working, even when much of the time you might not make enough money to get home.

I can see what The Waiter means. Each new customer could be the one to tip well. Each night could be the night I cash in. Throw in the possibility of a good story, and I’m hooked.

A big-time fan of the Steelers, Snoop’s in town for the kick off-game. The hotel is abuzz. As a New Yorker at heart, I am not easily star struck. But here in Pittsburgh, there is nothing else to do, so the buzz is contagious. At the very least, I’ll have a story to tell.

Plus, I’m off cocktail duty and back behind the bar. At any moment, Snoop could show. New faces come in and out all night. Any of them could be one of Snoop’s boys. Turns out, they all are. They order Yuenglings, Blue Moons, shots of Patron. One breaks a glass and the others usher him to leave me “the whole twenty.”

They aren’t great tippers, but they’re fun and they’re nice. I chat with the one originally from Jersey. Any talk in proximity to NYC makes me happy.

“You’ve heard that Snoop is here.”
“I heard rumors. But I don’t believe rumors. I like to see things for myself.”
“Well. It’s true.”
“Yeah?”
“Yeah. We’re with him. That’s how I get to meet the Steelers.”
“Oh yeah? Where is he? In his room, feet up on the coffee table, watching tube?”
“You got it.”

He tells me Snoop’s throwing an after-party at a downtown club. “You should come,” he says, “Give me your name and I’ll put you on the list.”

Snoop doesn’t show at the bar, but Dawn and I now have a date. After work, when I make Dawn uncurl from her comfy corner on the couch at 1 am to head downtown, we are both tired. But I can’t miss an opportunity for adventure, not when there is so little of it in this town.

We find the club, approach the bouncer, and ask about the list. The bouncer plays dumb.

”What list?” he says. “What after-party?”
“You know,” I say. “Snoop’s. He said we were on the list.”
“Oh, that list.” He looks behind him. “You gotta ask them.”

We walk through a metal detector and get frisked twice—from breast to calves—by two girls. Dawn and I seem to be the only ones not in Steelers gear. We marvel at how the women in front of us can sport oversized football jerseys and still look barely dressed.

It’s a short line, and within four minutes we are at the door. The woman checks the list; we’re not on it. Dawn lets out a sigh of relief.

Yuengling and Blue Moon aren’t at the bar the next night, but Snoop’s cousin and younger brother are. Snoop’s brother is bigger than Snoop and so, so cute. The Dad of a local college student, in town because his daughter is homesick, does rounds of Jack and Jager with Snoop’s cousin. Soon they have their arms around each other and argue amicably about who is the better guy.

“You’re a good guy, I can tell.”
“No, you are. You are a good guy.”

Kids loiter outside the hotel waiting for a glimpse of Snoop. They carry posters and CDs for him to sign.

One of my customers laughs at the kids, looks at me and says, “They’re delusional. I mean really, can you imagine—Snoop—here?” I smile but say nothing as I place his Sam Summer Ale in front of him. “I mean, it isn’t true, right?” I shrug my shoulders, smile again, and walk away. “He is here!” I hear the excited rumble of conversation in my wake.

There are traces of Snoop throughout the hotel. The service elevator in the back reeks of pot. Trails of it snake through the building. I turn a corner and hear the tail end of a Snoop story, “They want more?” the room service waiter exclaims. I wonder what they want more of. I pass the security guard, who watches Snoop and his boys on camera. “I’m just hoping for a quiet night,” he says.

Dawn walks in and I introduce her to the college student’s Dad. “You’re so beautiful!” he says, his arm around her now. “Let me buy you a drink!” Our friends arrive shortly after and The Dad wants to buy all my friends and me drinks, but I tell him to keep his money and buy his daughter something nice. Besides, my shift is over and I’m not allowed to hang at the bar when I’m off.

Even my friends hope for a glimpse of Snoop. But as I’m in the office cashing out,
there’s sudden commotion at the hotel front desk. I peek my head around. “You just missed Snoop!” The front desk attendant says. “He just left out the front door!”

Five feet and one wall away from seeing him, hot on the trail of a story I can’t quite seem to grasp.

I head back to the bar to gather my friends, and The Dad, who I’ve momentarily forgotten, slides a bill toward me. It’s a 50. “Thanks for everything tonight,” he says. I cock my head in surprise. “Thanks,” I say. “Thanks so much.”

It’s my first 50 dollar tip ever. I’m ecstatic. I was looking one way for Snoop, and the 50 snuck around the back. If I listen closely, I think I might just hear the “Ch-ching!” of the slot machine just before the quarters roll out.

But…

The next night I find out The Dad stayed at the bar all night and, as I was dragging Dawn to a bust of an after-party, The Dad pulled out an envelop of cash and started tipping the two bartenders hundred dollar bills.

They each made over 6oo dollars from The Dad alone. Meanwhile, I got no Snoop, no story, no cash cow.

But no matter, the damage is done. Like after hearing that someone you know hit it big at a casino, I can’t quit now, when winning just might be possible…