Dear Stella,

Well I’m back to job hunting again and not having much luck. To mitigate some of my frustration, I decided to share some wacky highlights from my Craigslist search. These are my choices?


Hey there!

Ironically, we’re “hunting” for new members to expand our newly established group in Pittsburgh. We’re fresh to the industry, but we’ve already attended an extensive training session with TAPS and have several trips planned for 2010 for places like Eastern State Penitentiary, one of the most haunted places in the US. We’re excited about this new endeavor and have a lot of work to do, but welcome your experience (or inexperience) and input. We work together and play together… so if you’re up for the same, shoot us an email and we’ll send you the application.

Hmmm. I’m still stuck on the “work together, play together” part. Oh, and also—not irony, folks.



Dearest Stephanie,

Here is my cat, dressed as royalty:

I declared her Queen of the House, yet she looks so sad. Why do you suppose that is?



Lead On Me

January 23, 2010

Photo by geishaboy500

Dear Stella,

You know those horror movies where the evil dude is killed off, only to reappear again and again and again? How does he do it? The severed hand regenerated; the loped head resituated—or not. Hand or no hand, head or no head, here he comes again!

Apparently I have some kind freaky regenerating sense of hope. No matter the severity of the execution, no matter how bloody or stumpy a past experience has made me, optimism picks itself off the darkened road, a carcass come to life.

It’s the only way I can explain why, after all I know about this city, I felt optimistic about the stack of job leads I got from Bartending School. “Wow!” I said, as the Career Counselor handed me a thick stack of index cards. I really thought—bless my little optimistic heart—that these were what she said they were: job leads.

Perhaps my mistake was in the language. She did not say these were job prospects, or job possibilities, or even jobs. Each card was merely a job lead, a route, a clue, the beginning of a story.

And certainly they were that. The pile of rubble that was the bar I was sent to can certainly be seen as a clue to something. Was there a fire? Was it an accident or arson? Surely if I picked through the rubble I might find the beginning of an intriguing story, not my story, but a story nonetheless.

And alas, the next bar, Nutters, was the beginning of someone else’s story as well. I knew this immediately from the saturated smoke smell, the black ashtrays lining the bar, the toothless patrons haggling over Yuenglings, their crumbled dollar bills falling out of pockets onto the floor. And still I persevered, either out of curiosity or stunned paralysis. “Hi,” I said as I handed the bartender my resume, “I got your name from the Bartending School and wanted to drop off my resume.”

The woman—shoulder length black hair, mysterious Pittsburgh age (20 or 50?), heavy black eyeliner, a hint of blue—studied my resume, then looked up at me. “Honey,” she said in a whisper, leaning over the bar toward me, “You seem like a nice girl.” She paused, looked toward the customers in the corner bending to pick up the stray dollar bills, “They’re real rough here. And if you’re new? It’ll be like sharks to blood. They’ll run right over you, and they won’t stop. You’ll have security on Friday nights but the owners won’t pay for it any other night, so you’ll be on your own.”

Eyes wide, I found myself nodding, leaning in to hear. “This one girl started last week, and she’s bartended for years—she was in tears.” She emphasized the words and raised her eyebrows. “She’s coming back tonight though to give it another try, with me this time. I’ve been here for years, so they know they can’t run all over me—I mean, they still try, but…”

Though this was certainly not my story, I stayed for almost twenty minutes hearing the sad story of Tara’s career as a bartender. She thought she was going to die at first behind that bar, but she really needed the money. She was never a bitch in real life, but she had to become one to survive. And then, as many stories do in Pittsburgh when I’m not with Dawn and people assume we’re on the same page, this story turned to race.

“I’m not racist or anything,” (a familiar lead in Pittsburgh, I’ve discovered) “but there are times I’m the only white person here. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called a ‘stupid white bitch.’”

Dawn had been circling the block, my job lead chauffeur and cheerleader, and when I got back in the car, I couldn’t speak for a few minutes. “Well…?” she asked hopefully. I shook my head, more of a shaking off than anything else, and we drove to the next “lead.”

For the next two hours, I followed someone else’s story, clues to lives I would not be living. I would not become the bartender at the empty “upscale” restaurant with the long wooden bar. “What are the clientele like?” I asked. “Few and far between,” the owner replied. And then she added in that optimistic tone I know all too well, “But we’re gonna stick it out. We know they’ll come; we’ll wait for them.”

The next bar was boarded up, and two more were closed even though the card specifically said to stop by between 2:00 and 4:00 Monday through Friday. One restaurant didn’t even have a bar, but the manager was more than happy to consider me as a waitress who “would make my own drinks.”

I wasn’t going to stop in Noho, whose online pictures seemed cold, sparse, eerie, despite the comforting namesake. But when I walked in, I was pleasantly surprised. No smoke, no rubble, no missing teeth. A long wrap around bar and an abundance of windows. And—get this—a happy bartender! Young, fresh, relaxed. “I love it here,” she told me. She wore all black—no dorky uniform—said she had never bartended before she started working there and was able to train herself. “It’s a good time for you to start,” she said, as she took my resume and the three page application. “If you get the job, you’ll be able to get your bearings before we get really busy with baseball season.”

What’s that? The severed head making it’s way back up the spine? Humpty Dumpty piecing herself back together again? The regenerative spirit finding herself yet another beating heart?


Your daily absurdity

January 22, 2010

My dearest Stephanie,

This morning, I saw a police officer in a Dunkin’ Donuts. Isn’t that just the bestest?! I mean, it’s a cliche punch line come to life! What more can I ask as a harbinger that this will be a beautiful day?

I almost ran him over as I swerved into the parking lot at an accelerated pace. But my car has good breaks, so I turned a lemon into lemonade by stopping and letting him pass. I smiled at him innocently like I wasn’t doing anything wrong, and he bought it. He smiled and did a “thank you” wave. He was cute, too–blonde with a chiseled face.

I ended up behind him on line, and I was really disappointed that he didn’t purchase any actual donuts. Boo! He did, however, buy five coffees of varying types and sizes, I guess to bring back to his peeps at the station. Why do you suppose police officers prefer Dunkin’ Donuts’ coffee over Starbucks’? There’s a Startucks about a quarter mile up the road. The paramedics always go to Starbucks.

To be honest, it kind of worried me that he didn’t buy any donuts. It seemed wrong, out of symmetry. My beautiful moment was slightly tarnished. It got me thinking about how earlier this morning another police officer almost caught me talking on my cell phone. I was driving down my street, and he was coming the other way. At first, I didn’t realize it was a police car because in my town they don’t have the big rack of lights on the hood. Pretty sneaky! But I saw the two-tone thing and dropped my phone into my lap. When our cars passed each other, the officer looked at me like he knew I’d just been Breaking the Law. But maybe that was just me.

Though I’ve not found myself on The Wrong Side of the Law, I have to admit: police officers make me nervous. Is it that they’re packing heat, do you think?



Shit my mother says

January 20, 2010

Dearest Stephanie,

I wish that I’d kept a meticulous diary of all the crazy shit my mother says. I feel like it would provide a lot of insight into my deepest fears and flaws. Yesterday, I got a voicemail from her. In it, she said this:

Hello Stella. This is your mother. I wanted to tell you that your father and I are still alive. I thought you might be interested to know that.

Ha! Good one, right? So I called her back. I brief excerpt of our conversation:

My mother (answering the phone): Hello?

Me: Hi mom, it’s me.

My mother: Who’s “me”?

Me: It’s Stella, mom.

My mother: Who’s “Stella”? Do I know a Stella? I don’t recognize your voice. I haven’t heard it in so long.

Me: I talked to you a few days ago, mom.

I won’t bore you with the rest of the details, so tedious. But it got me thinking: how serious are people when they say that every woman eventually turns into her mother? I’m scared.



Dear Stephanie,

Scholars, philosophers, and theologians have no doubt debated extensively about the identity of God’s most-foulest creation. Is it the mosquito? The rat? The cockroach? To what extent do you act versus react against the foulest creation? How many of God’s foulest creations can you fit on the head of a pin?

I have conducted extensive research, and I am here to conclusively reveal the identity of God’s Most-Foulest Creation: It is a particular genus of

The Financially Successful Middle-Aged Divorced/Never-Been-Married Man.

See now, right off the bat, I feel like a jerk because I realize that I’m providing more evidence for my theory that I’ve become an evil, hateful, spiteful bitch.

But oh how these motherfuckers vex me.

I may have mentioned that my manager’s deepest desire was for me to populate my bar with these men, night after night. “Stella, this town is full of lonely divorced men who would come every night just to see you; you just gotta flirt with them more, not let them see your boundaries so much.” He said this encouragingly as if it were some sort of prize or gift he knew I coveted rather than a flesh and blood enactment of my personal version of hell (I am convinced that when I die and go to hell, I will preside over a bar through which these men endlessly cycle, like Sisyphus and his rock).

“Interesting business plan,” I replied. “Are you going to provide the security detail when they stalk me?”

“They’re not going to stalk you,” he laughed dismissively.

“You know I live in this town, right?” I said. “I see these fuckers everywhere—Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, CVS, other restaurants.” [I would like you to know, Stephanie, that I’m sitting in Starbucks as I’m writing this, and I looked up just now and saw one of them staring at me. I looked away and pretended I didn’t recognize him; that’s how I do.] “You know they ask me out, right?”

“They know it’s a game,” he continued ignoring the “asking me out part.” Then he paused contemplatively. “Well, except for maybe [name of potential stalker], oh and maybe [another name]. … I’ll let you know who to watch out for. What are you worried about? I’ll walk you to your car at the end of the night.”

Well that’s a relief. The male manager who I outweigh will escort me to my car. Phew. And to think I was worried.

The cynical reader might at this point be wondering, Aren’t you being a little self-absorbed here, Stella? Perhaps your manager was right to call you a sissy. To this I will concede that perhaps I have an unusually low threshold for sexual innuendo/harassment.

When told by a male customer who has just been delivered a martini without spilling a drop, “I’ll bet you exhibit that kind of control when making love,” it’s entirely possible that a female bartender (who is not me) will not then immediately be griped by the desire to vomit in this customer’s face. Nor will she then fantasize about reaching back for the oversized Belvedere bottle and using it to bash his skull in repeatedly for the purposes of murdering him.

These other female bartenders instead have some perfect, witty comment at the ready that humbles the male customer just enough but not too much. I however just stand there staring at him with a horrified and disgusted scowl on my face until it’s so awkward that he feels compelled to apologize for “offending” me. I don’t do this with intent; it’s simply a reflection of how I feel. and also a consequence of being struck dumb by the sheer grotesqueness of his discourse. Later, when Boo asks me, “What did that guy say to you?!” I will be too embarrassed to repeat it; in fact, it will take perhaps weeks before I can verbalize it.

From my manager’s perspective, this probably isn’t so good for business because the customer possibly feels bad and possibly also embarrassed. Or (as is also possible), the customers thinks, Well, how odd. This bartender doesn’t seem to enjoy my sexual commentary. It does not seem likely that she will fuck me. Humph, she’s no fun at all. And this customer is not likely to return to my bar.

My manager understandably doesn’t favor this outcome, but from my perspective, it’s perfect! That’s exactly what I hope will happen! I want the customer to apologize because in fact he has offended me. I do not want to make a witty comment that will make him feel it’s okay to speak to me in this way or in any way to mitigate the revulsion I feel for him. I want him to be uncomfortable and embarrassed and never, ever to darken my bar again unless he can behave “appropriately,” by which I mean not implicating me in any sort of sexual scenario. Ah but alas, it’s too late for that.

Admittedly, I do not own or run a successful restaurant (then again, neither does my manager), so I readily concede that my business plan may not be sound, but I’ll share it with you anyway. I had this kooky idea that maybe you could provide fresh, delicious food at a reasonable price and provide quality customer service (sexual favors not included). Call me crazy, but I had a bizarre notion that this would cause patrons to want to return because they had a positive experience dining in your establishment and being served by dignified professionals. Perhaps they would pass the word on to their friends and acquaintances, thus generating “buzz” about your establishment. I’ve heard talk about something called “advertising” too, like in newspapers and on the radio and stuff and also via something called “direct mail.” Though, again, I admit that I am not a “business professional.”

Nevertheless, I was thinking that maybe, just maybe, these would provide a better outcome than pimping out the bartender.

Just a thought.



Eternal questions

January 14, 2010

Dear Stephanie,

I have some

Eternal and Unanswerable Questions

as well as

Questions That May Have Answers

But I’m Not Sure I Want To Know Them

They include:

1. I spent a good bit of cash getting my car’s interior detailed. They cleaned everything out, including the space between the seats and the middle console. Yet. Shit has filled that space, all kinds of shit I don’t even recall bringing into the car. Why does that keep happening?

2a. Each time I use them, I neatly coil my iPod headphones before putting them away. Yet. Each time I take them out to use them again, they are a tangled mess. How do they keep getting this way?

2b. In this vein, what’s the deal with Christmas lights?

2c. And socks disappearing in the dryer?

But here’s the one I’m deeply fretting about:

3. How did I go from being a sweet, compassionate, loving person to a sort of hateful, evil bitch ?


I served a mature couple (somewhere in their 40s or 50s) a few weeks ago. The man had come in first, and I made small talk with him while pouring his wine. Then a woman (girlfriend? wife?) joined him at the bar.

I greeted her politely, and she looked at me then looked away in disgust. For the brief moment that she glanced in my direction, she wore a sour expression on her face. It was something like a frown and a smirk combined into one, as if either a) I’d made some grossly inappropriate comment—perhaps a derisive comment about her frizzy hair?—or b) I was a glob of mustard that had fallen out of her sandwich onto her brand new, expensive silk shirt—though it’s not the mustard’s fault she’s a clumsy fool. Did the mustard leap out of the sandwich onto her shirt? I think not.

She wouldn’t look me in the eye, placed her order without any standard discourse or gestures practiced by polite people the world over (I’m thinking of simple things, like addressing the person taking your order and using “please” and “thank you”) all the while looking annoyed. And she repeatedly made comments under her breath, all the while wearing the frown/smirk. I have a feeling she wasn’t complementing my quality customer service.

Can you believe that nasty shit?

What a freak. I mean, she’s a grown-ass woman. Seriously.

I ceased addressing her. When I asked, “How are you doing? How is everything?” I appreciated the fact that “you” is both singular and plural because I addressed the question to the man only, as if she wasn’t sitting next to him glaring at me. I did that thing where I put my elbows on the bar and lean towards him, smiling deeply into his eyes. And excuse me, but he ate that shit up.

I worried that I’d become totally evil, but then I also felt strongly that she needed to learn a lesson about consequences.

When she went to the bathroom, the man and I engaged in conversation. She strode back to the bar at a brisk pace. I feared momentarily that she was going to leap across the bar and tear my hair out.

Bring it, bitch. I’m heavily armed back here, when you think about it. I’ve got a full, oversized bottle of Belvedere (it’s a virtual billy club), knives, matches. I am all set.

But she just gave me a dirty look and accusingly asked him, “What was she telling you?”


I want to make it clear that I was not offended by her treatment of me. I did not take her behavior personally (as if it reflected on me specifically) or feel wronged. I understood that it was about her issues. I simply felt embarrassed to be in the presence of such an idiot. I experienced a brief but ephemeral moment of insight into man’s claim that women are psycho.

But no, usually, men think women are psycho because women do not read men’s minds and also because men compartmentalize more successfully than women do.

I started to feel badly about it all, though. What if he was a compulsive cheater, and she was justifiably paranoid, and I was feeding into all that freaky shit?

Well, it’s kind of not my problem.

Um, right?