So, it would appear I’m “working” here at this seemingly upscale hotel located in the California desert whose name is synonymous with wild, alcohol-fueled, ink-obsessed tweekers, party hipsters and motorcycle chicks. I sit isolated at a corner desk on my second night shift as a concierge, sporting a uniform so hideous, I have to avoid mirrors before leaving the house or I might gag. The colorblind combination (a nipple-lancing black vest worn over purple/white gingham blouse) was no doubt selected by someone with a penchant for lady blackjack dealers. Slapping this getup on everyday is like having to relive the ugliest bridesmaid dress not just once, but over and over again. Pinned above my heart is a metallic badge to complete the ensemble. (I think the last nametag I ever donned was for my first summer job at Disneyland in 1978. As if the polyester jumpsuit wasn’t bad enough, the visitors were able to call me by name all day long, too.) The four little letters of my moniker look lonely and misplaced (kind of like me). But, that’s nothing compared to the pain of the tight, white belt hoisting up these ill-fitting khaki trousers. Hard plastic can be cruel when cinched around contemptuous hips. It actually hurts to be here. Is this the best I could do? I should feel lucky to have found a job at all in this horror of a recession, shouldn’t I?
“Hey, honey,” says an old biker dude in a crusty leather jacket, “Where’s the head?”
“The restrooms are down this hall and to the left,” I reply for the tenth time in the last hour, fighting the urge to give him the finger when he doesn’t thank me.
A young woman with yards of matted hair extensions whizzes past wheeling a neon green suitcase behind her polished toenails painted to match the luggage. Her jiggling cleavage bounces with each stride to the tunes blasted here 24/7. The crocheted halter top she’s almost wearing looks as though it’s been left in the dryer on high heat setting to achieve maximum shrinkage. Mission accomplished.
I’m not even sure if they really need a concierge in a place like this (other than to have a live body point out local tattoo parlors or where to pick up a six-pack at midnight). I’m so glad I spent the past several years in graduate school to find out though. So far, I’ve directed countless guests successfully to the toilets with the utmost intelligence. My degrees are really paying off.
Wait. What’s this? An unsteady figure is heading my way. A tall, white, middle-aged man suddenly appears before me wearing a pastel pink dress shirt so neatly pressed it could pass as table linen at a Hamptons’ beach cottage. His pinwheel pupils start to spin as he teeters and loses his balance. Jeez, he’s plastered already? It’s only 7:15 p.m. His buttoned-up, accountant persona does not fit the typical guest description at all, but he seems harmless enough – more milquetoast than Motörhead.
I dunno where I’m suppozzzed to go,” he says in an infantile voice.
“Are you here for the conference? I ask, not that I’m aware of a business conference in-house this evening but, he’s not really listening anyway. His torso begins to wriggle back and forth as his hands slide up and down his body. Admittedly, I’m a little freaked out by this writhing visual. What the hell is he doing? Is he having a seizure?
“Hey, ya know whazzz downstairs?” he spews as the squirming comes to a halt.
I quickly launch into my accommodating spiel, “Our fitness center, meeting rooms, and soon-to- be spa which opens in…” But, he’s not interested in learning about the hotel layout or its fine amenities, and interrupts me midsentence.
“I know whazzz downstairs,” he prods with a wink, “Pussy!”
Did he just say “Pussy?” Maybe he means the ballroom?
Somehow he mistakes my flabbergasted silence as an invitation and keeps talking.
“Hey! Ya know what I’m really good at?” he continues, as if clarifying technical skills in detail might clinch the deal of this unsolicited foreplay, “Oral!”
Oh. My. God. I’m working here?
Perhaps the protocol now is to phone security? Surely one of those sinewy guys with visible handcuffs would love nothing more than to remove this lewd lothario from the premises. They live for that kind of macho shit.
“Hello? Security? Can you please come right away and save me from the creepy guy saying creepy things to me in a super-creepy manner?”
Well, maybe not. It’s not exactly the usual predawn hour of antics committed by liquored-up buffoons often found chucking lawn furniture over balcony rails. Security might think me hysterical at the inability to diffuse unruly banter, deeming me unfit to carry out my concierge duties, and escort me to my vehicle where I will then have to live in the custody of my parents for an interminable length of time, never to find work again.
Only weeks before, I’d stood in line for six and a half hours (in high heels) at a Job Fair with over 5,000 other jobless souls. I’d never seen anything like it. No food. No water. No air conditioning. Luckily, an innovative Hispanic man had thought to fill a trashcan with ice and soft drinks to sell. I bought two cans of Coca-Cola for sustenance. A film crew arrived for the event capturing the shitty economy as a lead news story. When I made it through the three rounds of on-the-spot interviews and then was hired a week later, I was grateful to have finally found employment after moving in with my parents last year at their senior community home, no matter how low the hourly pay rate. I’d worked in the hospitality industry in the early ‘90s as an executive assistant to the general manager of a luxury brand hotel chain and finally, this was my chance to wake up and go somewhere! As much as I adore spending time searching for the ultimate spoon rest with my mother, or bargain hunting at HomeGoods for artificial greenery, idle hours are deadly to anyone who needs to feel useful and productive.
For months and months, I’d joined the countless ranks of people who endlessly submit their resumes online never to be called in for a live meeting – EVER. Staring at the serpentine line with thousands of job seekers, I flat-out refused to leave (kind of like this drunken idiot). I figured they had to pick somebody for the hundred jobs posted and it might as well be me. Feet throbbing, sweat dripping down my legs, by the time I finally reached the personal interview stage, my makeup had melted away and a few women had fainted from the 110F temperature. When I returned home and described the day’s event to my mother, complaining it was more than half the salary I’d been used to earning, she said, “Honey, it is what it is. If you’re lucky enough to find a job in today’s market, you’d better hang on to it no matter what.”
No matter what?
Fine, I’m delighted for this wasted man’s proficiency in the oral arts, though it is not clear if he means in the “giving” or the “receiving” end but, frankly, I do not probe further or phone in for backup. Instead, I kindly direct him with a wave of my hand and say, “You need to walk that way, and then turn right.” Of course if he follows the route I’ve indicated he will possibly trip and fall head-over-feet into the swimming pool located beyond the glass doors adjacent to the lobby.
Now he’s plopped his doughy ass atop the calendar of events folder splayed across the desk knocking the pen and pencil holder over with a crash.
“Wanna go somewhere with me? Right now?!” he asks with a sickening sense of urgency.
“Hey! Can’t you see I’m working here?” I say with Bada Bing authority, recovering the fallen writing instruments with one swoop of the hand.
“Oh, and just so ya know, I’ve got loadzzz of money,” he persists in hopes I’m not only the kind of employee to service guests sexually, but a gold-digging ho as well.
I remain motionless; mute.
“You’re hot,” he adds – one last compliment masked as an insult.
In this garb? Man, this jerk is the walking definition of “blind drunk.”
I stay hushed and stare back with the kind of glazed indifference months of joblessness breeds. I shoot him a laser sharp don’t-fuck-with-me glare that penetrates his psyche like a super hero scorned. He’s noticeably wounded, and finally sulks off amidst the throng of packed bar patrons under a blaring canopy of techno beats, and gets swallowed up by the crowd.
Secretly pleased with my cool, guest relations achievement, I rise and begin to sway to the music. (Dancing’s encouraged here.) I say the words again, not as a horrified afterthought or a questionable revelation. I say it with the kind of pride that comes from punching a time clock for $12 an hour at the end of the day. I say it with a pumping fist and a hearty guffaw. I say it now like a rebel yell because I cannot actually believe it myself:
“I’m working here. I’m WORKING here!!”
Jill Paris is the author of Life is Like a Walking Safari, a Thought Catalog original.
“I’m Working Here” was published in Gen F: An Anthology of Short Stories of Comic Tragedies, Humiliations, and Reversals of Fortune for Those Displaced by Technology and the Economy.