Originally written on 10/02/2005 this piece is the transcript of a recording made during a stand-up comedy performance at Raw Meat, a show produced by Tamar Kummel.
I understand I'm supposed to entertain you with sad stories about immigrants, and the more miserable the story the more you laugh?!
Well, when I go home with my boyfriend, on the M line, towards Ridgewood, my Eastern European enclave, my life doesn’t feel that miserable. Especially now after Katrina hit New Orleans. I went to graduate school there, then moved to New York City.
On the subway I look to the left, I look to the right, everywhere miserable Eastern European ladies with a smirk of superiority on their faces. Indignant hisses, “Oh, my God! Is he nibbling on her neck?! Look! Is he putting his hand between her thighs?! Why isn’t she like us, bedraggled, respectable, middle-age mothers, daughters of saintly mothers who under communism hauled shopping bags, stayed in line all day long for a chicken, a bottle of milk and three toilet paper rolls! We go home tired, make dinner for our grumpy Borises who ravish young girls behind our backs and we’re getting none! We sacrifice ourselves, wash old folks' behinds all day long, clean apartments and send money home. We didn’t come here to have a good time! We came here to sacrifice!”
Well then, sacrifice!
I have two graduate degrees, yet I work as a bathroom attendant at Copacabana, the famous night club, you know, like in the song, “Her name is Lola, she was a show girl… Music and passion were always in fashion at the Copa, Copa Cabana, the hottest bar in Havana…” Regrettably now has gone downhill. Still New Yorkers throw $50,000 private parties at Copa, as if even more lavish since Katrina. Bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, prom parties, engagement parties, employee-appreciation parties, divorce parties, Emmy Awards after-parties.
Yesterday we had seven-tier cascading chocolate fountains, think historical monument size, Fontana di Trevi if you please, a three-foot wide, infinitely-tiered, Empire Building birthday cake, a clown squad, and an amusement arcade for some kids who in the end ran around in socks on the huge dance floor chasing each other. The beaming parents and adult guests don’t tip in the bathroom. I froze for five hours, bathrooms at Copa are freezers, summer, winter, it doesn’t matter. The management couldn’t care less. I wear my winter clothes in the summer too. I bundle up with woolen shawls, Cossack fur caps and boots. Teeth chattering, I hand out paper towels. Patrons could get them from the wall dispenser, but my boss told me to show guests utmost consideration, thus deserving a tip.
In my four-stall bathroom, water springs from the tile floor. This is a world-renowned institution, but every night I have to fight with the kitchen boys over mops. The bathroom is a marsh. If I can’t get a mop, it’s a nightmare. Water bubbles up in the first stall, then spreads into the second, then reaches out to the third. I sweep it into the floor drain weep hole, dry the floor with paper towels galore, but I can’t keep up with the flooding. Patrons are insulted, thinking they step in urine not water, and so they don’t tip the lazy bathroom attendant.
In despair I give up. I sit on my chair and read Love and Longing in Bombay. I want to write a best-seller mystery book. If I do, I’m out of the bathroom. I’m on a mystery-research binge. I watch DVDs with Cadfel and Mrs. Bradley, Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Mrs. Jessica Fletcher, Inspector Morse and read Hannibal Lectern, Good Cop Bad Cop, and police blotters in the papers. On the subway I see suspects everywhere. A woman forcing a pacifier in a crying baby’s mouth is a kidnapper. A mousy accountant calculating on her phone, an undercover cop. The guy in shorts over there ogling a young blonde, a prowling sex offender.
But at work I can’t read for long. I have my merchandise displayed around the two sinks: bobby pins, scrunches, hair mousse spray, hand lotion, lipstick, mascara, candy, mints, slippers, tampons. If you want to borrow my hair spray, or need a safety pin, or a Band-Aid, place a dollar in my tip jar. Some find the $1 tip outrageous and haggle. "What? One dolla’? One dolla’ fo’ a lollipop? Gina, listen to dis: one dolla’ fo’ da lollipop! At da dolla’ store you get a bag o’ dem fo’ one dolla’!” “Honey,” you get away with a lot if you throw a honey in, “Honey, if you don’t like it, beat it. Get your lollipop at the dollar store, okay. It’s 2 a.m. and you’re at Copa.” Some slam the candy back in the basket, some belligerently hand in the dollar. Entitled skunks.
One self-righteous woman, after she realized she wouldn’t get my candy for free, moaned, “It’s not fair!” She took out her wad of hundreds and twenties. She said uppity, “Do you have change?” “Yes, honey, I have change.”
Some even steal. I sell plastic slippers for $5. By midnight glammed-up girls stagger into the bathroom, “Give me slippers! I can’t bear these high heels anymore! My feet are killing me.” and I sell my slippers. Last night a girl passed out in the stall and I had to go on the dance floor to get the bouncer. As I was walking out a woman asked me if I had slippers size 7. “Yes, just a minute.” I keep a stash of slippers under my chair, the popular sizes, 7, 8, 9. When I came back with the bouncer, I leaned under the chair to give the woman the slippers. The size 7 was gone! Only its empty plastic bag and a pair of broken high heels! I turned around and saw in the first stall two feet with my slippers on. When the woman came out, “Hey, where’s my money?! You took my slippers!” “I left you those in return!” “Are you kidding me?!” She ran before I could catch her. Thief. She didn’t come back, shook her bootie on the dance floor.
I have to work while people dance. Actually they don’t dance, they’re grinding all night long. The girl’s butt rubs up and down the guy’s crotch. I’m so disgusted when I crash to sleep that I tell my boyfriend to stop his sexual overtures. I slap his fingers when he tries to play radio buttons with my nipples. Then I get depressed that I can’t leave work at work. It’s not his fault that I’m sick of people. But how could I be otherwise? I watch them getting drunk, taking drugs, smoking cigarettes, weed, pouring chemicals in their bodies, having fun… Some fun. I’ll have fun if I get to write my mystery book. But I need a crime idea. I have no experience with crime.
Have you stolen a cell phone? Or not returned the ones you found?
Well, they always forget their cell phones in the bathroom, being drunk. Some look for them in despair, some don’t. At the beginning I’d make sure they got their phones back. I had one stolen myself and I’d lost several, so I’d sympathize. I’d call them, go out of my way to deliver their devices, but after awhile, since the dames wouldn’t offer a coffee or a tip, when I found a phone in the stall I put it in my bag and ran with it to the kitchen. I looked at its pictures. It was a camera phone like the one a padlock peddler had stolen from me while I was working as a bar tender at a watering hole in Ridgewood. I was perusing his merchandise while he vanished my phone. After he left I realized he’d stolen it. I cried but the phone was gone. I paid a week’s wage for a new one, without a camera.
Anyway, I looked and I saw a bottle blonde with two fatso girls, then same blonde showing off her boobs, then her buttocks, various angles, then she with an equally naked booby girlfriend, then her happy guy, a fatso trucker, and more buttocks. This was not a bedraggled mom, gone on a night on the town for the first time in a year. I decided not to give her phone back, but sell it. I had to pay steep fees for my Romanian passport renewal at the embassy.
When desperate Booby came staggering to look for it I said, “I don’t know. I was on my coffee break. Check the stalls.” I was glad I’d turned off her phone, in case someone called her number.
For a few days we laughed at her porn with my boyfriend, but then we realized we couldn’t sell it, didn’t have the criminal connections, the device was worthless, and it just got forgotten in a corner. At times I wanted to call Booby, return her phone, but I was ashamed. Might be crime isn’t in my nature. I’ll never write a crime novel...
Now I give lost phones back. Still, they don’t tip.
Anyway, by the end of the night I’m to deal with more drunk women vomiting on the floor, spilling their beer cups around, and still no mop. If I tell the floor managers—assorted distraught females who scurry about like under bombardment, as if they haven’t been doing this mighty strenuous floor management work since 1975!—they half listen to my complaining about the flooding and scarcity of mops, but don’t help me. Why should they? It’s Copa! We don’t need quality service. Revelers flock from all over the world, each night a new wave of suckers. We don’t need repeat customers.
A Polish friend, Milos the mechanic, calls to tell me his sorrows. His boss used to play the trombone. But once, tired after playing at a wedding, his trombone fell out of the back of his truck and another car ran over it. He opened an auto repair shop and hung his flattened trombone on the wall.
So now he sold an old car, promising he’d replace the engine. But he got carried away and sold the engine to another customer, telling the first one, “Oh, don't worry, Milos will get you another one.” How?! That car model was discontinued 20 years ago!
Milos lost many friends because of his boss' lies. The boss said, “This is how you sell in America.” Milos said, “At least I sell my expertise and time, but you sell lies.” His boss turned red as a brick.
I say quickly good-bye to Milos, hide my phone. My own boss, Miss Voica, another sour Eastern European, has descended upon me. Miss Voica, the sinful Copa’s bathroom chieftain is a dedicated church-goer. At closing time workers grab the costly flower decorations before they’re thrown to the garbage. We take them home. I always get Miss Voica a bouquet too, still she constantly plucks the best stems out of my own bouquet, for her church altar.
She’s a small woman, in her black and white uniform resembles a penguin, walks like one. She checks herself in the mirror, “I’m a slob! Look at all these rolls upon rolls of belly fat I’ve acquired since I came to America! I used to be like a stick! 60 kilos! Now I’m 99! They mess up the food with growth hormones. I read in Aura… excellent magazine! I started their diet yesterday. I ate only three apples. I feel so light. Today I can eat a bit of cheese. I had to start the diet all over again.”
Alas, I’ve heard her story of crushed hopes ten times already.
“Last Sunday I went to a birthday party, the priest’s little one turned five, and I ate fish. Look at all these layers of lard! Slob! Aura forbids coffee, but I can’t! I work twenty hours a day, I sleep only four.”
Greedy Miss Voica. During day she is a full-time accountant at a nursing home. Instead of letting others to work more, like myself, I need the money, she grabs the prime time slots, since she’s the boss.
Anyway, my tribulations compared to Katrina victims’ misery stories are nothing.
October 11th, 2013