Current Occupation: bartender(…/writer/actress)
Former Occupation: telemarketer, hostess, waitress, and babysitter (…/writer/actress)
Contact Information: Brittany Allen is a New York-based writer and actress first and foremost, but for the bills she tends the bar. Her fiction and non-fiction has been previously published in The Nervous Breakdown, The Grey Sparrow Press, The Adelpheans and Mercer Street. When not at work, she plays melancholy girl guitar and studies comedy with the Upright Citizens Brigade.
Here to Serve
Now remind yourself it’s just a job, and thus a sickly, doomed kind of friendship. To begin with.
There is Gabriel Long-Arms. He is a circus freak; he grazes doorways, he’s spindly. He’s an actor, too.
Jeanine calls you ‘sweetie’ and snaps gum. You thought she was your age but she’s not, she’s just a very slinky thirty-two.
Ed reminds you of a childhood friend who died in a freak boating accident. He has no ‘other life’ (neither of them do) – he just wears gold chains and judges your ability to do your job instead.
You’re in love with Jerad, who lopes around hunched like a turtle and teases you, sometimes rescues you from a rogue tray or a spill. He’s Eastern European, but his accent suggests he might be the kind of guy raised around the hood, like you. The question is: will common ground mean he understands you less, or more?
Every day at Wickham’s is a train to Bowling Green, or a favorite song that’s way too short – full of promise, ultimately disappointing.
People in this restaurant all ought to have other lives – some are painters, some are dancers. You look for their art in the way they spin silverware or talk shop. No – the biggest trick is to stop being such a chickenshit, to shake, rattle and roll like a working cog. People yell. They yell AT you. They yell at you with the surefire conviction that you mean business, you mean evil, your business is evil, you are a deep canker sore of a problem in the mouth of their happiness. You’re the wait, you’re the lull, you’re the rush, you’re how-come-I’m-nine-covers-behind, you’re smudged windows, but you are paid to smile. It’s not a sad lament story of woe . It’s not like you mine coal. And hey, as for the money? No one anywhere is being paid enough so just cut that mess, teenager. Grow up, out, a pair.
A man follows you from a 4 to a 6 train one late night coming home, he peers at you like he’s trying to communicate something across a language barrier or without a tongue. You’re just sitting there, quietly considering jacking up your roommates’ share of the electric bill (cause the beeyotch is flaunting an overly attentive boyfriend like sweet new jewelry lately). What a chump, you chump. But remember the miners. Rejoice in capital-p Perspective.
The man on the train isn’t a rapist. Nor is he a future husband, a prophet or a policeman. He’s not anything. He just gets lost on his own, he becomes a joke to you. You explain him to people at work who aren’t entirely your friends but know an awful lot of your secrets anyways, an awful lot of your worst puns. Sounds you make. Faces you make. Sexual horror stories, whines as coda, fears in canon. The things you repeat over and over and so the fabric of your personality, de facto, rhythmic, unchanging. And where have you heard? Oh, right: “No one can tell what’s wrong with them but everyone else can see instantly…” (or something.) Mad Men. A true thing.
Work has become a place to mull over the minutiae of human interaction. Take this: a white woman is mean to you and Shannick one day. When Ralph Goldberg-the-Boss arrives, the aggressor becomes a purring cat. Maybe this is all ALL about race. Maybe Jerad’s distance is about race. It could also be the age difference or the fact that you’re at work, but a small shoulder harpy says it may as well be the skin – and there’s no way to know for sure. Though it’s 2013. Ooh child, days like this are cause to think of your ancestors on their heavenly plinth. Surely they’d be disappointed to see their educated progeny clearing plates and taking coats just like they did. Would they understand? You remember being shown a house with your whole family sometime in high school, a big rambler in the chic suburbs. The old lady realtor was mean and you swore you could taste it, then, only it didn’t compute. You figured, if she only knew me… (but remember to stop being such a chickenshit).
Stop this train! Banner-waving feels trite and you are not. You have strong bones and you are very specific, nobody owns you. You understand flip sides and compromise and sacrifice. You think you know toil. (You don’t know toil.) And meeting people? It’s easy to smile and nod, to accommodate, to say ‘that makes sense’, to say ‘thank you’, ‘welcome’, and worst of all, ‘enjoy.’
A night the moon is full an ex-boyfriend saunters on into Wickham’s, and you are like a movie: of all the ______’s in all the ______, you had to ____________ into ________. It’s embarrassing to see him here, to see him seeing you here with your dull shoes and affect. He continues to smile at you dopey and you look for places on his face you’ve affected, patches you can claim. You’re looking for damage and remorse and regret. You think you find some. Twitching above a left eye like low-potassium.
The moon warps and twists across the glass window of a building opposite. It is not the moon, it is a street light. He sure did love you, but did-he-understand-you. Does it matter now. Does he want fries with that.
You pass some more tests. Shannick is loud about disliking gay marriage. You are mad, you let her know, but some people start hating her after this. You don’t. You are a 50s housewife concerning sex, in a movie, on TV – you decide not to talk about it. This is the workplace.
Meanwhile, time is passing at the workplace.
You are growing roots and getting nicknames. People like you – that’s it – and that feels good. Liking people feels good. You make a circle, you provide a surface, you provide a service, but no matter how hard you try you show but one side. You’re the moon, dummy.
There’s scarcely time for anything but caricature – people are busy eating, finishing eating, money’s changing hands, you’re just an ornament. It’s not about you. Hush.
On the subway, look for eyes looking for eyes. Start that way. Then, start looking for eyes looking for your eyes. People reading the books you’re reading or have read. Say hi OR – swallow timid coos. Think of Gerad, being easy and normal and Eastern European, sliding down a mountain on a snowboard (Gerad snowboards). A man across from you reads blatantly over someone’s shoulder. Stop being such a chickenshit, you think – to, about, everyone. Stop being such a chickenshit and change everything, burn it up and throw it down and fear not. Maybe tomorrow someone will save you. Maybe tomorrow you’ll just quit on your own, you’ll just hang up your apron and go.
This city is a frustrating place. All it ever is is the 4 train, and that means so many grating teenyboppers that you become but a smashed, frustrated anecdote. Yet you have always, you will always, wear colorful clothes to stand out. These days you wear make-up. You’ve only listened to one highly indie bad for weeks now, you can’t pull yourself away, you’re sucking on it. In these ways you may yet be unlike them.
And elsewhere, people who mean things to you and have meant things to you might be attempting to digest you, to reconcile your contradictions, to dig for bones below, people could be on their home couches, pondering the magnificent freakness of you – the parts you delight in, the sweet, the spicy.
I said, people could be. But they probably aren’t. Eyes looking for your eyes – only the very, very lonely look back, and in the middle of the night. Big old Harvest Moon eyes. Vacant. Sans questions. Have they not noticed, you wonder. Have they already seen, you speculate. Who are you digesting by candlelight? Who is spinning like a plate around and around in your mind?
Everyone who works at a restaurant, you’re learning, has failed at something OR has a gap that was once a deep want and is now a deep pit, requiring something to fill it. You assess. You organize the dinner menus. You dream of snowboarding trips with Jerad, you dream of catching all the boy’s eyes, you dream of catching all the world’s eyes, you dream of dreaming.