“What’s the difference between a bartender and a whore?”
Apparently not much.
Lets talk about decency, and the lack thereof, one deals with in the hospitality industry. I was looking back at my writing this past year, and one episode stood out that missed publishing. The audacious depths of depravity involved in that night still set my nerves on end. This is the story of why I left the restaurant business.
I was working at the Pub that night, and had a rowdy group of 40 something’s. From the off, we had a stellar repertoire; very playful and assertive. I liked it. I had the women flirting and complimenting me and the men puffing up all flattering and grandiose. But towards the end, one of those charmers didn’t just cross a line– he charged it. He stormed the goddamn castle, sowing salt behind him.
After a night of excellent service for well over four hours and particular attention to my many attributes– both physical and intellectual– I was finally being cut (translation: let off work for the night) and cashing everyone out. While working on that, the big, belligerent bull of a lug went for the gold.
“So what’s the difference between a whore and a bartender?” he drunk-whispered as he leaned over me, more than invading my personal space.
Thinking he was starting a tasteless joke, I half laughed while spacing myself back to a polite distance. “I don’t know, what?”
“No, seriously, where is the line drawn? Because I want you to make out with this guy behind us. I wanna fuck his sister, but he’s looking all pathetic and needs a girl. She won’t do anything until he’s good. So you hook up with him and I get his sister.”
You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me. The aforementioned Sad Man was indeed looking like a half-drowned puppy swaying on a bar stool. His sister, well past drunk, was my biggest fan in the bunch. While I had a growing suspicion through our time together of an impending threesome proposition– which I typically find flattering or hilarious– this was unexpected.
“That’s not going to happen; here’s your check.” That didn’t satisfy him.
“No seriously, he’s not bad looking. If you’re a little drunk and like nice guys.” His suggestive leer did nothing to improve the ice running through my veins as his determination to disregard personal space actually cornered me.
“I’m sober, and have a boyfriend. No, thank you. Here’s your check.” He really can’t push this any further; there’s no way I’ll have to decline more than twice, right?
It gets better.
“I don’t fucking care about you having a boyfriend or any of that, just do it. He won’t know. I really need to get with this guy’s sister. You’re my last shot,” the Lug said, dangerously unaware of the precarious situation in which he’d placed himself.
I silently handed him his bill, doled out the rest of the checks, and walked to the safety of the kitchen. Quickly. Before the explosive, homicidal rage overcame my desire to evade prison.
I’ve had nights involving sexual harassment many-a-time before; it comes with the territory, as a woman in service. But I generally squash those attempts and shame the perpetrators. Tonight was different: he hadn’t paid me yet. I had rendered services–apparently extensive services, given recent absurdities– and I deserved my pay.
Hold the phone.
How was I any different from a prostitute now? We both perform requested actions and are paid wages on a discretionary, performance-based scale. Now that I think of it, don’t they have a set, pimp-enforced price, rather than hoping to be paid what they deserved? So, in a way–and take this with a biting grain of salt–they are theoretically better-off. (Ok, that’s a thought that is going to fester.)
Well, I hadn’t received my due yet. So I punched a sack of potatoes in the walk-in fridge (to my immediate regret), and steeled myself for round two. I shamefully laughed it off, navigating the group until I got the receipts back. What’s the saying, fool me once? Yep, shame on me.
He tipped me under 10%. In this line of work, in this country, and considering my practiced expertise, this is wholly unacceptable. Especially considering the time I put into them and the horrible trash he’d dragged me through.
The sole redeeming moment: the evident look on my face upon reading his receipt did not go unnoticed. His buddy came over to ask if I had been appropriately taken care of. Out of sheer exhaustion and dejection, I shook my head and squeaked out a quiet, “Well, not exactly, no.”
He took the slips back and asked for my help doing math; the woman supposedly won over by the Lug joined in. Look– I’m no walking calculator myself, so when drunks request assistance in paying me properly, I’ll always be more than happy to help. He said the one sister meant to put 20%, and bumped his own check to 30%. Between the whole lot of them, I think I ended up walking with over $150, for a total of $350 for the night.
I can put up with a ridiculous mountain of shenanigans from customers (and coworkers), but I refuse to provide my industry prowess in an atmosphere where I don’t feel safe. The managers and doormen were appalled that I hadn’t immediately grabbed them, to their credit. And while I might have done so in the past, I had reached a point in life where I won’t work somewhere that allows room for this to slip by unawares. Most other women working there were shocked; they said they had never experienced anything remotely close. However, one of my favorite coworkers was the only one to speak up that she wasn’t surprised, and had been in the same boat many times over the years.
Even so, that was the night that broke this camel’s back; I put in my notice a week later. If I make $350 in one night and am still showing up at home in tears, I’m calling it. As much as I miss making rent in one weekend, the emotional damage really isn’t worth it. I left the industry in favor of committing to a real-world professional (read: office) career move. If I’m going to “whore” myself out– because let’s be honest, a lot of jobs feel like that sometimes– it’s going to meet my standards.
I’m going to be a happy whore.
In a jam for money this fall, I tried rejoining the serving masses at a well-known tapas spot in the U Street area. The hiring manager had boasted two visits from Michelle Obama in as many months, so I looked forward to finally bragging about rubbing elbows with the upper crust to Big Bro up in Philly, where he routinely serves the fabulous and famous. I didn’t have to wait long.
On my third day of training (already convinced I’d made a great mistake, and was planning a graceful exit), the hostess informed my trainer and I that a VIP was assigned to our section for dinner. She didn’t know who it was, but told me “Valerie something” when I asked after the reservation.
“You mean Valerie Jarrett?” She nodded, looking no more enlightened. Everyone else is still oblivious. “Valerie Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to the President.” Still nothing. “She’s Obama’s best friend.” A few faces lit up. I instead talked to a manager, who absolutely knew the name.
When a Secret Service agent showed to post up at a table nearby, I kept thinking about how advisors don’t typically go about with escorts. Two young black girls arrived at the table first, but I assumed one was her daughter. It still could just be her. Then my trainer bolted over to me across a packed dining room.
“Please don’t freak out. I know you’re new, and I don’t know if you can keep your cool or not. But Sasha and Malia just sat at our table. Get bread and water and please, please do not embarrass me.”
For a group who didn’t know Valerie Jarrett’s name, they sure make a fuss over the First Daughters. I had to subtly shoo away multiple coworkers who stopped and gaped at the table. One server even nudged me while I was refilling a water glass and not-so-quietly whispered, “Are those the Obama girls?” My face was not pleased. Jarrett did indeed accompany the girls, along with some school friends. My only moment of nervousness was when the girls thought about ordering another soda from me along with their churros, which put me on edge.
I’m sorry, girls, but I wouldn’t want to face your mother’s disapproval. I sort of worship her. You understand.
The internet has been seeing a lot of restaurant checks and server horror stories lately, most notably the “Redditor Waitress vs. Non-Tipping Pastor”. And now, I have joined their ranks.
When I first heard about it, I thought, “Way to do God proud, Pastor.” Then, when I heard she later called and got the waitress fired, it upgraded to, “Sometimes I wish I believed in hell, you asshat.” But I hadn’t experienced such an insult where someone clearly went out of their way to offend me, as it happened to this poor Applebees Redditor. Until this week. Apparently, some people think to themselves, “What would Pastor Bell do?”
Now let me be clear. I’ve worked all levels of front-of-house for eight years. I don’t mean I haven’t been yelled at, scolded, complained to, stiffed on tip, sexually harassed, condescended to, and all those other fun things humans think up to fuck with one another. These are simply occupational hazards. We deal with a lot of asshats in the restaurant business. We deal with so much disrespect, I feel like Aretha is talking just to me.The trick of the trade is to emotionally stunt yourself until you feel dead inside. THEN, you’re ready to go to work for the night. You’ve heard “if you can’t handle the heat, get the fuck outta the kitchen”? Front-of-house has the same mentality. If you can’t handle the job, then find somewhere more suited to your delicate constitution, cause this sure as hell isn’t it.
With that said, we all have hard days. Sometimes you just can’t shake the rude tone or abusive language of a table. Occasionally, you’re wound so tight and tired, the attitudes that would normally roll right off your skin decide to stick instead. I could make excuses. [Over]working two jobs, I had already worked ~60 hours by Sunday. My broken toe is still healing, I ache all over, and sometimes only candy and smiles keep me going. On my way at 9am, I easily could have been that sour-faced server that ruins your brunch with forgetfulness, irritability, and a hangover.But no. Somehow, I was in a great mood. It was a beautiful day, I knew there was a solid staff team on, and I had cash to buy people lattes. There’s nothing like walking into a bar on a weekend morning with a pile of hot coffee and fresh muffins—it’s great to see my friends happy. Soon, we were open, and my roommate and friend decided to visit for brunch. Then an adorable family was seated in my section, with the cutest 9-year-old girl ever. By the time they left, she had made me a present with the wax toys we give to kids. My housemate looked jealous, and said he never gets gifts from happy children at his job. Yea? Well I have to soak up the great moments when I can, to hold me through the crap ones; I just didn’t know a crap one would be my next table.
They screamed “ASSHAT” from the second they set foot in My Bar. The hostess pulled together a table for them, which they blatantly passed by to beeline for a corner booth instead. Six kids, clearly hurtin’ or still drunk from the night before, disheveled and un-showered, and so fucked up they could barely read the menu. I watched with my coffee as they all fell into the cushions, and one curled right up as if he were at home. When she tracked me down to tell me I had another table, all she could do was sigh and say, “I’m so sorry… they’re total dicks.”
Well that’s fine. I’m great with hungover people, they need compassion. Call me the Alcoholic Angel of Mercy—I’ll clear you up happy, right quick. So I popped over and asked if I could get them started with some drinks. All wanted water, one desperate coffee, and three wanted mimosas. The others cringed visibly, and I mentally wrote them off as needing constant refills. The one curled up like a drunk cat was, in fact, still intoxicated. That should have been my first flag.
But the real kicker was when I took their orders. Normally, I don’t care to note the race of my tables, but it’s relevant. Here, we had three white kids, two brown, and one black. While ordering, the black kid said he had an unusual question. Used to this, I laughed and nodded. Pointing to the Fried Chicken and Waffles on the menu, “I feel like this is only on here for a certain demographic…” And the table erupted. Some saying, “yea, seems racist,” along with others telling them to shuttup—and all at explosive noise levels. It’s usually best to smile and walk away. But as a white girl being told by a black kid that her bar’s menu is racist because we serve fried chicken and waffles… I take issue. I told them it’s a regional favorite and we serve southern cuisine—so welcome to Columbia Heights. Shut up and drink your free water.
The rest of their stay went relatively smoothly. I was repeatedly told how grateful some of them were every time I appeared, because whatever they were going to ask for was served before they even asked. One guy said he wanted to be called ‘biscuit’ every time I came over, and made me laugh. Their food was made promptly and properly, and inhaled at likely-unhealthy speeds. My section wasn’t seated much, because they were so Goddamn loud and obscene that all tables asked to move further away. Well, that’s peachy. Their bill totaled $125, though, so that should be a solid $20+ tip, and would make up for lost money. It was only 1pm, so I didn’t mind much. When the check was dropped, the Drunk One took issue with being charged for bottomless mimosas when he only had one. Two others had bottomless, and I was sure he had more than one, but didn’t care enough to argue and bumped the check down.
After they left, I assessed the damage. Between four of them, I was tipped a total of $15. One guy (pretty sure it was the kid who thought fried chicken is racist) didn’t tip anything. And finally, the Drunk One, the arsenic cherry on top of the whole fucked up shitpie. Not only did he tip me zero, but he wrote a little note on the tip line. His food cost of $21.00, plus a tip line of “dontrobme”, for a total of “kthxbye”.
That was the last straw. At least be a normal dick, like your reverse-racist friend, and don’t tip anything. But don’t come into my bar acting like a fool, degrading our atmosphere with your train-wreck attitudes and illegal intoxication levels, and ultimately go OUT OF YOUR WAY to insult the server who went above and beyond to help your disrespectful asses.
The busser saw the look on my face as I stormed away to the kitchen, and followed repeating with a calm voice, “Aw, come on now, Jules, don’t be like that…” and let me explode in the dish area. I saw several shocked faces from kitchen staff, who have never seen me more upset than disappointed over being out of my favorite dessert. After I blew off some rage, he offered a hug. It worked wonders, and kept me from crying. But I still burned with humiliation. Because that’s what it is. Imagine you worked hard all day in your cubicle, doing whatever it is you do, and your boss leaves you a post-it saying you won’t receive pay for the day’s hours. Because he’s drunk and feels like being an asshole. But at least he included a “thx” in the note. His sadistic glee definitely helped the situation.
In retrospect, it wasn’t the worst serving experience I’ve had. But I’m not going to rationalize away Asshat’s behavior; no matter how much worse other shitheads can be, he is still one of them. When I told my manager about it, he wanted to know which table, so he could have a few words with them. They were gone, but I told him how shit like this is all over the internet anymore. He responded, “You should Facebook that kid; people like that aren’t welcome here. He tries to come in again, let me know.”
So here it is. [He needs a name, so why don’t we call him Scott.]
Scott, you are no longer welcome at My Bar. I will count it as my due payment if you never come again. Don’t get upset with me– it’s company policy. Asshats are not welcome at My Bar. You know where. But just to be safe, let’s make it the whole of Columbia Heights. It will be a public service to my neighborhood.
At the end of the day, I’m grateful for the stellar staff at My Bar. The rest of that day, and every day before and since, we have been a goofy, supportive team. They are my family, who I love with my whole heart– this includes our kickass regulars, who never fail to brighten my day.
And since a day isn’t complete without Aretha…
One day, I received a text from my sister saying, “My friend’s pet rabbit ran away!!!”
Naturally, I empathetically responded, “Oh no! They need help looking for it?”
“Nope. Now it’s just some bunny that I used to know.”
So in case you were wondering, these are the types of shenanigans White House Interns get up to during the day– texting siblings ridiculous jokes and emailing each other songs on their closed network. Yes, folks. Now that she’s finished her program, I can out Jules Junior and her bestie Abigail as having been overworked and unpaid grunts down at the President’s house. [They of course loved it and can’t wait to come back.]
Between starting at a new restaurant [anyone like low country BBQ?], knuckling down with the real-job search, miraculously scraping together rent, and sending my sister back to the motherland after the end of her Capital Tour…. it’s been a long two months. I tried writing several times, honest! But, I apologize; either I passed out from sheer exhaustion or simply haven’t had it in me to update. Much has changed, so it’s been a contemplative time.
August is a great time of Exodus in DC. Mini-Me and her fellow W.H.interns returned to their universities, more clueless munchkins replace them, and Congress reconvened [after each side finished their respective Convention circuses]. My teacher-friends are now cracking the whip on a new batch of deviants, and those still learning things went back to classes.
On a more personal note, one of my best friends here left to join her husband in a far-away South American land. Otoño has been my rock since moving to DC, helping me to carve out a solid home out of this transient place, and always my natural go-to comfort for professional and romantic woes. I have been utterly desolate without her– consolation via brownies would be welcome.
September was about getting my shit together. I’ve no problem admitting I was hurting a bit. My sister’s gone, my best friend moved, and I was coming off a romantic roller-coaster that jerked me around a bit too much [hereafter known as the Mistake]. It was a hectic time, and I threw myself into overtime at the restaurant. [Added bonus: more-than-rent income!] In my book, the best way to re-motivate socially is to focus in on awesome friends and fun activities. So I explored several major DC-centric events [details to come].
But my greatest revelation: I am no longer interested in transition. No more of this “just for now” nonsense. Gone are the times of only seeing friends in some speaker-blasting club or over-crowded bar. I’m tired of never seeing guys for more than a month. Window shoppers can keep it moving, and the pro temps can apply for interim work elsewhere. I am looking to take root. Find a job to settle into and individuals to share in the experience.
So, with that in mind, I would like to say goodbye to all those bunnies that I used to know… and hello to the future that matters. It’s time to arrive.
It’s all fine and dandy for advice columnists to write about “putting yourself out there” romantically, or “staying positive” on the job hunt. That’d be just peachy, if I had picked up your article to save on a psychiatric bill– but I’m not here for my mental health, I’m here to figure how to get results. I don’t need your feel-good platitudes, I need a damn job.
What I realize more and more each day is that, for most people in this world, you only get what you want if you barrel into an obstacle with the bull-headed determination to refuse anything other than success. [Trust fund babies can politely bite me.] You might smash half the china shop, but at least it’s progress– right? You sure as hell won’t get anywhere sitting on your ass, unless you’re looking for obesity and a cardiac trip to the ER. So walk up to the cute person at the party, introduce yourself, and show some damn initiative.
Clearly, I’m in a feisty mood this week. [Or maybe it’s just frustration? I’ll go with both; they tend to go hand-in-hand with me.] My restaurant is closed for the next few months for renovations, and I’m left not only looking for a real job, but without the measly paycheck I’ve subsisted on the past year to support my fanatic career hunt. This is a terrifying time, folks. I have a three-digit bank balance and bills due in two weeks. My conclusion: I need to up my game, pronto. Evidently, the 100+ applications I send out a week aren’t cutting it, and the two staffing agencies I’m a candidate for haven’t helped. At most, they get my hopes up for a day or two a week, only to promptly smash them with a “the client chose someone with more relevant experience”. Which, to me, only says: “Hey, Jules, another employer thinks you’re irrelevant!” Well, fuck you kindly, too. I didn’t want to process your advertising information anyway.
Drastic times call for drastic measures. A friend told me that one of his buddies got a job last year by walking her resume straight in to HR. The ad only specified no calls. So I’m compiling a list today of places to drop in for mild harassment next week! Hey, it’ll be lovely: “You asked for no calls, but said nothing about walk-ins, so I thought I would hand it in personally and say hello.” That’s charming, right? Right??
Which bring me to this week’s problème d’amour: if I need to up my game professionally, a large majority of this city needs to step up personally. Washington needs to take its professional motivation and translate it into social life. Grow a pair, initiate, and follow through. Why doesn’t anyone walk up to the guy/ girl they’re into and say, “Hi, I think your cute/ interesting/ cooler than dinosaurs, want to go out/ dance/ jump in a fountain with me sometime?” Because honestly, those sort of straightforward shenanigans are just about all that I want. Chalk it up to being a budding adrenaline junkie. Nothing makes me smile like those butterfly whirlwinds that speed out of your stomach and overwhelm the whole body. What can I say? That’s what I want. To feel like crazed little butterflies are electrocuting my nervous system.
But hell, it seems like no one does it anymore– walk right up to someone pretty and say hello. So, to chase down the possibility of this idea, I went to the Offline Society’s inaugural event for DC singles last week, and was blown away. It was a remarkable collection of incredibly attractive, active, and interesting individuals. The ladies of the Society put together a superior event of classy cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and first-rate characters. I saw some sparks fly, and later recognized several connections made at the party continuing their night together at Wonderland Bar. Success? I think so. Common for DC? I think not. What made the event– and concept as a whole– so wonderful is the sad rarity of such behavior. Men and women were walking right up to each other to introduce themselves and take a leap. The Offline ladies did a fantastic job of getting everyone pumped up for putting themselves out there, and there was constant evidence of their skill in each stranger’s approach. But how is this sad?
Because it just doesn’t happen like that often. Sure, guys approach hot girls at the bar, maybe to offer a drink, though more often than not it’s just a solicitation to rub bodies on the dance floor. And of course, at house parties, new people meet and talk. But while clubs are meant for the carnal alcohol, parties are more platonic social. We go to parties with either someone [or two] in mind for the end-goal, or for a night out with a crew of friends. Even if you meet someone new and interesting, you’re out with a group and it’s a bit difficult– or sometimes embarrassing– to throw out some game with friends looking on. So we pull back and act more reserved under the limelight. [Yes, even me. For the most part, I’ve no problem with it, but we all have shy days!]
Once you get past that first hello, first date, or even first kiss, people around here still seem to have a problem with courage. I know the whole world isn’t keen on actual communication, especially when it involves emotion– but grow up. I’m very clear with what I want out of life, relationships, and even simple hook-ups. So figure out what you want [even if it’s that you don’t know], and be up-front about it. At the very least, it’ll earn you less social confusion. I was talking with a friend recently, and he agrees. If he likes someone, he asks her out and he doesn’t waffle over the details. It’s a question of “this-day-this-time-this-place, you in?” Cole’s definitely on to something there, because it shows both initiative and follow through. It’s honest, assertive, and endearing; what could be better?
Right now, I want something real. I want to have an affair of uninhibited passion, where it’s no one’s damn business what’s going on but our own. I want to stop wanting to do something, and having to tell myself ‘no’ because it’ll come off as too intense. We’re all comfortable with publicly showing our driven ambition here in DC, so why not allow that same freedom in our dating world? I’m tired of restraining myself for fear of scaring a guy into thinking I want to settle down and be exclusive. That’s not on my mind right now. I just want the freedom to feel what I’m feeling, and that involves a heaping dose of passion. I want the freedom to be me.
When someone kisses me and tells me they’re interested, after I tell them when I want, this is what I DON’T expect to happen: not hearing from them again until the next time we’re out with mutual friends. It happens to the best of us—and we all know the best includes me! Apparently I need to make myself even clearer: I don’t play those games, so don’t fuck with me. Each time something like this happens, Sally and I discuss the many ways that people suck over a bottle of wine [it’s wonderfully cliché, you should try it]. What constantly happens is her exasperated, “What is wrong with men?”, and my immediate, “These aren’t men—they’re boys.” When this weak or wishy-washy behavior happens, you’re clearly dealing with a Peter Pan of some sort who needs to grow a pair. So move on, Wendy, and find a man who knows what he wants, or at least wants to figure it out.
So if I tell this to someone I’ve sparked with, and he says he wants it, that communicates a green light to me. Because when other people talk, I actually listen. If you tell me something, I’m going to take you at your word. Being genuine might come naturally, but honesty takes some serious backbone. Saying what you mean isn’t always easy, or comfortable, or expedient. This isn’t naïveté, it’s a solid expectation. An expectation that you aren’t a liar with your fingers crossed behind your back, or a wimp that will later bitch out on the follow-through. I don’t use my words just because they feel right in that moment, or because it’ll get me what I want for the night– I speak because it’s true.
I expect better from the people I spend my time with. It isn’t a standard I will ever lower; it’s a deal-breaker. It might come off as the cause of many-a-sticky-situation, but really it’s very straightforward. Say what you mean, mean what you say– or get the hell out of my way. It’s that simple. Whether it’s balls or ovaries, we all need to man- and woman-up and grow a pair.
I have the audacity to go for what I want. Do you?
And because the lyrics crack me up so perfectly, I have to include your Ke$ha dose for the month. It’s true– when you grow a pair, you can call me back.
NYC restaurants are staffed by budding actors and LA is crawling with wannabe models, all starving for both carbs and attention. It’s a classic story: a waitress carries headshots in her apron, just waiting for her chance to lay it on a producer’s table, right next to his filet mignon. She’ll say “I’m not a waitress, I’m actually an actress—this is just my day job until I get my big break.”
[I wrote this a week ago, and haven’t had the heart to post something that’s so down. But, in an effort for full disclosure and to accurately represent what a 20-something’s life deals with in DC, I’ve decided it’s something that needs covering. Read through to the epilogue: there is a light at the end of the tunnel.]
It might surprise you, but DC is much the same way. I don’t think it’s possible to throw a rock without hitting some aspiring politico or journalist barely eking out an existence on an internship stipend or restaurant tips. We have countless accounts on Idealist, Devex, Indeed, Monster, and, of course, LinkedIn. Our MacBooks are filled with multiple resumes catered to different job descriptions, which we incessantly update and occasionally completely trash to start from the beginning. Maybe it just needs a new look? I bet that’s why I haven’t gotten any calls—I should have put my personal information in the top right-hand corner instead of centered in the middle! DUH.
We all talk the big talk about our areas of expertise and future professional brilliance, but each day laughs at us as we tie on our Starbucks apron strings or hostess nametags.
It wasn’t so bad, right at the beginning. When I moved here nearly a year ago (my god… a year??), I had just graduated and had no problem hosting while I job hunted and acclimated to my new city. It gave me the time to decompress and evaluate this new post-college world. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted a job in non-profits, or did I want to pursue my West Wing dream and break into political life? When the eventual “so, what do you do?” question arose, I’d laugh and say “I eat free hummus and boss my servers around in Arabic”. The world was my oyster, and all that. I’d graduated high school early at sixteen and was already ahead of schedule, no need to rush! Then I would talk on about one unpaid internship after another, increasingly clinging to the shred of intellectual legitimacy my free labor offered me among actual young professionals.
Because that’s all I am: an aspiring young professional. As if the term isn’t condescending enough, I have to add that I’m not even at the bottom of Washington’s food chain yet. I’m lower than that—my existence is subterranean.
I feel like a cliché—I am that actress/waitress. [Or is it waitress/actress?] I could have volunteered abroad. I could have pushed myself to find a job somewhere else, like Lebanon or Jordan. I should have taken the Foreign Service Exam last year, so that I could re-take it and actually pass this year. I could have been studying for the GRE’s this whole time, or knuckling down and focusing on working towards Arabic fluency. It’s stupid to say ‘I should have done this’ or ‘why didn’t I do that?’ It’s a waste of times and I don’t like regrets. But I can’t help it. When I talk about my job difficulty, people always have something to say.
“Have you tried USAJOBS.com?”
“The Senate and House post openings on their websites!”
“You’ve graduated into the worst job climate since the Great Depression, you know.”
Gee thanks, asshat. I have a degree from a well-respected university, but needed your condescension to clear that up for me! I hadn’t the foggiest before now.
So I bite my tongue. I know everyone’s simply trying to help; they feel like they have to say something. And just as there is no good way to break up, there’s also no good way to respond to someone’s job woes unless you can offer them one. Going off the handle on well-meaning people is no way to behave; it’s ungrateful. So I swallow my frustration and grind my teeth into a smile.
“Yes, thank you—I’m well aware of all that. It just isn’t that simple. In DC, you have to know people. You need to be practically related to half of the staff to even receive a phone call, let alone gain an interview. And before you suggest it, no, you cannot walk into an office on the Hill and hand-deliver a resume or inquire for a job. That severely pisses them off. Yes, same goes for phone calls. No, I haven’t been interviewed anywhere yet. Yes, I mean anywhere. I haven’t had a single interview since moving to this seemingly godforsaken city. No, I have no idea why—I’m obviously awesome.”
Without college to guide me or an internship to structure my life, it feels like I’m left with nothing. Some weeks, I’m borderline nocturnal. I fight it to retain some sense of normalcy, but my late restaurant hours mix with sleepless predispositions, and next thing I know it’s 4:30 a.m. and I’m just getting ready for bed. I’ve always been a night owl, and definitely struggled with insomnia in college, but this is ridiculous. Sometimes I swear those red numbers glare at me tauntingly in the dark, ticking my life by painfully. I try to get my ass back on a normal, healthy schedule, but it’s a daily struggle. I’m going through the motions, but not getting to live the actual life. And all those bottled-up retorts to job advice have been building my internal pressure for months. I’ve officially reached my breaking point.
I think today is the first day I have actually hated it here. It was bound to happen eventually, I suppose, but I didn’t expect it to hit me quite like this. Suddenly, I feel like the city around me is cold and patronizing. I hate being sad. I hate worrying about making rent. Most of all, though, I hate hating DC….because I love DC. This is where I’m meant to be, I know it. I belong here, even if Washington disdains to recognize it yet. I think one of the best things about dating so much here is the distraction of it all. Romantic rejection is so superficial that sure, it stings, but deep down I don’t really give a shit. There are always other guys, and they’re likely cuter, smarter, and funnier. But my employment abandonment hurts far deeper. This radio silence on the job front is just breaking my heart.
Some days, all a girl can do is sit on a park bench, call her mom, and cry. So I did.
Epilogue: Like I said, that was a week ago. I actually did cry to my mom over the phone, and definitely got some glances from the few people walking their dogs in the mostly-abandoned park near my restaurant. I didn’t really care—it felt good to finally let it out. I’m not the kind of girl that cries, well… ever, really [except when I watch the movie Up; you don’t have a soul if you manage that opening montage dry-eyed]. But I also have no shame in admitting the times I do cry, and it’s definitely a part of coping with the job-hunt struggle.
Since then, my mom came for a day visit. She brought my family’s new puppy and ordered in from my favorite pho restaurant. We spent the entire rainy afternoon reworking my resume and cover letter, and I began to feel much more confident. [Cuddle time with a three-month old puppy definitely helps.] As I explained the confusing way the House and Senate job bulletins are constructed [most of the time, you don’t even know which state you’re applying for—only their partisan orientation], she asked me to pull an example up.
I brought up the Senate Employment Bulletin, and right at the top were two openings for one of my own Senators. I’ve wanted to work for my home state here in DC since I was in middle school, and email their offices every few months. They ‘have my resume on file’, but I don’t trust that. Needless to say, we both freaked out for a hot minute at the kismet of it all before knuckling down to write a stellar cover letter. Then I pulled up the emails with one of his staff from the fall, and replied to her again in addition to the general Senate email listed. Both shot back the generic ‘only applicants selected for interview will be contacted’ automated response.
The next day, I also received an email from a girl I went to grade school with and ran into months ago– she works for his office, too, and asked for my resume if interested. The fact that she remembered me and put in the effort to reach out genuinely made my week infinitely brighter. Now I have hope that I might at least be called, if not become an actual candidate for the job. Now all I can do it wait and pray with all my fingers and toes crossed.
I’ll admit, this whole relationship has been getting me down lately. It’s not that the honeymoon phase has worn off or anything—I’m still just as in love as the first day—but this constant rejection is getting to me.
Washington DC is making me feel like I only went to college to get my MRS. degree, and I don’t appreciate it. I studied for a purpose, thank you, so stop getting in my way.
Yes, the rat race is beginning to upset me. (Sometimes literally; those mutant rodents in my back alley would eat you alive if given half a chance, much like their political counter-parts.) A solid university degree apparently isn’t worth [the tens of thousands it cost] as much as it used to anymore.
I’m tired of being a wallflower here; that’s what it feels like. I‘ve been waiting to be old enough to attend the party, practiced the steps for years, and now no one wants to dance with me. Never mind that I have excellent ballroom skills, or the fact that I’ve been assertive and sough out opportunities on my own countless times. I simply don’t seem to have good prospects.
It’s a tough experience to endure, especially when it seems to be so easily handed to others. This city is chock full of debutantes literally bred for the privilege, their dance cards full and the entire night laid out so attractively for them. Some had even been courted or engaged to before they even arrived at the dance.
I’m not the type to sit about moping “it’s not fair!” But frankly, my dear, this is absolute bullshit.
I’m accomplished. I have a well-rounded education, and several impressive specializations. I interned under a few incredible mentors who trained me well. I’m well traveled, cultured, diplomatic. I plan on graduate school eventually, but wanted to gain real-world experience before going further into debt. A year into alumni life, I’ve learned one lesson damn well: don’t ever leave school.
Entry-level jobs in DC are now asking for Master’s degrees, and requiring 3-5 years experience. (I call it ‘job inflation’; everyone was downsized during the recession, so the job market is flooded with higher-qualified employees being hired back for lower-level jobs us newbies normally would get. It’s a bitch.) Internships are unpaid (unless you’re an engineer; in that case, you chose the correct major, and I hate you), but the cost of living is high and unforgiving. At this rate, it looks like my jokes about living in Rock Creek Park with DC’s other homeless when I first struggled with my housing hunt last year might end up becoming true.
I’ve gambled with my internship choices since coming here, and lost the bet. Rather than going to the Hill like I should have, I selected to provide my overqualified and unpaid labor to an organization more in my field of study. The general deal being that I work a few months pushing their papers and going by the wrong name to their oblivious executive board, and then they connect me to actual job opportunities. I had some money from a grandparent to supplement my restaurant/unpaid internship schedule, but burned through it without the promised pay-out. This is what I imagine working the stock market feels like; no wonder Wall Street windows don’t open any more.
So I keep tapping my toes to the beat, looking longingly at Washington glide through my favorite dances, and try to stifle my shame at being left out.
Because that’s what it is, at the end of the day. It isn’t loneliness, or frustration, or even disappointment. It is a soul-wrenching, heart-breaking shame. The goal I’ve longed for since a little girl (yes, I was a mad nerdy little politico-kid, what of it?) is within my reach. It’s within my grasp, just there on the dance floor, but passes me by with each turn. All I’ve worked for, groomed my intellect and acquired skills to fulfill, doesn’t want me.
Yes, I burn with shame against my wall, as everyone else asks, “So, who is your escort?”
“I don’t exactly have one yet… But this is such a lovely event.” The smile plastered on, my mask such a painful ornament at this twisted masquerade. I tire of wearing it, and drink liquid courage to bolster my nerves. It doesn’t really help, but it helps me forget to cry.
I haven’t stopped flirting, of course. Whenever I see an attractive chance (or at this point, even a vaguely suitable match), I pounce. What I want to know is at what point does it become desperate, or simply futile. When should a girl give up and move home to be a spinster working at the village bakery?
The only validation I’ve received lately is from this blog, little though it is. Though I may not seem attractive to suitors professionally to jumpstart my career, this Washington wallflower at least gets the “but you’re so funny, why wouldn’t anyone want you!” platitude.
Most days, it’s a joy to just sit back and listen to the music. ‘Accept what you can’t change, focus on what you can’, and all that. But every now and then, it’s too painful to be surrounded by dancers when every fiber of my being is vibrating to join them. It’s where I belong; why won’t anyone give me a chance?
I promise I won’t step on your toes…
Self-judgment is an ugly feeling. It’s always so much easier to play the comforter to friends, listening to their woes and validating their decisions. The fallout zone always seems so much more frightening when it’s in your own life. Foremost among many 20-somethings’ sexual concerns is their Number.
The ‘modern woman’ has been struggling with this for decades, since the sexual revolution really took hold and broadened social norms to allow some wiggle room on the whole pre-marital sex deal. It’s rarely ever ‘boy-meets-girl, love at first sight, and get married for the 2.5 kids with a white picket fence’ anymore. Chastity belts have been traded in for liberty, exploration, and more frequent free-condom-raids to the local Planned Parenthood.
My mother taught me to test drive a car before you buy it, and I hold to that wisdom. [Hey, even if you don’t make the purchase, the test drive can still be a whirlwind of fun!] Adventuring isn’t without its risks, though. (It wouldn’t be an adventure if it were totally safe, now would it?) Those Planned Parenthood trips aren’t only for condoms, and haven’t always been stress-free jaunts with girlfriends. Sometimes, they’re there for moral support as pregnancy tests are processed… and that’s somehow the least of the worries. This is a frightening new world we’ve been born to. Sex isn’t just fun—it can kill you.
It still is tough when the casualty is something like your heart,rather than your health. Sometimes I think that the stronger women hurt deeper. Everyone likes to treat us like we’re indestructible. They can throw anything they want our way, and we’ll keep trucking with barely a cold glance thrown their way. Hey, the higher you fly from hurt, the harder you fall, right? But more than anything, it’s likely just your bruised pride. [It’s total bullshit anyway, of course, to think my ego is more important than some vapid girl’s. A hurt girl is a hurt girl, bottom line.]
What I’ve always struggled with is the disconnect between my mind and my heart. I can examine, rationalize, and excuse an entire situation from beginning to end, but no degree of intellectual understanding will ease the emotional havoc surging through my veins. That I liked a guy, but never planned on committing because that spark wasn’t entirely there. I’m too young to settle down. He isn’t what I’m looking for. All those reasoned practicalities I figure out as I’m dating someone, they all go out the window when rejection walks through the door. Especially when it comes from a guy that slept with you, and turned around the next week with “I met someone else and want to try and see where it goes with her”. Via text. What a douche.
Even more so when at one point that night, when skirting around the question of what our Numbers are, he laughed and said, “well, not nearly enough to have to make a New Year’s Resolution about not sleeping with people, like you did”. Or something to that effect. I didn’t write it down, so don’t quote me word-for-word.
Yes, I had told him on date two that I wouldn’t sleep with him because I barely knew him. That only 24 hours from meeting, I wouldn’t be with someone past the PG-13 degrees of PDA. When pressed, I joked that it was a NYE resolution. After he said this the night that I did [perhaps mistakenly] sleep with him, I jerked up and set him straight. No, my number isn’t astronomical—it’s actually entirely average for my age. The need for a resolution isn’t a sexual one, it’s an emotional one. I went through a very dark time two years ago when I dealt with far more death, divorce, abandonment, and entirely life breakdown than a lot of people will experience in much of their lives. Even though I shouldn’t have needed to defend myself, I told him that my friends and I pulled through that year by any means necessary—and yes, sex was a key coping mechanism. But I’m not entirely back to how free I was at that time, because sexual liberation is still linked to mourning in my head. The emotions are a bit tangled, so I need to work on it a bit.
Not that it’s much of his business, to be honest. He didn’t comment much else on the topic, and I let it go, thinking it was just a moment of honesty in a conversation with a potentially consistent new guy. With my nifty 20/20 hindsight now, I wonder if that translated wrong to him. And by wrong, I mean that HIS perception is off, not my past. Because I damn well don’t regret my life and how I’ve survived grief—anyone that thinks I should feel ashamed can bite me and piss off.
And that’s the sexual long and short of it: women are shamed; men are acclaimed.
We have to do battle with the double-standard of sex. Among other gender inequities, women bear the humiliation while men get the benefits. Have you ever heard someone looking at a hungover guy walking home on a college campus at 7am laugh and comment on his Walk of Shame? No—because that’s something GIRLS do. Right? Today’s modern girl has to balance the empowerment of ‘I can explore my sexuality the same as any guy’ with the internalized repression that ‘girls who give it up are sluts’.
So where’s the trade-off? How do guys ‘get laid’, while girls ‘get trashy’ by committing the same act? Guys grow in each other’s esteem after sharing the news of another conquest, yet those girls’ stock plummets. They are lesser. Suddenly, they’re ‘undateable’. She’s now the kind of girl you meet at a bar or party to get drunk with and make stupid decisions. She’s never the girl to take to the movies, or meet for dinner. Which is amusing to me, because many guys have told me the reason they wouldn’t casually date me is because I’m the kind of girl you make your girlfriend. [Even if that’s not what I want at that time.]
I’m still figuring out where this unbalance happens, and how they [such men] could possibly think it’s just. I guess we’re all still trying to puzzle this one out, taking each obstacle as it comes. Yes, I struggle against my society and the internalized repression it still has instilled in me. Sure, I fight against the judgment of others for my sexual life. All I know is that for the most part, my Number is just right for me and my life, and I sure as hell won’t let anyone take that hard-earned knowledge from me. Because I know that with each of those numbers, I’ve climbed mountain after mountain of self-understanding that have taught me who I am. And I’m not done adding to that Number, or climbing those mountains. The rest of the world can just settle themselves down and mind their own fucking business.
Though I’m not genuinely this bitter, I can’t help laughing at dedicating this as a farewell to the Stealth Hippie:
It’s a simple guideline to follow, fellas. When you’re out at a club or local watering hole, you can appreciate a lady’s appearance without invading her personal space. It’s cute that toddlers have to touch anything they can get their hands on, but at our age, it’s more like grounds for harassment.
Take this past Friday, for example. A girlfriend and I had a singles’ night out in the Adams Morgan neighborhood (you will soon understand why this is an ‘oh, lordy’ detail), and experienced a variety of pick-ups. Most were at least amusing, an attractive handful entirely encouraged… but there are always those few that cross a line.
There are the guys on the dancefloor that walk right up behind and grind against you, like it’s perfectly acceptable behavior. I’m pretty sure that even monkeys like to know who is forcibly assaulting them, and violent rejection is A-okay in the primate kingdom. Turn on Animal Planet– you’ll quickly see a female chimpanzee knock an unwanted suitor out of a tree. At the clubs, I particularly like it when they look put out, or even offended, when I turn around and tell them to keep it moving if they want to stay intact.
Apparently, the simple act of going out in public on a weekend sets up a neon sign over your head that screams “Anything goes!” There are also the slightly less bold/felonious types that think it’s a great idea to run their hands down your arm or the small of your back to get your attention, as if we love it when strangers stroke our bodies. Of course it is, that’s why we were all raised to be prostitutes.
Oh wait, my mother taught me to NOT sell my body when I grow up? That’s RIGHT… So don’t touch me.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a pretty high threshold for bullshit-tolerance. I know I’m in a nightclub, and I know alcohol is flowing like the Potomac, but give me a break. I have no problem with pick-up lines. [They’re actually welcome, because I think they’re absolutely hysterical. If you can make me laugh with just one sentence, I’ll probably be up for having a drink.] I can even handle questionable flattery most of the time, like a complete stranger telling me I have a great ass/rack/whatever floats your boat. It’s just the touching without even putting in the effort to try and woo that bothers me. If it helps to have something to relate me to, think of me like the Smithsonian– look, but don’t touch. Because if you DO try to touch, you’ll be tackled by a security guard. And it will probably hurt.
Among the myriad of come-ons we experienced Friday, there was one that stands out. I split from my friend while she was dancing to go get a new drink. The dancefloor bar at this club is a more confined spot, and as I walked up the stairs, I noticed I’d be the only female in the area. Oh, lordy. While waiting for the bartender to finish pulling a pint, a guy next to me leans over a little and tells me pretty loudly that I’m the finest girl he’s seen all night.
Great line, buddy.
He and his friend are both pretty good-looking, even if he seems a bit older. Yes, I’ll specify that they were black, though that doesn’t impact me much. [I’m an equal-opportunity dater, and they were verrry good-looking.] No, I comment on it because the next thing he continues to praise is that along with an amazing figure, my ass looked damn perfect in my dress. Definitely not something I hear too often. As he kept going on and on about my various appearances that floored him [in the end, he decided I looked like a classy movie star], his friend kept shooting me apologetic looks. Hey, I’m peachy keen with compliments when they’re hands-off. As the guy took my thanks to mean encouragement, he tried to slide an arm around my waist. His friend checked that movement and shook his head smiling, “I don’t think that’s a good idea with this girl, man. She’s a knock-out that might knock you out.”
I laughed and shrugged off the comment, telling them to flirt with a girl a bit more before trying to touch her. Before leaving with my drink, I did tell the friend he seemed like a good guy, and I would have actually talked to him if it weren’t for his plastered friend. Maybe next time.
In short, gentlemen: Accost at your own risk, or just learn some damn manners.
For those new to DC, expect this in the Adams Morgan neighborhood:
I’ve heard multiple guys here, when talking about the type of girl they like, state that they want to date someone smarter than themselves.
Is that a joke?
This just blows my mind. In a place where most people are highly ambitious, highly educated, and highly assertive, this is a tall order. Not because there aren’t women smarter than said guys– they have countless women to choose from here in Washington. The issue is for these guys to accept the fact when it looks them in the face. When they DO meet an intelligent woman, do they thank God for granting their wish? Or do they just find a flaw elsewhere that renders her impressive intellect void.
The second problem with this is on the female side: speaking as an intelligent woman, I don’t want to date a guy that’s dumber than me. Clear and simple. You want to date someone smarter? Well, I want to date someone just as smart as me. Not someone who thinks their brain is more capable than mine, nor one that puts me up on a pedestal in some Ivy Tower that I never attended. Intelligent women want someone who can be their match, their equal. We want to challenge each other, but in the end, see eye to eye on even ground.
I understand the sentiment, but it’s flawed. And I’m telling you right now, if a guy told me that he liked me because he wanted to date someone smarter than himself, he’d be deported to the friend zone faster than he could process his mistake. [I would later explain this error, once I adopted him and took him under my wing. I’m a fantastic wing-lady.]
I’ve been there, and it doesn’t work. I dated guys dumber than myself in high school and college– and I’m no longer in either of those places because I was smart enough to graduate.
I don’t think it’s too much to ask to find a guy that did the same.