In the summer of 1995, I quit my job as a receptionist at Kasowitz, Hoff, Benson & Torres because I didn’t like something my boss said to me. At least I think that’s what happened…I can’t honestly remember. Basically, I quit because I was a 25-year-old idiot; I had no other job waiting for me, very few skills, and no college degree. I left the resignation letter with some guy in the mailroom instead of telling my boss directly—and I did this as I headed out for vacation without notice.
It was a good job. Yes, it can be difficult to work for attorneys. Most of them are under a great deal of pressure. Many of them have huge egos and can be quite demanding. The thing is, I was too young to realize that no matter where you work, you’ll always have to deal with big demanding personalities, and I was in no position to be self-righteous about any of it. I was lucky to have a job in this high-profile firm, and actually made connections with some really cool people there that had to be abandoned, when I abandoned them.
I can see the face and hear the sweet voice of the woman who trained me and worked a split shift with me, but I can’t remember her name. I think it may have been Cynthia, so I’ll call her that. It’s a shame really. She liked me, and she taught me a lot about how to act in an executive office—especially over the phone. My own manner was a little rough around the edges. I had only ever worked as a hairdresser prior to this (except for a brief receptionist post in an insurance company in Ohio), and didn’t realize at the time what a big deal it was that this firm hired me for the position in the first place. I wonder what it was that my boss saw in me back then. I must have impressed her in some way, because she was clearly used to dealing with smart, highly educated, professional staff.
Once I had a terrible three-day migraine, so she drove me personally to her own doctor—free of charge—because I had no insurance yet. I was too young and stupid to recognize that this was not normal behavior in a boss, especially in an enormous firm like this when your boss was the wife of the senior partner. She was very concerned, yet I took advantage of that fact, along with the fact that her doctor took me in without an appointment. This would be unheard of today.
I can’t remember what set me off to make me quit like that, but I have no doubt that whatever happened was entirely my own fault; I’m sure that I made mistakes and when they were pointed out to me, I didn’t like it. I have no memory of anything bad happening there or not liking my job. I sometimes think of the possibilities of what I might have attained had I stayed on there…I’m sure my life would have gone in a completely different direction.
There was this really cute guy who worked there as a paralegal. He used to linger at the reception desk, and Cynthia would give me a hard time about it. I had a boyfriend, Richie, at home, so she didn’t approve. I don’t remember this guy’s name, but I remember that he was an aspiring actor and had a part as an extra in the move “Carlito’s Way.” He loved to talk about the experience of being on the set and meeting Pacino, which of course I took an interest in. He had reddish-brown medium-length hair and great sideburns. He was edgier than the other guys in the firm. One day, he finally asked me out.
I was prepared to say yes, because my relationship with Richie was shaky and—well again, I was a jerk. But, as we stood there talking, I happened to look down and for the first time I noticed that his thumbs were really short. So short, that I instantly lost all attraction for him. Because of his thumbs. Who did I think I was, you ask? I don’t know, but as I mentioned, I was a jerk. I made up an excuse and told him that I had a boyfriend, which of course was major news to him (before that point I had gone to extremes to make sure he didn’t know this).
Then there was an attorney named Seth. I had a total crush on him, but never acted on it. I doubt he had any interest in me.
There was another attorney – I think his name was Michael. Looking back, he was perfect. He was tall with messy, curly black hair, and he’d hang around the reception desk in a shy way, making small talk. Cynthia would tell me it was obvious he liked me, but I didn’t see it. I should have been floored by the idea that he had any interest in me, but I wasn’t. He was very careful about showing his interest in me until one day he finally asked me to walk in Central Park with him. He got up the nerve to explain to me why Richie was not the right guy for me, reminding me that he (Richie) didn’t have a job, and told me how I deserved to be taken care of. I felt guilty though, talking about Richie that way… and I’m sure part of me hated that I was being told that I was wrong about anything. I told him that I’d never go out with him.
I’m sort of digressing here because the story I’m about to tell isn’t about my job at KHB&T, it’s about my job search that summer after I so abruptly left a perfectly good position with a great firm.
In short, it didn’t go well. As I mentioned, I wasn’t really qualified to do much, and I had left on such poor terms that I had no reference from KHB&T. I was basically prepared to do anything. Back then, to find work you had to get the Sunday newspaper and read the job postings. You had to either type a letter with your resume and mail it in, or go to the office on a date and time specified in the ad for a group interview. I was diligent, but I remember that there weren’t many opportunities that summer – at least not for someone like me. I registered with the same employment agency that placed me at Kasowitz, and waited. In the meantime, I looked for bartending jobs.
I found out quickly that in NYC, if you don’t have NYC bartending experience specifically, they won’t hire you to tend bar. I had never tended bar anywhere! Basically you had to “know someone” in order to work in Manhattan bars. One day though, I found an ad that caught my interest, and that I felt qualified for. It read something along the lines of “No experience necessary-will train.” An address was given, along with the date and time for group interview.
A few days later, I walked into the very dark main room at the Paradise Club in Midtown, and was told to stand to the side with about 4 or 5 other girls until the manager was ready for us. I looked around and saw a huge stage featuring a few poles, surrounded by booths and pub tables. There were two sets of stairs along the sides of the stage. Wait-staff rushed around preparing tables for the night.
My instinct told me to run, until I realized that I had no job and desperately wanted to stay in New York. I thought I should at least stay to see what they had to offer. All of us stood awkwardly quiet and wide-eyed. No one was older than 25, in fact, I was probably the oldest. Eventually we were led upstairs into a small, cramped room filled with boxes of supplies. There were chairs arranged in a circle amidst the mess. I stared at an industrial-sized box of toilet paper, crossed my legs and hunched over, trying to hide among the other wayward girls. Finally, the manager—a tall, thin woman with long, overly teased blonde hair and a face covered in orangey bronzer—walked in and stood in the center of us all. A hulking, brooding character loomed in the doorway, inspecting each girl carefully one by one. I wondered if I could get out of there before his sights were set on me.
The blonde began to explain to us that we were all accepted as cocktail waitresses, and would be called with our schedules within the next 24 hours. She handed out forms to complete, and didn’t ask a single question of any of us. I could feel her eyes examining us as well as we wrote our personal information down. We were like scared kittens, too shocked to ask questions and too embarrassed to say that we’d changed our minds. She described the work.
“You’ll serve non-alcoholic beverages. We don’t serve alcohol here. If anyone asks for alcohol you tell him we’re not that kind of place. You’ll also sell the special services. If a man wants to take a particular girl to one of the rooms, you’ll set it up. If he wants you to go with him, it’s up to you, and you’ll get a commission.”
I felt sick. What the hell was she talking about? But then almost as quickly I thought, what’s wrong with serving a little fruit punch and letting a guy get a good look at my feet? Good grief. I was beginning to understand why everyone back home worried so much about me.
As the meeting broke up, the big guy in the doorway turned to me. “You know. You should be a dancer. Forget this cocktail shit. You got a killer bod.”
I smiled and said thanks, wondering how bad the uniform bustier would look on me. I imagined old business men undressing me with their eyes and trying to grab my ass, as I pretended not to see them pouring smuggled-in booze into their glasses.
On the way out, the big guy showed me a few of the specialty rooms: foot fetish, bondage, bubble bath, tickling.
When I relayed all of this to Richie, he was beyond disgusted. He begged me not to do it. But, since he did not have a job at the moment either, I didn’t see that I had a choice. We got into a huge fight about it before we went out that Friday night.
Every Friday night we hung out at the Filling Station from 10pm to midnight, then went a few doors down to Harry’s Hula Hut from midnight to 2am. I think we paid $5 to drink all the beer we wanted at Harry’s.
It was usually Richie, about 8 of his fraternity friends and me, unless my friend Sinnamon came out too. On that particular night, Richie had told the Paradise Club story to at least one of his friends, because when I walked into the Filling Station I was greeted by 8 frat guys waiving dollar bills at me, whistling and howling like fools.
Richie just stood there with a big smile on his face. He knew he had won this one. When they called to tell me my schedule the next morning, I told them I had changed my mind.
Richie and me at Harry’s…