Guest writer Chelsea regales us with her first forays into the wild world of booze in this multipart series.
Despite my novice status as a drinker, alcohol quickly became my fuel, pushing me through the insanity of each night as a cigarette girl. I knew nothing about cocktails so I usually asked the bartenders to make me something they liked themselves. The beautiful brunette tending bar at the upscale dance club on Broadway made me an ultra-sweet concoction in a martini glass called a Purple Hooter; the friendly, scruffy-faced guy at the dingy sports bar made me a SoCo and peach schnapps atrocity called an Alabama Slammer. The geeky bar-back who clearly harbored a crush always greeted me with two shots of Fernet, one for me and one for him. And the aging, chubby queen behind the bar at my favorite gay dive made me a large juice glass filled to the top with his secret recipe for a Vanilla Cosmo, which he refused to reveal. I didn’t know what I liked, so I would try just about anything. I never had to ask for a drink, as bartenders tended to have some affection for the cute Peachy Puff girls, and offered booze freely to us. I enjoyed the camaraderie I felt with my fellow night workers, and they, along with the drinks they shared with me, were my only comfort during each night of stressful, fast-paced, disorienting work.
Working with drunks all night is a roller coaster ride of extreme emotions. Bar patrons are cheering with joy one minute and fighting in the street the next. People making out, people puking, people singing, people crying. The madness of life on Earth, amplified and reduced to its most base elements. Customers would joyfully drag me onto the dance floor, clumsily try to feel me up, tearfully ask me for relationship advice, or bitterly berate me for my inflated prices. To get through the night, one had to take it all with a grain of salt—and preferably, a shot of tequila, too.
I learned early on that I could quickly get into trouble if I didn’t watch how much I drank each night. It was too easy to get completely hammered without even trying. Bartenders always made us ultra-stiff drinks, and poured us double-sized shots (or, “Peachy Sized”, as I used to call it). On a particularly cold and rainy winter night, I was working the bars of the Castro, which were nearly deserted. The Castro is kind of an early place anyway; things tend to start winding down after midnight, even on a normal night. So in the early-morning rainstorm, it was a ghost town. Each quiet bar I walked into, my hair matted with rainwater, I was greeted by an unoccupied bartender: “Oh, PEACHY! You poor thing, you must be freezing! Come here girl, what are you drinking?” Making a stop at each bar and sharing a drink with each and every handsome, chatty, bored bartender in the Castro, I ended up selling very little and drinking a lot. A lot.
By the time my driver came to pick me up on 18th Street at 2am, my world was spinning around me so fast, I felt like I was going to fall off. Back at PPHQ, I sat staring at the wall, totally useless, as my kindhearted driver counted out my tray for me. I was deeply embarrassed by my state of empty-headed drunkenness. Though finding one’s limit is a normal teenage experience, I was in the company of seasoned drinkers and night workers who knew how to keep it together. I was ashamed for revealing how green I was, though in truth I don’t think anyone was nearly as critical of me as I had imagined at the time. Regardless, after this night, a new drink entered my repertoire: water.
To be continued next Tuesday…
Shots picture courtesy of TheGirlsNY (flickr)