Friday, 4 June 2010

The Pittsburgh Phantom and Me by, Shawn M. Cohen

What did I want? That question reeled in my head, as if it was the very first time I ever heard it. I asked myself as Dr. Rivers looked at me, waiting for my answer. I did not know...well... I knew what I didn't want. I didn't want this responsibility. I wanted to be my age, and to be able to live like my friends. I wanted to be in L.A. and in my apartment with the little bits of furniture Reva and I had, and finish my finals so that term was not completely lost to my college credits. I wanted safety, security, and a chance at life like anyone else..and I wanted my parents to GROW UP, and handle their own problems instead of dumping them on me! That is what I wanted. But as I relayed this to the teary eyed Dr. Rivers, he announced that unfortunately, "Our time is up now." and I was cast off to announce my revelation in next week's time slot. I left there dazed. Was this what therapy was? Someone who listened and actually heard what you said? Then offered advice? In the end, as I left, and heard myself say, "yes, same time next week." I wondered what I was getting myself into. Yet, it seemed this was always the way. I had gotten myself in too deep with Glen, who had gotten himself in too deep with me. I was working underage at this Jazz nightclub in Shadyside, and although it was working out, I knew I was lying to them about my age. Now maybe that was incidental, maybe this was just a "who cares?" technicality but I didn't like lying, nor being lied to. In the meantime, while my little world was collapsing, America was celebrating its Bicentenial, 200 years old as of July 4, 1976. Celebrations were planned all over the USA, including Pittsburgh, Shadyside and The Encore. I walked into work, with banners displayed all over in red, white and blue, saying, "Happy Birthday, USA!" People came in with tall hats on like "Uncle Sam" wears in those old WWII posters imitating America, saying, "I WANT YOU" and there was general all around excitement building for the coming evening's celebration. Every bar, disco and restaurant on Walnut Street and in Shadyside has their own celebrations. I worked upstairs again in the restaurant and that was less noisy and crazy as the crowd downstairs got more into the night, fun, and the drinks. Art came upstairs to check everyone was stocked and ready for a busy night ahead early on and then I didn't see him the whole night until we were done, and the restaurant closed about 12:30am. The bar downstairs and the band were still going strong. I cashed out, making out pretty good tip wise and Art stopped me as I was ready to leave. In a raised voice he asked, "Did you do ok tonight, Shawn?" I nodded my head, "yes," as the band was playing loudly, a jazz standard I had come to recognize as "Around Midnight". The place was packed, 4 deep at the bar, people everywhere. "You in tomorrow?" he asked again. "Yes" again I said it but you could not hear my voice, nodding. "Ok, see ya then, come in early, I want to talk to you, ok?" he was surveying the crowd with quick glances and then back at me as I stood by the front door, ready to leave. "Ok, why, what's up?" I asked, loudly,thinking maybe I did something wrong. "Nothing, just want to talk, not bad, now, don't worry!" and he winked at me and smiled with that grin. A grin that told me he could be up to something. Next thing I knew the bartender was shouting, "Art, I am out of Barcardi, Glenfiditch and Zambuka!" Art signaled to him, and he was off to go to the liquor storage cabinet which only he had a key to. I walked out into the July night air to the huge display of fireworks blasting off from everywhere. BOOM! I walked over to my mother's car, parked in the parking lot in the back, and got into the front seat. I was wondering, as I drove home watching the sky light up here and there with brilliant displays of color and screething sounds, big booms, and crackles, what on earth Art wanted? Tomorrow is, as only Scarlett O'Hara would know, another day!
I was scheduled downstairs for my next shift, but I showed up at 4:15pm, and asked Gilbert if Art was in. He said, "Yeah, he is upstairs, I think he is waiting for you." Now I was worried, what could he want? I went upstairs, with a bit of tightening in my chest. Art was sitting in the empty restaurant, at the bar reading his newspaper, as if nothing was happening at all. I approached him by his left side and he spun towards me on the bar stool, as I stood there, facing him. "Hi Art, I am in early, like you wanted." smiling at him. I had worn a tuxedo jacket I had found at "Yesterday's News" with a man's tuxedo shirt and a black clip on tux bow tie, black trousers with a tuxedo strip down them, even a red cumberbun. He must have liked what he saw, as his eyes lit up. "Wow, you look very nice in that, Shawn." The 70's had the greatest liberation of fashion, and I loved mixing different styles, wearing various "outfits", like a look, a costume, an old style from the '40's, '50's, '60's brought forward, even mixing men's clothes with womens as a fashion statement. All done for a song, at Yesterday's News, which was my little secret. I blushed, as usual but was glad he got the look, and I said, "Thanks, Art, you wanted to see me?" He put down his paper, and asked me this, "How do you think you are doing at The Encore? I mean, do you like working here?" Uh-oh, now I was going to get fired, I was sure. "Yes, Art, I like working here, and the people are nice, too." That was all I could think to say. I held my breath. "Listen, Shawn, how would you like to be a bartender here?" the sound of those words were like he, the ex heavyweight boxer, hit me with his best shot. For a moment, I was stunned...what, a bartender?? I just looked at him like what he just said didn't get absorbed by my ears. " I, I, I don't know.." was all I could offer, but relieved I wasn't about to be fired. "Look, we need a bartender for upstairs and I want you to have the job, what do you think of that?" His face beamed with excitement offering me this postition. "But Art, I have never tended bar before, I mean, I don't know how..." I wanted to be honest with him. "Honey, I know, that is why I am going to make sure you are trained by the best in the business, Gilbert, downstairs. You'll come in for a week, work with him behind the bar, watch him during the day, learn all you need to learn from him, and he is the best this city has! Then start upstairs here, on a regular shift of 4 nights a week, you can still waitress, too, other nights, what do you say??" I could feel my cheeks burning with the redness of embarrassment, yet again. He seemed to have notice it, (how could you not!?) and asked, "What's wrong, don't you want to be a bartender?" How could I tell him? It was bad enough some of the men downstairs thought YOU were on the menu with the drinks. I put up with this night after night men looking at my chest, instead of my face, or pinching my rear, while the whole table laughed. I saw them stare at me, as if I was on display just for them, and it all gave me the creeps. But now, as I saw it, I would be on permanant display. Bars were like this, I told myself, just ignore it, I told myself, the other girls go through this, too, I told myself, and I convinced myself it was the way it was, and it didn't matter. But the truth was, it did upset me and I didn't like it. Art asked me again, "What is it? You can tell me, now, come on..." his voice was sweet, caring. Still I couldn't tell him that, so I said, and it was true, too, "How can I become a bartender, when there are so many other waitresses who have been here so much longer than me? It wouldn't be fair, and then they might not be happy and blame me, you know?" Art stood up. "You let ME worry about that, ok? Now, what else is bugging you?" he sat back down, lit his cigar and took a puff while I thought again. I couldn't tell him, what would he think of me? "No, Art, I don't want to, thank you but I am happy as I am now, please give it to someone else, ok?" He pushed his thick black curly hair out of his eyes, and he said, in Marlon Brandon voice, "Listen,Kid, I am making you an offer you can't refuse! I laughed out loud, and that seemed to calm my fears a bit. "You are helping your mother, right?" He asked me. "Yes" I said. "So, you need money, right?" I nodded again. "Bartenders get paid more, Shawn, so take the job." I thought about this, and it hit me that that would be a good reason to do it. I never saw any women bartenders here. I knew it was uncommon and maybe, if I could get over this sense of being on "display" maybe this could be something that would help me and the remnants of my family. "Ok, now, one more time, are you going to do this?" He was smiling, waiting with baited breath for me to say, Yes.He looked straight in to my eyes, staring, waiting. And I stood there,frozen. "Say it now, right now, what is it you are afraid of??" He could see I was holding back. His black eyebrows raised, waiting for my real answer. I took a deep breath and out came the truth, "Ok, this is what I am afraid of... I don't like being on display, ok? I know it kind of goes with the job but if I was a bartender it would be even more so, and I just won't feel comfortable." He stood up and said, "Is that it? That's what you are afraid of??" He laughed a bit and offered me this, "You take this job, Shawn, take it, and don't be afraid of nothing, ya hear me! I am gonna sit at this bar every single night you work, and if any asshole, any jag off says something off color to you, or even looks at you the wrong way, he'll have ME to answer to! Now, that's it, take the job, please." I thought about just how busy we get, how much running around he does from the upstairs to the downstairs but mostly he is downstairs and I had to ask, "How can you sit there every night when you have a whole bar downstairs to run as well?" He stood up, faced me and leaned into me, with assurity and a smile he said, " You trust me, don't you? I haven't steered you wrong yet, have I? You leave that to me!" I had to surrender now, he had conquered my every fear, and now all I had to do was say what he was waiting for..."Ok, Art, I'll take the job!" He shook my hand as if we had made a business deal and said, "Whew,(wiping his brow) You drive a hard bargain! Welcome aboard, Champ!" I had to laugh. Me, a female bartender...go figure?
(see video by Neil Diamond...Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon)

The Pittsburgh Phantom and Me, by Shawn M. Cohen. Copyright 2010. All events are true but some names have been changed for privacy. All video content is the copyright of the respected artists, musicians, composers and performers. No copyright infringement intended.

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