Notes From Behind the Bar
The Strip Club

Illustration by Vivian Veidt.

“And this is how you run the dishwasher,” the Kid says, craning his long neck around to look at me while he pulls the metal hatch of the industrial dishwashing machine down with a slam. 

I don’t tell him that I have nearly a decade of restaurant experience and that I know how to run a dishwasher. I don’t tell him this because it’s already been said and what’s the point of saying something a second or third time.

“Just let it run until it stops making noise,” he says, resting one lanky arm over the machine. The other is on his hip. He looks around the kitchen and scratches at his thin mustache. “What else?” he wonders.

The kitchen is a dingy place, wedged in the back of a downtown strip club—a new environment for me. I figured that it was time to try something a bit different after all the dive bars had begun to really burn me out. 

The Kid is probably in his early twenties. Six feet tall and the shape of a pencil. As if he’d been stretched out like taffy. 

“My mom,” he says. “She’s the owner. We’ve owned this place for generations. My grandmother used to run it. You can see her in that picture over there.” He points towards a wall of old black and white photographs. Some of the city, others of the bar. Almost all with nude dancers in them. 

“Oh,” he continues. “That curtain covering the door,” he points now at the doorway to the bar, “it’s only there cause this one dancer, this total bitch, she tried to claim that the kitchen staff was making her uncomfortable by staring.” He shakes his head. “Well, first it was just this one guy and my mom chose to believe her. But then it was another guy and then another guy and then it was me. Can you believe that? Me. The owner’s son.” 

He’s fiddling with the line. Picking things up and putting them back down. A spatula. A six pan of diced onions. He looks at the onions as if to inspect them. “So then my mom, since she’s the owner, she says that the girl is just being ridiculous. Four guys? I mean, the first one, sure. The next two, maybe. But then, after all of them, me? Yeah, right.”

He puts the six pan of onions down and leans back against the line, crosses his arms, and looks at me. “But yeah, I guess it’s better to just have the curtain up during busy hours. Better than having them accusing us of something.”

I wander about the place, looking at what I’m to work with. It’s small. A cold line with prepped food. A three-by-five flattop. A dented oven that looks like someone occasionally took their anger out on. The type of place for a single cook to think about his life when closing at three in the morning. Nothing new. 

“Oh, let me show you the dry storage,” the Kid says, leading me down the hallway that parallels the bar. He takes me down a narrow set of stairs, and ducks to not hit his head on the exposed plumbing. At the bottom, there’s a bare concrete room with musty boxes and wire racks half full of canned and dried goods. 

“Here’s dry storage,” he says. “If you run out of beans or rice or anything, you can just come down here and get it.” 

There’s another room connected to this one. In it, a vintage chaise lounge chair with antique floral print sits rotting in the corner. There’s another door too. This one has a hanging curtain over it.

The Kid walks up and peeks inside the curtain before turning to me again. “This is the girls’ changing room,” he says. “Never go in there.”

Back in the kitchen, I’m looking over the menu. Mostly Americanized Mexican food. Burritos. Tacos. Nachos. The Kid makes a chicken burrito on the flattop to show me how they do it here. By the time he’s done with it, it’s falling apart. He cuts it in half and plates it, offering me the other half. 

It’s bland and needs to be doused in hot sauce, but that’s bland too.
“Good, ain’t it?” the Kid asks. “It’s the best Mexican food nearby. My mom had professional chefs come in and design the menu. Mucho authentico.”

It’s only okay, but I don’t tell him that. Something about him tells me that even if I did he wouldn’t hear me. 

The back door opens and this guy comes in wearing a black hoodie and backpack and shuts the door behind him. He’s tall, but unlike the Kid with his taffy body, he’s got enough weight on him that he has difficulty keeping his shoulder from stooping. Like he’s folding in on himself. 

He tells me the guy’s name and he offers me his hand for a shake. 

“He works security,” the Kid says. 

“If you ever have trouble, just come get me,” the guy tells me. “There’s a lot of crazy homeless people downtown. Usually, they see me and don’t mess around. But you never know.”

The kid solemnly nods at the guy. “My mom used to allow security to have guns, but after some of the girls complained, they had to get rid of them.”

“That don’t mean that I don’t carry my own,” the guy says in a low voice. 

The Kid laughs. The guy laughs. They both look at me and so I feign a laugh too, not exactly sure what we’re laughing about.

The Kid suggests a smoke break and the three of us head to the back door that leads to the street. We stand around and the two of them smoke cheap cigarettes. A stinking breeze rolls over the city and trash flutters down the street like tumbleweeds. The two of them, the Kid and the guy, they talk about cars and women. The type of talk that reminds me of high school locker rooms and musty basements. 

This guy walks up to us and his shoe is half on and falling apart. The glue of the rubber sole barely hanging on. He shuffles by and keeps his gaze on the ground. The guy hard-eyes him until he turns the corner and is out of view. 

“You gotta let em know who’s in charge around here,” he tells the two of us. “Otherwise, that’s when you get trouble.”

The Kid is nodding and pulling on his cigarette. “You should teach me some stuff,” he tells the guy. 

The back door opens behind us and the owner, the lady who hired me, is looking at us. “We got an order! You need to pay attention.”

“Sorry, mom,” the Kid says. “I was just about to head back in.”

We follow her back to the line where the Kid makes up three chorizo tacos, all the while showing me how to make them. He places them in the window and dings the little metal bell. A dancer comes up to the window for the plate. 

“Do you have any hot sauce?” she asks the Kid.

He grunts and hands her a couple packets of the sauce then she’s gone. 

“They never fucking tip us,” he tells me. “My mom says that eventually I’ll run this place and I’ve got some great ideas for changes around here.” He says this as he pulls back the curtain that blocks the view of the stage. “Some great ideas.”

When I leave that day, I don’t bother to tell them that I won’t be back. Out on the street, the guy is talking to one of the dancers. She’s much shorter than him and when he talks down to her his posture threatens to topple. He waves me goodbye and by the time I turn the corner, I’m once more on the job hunt. 

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