Keep The Faith
Sometime in April of 1973, just days after I turned twenty-one, I started waitressing at The Whisky A Go Go on Sunset Boulevard. I knew when the manager interviewed me, that I was entering a place that would never be kind. I needed the money. This was a job.
That first night was like being thrown into muddy waters in the dark of no moon, and being told to swim toward a horizon that I couldn’t see. I was met by swarms of contemptuous cliental, shouting drink orders that I could barely hear over the band. I would learn the hallways at the back of the club, that provided a moment's reprieve. There, the humid dank of sweat was punctuated by the smell of lingering urine and Lysol that would never wash out of my clothes.
Neither the stuff of legend, nor the magic of music, my night was an obstacle course of
groping hands, strangers with too much drink and too much entitlement. I breathed in the fog of second hand smoke while I tried to ignore the sneers of women in tight jeans and high leather boots, when their eyes judged me. A loud and punishing drumbeat could not cover the slur and stumbling words of their one-night boyfriends who left pitiful tips.
The band on the tiny stage didn’t look as fun or as grand as it had in my imagination, when the lights went on and the tables were wiped down 2:00AM -- the sticky residue of alcohol that had promised a good time. Did anyone really have a good time?
I’d just broken up with a man who couldn’t control his drinking. He shared too many of his drugs with me and I was too weak to say no. I had to get away from him, or I’d die. At least I had a sense of survival and preservation, and now I was trying to learn how to pay the rent.
Where do you go when you don’t have an education or a family? Into the dark with more men who drink and don’t care? Into the secret parts of night when good people are sleeping? Life shoved and bumped into me without apology.
The bartender laughed when a someone’s stagger caused my tray of drinks to spill. Then he held out his hand because he wanted me to pay for the lost drinks. The stumble and fall was not my fault, but I counted out the dollar bills anyway. I needed this job.
Twenty-one. What I wanted was to wear long flowing dresses and go on dates. I wanted someone to love me. I tried to build a persona of soft and gentle to no avail. I was only a foolish girl who had already been on her own for four years. Somewhere in me I still hoped, even while I grieved. The world was harsher than I’d ever imagined. The Whiskey A Go Go was the hardest job that I ever worked. All of the ugly and the rude in one place, at one time, tore at my soul letting in the dark dust of suffocating regret.
If the person that I am now could go back to that moment, that first night on the job and see who I was then, I would wonder how the fuck that woman was ever going to get out of there.
Courage in my life has been a slow drip, a culmination of years in which I secretly gathered intention and dreams. Years where I kept remembering to turn my eyes upward toward the heavens and inward toward the heart. Keep the faith is more than just a slogan to me.
I can’t say why memories come back when they do, but I no longer run from them. They make up who I am. I can’t love myself in this part of life and hate who I used to be. I keep doing the work through my writing. I face what was, with compassion. I pour the loss, the raw and the real, onto the page and try to make some sense of it, some meaning. It comforts me.
Today I relived that first night of work at The Whiskey in my imagination. I walked through the dark and grimy places, marveling that I made it to the other side. I like the person that I am, and it doesn’t really matter how I got here.