My first weekend at Harmonious Monks was more exciting than I could have imagined. Every movie I had seen about a small town, innocent girl being tossed into the crazy nightlife of "showbiz" felt true-to-life as I watched people come through the door by the dozens, wearing everything from sparkly cocktail dresses and five-inch heels to do-rags and mud chops. They filled every table, then they filled every space on the floor. I don't really know the capacity of the facility, but fire safety wasn't on anyone's mind as they carried fancy drink after fancy drink to the partying patrons.
I was assigned three tables, just enough to get me oriented and used to the weekend hustle. They weren't kidding when they said that the place transformed on the weekends. The sleepy karaoke-and-hamburger crowd from Wednesday night was nowhere to be found. In its place were bachelorette parties and loads of alcohol.
Back in the kitchen I was introduced to a few more server/entertainers. There was a thin girl with long dark hair and Zooey Deschanel bangs named Candy, a short Filipino girl with sass and lots of sparkly jewelry named Ria, a tall brunette with brown curls and tattoos on her collarbone named Megan, a handsome, dark-eyed boy named Jay and there was Ethan.
I recognized Ethan immediately. He had graduated one year later than me at my high school. We had done a few musical numbers together during my brief foray into the drama club. He was also the first gay person I had ever met and the only one I had really had a friendship with.
When I saw him, he gave me a big hug. It was nice to see a familiar face in such a new and strange environment. I didn't know it then, but my relationship with Ethan was going to become one of the best and most enriching relationships of my life.
After the meet-and-greets, we got busy pouring dressings into individual cups, making sweet tea, cutting lettuce, and remembering lyrics. It seemed like a really friendly environment. A "work family", as it were.
I remember the electricity in the room when Dennis took the stage and began testing the sound system. It would be starting soon. This is what drew the crowd there every weekend. This is what kept Monks open.
He strapped on his guitar, turned on the mic and in a fabulous display of showmanship, welcomed the captivated crowd to his humble establishment, "Harmonious Monks, home of the world's most talented wait staff".
I stared at the stage with eager anticipation. It was magical to feel the excitement of a live performance, knowing that soon I would be a part of it.
For the first song, he called up Candy. She took a moment to punch in a drink order then galloped over to the stage. The music started. She sang an impressive rendition of "At Last" by Etta James and the crowd hooted, hollered and sang along. After her song, she jumped down and got back to serving. It was interesting to see that the people who wowed on stage were the same ones who served the cheese sticks.
The night continued like this, with Dennis calling different members of the staff up to the stage and performing songs with them. Dennis would sing along with some, others he would merely play guitar for. Each song was well-known by the patrons, ranging from the Beatles to Jimmy Buffet with a little bit of everything else thrown in between.
I did OK with my tables, but it was probably clear to my customers that I was not hired for my waiting ability. I hadn't heard of any of their drinks and couldn't answer most of their questions about the menu. But I had one great principle on my side. We'll call this Bar Lesson #1.
Bar Lesson #1: People who go out to drink and party don't let too much bother them -- including crappy waitresses.
I did my best and mostly survived.
As the night got later, the customers got drunker. By midnight, I was exhausted (not used to staying up past 10:30ish) but enjoying myself immensely. I was feeling like the crazy college days I had been deprived of were finally here for me to experience and enjoy. I was able to dance and be occasionally ogled by strangers. It was new and exciting.
The "new and exciting" was bumped up a notch when Dennis pulled me aside and asked if I would be comfortable singing "You Oughtta Know".
"Tonight?" I asked.
"Yes, tonight. We've got a space to fill because Jackie's not here."
Adrenaline started pumping through my veins.
"Ok, I'll call you up after 'Sweet Dreams.'"
I couldn't believe it. I was going to sing on my first night. Did I remember all the words? Oh crap... maybe not. I told Ria (the floor manager) that I was going to run outside to study lyrics and pulled up the song on my phone. Outside the back kitchen door, I huddled with my fingers in one ear and my phone at the other. I sang the song over and over until I felt that I had a good grip on the material. Then I went back inside and waited to be called up.
They were in the middle of 'Sweet Dreams'. Candy, Ethan and Dennis sang three-part harmonies with Ethan doing an impressive performance of the robot. I checked on my tables and tried to slow my pounding heart.
The song ended and the crowd applauded. Ethan was high-fived a number of times for his dance moves. Then Dennis took the mic and announced that the newest member of the wait staff would be making her debut performance. "Let's bring her on up here - Asia! Where are you, Asia?"
I awkwardly waved at the crowd and made my way to the stage. A couple of people cheered. I stepped up and took my place at the mic next to Dennis. "You ready?" He asked with a smile. He gave his guitar a few strums. I smiled back and nodded. Remember the words. Remember the words.
The drummer began to play that opening drum beat; the one I'd heard so many times before. I opened my mouth and started to sing.
"I... want... you... to know... that I'm... hap... py for you..."
It was going great.
Except that something was wrong.
With no opening note to cue me about which key to sing in, I had picked the wrong one. It didn't matter until the band joined in, but then it mattered a lot. I looked at Dennis with panic as my voice wiggled around trying to find the right key. The audience went from interest to mild disgust in a single second. Dennis looked at me intently and started singing the proper notes. I caught on and was soon singing in the right key.
I had two thirds of the song left to go, red embarrassment evident in my face and a thoroughly confused crowd. But now that I had found my bearings, I decided to own that remaining two thirds. Embarrassment left me as I sang with the sass of a truly scorned woman. I grabbed my hair and clenched my fists as I gave Alanis my best shot. I knew I was good. Now I needed the audience to know it too.
The crowd responded. Heads turned back in my direction and they started to bob as the attitude and fresh voice of the new girl boomed throughout the restaurant. I still censored myself, bleeping out the F word with a blank space of nothing, but even that was forgiven as the crowd cheered me on.
The song ended and I stood there, beaming. The crowd shouted and cheered, their various bottles and glasses lifted in my direction. I looked at Dennis; he laughed and nodded. My rocky start was forgotten and I was officially initiated into the gang.
As I stepped down from the stage, I was high-fived and patted on the back. My fellow servers looked at me and smiled, realizing that the awkward Mormon girl could sing.
2:30am finally came. The crowds had thinned into a few remaining patrons, sprinkled throughout the trashed restaurant. The lights had been turned back on. Servers were wiping down tables and trying to locate the chairs that belonged at their tables.
I was beyond tired as I finished sweeping my tiny section. I went to Ria and did my checkout, my final numbers in for the night. She took out a wad of cash, counted out some twenties, fives and tens, then handed me my tips. I had made $180.
I took my cash and waved goodbye to my new coworkers. Ethan hugged me again and had security walk me out to my car (parked in a non-vomit-prone location).
"You did a great job tonight." He said. "See you tomorrow."
I drove home in a daze. My ears were still ringing from the absurdly loud speaker system and the hollers of the crowd. My legs were weak from power walking and dancing. My eyes were heavy with sleep. I had a rolled up wad of cash in my pocket and a permanent smile on my face.
I felt like a rock star.