Earlier today a discussion came up about drinking on the job. My snappy comeback was, “There was a full wet-bar in my office in Arizona. But we considered it bad form to drink before 4 or 4:30 pm Mondays thru Wednesdays. Or noon on Fridays. Unless of course it was a “special occasion”. Or unless it was a Thursday. Thursdays were crop inspection day/deliver receipts/go-to-the-titty-bar day. Crop inspection Thursdays called for a fully stocked ice-chest by 7:30 in the morning. I must admit though, it was bad form to open the first beer before 10:30 am. Of course if it was a Thursday, “Deliver-the-receipts/Go-To-the-Titty-bar day”, the morning started with coffee and Kahlua, or Vodka, or Bailey’s, or Whiskey. As long as you weren’t the DD.”
After I posted that comment, I think there was a stunned silence across the web. In fact, you might be sitting there thinking, “Damn, what kind of job was that?” I have to say, you’re not the only one thinking that same thing. My two male roommates used to come home on Thursday evenings to find me sitting out front, on the porch, slightly inebriated with a cigar stuck in my mouth contemplating the day. Mark and Ernie would always say, “Damn, this just isn’t right! You’re the girl, you shouldn’t have the expense account to the titty-bar, get to spend the day drinking, carousing, and playing golf, this is just wrong!”. I’d just smile.
Here’s the deal – I might not have necessarily enjoyed all the activities, but I was proud to be accepted into the “cotton club”. I can tell you, there weren’t (m)any other women out there! I must confess, it wasn’t too tough for me to hang out with the men, bullshit, tell stories, and pass the time. We all have to pick which battles we’re going to take on, and I decided as a women in a non-traditional role I’d have to choose mine carefully. There were two things that didn’t fly with me. One was telling racial jokes, the other was thinking I was anything but “one of the guys”. I made it clear to co-workers, colleagues, and clients that I was “off-limits”. There’d be no hanky-panky involved when I was trading cotton – either buying or selling it. It was a stance which worked well for me.
I knew I’d cracked the “inner-circle” the day I was invited to Tiffany’s. Tiffany’s is a “Gentleman’s Club” – part of a small franchise with at least one other location in Shelby County, Tennessee. The building was a huge airplane hanger of a shell. Indeed, it’s not too far from the Phoenix airport in a light-industrial complex area. Every day they had the “Gentleman’s Lunch”. It was a full spread, prime rib, green beans, mash potatoes, gravy – or deli-style mile-high sandwiches. All for the low, low price of $5.00. Anything to get the guys in the door.
We didn’t usually arrive until around 2 or 3 pm. After we’d done all our obligatory social calls, and made our weekly bank deposit. The first time, I was along the guys looked at me as we were leaving one bar – and said I could go home if I wanted. “Hell, no I’m not going home and missing all the good jokes,” I said. “Nah, really, we wouldn’t want you to feel uncomfortable, you don’t have to go with us,” they countered. “Why would I feel uncomfortable? You think I don’t see tits and ass every morning?” After a slight pause, Miles said, “Well hell, come on then, Mit Moi. We got some business to do.”
See that was really what went on, and I knew it. All the guys would gather and start talking the market. After a few drinks it would come out. Who bid what, who was trying to underbid the market – who was trying to make a boat for a last minute delivery, who was long the market, but didn’t want anyone to know. As we walked in that first time I was intrigued. I assumed we’d be sitting at the front of the stage and I’d have to endure these guys making asses of themselves. WRONG. We went to the back of the bar – the furthest section from the stage, away from the “intimate tables” and the dancing poles, and sat down, ordered our drinks – and started talking shop. The girls know all my guys on a first name basis, but it was weird the conversations they’d have. “How are your kids?” they’d ask each other. Or a woman might tell one of the guys, “I went to that second-hand kid’s clothing store your wife told you to tell me about. I found some good deals.” NOT what I was expecting to hear.
Of course there always has to be an “initiation rite”, whenever you’re invited to join a group. I passed the lap dance they bought for me with flying colors. I didn’t squeal, act horrified, uptight, or like I was going to get sick. I laughed with the guys, told the girl this was going to be the easiest dance of the day – and promised her I’d behave myself. I was a good sport, and didn’t have to go through anymore lap-dances. I’m sure though that if I would have acted outraged – or anything else, I would have had to endure the weekly dance – so they could have a good time at my discomfort.
It became a regular part of the routine. At least twice a month, there we were at Tiffany’s. We’d all meet up, walk inside, be ushered to the back of the bar, and spend the afternoon. I never thought much about it. That is until the day I got stuck talking to a new client longer than I anticipated. I missed the guys at the first two bars – and agreed to meet up with them at Tiff’s. I arrived a good forty-five minutes behind them. I parked my pickup, locked my stuff in the toolbox and headed to the front door. The normal bouncer wasn’t there – but there was this older woman. As I started to breeze in she stepped in front of me.
“May I help you?” she asked.
“Nope, I know where I’m going,” I said as I started to step around her.
“Uhh, you’re not allowed in there, what can I help you with?” she asked as she blocked my forward momentum.
“What do you mean, “I’m not allowed in there?” I asked.
“I’ve always been allowed in here,” I told her.
“You can’t come in here by yourself’, she insisted.
“I’m not “Coming in here by myself” I said impatiently. “I’m meeting the guys here.”
“What guys?”, she persisted.
“My guys”, the guys I do business with!”, I said with increasing irritation in my voice.
“Now will you just get out of the way? They’re waiting for me, and I’m already late. I’m sure the ice has melted in my scotch”, I informed her.
“If you’ll just wait here, the bouncer will be back and you can talk to him” she said firmly closing the anti-room door in my face.
“I DON’T WANT TO TALK TO THE BOUNCER, I want to give this $1.25 million dollar check to one of my business associates, IF YOU DON’T MIND”, I said.
That of course was the moment the bouncer chose to make his appearance.
“May I help you?”, he asked.
Flashing my biggest smile at him, I sweetly said, “Yes, open the door and let me in, and you’ll be helping me,” I batted my big blue eyes at him just for good measure.
“Why do you want to go in there?”, he asked.
“I have business to conduct,” I said.
He gave me a funny look, rolled his bulging shoulders at me and said, “Uh, Ma’am, we don’t allow any “freelancing”, here.”
“Freelancing? Freelancing?! You think I’m trying to freelance?!”, I asked with incredulity.
“God-damn it. Take a look at me, I’m a professional, what the hell do you mean, “freelancing”? Get out of the way I’m going in there! Do you want me to call Miles and Richard on their phone and have them come out here? They ain’t gonna be very happy if they do!” I said.
“Lady, the only people allowed to conduct business here are the employees. Now you just better move on along before we call the police”, he said.
And then it dawned on me (‘cause I’m quick like that, you know). Here I was talking about doing business, cotton business. Trading checks for sold cotton. But the big galoot and “House Mother” thought I meat “working-girl business” when I said I was there to see “my guys” and do business. Immediately I began to laugh. I asked him to look me over carefully.
“Do you really think I’d show up here in cowboy boots, a belt, a western shirt, and a COWBOY HAT to do that kind of “business”?, I asked him.
“Well, everyone has their gimmick,” he responded.
“Okay, well seriously, look at me and think about it. I ain’t selling anything, that anyone in here, would want to buy!”, I proclaimed.
“Here’s my business card”, I said, pulling one out of my back pocket.
“I’m here to see Miles, Richard, Hawk, Gerry, and the gang. They’re here ever other Thursday, they sit in the back in Cheryl’s section. Usually I come in with them, but today I had other business to take care of. If you’ll just go back there, they’ll come out here and vouch for me”, I promise.
“You know Cheryl’s section?,” he asked.
“I know everyone’s section”, I told him.
“Nah, that’s okay. I don’t have to go get them, but I do have to walk back there with you”, he explained.
As he opened the door he told me rather apologetically, “You just have no idea how many angry wives and girlfriends we get in here. We just can’t have women walking in all by themselves. It causes too much trouble.”
By this time we’d traversed the length of the club – and all the guys, “my guys”, were hooting and hollering. Punching each other in the arms. Almost in tears, “Hey look, “here’s the ‘working-girl’, they yelled. I quickly looked up at the bouncer’s face. He was barely able to look me in the eye. And then he too burst out laughing. “Man, you should have seen your face,” he chortled, as he walked away.
“Assholes”, I yelled my guys, “you’re buying all the drinks! Nothing’s going on my expense report today!
And that’s why, to this day, I never call myself a professional. I call myself a business woman. Because after that day, “professional” and “working girl” are just a little too closely linked in my mind.