Friday, August 11, 2017

Emotional Labor

I learned about Emotional Labor back in the mid 90's, after I had slunk out of grad school.

I needed work and found it in a hell located in the Herpes Triangle of Old South Lake Union. A friend of mine dated this guy named Jesse, a bartender at an Irish Sports Bar and he could get me a job with great tips. Dingus O'Tooles wasn't particularly Irish, and the clientele wasn't exactly athletic. 'Sports' meant sitting at a bar watching professionals on television.

The food was laced with salt, nitrates, generally fried and not very Irish. Let us consider the fried jalapeno poppers stuffed with cream cheese. I suggested adding flecks of pimento to the cream cheese so the white cheese, stuffed into a green pepper had a dash of orange to look like the Irish flag. My suggestion—one of the few times I slipped up and gave a damn there—was met with ridicule. Juan, the lead line cook was at least consolatory:
Ada, esta mierda es todo lo que hizo en el este de Newark y congelado. Acabamos de poner en la freidora
I was not about to suggest Dingus O'Toole's serve a Gorgonzola cheese sandwich and nice glass of Burgundy, although a carafe of Carlo Rossi went by the same name as a special on "Lady's Night."

We had to mind our appearance and appear 'fresh.' No tattoos and no piercings other than earrings. The uniform—what there was of it— was nominally Irish in that is had green and white stripes. I had to wear a padded bra, and Stu, the manager, made me wear flats even though all the other girls had to wear heels. "You've got the best gams here Ludy, but you're already taller than most of the customers who come here. It'll intimidate them." 'Ludy' was the diminutive nickname he gave me.

To rationalize this entire arrangement, I had strained my feminist principles to an absurd low through the casuistry of economics, Camille Paglia and Hegel. I traded emotional labor for money. It's what women have been doing for a long time. But I didn't realize it until my last night at Dingus O'Toole's.

It was a rough, busy night. The place was full of mostly white fratmen at various chronological ages, although since they are all about 5 to 6 years old in terms of maturity there isn't much difference. Put enough Jameson and Guiness and you have a level playing field of entitled loutishness. I had a couple of pints and basket of fries I was dropping off for Cindi when I felt a hand reach up under my skirt and grab my ass.

I turned. He had a blonde crew cut, and blue-grey eyes. Perfect teeth and a deep tan. He wore a short-sleeved Ralph Lauren polo shirt. His collar was popped.
"Is your pussy as tight as your ass, baby?"
It's hard for me to remember exactly what happened next. Most of it was overwhelmed with a moment of clarity: a walking nightmare that like most dreams did all its dirty work in a second.
Around the Ourbouroritic Compost Mill, the Mabta Python chased a tethered jackass around a circle. Eventually, the jackass stumbled and tripped over the tail of the Python. The python swallowed the jackass and its tail and in so doing the mill turned. 
Although, blood is difficult to get from a stone, tears are not because they are relatively cheap. The men of the city came forth with shits of all beasts. They threw it in the hopper of the mill and watched the serpent consume itself. Finely ground shit comes out of the mill for the roots growing around the mill. 
All day long fat men drink beer in a nearby shed. In between slapping and napping, they come forth and stagger to the mill and move in stumbling pavane and piss out their great quantities of urine upon the thirsty roots that grow and move with snapping mouths. 
The roots fasten upon bare breasted girls, the fat men, the serpent, and all is reduced beneath the monsoon to a bloody cesspool of moving roots. When the sun returns, a single bamboo shoot rises and this stalk is used to create a new boom around which a new jackass and new serpent revolve.
I dropped the beer and fries. That much I know.

Jesse told me I gave the fratman a right-cross worthy of Mark Trail. (Jesse was devoted to the comics in the old Seattle Post-Intelligencer). Unfortunately, there was no Irish-style bar fight. People just pulled us apart and the injured fratman wanted to call the police. Stu fired me on the spot and bought the men another round of beer.

I only wish I had glassed the fratman's fat face with one of the Guinnesses.

I went home and got drunk by myself and threw up. Two days later I was in a tattoo studio on Capitol Hill and… that's another story.

There is a lot of talk about Emotional Labor now, and I fear it's some attempt to normalize and hide it under the carpet of disregard, low wages, and contempt. This is why I always tip well. This is why I don't want someone to have to diaper me while I bleat in an Alzheimer's delirium. It's why I don’t date men who were ever in the Greek System or frequent Sports Bars.

But I still feel like nothing in the grinding mill.

1 comment:

  1. A few words of explanation are necessary here:
    1. The "Herpes Triangle" was defined in a number of ways, but basically referred to bars around the bottom end of Lake Union, which is triangular.
    2. In the spirit of litigation-wary memoir, Ada herself made up the name "Dingus O'Toole's."
    3. The "Gorgonzola cheese sandwich" is her oblique reference to Ulysses. I'm expecting this little tidbit of biography to grow into something Joycean, eventually.
    4. I believe her reference to Hegel suggests his famous Master-Slave argument
    5. And we draw (ha ha ) ever closer to the origin story of the tattoos. You'll note she doesn't have them in this, since as mentioned above, they came after this stint in the Service Industry.