"Ass, Cash or Grass" - I used to be a Swinger

This year, for Halloween, my fourteen year-old daughter Franny wanted to dress up as a Swingers waitress - a hip, mini-skirted figure in fishnets and lug-soled boots. Halloween, for so many girls (and sadly, also grown women) is often an excuse to wear skimpy outfits, and I was proud of my daughter for finding a newer, hipper iteration on the over-played sexy kitty/sexy witch motif.

Here's what made her costume choice scary: I had once, in the long-ago days of yore, before I had ever borne a single daughter --- been an actual Swinger's waitress. Back in the sepia-tinted days of the early '90's, I had lived the dream of serving tofu scrambles to the Hollywood hung-over. My daughter's sassy dress-up notion was the uniform I crawled into at 5:30 every morning for the breakfast shift. Her Halloween fantasy was once my grinding, bleary, time-to-make-the-smoothies reality.

Ever the enabling mom, I took Franny and her sister on a pilgrimage to the original shop on Beverly Boulevard where I once slaved worked. Our mission: to cop a Swingers baseball T (that Franny might scissor into fabulous, rib-revealing shreds) and one of the wee, blue Dickies uniform skirts that had once barely covered my ten extra pounds as I bent over to wipe down tables. We settled into a booth and were approached by a fresh-faced, tattooed waitress not much older than my eldest.

"What can I get you?"

We ordered our grub and then I launched into my odd, back-storied request; "My daughter wants to be a Swinger's waitress for Halloween..."

"Wow, cool!" she marvelled.

"Thing is, we need a skirt."

"Oh...people always want those. But they're only for staff."

"Yeah, but see, I used to be a Swinger's waitress myself."

And that's when it happened: this girl ogled me in total disbelief. As if to say is it possible this crone, with her teenagers, her sensible cardigan, her freckled hands and crepey cleavage, could have once been hip and young enough to hustle hash? And then I watched as her mind cartwheeled over to the next logical and more terrifying thought: could this be me one day?

The waitress gaped at me like I was living history -- Miss Jane Pittman come to put her withered lips to the "Young Only" fountain straw of ageism. "No way," she gasped, as though the Crypt Keeper herself had just texted her this news from beyond the grave. I peered at her over the tops of my progressives and said, "Way."

It dawned on me then that I had probably once served this girl smiley face pancakes and wiped down her booster seat afterwards. Possibly the little girl had grokked my groove and begun burnishing the bright dream of someday inking Sanskrit runes on her forearms and slinging soyrizo scramble with the best and the brightest of her generation.

"Yeah, I mostly worked the breakfast/brunch shift," I explained, wanting to prove my provenance. "I still have the apron and the boots, but my daughter wears them now." On cue Franny stuck her Gorrilla-booted foot out from under the table to show her my erstwhile kicks, which she had copped out of my closet the minute she reached my shoe size. "Problem is," I continued, "I got rid of the skirt a few years ago." That tiny, pleated number had lived at the back of my drawer for years, until in a fit of spring cleaning when Franny was four, I offed it, thinking there could never possibly be any further use for it.

The waitress seemed stunned. "Well, in that case, I'm sure you can have one. Wow, you must have been on the original crew!" she said, looking at me like I was an artifact that belonged in the Smithsonian.

When Swinger's opened in early 1991, a scene partner tipped me off that they were looking for wait staff. Ignominiously fired from the Café Figaro, burned out on office temping, I fudged my resume and snagged a shift at the hot, new coffee shop that was owned by a couple of trendy nightclub impresarios. For almost a year, I served vegan burritos to the glitterati - if indeed Rosanna Arquette (then the owner's wife) and Joan Cusack can be counted as glitterati.

It all ended when I spilled a tall orange juice all over a customer during a brunch rush. By then, hipper, fresher girls, girls with actual nose rings and lip piercings were lining up for the job and I was expendable. Married and already dreaming of the daughter I would soon conceive -- and wanting to bring my swinging days to a waddling, leaky, elastic-waisted end, I strode out those glass doors and never looked back.

The waitress left us to go punch in our order. Franny looked across the table at me sympathetically. In her best Wilford Brimley voice she said, "Why, you're an old timer, Ma!"

"Dagnabbit," I geezered back at her, "I remember the days when a power smoothie was only a nickel!"

"Was that before them internets came along, Ma?" Franny countered.

By the time the waitress brought us our drinks, my daughter and I were riffing and laughing so hard on the shtick, we could barely keep our milkshakes from coming out our noses.


More by Erika Schickel:
Recently on Native Intelligence
New at LA Observed