Dimmed lights. Fancy dinnerware, large dinner plates with a printed logo of Robert’s Steakhouse. I sit on the second floor of Robert’s Steakhouse at Penthouse, dressed in a long shiny blue gown, working on a huge portion of medium-rare steak, slowly chewing small juicy meat bites, sipping a glass of fine red. It’s only eight pm and there’s plenty of time to make money. The fine dinner, lavish ambient give me a false sense of tranquility. As if the state of my affairs is just fine. As if I am over-dramitizing my perpetual impasse and problems, my immigration status, the missing elements – the vital things. Evanescent, amorphous melancholy is sitting down there inside me, enjoying grass fed beef to the Dark Side of the Moon. Melancholia. I can see myself being a female lead, a character of Lars Von Triers movies – troubled, impulsive, blunt and neurotic and twisted, like two sisters, Claire and Justine from Melancholia. Reckless, like my favorite character Nancy Botwin from Weeds. Me-la-ncho-li-a. A large asteroid is moving towards the planet, each day getting closer and closer. It will inevitably crush everyone, everything. And just like Claire and Justine from Melancholia, I will be worrying about what to eat for dinner, moments before asteroid will land on planet earth. My despondent state can’t beat my healthy appetite.
Penthouse was not like the previous clubs I’d worked at. It was expensive, well maintained and well managed. The dancers were called ‘ladies’. Walk into the club and you time travel back to the 90s – long classy ballroom gowns, long hair, straight or slightly curled with an iron, wall street customers in their stiff suits and shiny shoes, the remains of ole money, the remnants of gradually disappearing wealth. The club employed bouncers, security, cooks, hosts, bartenders, managers, go-go dancers, massage therapists, accountants, legal staff and human resource. Hispanics ruled Penthouse. The absence of ole Italian capos was refreshing. It was a quintessential New York melting pot happy paradigm. Jose, the Mexican manager who hired me, had started his way as the dishwasher and making his way to the Boss of the girls, Boss of the hosts and bartenders and cooks. Of course on top of him were ole jewish owners, not without class and sympathy for the ladies.
“See that, girl,” said Claire, all natural blonde bombshell, pointing to a tall tan brunette with silicon boobs, “Nadia owns a million dollar apartment on the Upper East Side. The only reason she keeps woking here is to pay her $2000 maintenance fee and because she is bored. She wrote and self-published a book last year. Those two girls own a building in Queens just as an investment. I bought a house in Miami and apartment in Brooklyn. I’m making at least three grand this week to finish renovating my Miami condo.”
“But, she said giving me a pitiful look, “You missed the boat. You missed the money boat.” Most of these girls including me have been working for ten years. The money ended shortly after the credit crunch, the recession. If you started doing this recently, you aint gonna make much.”
“Well, I am here to survive, while I am figuring things out. I quit law a few years ago so… ”
“It’s okay said Claire. I have a law degree too. I worked for a big law firm for 2 years. Crazy cubicle lifestyle. I became claustrophobic too soon. Cubicle lifestyle means death, slow death, as if someone chokes you slowly every day for 8 hours.”
“It’s all rotten. Wall Street is rotten.” I said, “Maybe my legal career would have been meaningful, had I studied criminal law or human rights, and worked on the Innocence Project. Maybe. Or maybe my dad, my mom and my babushka shouldn’t have pushed me to become a lawyer in the first place. Maybe when I was seventeen I should have rebelled to pursue my own path… I didn’t stand my ground. And for that I am paying now and will be paying for a long long long time. I f’d up things big time. My Master’s in Law turned out to be a cover up to get away from my family and a promising stagnant career as the junior associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers. So promising, I was dosing off with my eyes open, half awake, perpetually bored. I once printed the entire script of Inglorious Bastards on a corporate printer at PWC. But I was so proud of my resume. I was only 23 and I’d already flown on a private jet, representing the filthy rich client in a hostile acquisition project. During my law school summer break, I bought the Foundations of Screenwriting, by Syd Field. When I landed my first NYC job in a hedge fund, I was only excited for a couple of weeks. It was thrilling to press the button to the top floor of the office penthouse located at the landmark building, 767 third avenue and say, “”I work in a mid-cap hedge fund in a legal and compliance department. I reconcile financial statements, long and short selling and conflict of interests and guess what? I will be eligible for a bonus. And I will be sponsored for a work visa. Duh…”” There was something particular, a superior feeling, being so high up, watching the city from the 47th floor, stretched out, zoomed out, watching its shimmering, simmering, flickering lights and dots connected to each other and changing its patterns and lights like in kaleidoscope. But after a few months, the euphoria ended, and the roach crawled in and settled in, the nagging feeling of familiar restlessness, emptiness knocked on the door and I let it in. I’d enrolled into an HB acting studio to improve my american accent. My manager only approved of it because everybody was aware of my heavy eastern european accent. He would even let me leave earlier. Soon I was attending HB studio three times a week, taking acting classes and speaking monologues classes under pretense of improving my public speaking skills. But Atonement was approaching. I was only two jobs away from job-apocalypse, from Deliverance.