I often didn’t know what Jolene was doing at her desk, even though it was only two feet from mine. Same with David, his desk a more proper five feet away. It was clear what I was doing – reconciling last night’s receipts. Seven bank bags stared at me from my desk’s uncluttered surface, where I had plopped them after retrieving them from the basement safe hidden in the back of the liquor room. I was good at counting bills, and good at numbers in general. Fast, too.
I opened the first bag, pleased to see that Ray had, as always, properly aligned all his bills facing in the right direction, saving me time and aggravation in my counting. I knew Vince’s bag would be helter-skelter as always, but at least his bag routinely reconciled correctly. Not so with Ray’s. A cocktail napkin peeked out of Ray’s bag, and I knew what would be on it – an “IOU” from Dale saying that he’d taken $500 or $1000. IOU my ass. It was Dale’s club and when he needed cash for drugs or his monthly Bentley payment or anything else, it was his to take. My job was to hide his self-theft from the books. Everyone knew what was going on, including the bartenders and waitresses with whom he shared cocaine.
I needed coffee. Why hadn’t anybody made any? I grabbed the pot and headed to the hall bathroom to rinse it out and fill it. When I got back that’s when I noticed the coffee basket was empty. Shit. Jolene and David were studiously not paying attention. They’d already been here for hours, Jolene anyway. Why hadn’t they stocked the coffee?
I exited the office, navigated the narrow hall and entered the main room through the door to the lighting booth, then headed down the balcony stairs and cut around to the lobby. I strolled down the bathroom hallway, past the Neidermaier Display glitzy wall hangings, to the auxiliary dressing room/catering room, and said hi to Octavio, my newest busboy, whom I could hardly keep my eyes off of and who was filling a tub with ice. I unlocked the basement door, flipped on the light and descended. Then I unlocked the liquor room, nestled under the stairs, where we had to keep the coffee next to the cases of Dom Perignon ever since I discovered that we were losing cases of caffeine every month from the cabinets in the catering area.
In those days, I had a saying: leave the cash on the counter, but lock up the t-shirts. Tour t-shirts were desirable, rare and valuable, and had to be carefully guarded. Same with coffee it turned out.
Back in the office, a fresh pot finally brewing, I settled in to count the cash. David, it seems, had departed, probably for a run along the lakefront. He was in training for another Ironman. David was twenty years older than I - bald, tall, thin, sinewy, eagle-eyed. He was a gazelle on the Lincoln Park track. I counted the money and filed the payroll and Jolene paid the bills, but David was the real money man - handling the books, filing the taxes, telling Jolene when to pay what, and occasionally squeezing turnips from stones.
Someday, I thought, I might have to try this running thing myself. Not today.
From the bulge in the bags it was clear last night had been a good night, with the bar clearing ten or twelve k, maybe more. It had been a Phil Johnson night. Phil was a black entrepreneur/ impresario, who rented the club a couple nights a month to throw his ‘private’ disco parties. He had a mailing list of several thousand VIPs, who waited anxiously to discover one of his colorful postcard invitations in their mailboxes.
Our waitresses hated Phil Johnson nights because blacks didn’t tip, but if they wanted to work on the money nights – the jazz nights, the blues nights, the rock & roll nights – they had to work the black nights too. We made one small concession to the waitresses. On the good tipping nights, the cocktail waitresses only made $5 a shift, but they were happy to get it since their tips usually surpassed $100, and sometimes hit $200, and in 1979 that was ridiculously good money. On Phil Johnson nights, we upped their pay to $15/shift.
Phil always drew a good crowd - a thousand or so well-heeled, attractive dancers, womanizers and players, their white-walled and chromed cars lined up at the start of the party to be driven off by a fleet of valets. Phil was a gentleman, reliable and courteous, who always paid his $1500 rental fee up front and never failed to exceed the $2500 bar minimum or tip the DJ and lighting maestro. He was good to the doormen and security staff, too. On slow months, when our booked talent failed to provide sufficient funds to meet the payroll or pay the bills, Phil’s parties filled the gap.
Ray’s bag was off again. His register receipt showed he should have stuffed the bag with seven hundred and change, plus Dale’s IOU for a thousand and his drawer bank of a hundred. He was precisely forty-three dollars short. It was time to cut him loose. I’d warned him.
“Hello,” she said.
Glenne Headley was standing in my office. Two feet in front of my desk. Looking at me.
This was before people knew who Glenne Headley was, but I knew who she was. The year before, she and some pals formed a little outfit called Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and they produced avant garde plays in the basement of a northside Chicago church. This year they had moved to a storefront on Halsted Street, where, with makeshift lighting and sets and a scant two score seats, they put on the most riveting theatre I’d ever seen.
“Hello,” I said back to her, dumbly.
“I need a job,” she said.
And my heart melted. Glenne Headley, as talented an artist as I would ever see, was standing in my office asking for a job. This was so wrong.
“Okay,” I said.
She needed money. The whole company, including her husband John Malkovich, needed money, and they all were out looking for jobs to pay the rent and keep food on the table while they toiled to get their theatre company going.
“I don’t want to do this,” she said.
“I’m sure,” I responded. “My name is Coleman.”
“Mine’s Glenne. Glenne Headley,” she said, and gave me the slightest smile with that signature tilt of her head.
“I know,” I said. “I’m your biggest fan.
She relaxed a little then. “So, can I have one?”
“Waitressing?” I asked.
“Yes. I guess. That’s where I’d make the most money, right?”
“Yes,” I said. “Let’s go downstairs, and we’ll get the paperwork taken care of and I’ll show you around.
Glenne Headley was a terrible waitress. She scowled every minute of her employ. She hated the slinky white silk waitress uniform she was forced to wear, and she hated the high heels and she hated slinging drinks.
A week after she started, she was back again, in front of my desk, this time with a glow in her eyes and a big grin on her face.
“I quit,” she said.
“Okay,” I said.
“We got a grant. I don’t need the money anymore. I quit.”
“Great,” I said. “That’s really great.”
I never spoke with her again, except occasionally in my dreams.