She’s still mumbling something as she starts to lift her dress. Disbelief hits me hard: I slightly panic as I realise no one would believe my story if they caught me now, with this extremely drunk girl. After I pulled that thirty-something in the middle of a shift last week, all the staff think I’m some kind of womaniser: if anyone sees me now, they’ll assume I’m worse…
THE NIGHT BEFORE
I’d been on my feet for the last nine hours. The plan for the following night’s party was confusing me: We were supposed to be wearing rugby kit, but where the hell I was supposed to get that from I had no idea. Even if I’d had planned in advance I still wouldn’t have wanted to have shelled out. Fuck it, I thought, I’ll figure something out.
“Drinks at ours Matt. You coming?”
I was kind of jealous of Dave. He was about the same age as me, but taller, handsome, built like a brick shithouse, and utterly full of himself. I’d worked with him for a couple of weeks and one thing seemed apparent: He LOVED his job. I, on the other hand, was on the verge of quitting.
I could really do with some sleep, I was thinking, especially seeing as I’ve got a late night tomorrow and lectures possibly the day after (I didn’t even know what I was doing that far ahead). Although if I do quit, I might as well see what happens over the next few days. Soak up the Living Room experience.
“Uh, yeah, okay.”
Dave’s apartment defied belief, considering he’s a bartender- one of the lowest paid jobs you can get. The apartment block had been renovated within the last couple of years from an old hospital but now the building was a model example of what Manchester was producing: smart, compact housing for young professionals. I noticed a century FM car parked outside. Some day, I thought… I’ll work for a radio station and make loads of money…
Dave stuck Royksopp on the Hi-Fi, an album I’d bought a few weeks before so at least I’d got the conversation rolling. He handed me a Stella.
“I only drink spirits, mate. Have you got anything like that?”
A divide was growing already. These guys had worked together for a while, and I wasn’t sure how welcome I was. But the car advert was becoming a mantra me and with my uni mates: It’s a Mini Adventure…
Tony, another barman, was slumped on a designer couch with his head tilted to the ceiling and his eyes closed. I guessed he hung around at Dave’s a lot. “That fucking manager, man, he does more harm than good. All I was doing was pointing that 700 out… He started to bitch…”
On my induction a couple of weeks ago, I was given some till roll with a list of commands scrawled on it.
68- We are out of
86- I’ve replenished
150- Get manager, change needed
700- Fine lady
These kind of commands would be barked at the bar backs like we were trainee marines. I’d spent a fair bit of time learning them, getting me even further behind with coursework.
Dave had pulled out a small black plastic bag the size of a bank bag and a credit card. “Aw, he’s a fucking knobhead. He tried it with me. I just said, ‘yeah, you’re a fucking knobhead, aren’t you?’ He just smiled and walked off! He thinks it’s a joke!”
He delicately poured out a lump of fine white powder onto the coffee table. I recognised it pretty quickly.
I’d only dabbled in coke once before, on a night in the previous year when I was utterly wasted on cheap scotch. The girls who lived opposite my flat were putting something up their noses and I’d thought: what the fuck are you doing? Pretending to do coke? You’re a student, there’s no way you could afford that… I had no idea how cheap and accessible it had become.
Dave cut three short lines on the edge of the coffee table then looked up at me. “You joining us?”
Bang. Decision time. Indulge in class-A narcotics? Play it safe? Grasp an opportunity? My brain was accelerated and I hadn’t even touched the stuff yet. “Er…”
“You’re under no pressure.”
Of course I’m not, I thought. You’ve paid for this stuff; you want your money’s worth. I could see Dave had regretted inviting me back: I was a bar back. I didn’t serve on the bar like everyone else in the room. The divide was growing.
“Put a line out for me, I’ll have a think.”
Within seconds I had a line of cocaine pointed at me while everyone else passed around a Fifty, each hoovering their own. Images from the films ran through my mind on fast forward: Mia Wallace with blood and puke streaming from her unconscious face, some guy in Boogie Nights crying over a dying girl while Burt Reynolds stands over them, apathetic… Mia Wallace snorted heroin. That girl in Boogie Nights did too much coke. This was one line. I imagined the phone call to my home back in Oldham, waking my parents up… My parents rushing to a hospital in Manchester… Get a fucking grip, I thought.
The bar staff were getting giddy, and childish. I was trying to find their wavelength on my own mental tuning band, but it wasn’t happening.
“What the fuck goes in a Cosmo now?” Dave was looking more dangerous by the second. Something wasn’t right but I couldn’t figure out what.
“I think I did one with fucking… grenadine, or something,” said Tony, his welsh accent getting stronger. “Is that not right?”
“Didn’t know we had any fucking grenadine.”
“I fucking put allsorts in tonight. Fucking Scotch, Orange Juice…”
His face is a mask of mock confusion, and he’s acting as if someone is controlling his body. Only they’re not being forcing him to do anything other than mix a cocktail.
I shit you not; this conversation went on for hours. They were obsessed with their jobs: proud and overconfident. But that aversion I felt was tinged with jealousy. The coke was still clinging to my mucus but some of it was working through me. The initial feeling of caution had heightened into a kind of paranoia. Was there some side to their conversation that I don’t get? While Tony was in the throes of his bartending mime, Dave was on the verge of pissing himself. I, on the other hand, was on the verge of disappearing into the background.
The sun came up eventually. I’d watched the clock go full circle a few times and I just wanted to be around other members of staff. I was thinking, once we get on that coach and get out to that party, I’ll be with the bar backs. The tension will be off and I’ll probably have come down from this bastard drug.
Trying to figure out how we would be ready in time for 5pm (the coach’s leaving time) was a massive operation- everyone’s brains had ceased to work. Tony needed to get to his and change. He had a spare rugby top for me, I needed to get back to Castle Irwell (student digs) and shower/ dump my work clothes, then we needed to meet at the Mark Addy for lunch.
This blurred by, and I found myself in the Addy (yes, named after the fat one from Full Monty) ordering pub food dressed as a NZ All-blacks player. One of Dave’s friends, a girl he went to uni with (he dropped out after the Living Room lifestyle sucked him in, apparently) was telling me she’d been to Salford, studied media and now worked for Century FM. That must be her car then, I thought.
I was still feeling outdone by Dave and Tony. I couldn’t even flirt with this Century girl ‘cause I was so exhausted and confused. The public started to stare as we strolled through Manchester towards the Living Room in Shorts and T-shirts. Maybe I’m just a shallow, narcissistic bastard, but I’m quite comfortable being stared at when I know why people are looking at me. I kind of thrive of it.
The Living room was full of staff. The entrance was clogged with what looked like rugby players and schoolgirls, with a few bemused customers eyeing us suspiciously. One of the bar-backs had come in a suit. The girls looked fucking amazing in pleated skirts, blouses and ties. They were locked into a specific conversation about something- there was no way I could cut in. They might even have engineered it that way when they saw me coming, I thought. No. That’s the coke making me think that. Rationalise. Calm down.
The manager shouts that the coach is here and we slam our drinks down and walk out. Dave and Tony were already on the coach and had occupied the back seats with a few others- I could not be arsed to try and cut back in there. I’m trying to find a seat near the bar backs but things aren’t working out. So began a silent 4-hr journey to Birmingham…
To this day I can’t figure out what happened exactly at Birmingham. My waterproof was the only thing with pockets in, and I’m sure I left it on the coach. So I seemingly didn’t buy a single drink all night, and I apparently ran the risk of having my wallet nicked from the coach driver. It was a blur.
We started drinking in a Wetherspoons close to the Living Room. The place was crawling with people in school uniform, sports kits, and suits: a warm-up venue for all of the Living Room staff from across Britain. I found I could actually talk to random girls that, at the time, I could never do. We had the workplace in common.
I was getting somewhere with a group of Liverpudlian schoolgirls when it occurred to me I didn’t recognise anyone any more. Thanks for the fucking loyalty, I thought. No one came to tell me we were moving on. I managed to find my way to the Living Room myself without getting lost in a strange city while twisted on drugs and sleep deprived, which was an achievement.
Birmingham’s Living Room was immense. It was more of a club than a bar or restaurant, with a large dance floor. The music was terrible, which surprised me because a lot of the time it was the music that would get me through the shifts at Living Room. Dave and Tony were still ignoring me.
I’d been doing laps of the dance floor and having brief, broken conversations with people who looked vaguely familiar from work, then got dragged out to dance with two of the waitresses, who looked way too young to be doing bar work.
A few days previous to this, I’d read an article about a scientific experiment with some coffee drinkers. The scientists gave the subjects decaf. They told the subjects that they were drinking decaf. An hour later they gave them decaf again, only this time they told the subjects they were drinking caffeine. The subjects started to perk up, be more alert, and performed better in tests. The proof: most of the “effect” of caffeine is self- induced. The same can apply to drugs. So around 20 hours after doing one line, I still felt hyper and on edge. But none of these people were experiencing it with me.
Feeling somewhat detached from reality, I look for a way to mix in. Then these waitresses grabbed me and I was dancing, a bit too provocatively (does a guy do that, or is there another adjective?) with both of them. I could sense nervous glances from across the room- there was a problem of sorts but the girls were still dancing with me, so it can’t have been that bad…
The night blurs on. I’ve just come back from the Gent’s and as I walk back to the dance floor, I nod at the blonde girl walking past. She’s possibly the drunkest person in the room, and she’s amongst the best looking.
She holds my hand and leads me somewhere. This could be the girl I’ve been looking for, I’m thinking. But whatever she’s got in mind, why pick me? And where are we going?
She pushes a fire exit door at the back of the bar and leads me into a stone corridor. The music’s distant now, and I can hear her mumbling something to me. She might be Swedish or something- she ’s not making any sense and she looks like she could be Swedish. I’m practically propping her up while she mumbles at me. Then, resting her head on my shoulders, she starts to lift her skirt.
“Look, er, you’re really drunk and uh…”
She’s pulling down her underwear. I look over to the fire exit door. They’d have a pretty good view if anyone walked in now. I could see the headline: “Bar worker jailed after drunken, drug fuelled molestation”…
She’s got her back against the wall. She squats, and urinates on the concrete floor.
I’m thrown. I feel kind of relieved, amused and let down at the same time. I don’t know how to react, other than to step back away from the stream to keep my shoes dry.
What a fucking night, I’m thinking. She pulls her underwear back up and grabs my hand again, not looking at me. When we get back inside she lets go and immediately some guy starts cracking on to her. She wanders off to dance with him. He’s sober enough to see how drunk she is. He’s trying it on with her in front of the whole bar. I’m hoping everyone who knows him can see him, the fucking scumbag.
Not long after, the music stops. I realise how much time has gone by- hours of my life are missing. What the hell happened in this bar? I’m confused about something. Something is missing, something material but I can’t figure out what.
People are dripping out of the club. I’m following them out to the street. It’s cold.
BANG. My coat. I had a coat. I must have done- I’ve got no pockets on these shorts, and I wouldn’t have spent all night in a bar without any money?
I’m just about to get on the bus when I realise I’ve got to go back. I explain what I think I’ve done to Neil, one of the managers, and he already looks pissed off with me.
“Be VERY quick, Matt,” he says, and there’s something in his voice telling me the hold-up I’m about to give him isn’t the only problem.
I turn into the T-1000 from Terminator 2 and sprint back to the building, explaining the problem to the doormen. I leave my name, mobile number, branch details and coat details to a doorman. He says they’ll ring Living Room Manchester or me at some point.
The coat had cost me a fucking fortune from Blacks on Deansgate. I’m gutted. I sprint back to the coach and sat in exactly the same seat. We pull out of Birmingham centre and I consider how I’m going to break this to my mum. I have no recollection of how I’d lost it. Despair hits me. I slump in the chair.
The street lights flash rhythmically into the coach as we drive down a road onto the motorway. There is something on the floor in front of me, small, dark and square.
I pick it up. My wallet. Complete with all cards and cash. You lucky fucking bastard, I think. Well.
It’s a start.
The manager looks up. I hold the wallet up.
“I found my wallet.”
“Right, okay.” I get the impression I’d not told her in the first place.
I jump a little. The waitress is sat next to me, who I vaguely remember being on the dance floor with. Of course, by this time, what I’d done is a blur. Is she pissed off with me?
“Hi, you alright?”
“My dad’s not too impressed with you.”
I’m confused. “Your dad?”
“Yeah. Neil. The manager.”
“Because of how you were dancing with me. He was going to come over and say something.” A pause. “I am only 16, you know”.
The voice in my mind saying 16 IS LEGAL is drowned out by another side of my conscience saying THE WHOLE BAR SAW YOU FLIRTING GRATUITOUSLY WITH THE MANAGER’S DAUGHTER, 5 YEARS YOUR JUNIOR. THIS INCLUDES THE MANAGER.
“He was going to have a word with you when we were in the bar.”
I’m hitting another phase of nervous quietness. How can I get out of this company in a clean, reasonable manner? I need to stay out of trouble. I close my eyes, head tilted back, and try to clear out my mind.
When I open my eyes, I’m staring at some kind of cord dangling from an overhead compartment. It’s opposite me but a bit further down, possibly above where I was sitting on the way down. It has a toggle on it that looks very familiar. I have no recollection of putting anything up there, but if it’s not mine, I can always apologise.
I tentatively pull it down. Green Sprayway. There is no way that this isn’t mine. I’m smiling, relieved. There are a lot of things confusing me but at least I’ve got everything I lost back.
I just want to get back to my digs now. I connect to people at Uni. I have my blatant differences, sure, but I still fit in. I’m not fitting in at Living Room. I need sleep. Then I need to think about what I’m going to do.