Thursday, June 3, 2010

That was then, This is now....

In my early twenties, I waitressed a lot to support my acting habit. I never chose fine dining establishments that could cover the rent in a weekend,but more the grungy arty diners that dotted the pre-gentrified Silverlake landcape of the late eighties and required several grueling shifts that barely paid the DWP bill. I had read about Millie's,my first Eastside job,in 1990, on what was then the back page of the Weekly,which was a Page Six of sorts for the LA hipster scene.I was intrigued by a photograph of Leif Garrett posing outside the restaurant after an all nighter with his girlfriend,who wore a leopard skin jacket. I remember seeing Millie's in bold print and just knowing that this was quintessential LA cool and not to be missed.
My sister and I drove from our apartment near Hollywood and Western into Silverlake for breakfast early one Sunday morning. Millie's was on Sunset,just east of Maltman.It was a brick storefront with big windows,almost papered into obscurity by band fliers, and a faded dark green awning.It had served Silverlake breakfast since 1926 and had an East Village dive vibe that was irresitible.
There were a few tables outside with big green umbrellas and inside consisted of five or six table crammed into a teeny storefront that was adjacent to a small counter that sat eight people. The counter overlooked the kitchen,which was a huge commercial stove, and kitchy fifties metal advertisement plates adorned the walls.There was a collection of old coffee pots on the wall and a neon clock that read "Millie's-est 1926". The main dining room featured exhibits by local artists and kitchy rare collectible stuff from the 40's. The walls and floors had been repainted so many times that they threatened to encroach on the square footage of the room, and the bathroom was the size of a telephone booth, accessible by passing throught the prep kitchen where a cute prep cook named Emile was forever chopping onions. The place was definitely grungy but didn't feel dirty,exactly,just hip in that unwashed sort of way.
My sister and I sat inside by the window in the main dining room and looked at the menu-which had a blob of raspberry jam on the front, and were promptly greeted by Tamara, a pretty black waitress who literally threw a plate of huge, fluffy warm biscuits on the table."Coffee?" she said, accusingly.We nodded. She laughed and said "first time?".We nodded again. She disappeared and returned with two cups of coffee.Mine had a giant pink lipstick mark on the outside,which I would later come to realize, belonged to my future boss. I discreetly wiped it off with my napkin and turned the cup around.I got the feeling that sending it back was the surest way to reveal our non-hipster status. We ordered the house specialty, the Devil's Mess, and sat in silence as we took in the room. Every other customer was either tattooed, pierced, wearing Doc Martens or had clearly just gotten out of bed. We must have looked totally out of place in our relatively clean clothes that were manufactured within the last five years. They must have thought that Strawberry Shortcake and her twin sister wandered into the wrong part of town.
The proprietress was a large woman named Magenta, who had magenta hair,magenta lipstick( the very same that adorned my coffee cup) and was dressed in an antique house dress with fishnets and witchy poo boots.She had a cackle that could break a window and an attitude to match. Our Devil's Mess arrived, and it was enormous.It makes The Griddle look chintzy by comparison. And it was delicious.We grabbed a business card on the way out, where about forty people stood waiting to take our place. It read "Millie's: where the waitress is queen and the customer is always wrong".I was smitten.
We visited Millie's every weekend for the next two months. We got to know the staff by sight and eventually started working there. My sister worked as a cook and I as a waitress. I slowly transitioned from regular clothes to ripped fifties dresses and granny shoes.I lucked into the Saturday and Sunday breakfast shift,which was the busiest time, and occasional evenings,which were much less hectic. When my sister wasn't working, the cook was Kash, a snarly tattooed thirty something with ghost white skin and jet black hair who often performed with The Cramps and was friends with Pee Wee Herman.He meant well but was tough and forever reminding me of my normalness. Weekends were long,sweaty and difficult for a measly hundred bucks.The idea was that Magenta would cover the counter and dazzle with her personality, and the other waitress(es) would take the tables, inside and out. She should have helped out with the ten tables I had when I was alone, but generally didn't. It became apparent rather quickly that, on most weekends, I would do everything and she would little more than joke with customers and bellow when orders sat too long. To her credit, she would give me all of the tips at the end of my shift and send me on my way, still seething at the injustice of it all.She also had her priorities straight when it came to certain issues.The restaurant was across the street from a free clinic.On many weekends, Right to Life protesters would march around in a circle in front of the clinic holding hideous signs of aborted fetuses and yelling awful things at the women who needed to get inside the clinic. I recall a few of them coming across the street with their signs to get a drink or use the bathroom or something, and Magenta stormed outside and screamed at them to get the fuck away from her place of business. Unfortunately, the signs they carried were a Devil's Mess in their own right,and extremely evocative of certain menu items. I am certain the connection was not lost on her. Plus, she was not about to encourage them in any way shape or form.
She was brutal but fair in a weird sort of way. Working with her was tough, but it did help my waitress persona. In the beginning, I was used to being nice to customers because I had come from a catering background, so my good natured smile was often met with active disappointment.After a few weeks of working with the Pink One, I became squinty and pissy like the rest of the waitstaff. We were supposed to be bitchy and give customers a hard time,it was part of the show and nice girls clearly didn't get the response that the mean girls got.When people asked for coffee, we could yell "NO!" and not come back for ten minutes if we wanted to.If someone got a liptick stained cup and complained, we could say sarcastically"what? not your shade?".We still had to get them a new cup, but there was no apology, ever.The food had to be served hot, but we didn't have to kiss anyone's ass. This backfired on amazingly few occasions.The only one I can recall was when two fortyish guys with receding ponytails asked us to turn the music down one slow weekday lunch, and I'd said, without even thinking,"Uh,oh, the geriatrics on the end want the volume turned down" to the cook. They stared at me for a beat and turned to each other and abruptly got up to leave, muttering something about not having to take shit from us. I was kidding, of course, but I was twenty and they weren't,so I can imagine the sting of my remark if it were unexpected.Every once in awhile I had a sassy comeback that would make everyone laugh, but for the most part, when it was busy, I was all business. The problem was, that I actually wanted to do a good job,because that meant more customers and more tips and a generally positive feeling when I left my shift at three pm reeking of the curried potatoes that came with everything. There were other employees who slacked off and chatted too long while dirty tables sat empty and the line outside grew impatient. There was a pretty Latina chick with a boyfriend who lived in Las Vegas, who was a challenge to work with. While I felt like I was often doing seven things at once, she was great with customers and always seemed to be chatting or flirting with some guy until I gave her my best stink eye. She would casually look around at the total chaos of the room and watch me refilling coffee for her tables and clearing dishes long after the tables had gone. She would sashay over and say-part reasurringly and part threateningly- "Don't worry about it,girlfriend, it's cool...". I didn't mind doing the work but,unlike Magenta, she would split the tips with me after not necessarily doing half of the work.
While I was there I came to realize that most of our clientele were relatively successful artists, musicians, actors,writers. I mean, Leif Garrett drew me there for some inexplicable reason, but the place attracted all sorts of groovy, talented and interesting people. I didn't recognize most of them, but they were there because Millie's was just that kind of place.
One evening, during a very slow shift,two guys were sitting inside and waiting to order. They had already asked for drinks. I was in the prep kitchen cutting a fucking lemon because the fucking lunch crew never prepped the fucking lemons because,as usual ,we were out of lemons when the shift ended. I heard one of them say "excuse me?" or something about wanting to order food. I walked out of the kitchen, knife in hand, and stabbed it into the table where they were sitting,pulled out my order pad and said casually, "What can I get for you?". Evidently, they loved it because a few days later the cook told me that Henry Rollins was one of the guys at that table and that he wanted to go on a date with me. I knew who he was, and figured that,had I been single, we would have lasted about twenty minutes on a date. I imagined us going to Art's Bar,which made Millie's look like the Polo Lounge, and him excusing himself and backing slowly away after I mentioned that I'd gone to a horsey prep school and couldn't name one Black Flag song. My edgy waitress in a torn antique dress was a bit of a facade for work. Little did any of the Millie's crew know that I was auditioning for Aaron Spelling shows in my spare time and hoping to book that Pizza Hut national commercial. They were cool. I was not.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Phil Ramie during my stint at Millie's, the notorious papparazzi who hung out of the helicopter at Madonna's wedding.He was a repulsive asshole who bragged about his penchant for "real redheads", and since I happened to be one, I was even more repulsed by him. He was the guy that photographed Rock Hudson's dead body after everyone agreed not to. I saw him on Entertainment Tonight sneaking behind the cop guarding the door of the ambulance to get his shot. I watched it and wished I had poisoned him with a rancid Hangtown Fry (oyster and bacon omlette)when I had the chance.
I lasted at Millie's for about a year and realized one day that I was deeply involved with a very dysfunctional family that I wasn't really part of in the end. I had begun socializing with Magenta and her clan and found out quickly that,while Magenta was a true mother hen, she reserved the right to treat us like her minions if she felt like it, and we were supposed to just deal. Everyone had some sort of wicked vice. It was a band of not so merry misfits and I began to feel,well, a little too normal for that scene. I don't recall the cirumstances of my switching to an entirely different LA institution,but I began to work at Netty's the summer after I left Millie's, which was a cute Cuban diner up Silverlake Boulevard. It was described in a review as "part angry, part creative, part emotional, part hysterical", which is perfection. It,too, was tiny,had delicious food and was also run by misfits of a sort.No vices, just marital discord that comes from working together all of the time. Often the husband and wife team would argue in the kitchen while I was present and it was a little awkward to interrupt a heated discussion to ask if there were anymore espresso brownies. I did the weekend shift there as well and worked my ass off to peppy cuban rhythms.A lot of the same customers came in if Millie's wasn't their thing that day and the Beastie Boys had a recording studio up the road and would come in for lunch at least three times a week. They annoyed the shit out of me because they would order five iced lattes at once,which- if you are a waitress in a restaurant with one milk steamer and a full house- really screws things up.They also tipped incredibly well and were always polite. The only song I knew was "you gotta fight for your right to party",which I never really loved, so they were just more customers to me.
I left Netty's after I actually started getting work in Hollywood. I broke up with my then boyfriend,an artist I'd met at Millie's who'd come to consider me his personal bank account. I was living alone and going on location a lot, discovering that Hollywood wasn't nearly as friendly as the misfit world I'd just left behind. I didn't do well living alone at all and spent a lot of time getting high and staring out the window of my teeny apartment perched atop Echo Park Boulevard.
One afternoon, out of the blue,I got a call from my ex and was told to come down the hill to his studio.I assumed he wanted to borrow more money, but when I arrived, he apprised me of two things: our cat,Ted, who had stayed with him after the split,had been hit by a car and was dead.We cried a little and hugged.Then he stopped and went to put on a CD.He was convinced that The Beastie Boys had written a song about me. He played me the song. It did seem to be about me,sort of, but it made no sense. We never spoke beyond, "So, five iced lattes?" and "That'll be seventy three twenty" but after listening to the lyrics, there were enough specifics that, to this day, I am ninety percent sure that I was possibly the subject for a very strange song.I could also be wrong, and it could be a bizarre coincidence. Obviously, it is some sort of take on "Georgie Girl" by The Seekers, so I don't know exactly what the deal is, but I have included notes where the specifics are undeniable.

The song is called Netty's Girl:

The Beastie Boys - Netty's Girl

Andrea | MySpace Video

Lyrics to Netty's Girl:
Okay good evening everybody
Everybody agh ready
Did you go pass the leader on the cassette there
Ohh, it's rollin', Okay very good very good
Alright everybody take one...
1 2 3 4...

Hey there everybody
I'd like to tell everybody out there
A little story about, la someone that was very special to me
And this is a special song about that special someone
About just how special things can be you know
I'm sure everybody out there has gone
Agh, felt, felt something very similar to that
And it can uhh, it can be the best thing
It can be the worst thing
It can make you feel great or..

There Georgie Girl
Oh Georgie girl
Oh hey there Georgie girl yea..
You can kiss that old crumb crack guy goodbye
(he was a little crum crack)
Because you know agh yea baby you know
You're on the one, the funky one
Oh baby, yea
Yo you know, I saw you that day you...
How's your Girl Mike?
Agh she's pretty nice man but I tell you yo
I saw the other Girl at Netty's the other day
(was waiting on them weekly)
And she had her shit together
(was kind of businesslike)
I'm talkin bout hip hop pow
(wore miracle bra daily)
Boomin' system up top in the back
(had some extra junk in the trunk)

Agh hey there Georgie Girl
Georgie Girl
Agh baby you look so nice
You on the one
You got your shit together Georgie Girl
Yea you're looking so nice Georgie Girl
Georgie Girl you know you're on the one
Oh hey lonely Girl
(were they really that perceptive?)
Yea that's right baby that was you the first time
You know i saw you all alone
I was on the boardwalk you know
(went to Sunset Junction street fair that summer)
You know you were looking lovely
A little bit lonely and uh
You know you was squirting the wate in the clowns mouth and everything ((won prize at street fair shooting water into clown's mouth)

But hey baby you know I would win the whole prize for you
The whole nine yards, the, the ski ball tickets
Everything baby, for you

Twenty one years later, Millie's is still there, though Magenta lost it to the IRS a few years after I left and it was repurchased by a previous owner.I haven't gone in since I left,and the antique dresses finally went to Goodwill sometime in 1994. Netty's became Reservoir a year or so ago and Silverlake is now dotted with upscale boutiques,charter schools, gelato stores, microbreweries and snooty coffee shops.
Everything must go, I get it, but I still miss that time. I wouldn't say I was deliriously happy, necessarily.Just young, I guess,really really young.

1 comment:

  1. G.E.???? It's Kash. Where is Jess? I saw you at the Mayfair on Franklin several years ago and have wondered how you've been since!
    Please email me if you will.