Turning 30: Coming of Age Memoir - Excerpt
In 1987, Jerry Beller faced turning thirty. Turning 30: Coming of Age Memoir shows him going against the grain. Instead of joining “the real world” as so many recommended (insisted!), Jerry had other ideas. This interview focuses on Jerry’s job interview at the Urban Lounge in Nashville. Mike and Jim, a couple of young businessmen from Austin, brought Los Angeles and New York to Music City. They helped create an underground scene attracting every artist and twenty and thirty-something progressive person in a three-hundred-mile radius.
The air chilled as I turned on Second Avenue and stopped my aqua Suzuki 1100 in front of my destination. Stenciled above the tall, propped-open glass door was 186 2nd Avenue. Four and five story buildings connected for several blocks, running from Second Avenue to First Avenue. The First Avenue side faced the Cumberland River, providing huge strip for boats to unload merchandise. The other end, Second Avenue once thrived with shops and restaurants until the decline of shipping products up and down the rivers.
Abandoned for decades, as businesses moved to newer and more prestigious highrises, a new breed of businessmen hoped to revive the area. Once they repainted the wood and sandblasted the bricks, the old buildings showed character, constructed during in a time when they built things to last.
A corvette pulled up next to me and roared its engines. The tinted window came down, and Ernie poked his head out. “Where you headed?”
He pointed at the propped-open door and sneered, “At that place?”
I raised my shoulders.
“Meet me at my mom’s afterward.”
Ernie fishtailed as he peeled out, burning rubber in downtown Nashville. I hypothesized he watched one too many episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard.
I walked through the old and sturdy door propped open by a shiny new silver trash can, and followed the stairs down to what had been the basement of this once glitzy five-story building.
Concrete floors stretched from 2nd Avenue to 1st Avenue in this rectangular building. Strong smells of bleach and decadence fought for domination. Dark walls did nothing to light the place. Perhaps I should return to my cushy gig at Aviators.
A guy with long, curly blond hair, only a few years older than me, approached.
“I’m the manager, Scott.”
I extended my hand. “Hello, Scott, I’m here to apply for a bartending job.”
He led me to a long, foldout table, three chairs on the other side facing one chair. Scott pointed to the one chair. “Have a seat and fill out the application. We’ll be right with you.”
I carefully completed the information on the application attached to a clipboard. When finished, I gawked at the place. What a dump!
Scott returned a few minutes later with two young men around twenty-five. He pointed to the one with the Hollywood looks. “These are the owners, He nodded to one, Mike,” and then the other, “Jim.”
They plopped in the chairs. Mike, seated in the right end viewed my application and spoke in a smooth voice that matched his looks. “You moved here from DC?”
Mike handed the application to Jim, in the middle on his left and said, “How did you go from Capitol Hill to bartending?”
“I learned inside politics is not for me, so I had to do something when I left Washington.”
Running his hand through his hair, Mike smiled. “But why bartending?”
“I’m a writer. Having bartended during college, I know a good bartending job provides a decent income and time to write.”
Jim waved my application, handed it to Scott, and said, “You graduated from OU?”
Jim smirked. “Mike and I are Longhorns. Get out of here!” and pointed towards the door.
Had Mike worn glasses, he would have peered over them to scrutinize his Austin pal and business associate.
Scott rubbed his neck.
While Scott reviewed my application, Mike said, “You went to undergraduate or graduate school at OU?”
Jim frowned and moved his hands around. “We want a certain look.” He paused and squinted. “To be honest, you look a little preppy. What kind of nuance would you bring?”
I nearly laughed. While I wore an ultramarine blazer, it was with Levi’s and some British Knights. How does one not over- or underdress for a bartending interview? What the hell was I doing here?
Not only was I unequivocally not preppy, they had not asked one question about my bartending skills.
“I can wear whatever costume you want,” I said.
Mike smiled. Scott giggled. Jim’s mouth dropped open.
After a three-beat pause, I continued. “I can improve your bar by mixing drinks fast and making the customers feel special without giving the bar away.”
Jim twisted his face. “Hmmm.”
Might as well have told him I would pour drinks slow, arrive late, give away half the bar, and bore everybody to tears. He thinks I’m just another Okie dipshit!
Laying the application on the table, Scott said, “Why would you leave the hottest club in town to work here in the unknown?”
“A friend told me the Urban Lounge will attract the entire art community.”
Jim said, “Who is your friend?”
Jim sneered and acted disappointed in Marshall’s judgment. “You’re the guy Marshall recommended?”
I wasn’t above bartending, but would not beg for a here-today, gone-tomorrow bartending gig either.
I leaned forward to stand, but Scott flipped his long hair. “What kind of sales do you pour on an average night at Aviators?”
I settled in the chair. “$2,000 to $3,000. I broke $3,000 a few times.”
Scott whistled. Mike and Jim acted like the numbers meant nothing.
Raising my application to review again, Scott said, “That much, huh?”
Jim stirred around in his chair. “How do you feel about gays?”
I tensed. How the hell did I end up in this interview? “Is this a gay club or something?”
“No,” Mike said, “but a certain percentage of the clientele will be.”
“As you guys experienced in Texas, I suspect, the average Okie is homophobic.”
Mike nodded. Jim’s eyes accused me of some great sin, reminding me of Mom’s when she got all prosecutorial on my ass.
“I judge people by their character.”
Jim leaned in aggressively. “Look around and tell me what is special about this place.”
I was tempted to tell my new Austin friend, “If you stored a million dollars in this place, it would be a million-dollar piece of shit.” But that answer would never get me the job.
“The sunken dancefloor. The DJ cage. The Star Trek-like lighting is a good touch. And I like the subtle lighting around the place. Captures the decadent vibe I presume you want, but none is what might make this place special.”
Jim cocked his head. “Do tell.”
I pointed at him and Mike. “If this place is special, it’s because you brought a little LA and New York to Nashville.”
Soon, the interview ended, and Scott said they would call in two days if they decided to hire me. I did not hold my breath. Mike and Jim all but dismissed me before, during, or after the interview. They didn’t even try to hide the fact that they considered me too old and lacking the wilder look they were shooting for. Being from Norman, Oklahoma, was strike three.
The irony of my situation was not lost on me. Too old? Not even thirty, and they already wanted to pack me on a one-way trip to the glue factory. Not the consequence I anticipated when I launched my Don’t Turn Horses Into Glue campaign. I felt, in many ways, my life was just beginning.
I also realized that people had told me all my life I was too young. Every time I wanted to do anything remotely interesting they said I was “too young.”
When a teen, I was too young to know how to wear my hair, what time to come home, go to concerts, or anything remotely interesting. My entire twenties, people told me I was too young to run for public office, be taken serious by anybody over thirty, and a hopeless dreamer who dared to choose my own career, where I lived, what I did, thought, felt, hoped, feared, and believed.
How the hell was it, not yet thirty, that I became too old? From what I can tell, the “right time” never comes to those who hold power. You go to bed one night with them insisting you’re too young. You wake up the next day and some bastards barely younger boot your ass off Sugar Mountain.
I could not fathom me living a “normal” life. Three decades into ten-decade life, I seemed hopeless. Where did I fit in? What would I do with my life?
A sentence played repeatedly in my head like a chant: “Man would rather have the void for his purpose than be void of purpose.”
Damn you, Nietzsche!
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This material is copyrighted by Jerry Beller.