About Me

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thought i was a donut, ya tried to glaze me

3.31.2008



When I was a teen looking for a summer job the only real option was to work at the Gilded Pigeon Beach Club.* One of two beach clubs at the western-most tip of my peninsula, it was the closest to my house and within reasonable biking distance for me. Nearly everyone I knew worked there at some point in their life, whether as a lifeguard, maintenance worker, or cafeteria staff, and I spent my first year in the club as one of the camp counselors. I worked with "3" year olds, who were adorable, enjoyable, and most definitely not potty trained or actually 3 years old yet. I loved working with the kids, but the hourly pay was low. we relied mostly on tips, but a majority of the grimey parents would simply not send their kids in on tip days. This made my weekly pay sometimes around $80. At 16 I didn't have many expenses, but that was the summer I started to deposit my salary into one of the local brew halls around town, and eighty bucks for the week could not afford me many Amaretidori sours or Smirnoff ices or whatever it was I drank back then at the Tap and Grill. Also, I was growing tired of getting peed on. After one summer in the camp, I made the decision to leave the kiddies behind. I decided to take a chance and interview for what I considered to be my dream Golden Pigeon gig--working the Gate. I wanted the gate job because it was a step-up from camp counselor--a job so hated by the other workers that we weren't even invited to the employee party--and a good chance to continue my rise on the Gilded Pigeon ladder of success.

The hierarchy of coolness with the jobs went like this : Camp Counselor & Maintenance worker tied for bottom, Cafeteria Worker (and within that had it's own subsystem--if you worked in the Kitchen or in the Ice Cream Stand), Register, Gate, Reception, Lifeguard, Cabana Boy/Girl, and Valet. Another reason I wanted to become a Gate Girl was the improvement on wardrobe. The polo color (maroon) was a lot more flattering than that of the camp counselor (pee yellow, in more ways than one). The club also gave you this really heavyweight sweatshirt that said SECURITY on the back--fucking badass. It was enviable. Long story short, I got the job, one of my greatest accomplishments at the age of 17. I was moving up the ladder, albeit slowly. It was only a matter of time before I was parking all the members' cars!

But before I get into that, let me go a little bit more in-depth about the Pigeon. It's a private beach club that takes their private status very seriously. Their claim to fame is that the 80s classic Flamingo Kid was filmed there, and there's a huge movie poster in the bar showcasing this. It's owned by Mr. Dom July*, a sad, lonely old man who owns a bunch of other clubs in Queens and Long Island. He was rarely seen, a seemingly mystical character who hardly ever comes out of his office; and when he does, it's to yell at a pimply deck cleaner for mopping wrong or complain that the cafeteria coffee's too weak. A favorite story of one of my friends involved him getting caught slacking off at work by July--a fate feared by many, and almost assured to get you fired. Instead of getting yelled at, he asked him if he wanted to watch the Met game with him in his air conditioned office. I don't know if this is true or not, but it just added to my own image of him, to this aura of someone so rich yet so unhappy. Below Mr. July was Ted McNulty*. Mr. McNulty was a handsome, middle-aged man who enjoys wearing pastel Polos and short khaki shorts; he is living proof that it takes a real man to wear lavender, or coral, and is high on my list of HOGs. He, too, had an air of mystery surrounding him.

The guy everybody saw too much of--from the interview, on--was a guy name Dan Ortom.* His confusing name was the first thing people remembered about him. "Did you meet with Dan Or Tom?" someone would inevitably ask after an interview. "I think I interviewed with Dan. I don't know who Tom is" was the usual response, and then someone would explain that it was one dude. Dan was a short, stocky guy who rode around the small club in a ATV: radio at one hip, Nextel at the other. As soon as you start working at the Pigeon you hear all the stories about him--how he supposedly knocked up one of the cleaning ladies, how he used to ban the female lifeguards from wearing another bathing suit under their see-through orange LG ones, how he was just a self-important whooping boy of the club. As a counselor you could hear Dan coming a few minutes before he even parked his go-kart, and the exhaust pipe helped serve as a warning to start looking like you were paid enough to care. He was moody and impossible to please, an adult bully picked on for years by those above him and now taking it out on teens. And to perhaps sum up all of his deluded, narcissistic tendencies, he used to wear monogrammed Nike Shocks--DAN on the back of both sneakers.

Once I started working inside the gate, I saw a lot more of these three men, for better or for worse. Looking out for them was just one of the many tasks I had throughout my day in that box. Besides swiping in membership cards, selling guest passes, and casually checking trunks and backseats for hiding guests (members would do almost anything to scheme the club out of the $50 guest fee), I'd have to look out for one of Mr. July's many Cadillacs as he drove in, knowing not to stop him for a card. and remembering to look busy, pleasant, and happy to be there.

Even with all the looking-out, I enjoyed the job. The gate was like a private sanctuary, and the 4 other workers and I pimped it out with a TV, fridge, and posters. I planned my lunch breaks around All My Children and Maury; we were given free food by kind guests, stuff like Wendy's and pizza from New Park and antipasto salad from Ragtime. Sitting in that 6'X6' foot box, making small talk with the members, watching my VHS copy of Zoolander five times a day--it was my dream job. If St. John's offered a "Gate Guard" major (and snap, with THIS major now being offered, it could be possible ), I would have gotten a degree in it.

Not that I 100% got the whole point of the beach club. I never understood why people would pay such exorbitant amounts of money ($60 for a one-day guest pass? $4000/summer for a 12X12 cabana?) for something that was essentially free 2 miles down the road (especially for those members who lived in Rockaway to begin with--you got a beach on our corner!) The pools weren't even that great. And with the money most families spent paying to have them all spend the summers there they could have built a nice pool in teir own backyards. But the members loved that place. They loved their routines, their little shacks and the complaining about the stupid rules. The Gilded Pigeon was a place built on tradition and loyalty, on generations passing down the same car ride from other parts of Queens and Brooklyn. I was proud to stand guard.


My second summer working I was home from college by mid-May and as a result was one of the only gate guards working for most of June. This month, spent mostly alone, working overtime, as barely anyone came into the club, allowed me to gain some sort of clout in the gatehouse. Although it was never spoken, and it was never reflected on my paycheck, with all the responsibility I was given (making the schedule! fixing the computer!) it was clear to me that I was now The Head Gate Girl. And I took this never-discussed position very seriously. I tried to accommodate all workers when it came time to make the schedule, but I always made sure to give myself off the day after Wacky Wednesdays and the early shift on Saturdays, so I could try to be on my beach before it closed. I even started doing some work on the computer, mostly database entry, which Dan was very impressed by. All this new-found responsibility made it seem like the Club really needed me more than I needed it, which is a very good feeling to have. And I was making a little more money, hanging with my new friends, and rocking the Security polo with the collar up. Life was good

One Friday in late July I was working the early shift. It was pouring rain, but it was also Free Guest Friday, which meant the diehard members still came ("It was sunny in Brooklyn!"). At around lunchtime one of the Cabana boys came up to the gate to pick up a large pizza order from someone in his Court. When the pizza guy came, the order turned out to be bigger than they originally thought--6 or so pies, a few bags of garlic knots, plus soda and cutlery. Cabana Boy had no idea how he was going to get the pizza inside the club. "Wouldn't it be easier," the delivery casually said, "if I just drove us in with the food?"

Now the biggest rule at the Gate was to never let in any outsiders. A lot of different things were implied by the term "outsiders": people not possessing a member pass, a guess pass, or the money to pay for either; people who were too ethnic (I was honestly told once by one of the top three guys that "a good rule of thumb when deciding whether to let someone in for a tour of the club is 'no accents'"); and any food delivery people. This was the clubs way of forcing people to eat in the overpriced caf--by making it so inconvenient to order in cheaper food that they'll just give up and get the $12 Spicy Chicken sandwich. This no food rule was drilled in my brain from day one, and I was reminded of it every day as I reminded countless members of it, regardless of how big the order was.

But this day was different. Or maybe it wasn't, but I was just feeling different, because I agreed with the driver, took his license as collateral, and let him drive with Cabana Boy into the club. He returned 10 minutes later, grabbed his license and drove, and I went back to my seat and my TV. No harm, no foul.

That was until a few hours later, when the same pizza guy came back with another order. This time the actual club members were waiting for him at the gate, and they hopped in his car. As soon as they got to the window, I knew what kind of shit they'd pull.

"We'll only be a few minutes."

"Come on, you did it with him before."

"Look, he already has his license out."

"We have so much pizza!"

"Please?"

To this day I don't know why I let those assholes browbeat me into letting them drive in. First off, they didn't even offer me any of their pizza. And second, they were never that nice before--I think I might have even caught them trying to sneak a guest in once. On any other day I would have said, "I'm sorry, I'd love to, but I can't." On any other day I would have reminded them of my favorite saying--the saying I had posted on the wall of the Gate House--:"I don't make the rules, I just follow them."

But I didn't. I let those grimey-ass, pizza-grubbing heffers sit shotty as an Outsider with a Papa's Pizza sign on his car drove into the private gate of the Gilded Pigeon Beach Club. Within minutes the phone rang.

"Gate, this is Katie..."

"Who?! What?! Why do I see a delivery car? What's wrong with you?! Argghwk! Rarrrr!!!"


It was Mr. July, screaming, then hanging up, the phone. I forgot that I'd seen him drive through about an hour before. He must have been in his office, watching it all on the security cameras.

Moments later the phone rang again; this time it was Dan, asking the the other gate girl who it was that let the pizza guy in.

"He wants to see you," my coworker said, and I began the walk to the main office in the rain.

It honestly never once crossed my mind during that walk that I'd be fired. I was The Head Gate Girl. Without me, who would make the schedule? Who else would have the same witty conversations with the members? Who else would remember kids names, remember to ask about Grandma Esther who had surgery? I figured I'd get yelled at, or, at the most, moved somewhere else in the club. I was, after all, the first line of defense and a valued member of the Gilded Pigeon : Forty Years of Fun In The Sun. I was too important to get fired. Right?

Dan met me halfway in the parking lot. He didn't even have the decency to do it inside.

"Katie, why did you do it?"

(don't you just hate when bosses ask you that?)

"I'm sorry. I just...there was so much food. They couldn't carry it all."

"Well, you know our rules."

"I know, but..."

"You know we can't keep you there."

"I know, but..."

"Go back to the gate and bring me your keys."

"But..."

"... and your hoodie."


With that I turned around and started walking furiously back to the gate. I knew it then--I'd been fired. Fired. Motherfucking fired for letting in a pizza delivery guy in the rain. I felt like someone came up from behind and hit me over the head with a frying pan then punched me in the face.

Giving up the hoodie was the worst part. There are few things in your life worth carrying with you. Family and friends are one; a good, strong, comfortable hoodie is another. I started crying on the walk back, thinking of what I'd do for the rest of the summer, how it felt to get fired, to no longer feel irreplaceable, to loose a treasured piece of clothing. When I got back to the gate I made my announcement loud and clear:


"I JUST GOT FUCKING FIRED."

All the other gate girls looked shocked; I ranted and raved until I noticed Dan at the gate, looking terrified.

"Now Katie, calm down.."

"WHY DON'T YOU FUCKING CALM DOWN?!"

"Now, come on..."

"NO. FUCK YOU. THAT'S THE MOST PETTY SHIT I'VE EVER HEARD."

"I...I..."

"THEY DON'T EVEN SELL PIZZA IN THE CAFETERIA!!!"

The best part about getting fired is that you're finally given permission from the universe to say everything you've ever wanted to say to the people you've had to be quiet around for so long. There was rage in my voice, anger in my eyes. For the first and last time at the Gilded Pigeon, I had the upper hand.

"I CAN'T FUCKING BELIEVE THIS!"

"NO YOU LISTEN TO ME. THIS IS FUCKING RIDICULOUS!"

He finally left and I called my mom to pick me up. When I told people later on that I got fired they'd laugh and then say, "Really? I didn't think you could get fired from there." It gave me some satisfaction knowing I did the formerly impossible, all with the added bonus of bitching out Dan Ortom. And once it all settled I learned an extremely valuable lesson.

There are few situations in life where you are truly irreplaceable. A summer job at an overpriced beach club is not one of them. Neither is any job, most athletic teams, and more relationships than we'd like to admit. I've kept this lesson with me as I've continued on since that Free Guest Friday. The Pigeon was fun while it lasted, and ended a lot differently than I hoped it would. I left that rainy afternoon angry and confused, but I moved on and got back up and accomplished bigger and better things. I'd say I never looked back but I'd be lying because this is one of my favorite stories to tell, which is something else I got out of the deal. And another thing--


I never gave back the hoodie.

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I wonder if my writing has even improved?