Note: The following is adapted from a chapter of Christopher Paul Meyer’s memoir, Icarus Falling: A True Story About the Broken Dreams, Broken Heart and Broken Bones of a Nightclub Bouncer in LA. You can read Part I here.
One block away, I entered the large glass doors of The Standard Downtown.
It was no dive bar.
Their legs shimmering and their skirts playfully hugging their thighs, models strolled across the slick, brightly-lit, marble lobby. Cameramen and lighting riggers, PA’s and grips scrambled around the lobby, shouting and gesturing.
“Sorry,” the front desk attendant smiled at me. “They’re using our lobby for a Dockers commercial today.”
Hey, I didn’t mind. “I’m supposed to interview for a Guest Relations job.”
Forty-five minutes later, a tall, gangly, black man strode towards me. He stared at me from behind black-rimmed glasses. His voice was quiet but firm. “Christopher Meyer?”
“Chris is fine.”
“I’m George McKenzie. I’m the Guest Relations Manager.”
I followed George up an escalator to a plush mezzanine area with subdued lighting. George took a long minute, studying my resume. I acted like I didn’t care. I gazed vacantly at the escalator, watching the parade of bodies step off the moving stairway and veer towards what was labeled the “Rooftop Elevator.”
There were nine-to-fivers in khakis and Polo shirts. There were packs of Armenians, their gold chains, 8 o’clock shadow and swagger outpacing their blazers and t-shirts. There were Silverlake-type hipsters, with po’ boy caps, vintage shirts and tight jeans. There were black dudes in FuBu and meatheads in TapOut. In a city as self-segregated as LA, this seemed to be one of the few spots where you could find all 31 flavors of the city.
George finally looked up from my resume. “Why do you think we’re called Guest Relations?”
Because when people come to diddle themselves in a place with overstuffed couches, subdued lighting and models walking the lobby, they don’t want to be told what to do. “Because great security starts with caring about your guests.”
George nodded. “That’s exactly right.” He seemed impressed. Hey, I could spit flowery bullshit for hours. Especially if it was going to keep me around this place. “Sorry for keeping you waiting.”
“Not a problem.” Fake tan, perky tits and nice legs could take the edge off any wait.
“You’re very patient.” Seemed like George was reading a lot into it. It made me wonder if he’d kept me waiting on purpose. “Is that from being a prison chaplain?” I wasn’t surprised he went there. It’s the kind of thing that tends to stand out on a resume. “That must have been a hard job.”
Yeah, right. I wasn’t telling the inmates where to sit, sleep, shower or eat. I wasn’t breaking up fights. Now that’s a hard job. I only had to talk to men who wanted to talk to me. “It’s easy to talk to people at the bottom. It’s the ones in the Hamptons that don’t wanna listen.”
George nodded. I got the feeling this wasn’t the typical interview for him. He seemed intrigued. Well, I hoped he seemed intrigued. “You know you may need to get physical here though.”
“I got no problem with that.”
George was a great listener. He gauged my reactions, read my mannerisms. He kept the questions sparse, letting me fill in the blanks.
Fortunately for George, I love to talk.
Yes, I was looking for as many hours as possible. No, I had no other work commitments. Yeah, I’d played a lot of judo and rugby. No, I wasn’t gonna be some MMA thug. Yes, I was religious. No, I wasn’t a Puritan. I had no problem working with people that were high, drunk or naked. I didn’t tell him how much I was actually looking forward to it.
By the end of the interview, George and I had clicked. We had a few things in common. We were both college grads. We were both walk-ons at NCAA Division I teams — him for Clemson’s basketball team, me for William and Mary’s football team. I mean, we weren’t BFF’s spray-painting hearts and our initials on freeway underpasses or anything. But we seemed to understand each other.
George put down his list of questions. “You ever been called a goddamn whiteboy?”
“Or cracker?” George’s voice was low and calm. “What if I called your mom a whore?” His eyes drilled into me. “What if I told you to suck my dick?”
I could see the hypothetical looming behind his poker face, so I didn’t bite.
George smiled. “Be ready. You’re gonna hear all of that. And more. There’s a lot of nights you’re gonna go home angry.” I didn’t doubt it. “You’re gonna wanna take it out on your girl.”
That was an easy fix. “I don’t have one.”
A bemused smile wafted across his face. “You’re gonna wanna keep it that way. Relationships are…” He searched for the right words. “…difficult here.” One of the models strutted past us. “You know what I mean?” He smiled knowingly at me.
Being told to stay single? “I’m OK with that.”
George extended his hand. “I think you will be.” I hoped he was right.
“So, you wanna take a look at the place?”
I wasn’t sure if that meant I had the gig or not. But either way, the answer was yes.
We headed down the escalator to the lobby. George led me past the two downstairs bars…into the lobby bathroom. I couldn’t help but laugh. The bathroom was wallpapered with escort ads from LA Weekly.
George wasn’t laughing, though. He stared at a pair of dirty high-tops and wadded up jeans sticking out from under the stall.
“Time to go,” he barked at the stall. I jumped. The pensive interviewer was now a commanding, swollen presence.
The high-tops twitched. A groan.
George banged on the stall door. “Don’t make me kick this down.”
Mumbles echoed from the stall.
George banged again on the door. “Hurry up.”
With a click, the door opened and a sunburned, foggy-eyed transient shuffled out of the stall.
“Right this way,” George gestured to the bathroom door.
The transient turned towards the faucet. “Wash my hands?”
George nodded curtly. “Quickly.” Interesting. He was still commanding, but he wasn’t without empathy.
The transient looked guardedly at me. I must have been taking the buzz out of his handbath. If George wasn’t looming over him, he probably would have made an issue out of it.
He swathed his blistered hands in paper towels, drying them.
“That’s enough,” George nodded.
I stepped aside as the transient trudged past me and out the door. George and I followed at a respectful distance, tracking him past the front desk and out the front door.
“Skid Row is only a few blocks away,” George explained. “We try to keep them out, but we can’t watch all the doors all the time.” He pointed to a row of elevators across from the front door. “If they don’t camp out in the bathroom, they’ll bolt for the elevators and go to the guests’ floors. We’ve found them hiding in linen closets, knocking on guests’ doors, sleeping in the stairwells.”
“Anything ever happen?”
“Nothing major. Yet.” George tapped the elevator button.
We got off on one of the red-carpeted floors and George led me to a room, swiping his electronic master key in the lock. The room was minimalist — like a SoHo gallery. A raised platform for the bed, a shower in the middle of the room with transparent walls and an oversized, black graphite foot.
“Everyone asks about the foot.” George shrugged. So I didn’t. “There’s one in each room. But this is what you really have to worry about.” He knocked lightly on the wall. “Thin walls. We spend a lot of time dealing with noise complaints.”
I nodded. My eye caught a glimpse of a large bottle of Standard Hotel lube next to a pack of Standard Hotel condoms. This place was serious about fun. George caught my eye. “This place is Disneyland for adults.”
Back downstairs, we toured the valet stand. Surfer-cool valets in American Apparel collared shirts and Chuck Taylors jogged towards a line of BMW’s, Escalades and Hummers.
George wasn’t watching them, though. I followed his gaze forty feet away, to the lip of the asphalt lot where a pack of transients circled. The transients saw George and straightened up. Several of them dipped their feet back onto the city sidewalk and off the hotel’s asphalt.
“How’re we doing, gentlemen?” George called, nodding soberly at them.
Jibber-jabber and waves came back at him. “All good here, chief.”
“When they think no one’s watching, they like to make a run at our ash bins,” George nodded at the smoldering cigarette butts littering the concrete bins. I watched as the transients whooped and knocked on the windows of a Toyota Solara pulling into the lot. “They also like to hassle our guests.” George watched, hawk-like, as two transients walked the Solara onto the asphalt. “That’s far enough, gentlemen,” he called to them.
They blinked like they’d run into an electric fence. “OK, brother, OK…” They threw up their hands and retreated back to the concrete.
George led me back inside. “Now, I guess you’ll want to see the rooftop.”
The elevator doors opened onto the best view in LA. As George and I stepped onto the astroturfed roof, he told me that Zagat’s had listed it as the top nightclub in LA. I wasn’t surprised. A full-length heated pool, private waterbeds and fake topiaries surrounded by skyscrapers with a view from the ocean to the mountains and you’ve pretty much got everything LA could offer in one eyeful.
But the best view was behind the bar. Her name was Kacey.
“This is Chris,” George introduced me. Kacey’s blue crystal eyes panned across me. Her hair was a river of thick, long red strands dammed up with a green bandana. Her ripped abs, athletic arms and bubble butt were barely contained by her short skirt, ripped fishnets and tight v-neck. She was the sexiest tomboy you ever saw. The best friend you wish you didn’t have a crush on. The girl you confessed your sins to because if a girl like her was on your side, something had to be right with you.
“Hey,” she gave me a friendly handshake. I had to look away before her coy smile washed over me. This chick was too dangerous. She was more than the other pretty, young butts in tight, stretchy pants buzzing around the rooftop. She had attainability. Without saying a word, she made you believe she could be all yours.
Suddenly, I had a name and a face that encompassed every reason I wanted to be in Los Angeles. I watched her laugh and sling drinks with the other female bartender whose name I had totally missed as George led me away. The damage was done — the still-frame of Kacey was branded on the inside of my eyelids. From her high cheekbones to her knee-high socks, Kacey embodied every hope, aspiration and giddy impulse I’d had since I moved to LA.
She also had a boyfriend of seven years. I didn’t blame him. More on her in a bit. Definitely more on her.
“Do you think you’d like to work here?” George walked me to my Rent-A-Wreck.
Work? This wasn’t going to be just a job for me. This was going to thrust me into the bloodstream of Los Angeles. It wasn’t going to just give me a paycheck, it was going to give me a lifestyle.
Yeah. Of all the places to flip burgers, I could do a lot worse.