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The Snuggery
By Eric Gilliland

See, the Tonys and Cynthias of Morton Grove had never been anything more than Tonys or Cynthias. They weren't comfortable being animals or closing their eyes and picturing themselves walking on a beach or throwing imaginary balls to each other that would, according to Thad's shouted orders, suddenly be "Heavy!" or "Light!" They just wanted to serve drinks, beat up a drunk line crasher or two, have some employee-discounted potato skins, and go home via the White Hen Pantry to grab a twelve-pack of Hamms or maybe Blatz, drink it in the church parking lot, if it was snowing, do a few doughnuts and maybe skitch a little, zig zag back to their parents' house, stumble in the front door, tip over the aquarium, shout "fuck," get in a fight with their mom about how much they drink, pass out in the family room watching some movie with Dom Deluise, probably the one where he's trying to kill himself but Burt Reynolds won't let him, wait, Burt wanted to kill himself and Dom Deluise won't let him, wake up to the sound of their father consoling their mother as she cries because she didn't know her kid says "fuck," say sorry, heat up a waffle, and then go out with Mitch to fix his truck. They didn't want to pretend they were all different mechanical parts of a clock.

I made up my mind then and there that when I became a full-fledged Dynamics Manager, I wasn't going to humiliate my troupe.

Which was going to be hard.

Eventually, I had to take charge of the club. The rule was that every twenty minutes, something Big had to happen at The Snuggery. An event. A happening. Part of my job was to schedule these events like, say, the Wacky Dance contest or the Free Drink Ticket Hunt. And then I got to hold the portable spotlight for the break dancers, the fire eaters, the jugglers, the professional lip synchers. Lip synchers… that were professional.

But the party didn't die in between these events. Throughout the night, the deejay was instructed to play certain songs that were cues for all the employees to do somewhat choreographed, "fun" moves that would really get the crowd going. For instance, that was the summer of both The Pointer Sisters' and Van Halen's songs, "Jump." Whenever either of them sang "jump" in the song, each and every employee in the place had to stop whatever he was doing and jump up in place. "Jump!" Jump. "Jump!" Jump. Horrible. Or, say, when the song "Freezeframe" came on, whenever the word "Freezeframe" was sung, everyone had to freeze in place. "Freeze frame!" Hold it… move. "Freeze frame!" Hold it… move. It was particularly sad to watch Tovar, the Armenian bus boy, participate in all of this. These special songs were called Snug Tunes. And I had to make sure everyone who worked there performed them. I was doomed.

And to add to the horror, I did all this wearing the official Snug Outfit: Tuxedo shirt, unbuttoned at the top but still wearing a wrap-around bow tie, and slick, water-repellant, multi-zipper pocketed parachute pants.

At first, things went along fine. I did my job well and actually believed I liked doing it. And what's not to like? I could get anyone I wanted in to the club, drinks were free, food was free, I'd get free tickets to the big summer "SnugFest" with live bands and big name comedians. I was at the white-hot center of all things hip and exciting in the world of Chicago nightlife. The problem was, I don't like most things hip and exciting. That's a big something to realize when you're twenty-one. And, then, evidently, re-learn every three years or so for the rest of your life. Most of the alluring shiny objects that this job - and many later jobs - dangled in front of me are things that most people really want. That's why they're there. That's why they're offered. But over time, I inevitably realize that these things repel me. And I never should have been there in the first place.

In high school, I joked and cavorted my way into hanging with the cool kids, only to realize, holy crap. The cool kids are idiots and, in ten or fifteen years, are going to become sad drunks and, in many cases, incredibly fat, especially Doug Gurtner. The same happened a few years ago when, after attaining my goal to write for television and trying to emulate the people who inspired me, the Carl Reiners and the James Brookses, I looked around and realized, yeah, I used to do some cool stuff, but yikes, I've spent the last five months writing jokes for Ashton Kutcher. (Who's a very nice young man and I wish him well in his life and career.) So when your heart checks out, so does your brain. And I started to really, really suck at my job. Because my job was dumb, the people I worked for were dumb, the customers were dumb, and I wasted a good five minutes every day just trying to figure out which zippered pocket I put my car keys in.

I told my troupe that they only had to do the damn SnugTune routines if any of the track-marked management crew happened to be in the bar, the doormen being my lookouts. My troupe loved me for my lax dynamic managing, and I took pride in giving them some of their pride back. No, Mr. Six-Foot-Seven Bouncer Man, you don't have to wear the rubber Conehead thing while the poor barmaid plays ring toss on you. Have a tiny piece of dignity this summer. But, soon enough, I knew word got back that I was slacking off, because all of a sudden, when I got to work, I could feel something had shifted. Something was in the air. That heavy sense of impending unemployment. And once you get that stink on you, all your former buddies who thanked you for "being cool" with all those forced antics quickly turn away and shun you, making you, suddenly, persona Snug grata.

The last straw, as I recall, was when I mis-scheduled either the Pajama Party Night or the Love Connection Theme Night. Whichever it was, it didn't sit well with Scarface and the rest of the drug cartel up in the hot tub. That night, Thad took me aside, out into the alley behind the kitchen. He looked at me, eyebrows akimbo, and said… "Ah… Eric…"

"I'm fired, aren't I?" I beat him to the punch. No one should have to go through the agony of firing a friend. We both knew it was going to happen. I shouldn't be here. I don't fit in. And I was absolutely fine with that.

Sorta. True, I was released from an astoundingly soul-sucking job, but then again, the upshot is I failed. People paid me to do something, I didn't do it well, and I got fired. And getting fired doesn't feel good. What's more humiliating: Being forced to wear my SnugOutfit, or being forced to not wear my SnugOutfit? I wasn't going to miss the place, and yet I didn't feel great leaving. The rest of that summer, I prepared to leave home for Hollywood, and spent my nights in dingy dive bars, listening to Sinatra and "Dock of the Bay."

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