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Little Rock Confidential 2013 

Trade secrets from a Hooter's waitress. What it's like to spend your life doing needle drugs. How a skin care specialist thinks about aging, and why a sound engineer spends so much time playing on his phone in the recording studio. The Arkansas Times asked people, what's your job (or the thing that keeps you from having a job) really like? Here are their answers.

Hooters Girl

They tell us to leave our personal problems at the door, and that's really hard. It's even hard for managers. Everybody has their bad days, and when you're having a terrible day and then you have to go home and take a shower and make yourself all pretty to go to work at Hooters, you feel better about yourself, but it's not easy.

Being a Hooters Girl is constant acting. They want us to be the all-American cheerleader, bubbly, have our lip gloss on, always smiling. They want us all to conform to this image and this standard, but then the customers love our individuality. You have to balance what the manager wants and what the customer wants. You have to put on a facade. The week after my ex-boyfriend and I broke up, it was so hard for me to put on that uniform and that facade. But I knew I had to do it, so I just worked my way through it. I just put myself in a different mental state. I took reality out of it and went into Hooters Girl Mode.

There's a common misconception that we're a titty bar, but that's not how it is. We have families in. On Sunday, we have a church rush come in. I have regulars that are an older couple, and they love us and love the food. They just love hanging out with us. They'll come about twice a week and they're awesome. They're not there for the entertainment or the women. They're there for the food and because they love us.

We have a meeting before every shift, and in that shift meeting, they remind us of the specials, they remind us that we need to get customer surveys done, and then we do what's called "Image Check." They go down the line, we turn a circle, and our bosses make sure that our shoes are clean, our socks are clean, we don't have rips in our tights, our shirts aren't faded. If anything's wrong with our uniform, we have to fix it before we go out on the floor. They also check our hair and makeup and make sure we're always picture perfect.

I was a little nervous going through that the first couple of times, having a manager look me over — especially somebody who was as old as my father. At first, it was kind of like: Are they going to be looking at me like that? But after a few times, it was all professional and that nervousness of Image Check became goofy. We joke with our managers during the check now.

The first day is the most nerve-racking. The first day I wore my uniform, I was out on the floor, and I was nervous. But then I got into work mode. Any girl likes compliments. Any girl likes guys looking at her. You get lots of compliments, lots of numbers, lots of men wanting to go out with you. I have a few regulars who come in on a daily or weekly basis who have become very close friends with me. I've taken regulars up on offers to hang out after I've known them a few months, but I've never really gone on a date with a customer. It's more of just hanging out with other Hooter Girls and regulars. There are girls who do work there and find a man that they would like to go out with, but I'm just not that type. I go to work for work, not to pick up men.

We're paid like normal waitresses, so my whole check pretty much goes to taxes and I live on my tips. My checks are always zero dollars because of the taxes. If you have a bad night, you're not getting paid out. You just hope the next night is better. Our managers expect us to make about $100 in tips per shift. Sometimes that doesn't happen, but by the end of the week it pretty much evens out. Some weeks, I make several hundred dollars, and other weeks I only make a couple hundred dollars. But at the end of the year, when I'm doing my taxes, I make more than any of my friends who are in college and I normally work less hours. I work three to four days a week, and I'm still making more money than most of my friends my age. There are nights when I'll walk out with only $20 bucks if we're dead, but then I'll have a night where I'll make $200. It all evens out.

There's regulars who come in by themselves who are awesome — who don't disrespect us. I feel like they've been socially awkward their whole lives. He's probably single. He's probably been single his whole life, and he just wants to see a few hot chicks and drink some beer. They come in because they want attention and they know that's what we're going to give them, because they're paying for that — which, you know, kinda sounds like prostitution! (laughs)

I feel like when you're talking to a customer you know or a customer who has been there for several hours, you can get real and you can share a little more about your life. Customers will share stories with me. But then there are also those guys who you don't want to make comments to you because they make really creepy ones. When you approach the table, you can tell just by reading body language and how they look at you and the tone of their voice whether the guy is like that. You smile and you laugh off the nasty comments and you try to make it a joke and you deal with it. You act as professional as you can. You just can't get mad at them. You kinda feel sorry for them. Normally, those guys tip the worst.

I personally haven't had to deal with someone groping me, but I have had Hooters girl friends who it has happened to. The moment that it happens, we're required by our policies to tell a manager, and that customer is to pay their tab and leave the building, because that is not something that Hooters condones or will put up with. I've known girls who've gone to the manager, and I've known girls who were too embarrassed. They just kind of laughed it off and kept waiting on the table because they thought the tip was more important. If it happened to me, I would most definitely report it. I'd go straight to my manager and say: "Get this dude out of here." I respect myself, and I think of it as if my dad is always standing there watching me. Would he appreciate that and how would he react?

I definitely want people to respect me. We're not bimbos. That's a common misconception. There are a lot of people who come into Hooters who believe we're just Hooters Girls, and that's all we do. Most of us are in college. I work with mothers who are raising children by working at Hooters. Hooters supports us, and supports their kids. Not all Hooters Girls are intelligent, but I think a lot of the bimbo-ness is when girls act like they're stupid because they know they can get better tips that way. A lot of the girls are a lot more intelligent than they act on the floor, but they feel like that's what the customers want.

Personally, I take different approaches with different tables. Of course, I'm going to treat a table of military men different than I'm going to treat a family. But I find that if customers do start asking questions, they prefer that I'm intelligent. Being intelligent impresses everybody more. It's like: "Wow, she's hot AND she's got brains." So I normally don't play the bimbo act. Unless I mess up an order.

Heroin addict

I started using cocaine in the '80s, when I was in maybe the eighth grade.

My pot dealer was the cliche pot dealer for kids: a college student with an upstairs apartment where one wall was covered with albums. I started smoking pot over there with the college guys. I was very different than other kids when I was in high school. I was already a big reader and thinker, and I started going over there and smoking pot.

I don't know how they started using cocaine, but I was there at the beginning of them using it too. Suddenly they had a Florida connection, and everybody started using cocaine. I started snorting cocaine. It didn't take me very long to progress to shooting cocaine. Once I started shooting cocaine, I fell in absolute love with the needle. After that, I would put anything in there to try and shoot it. My grandmother had a prescription for Valium, and I remember trying to break down the pills to shoot them. By the way, you can't do that.

It's impossible for me to deny the relationship between genetics and addiction. Both my grandfathers were extreme alcoholics. At 12 years old, my dad would have to be the boss of the grown hired hands because his dad would leave their farm for a month getting drunk and chasing whores. It's all the way through my family. My older sister literally drank herself to death.

I was in the 11th grade when I first tried heroin — maybe 16. There was a guy that used to go up to that apartment, too. He was into smack. He'd come from California. I went there one day to see my dealer to try and buy cocaine, and he was sitting in the driveway, and he said, "I've got some dope." Part of his gig was, he liked to shoot dope next to playgrounds, where mothers were walking back and forth in front of the car where he'd shoot. He got off better that way — the thrill of that. So the first time I shot heroin, there were 60 people swarming back and forth around me.

The nod was so much better. I'd gotten the same opiate high before from pills, but it wasn't the same intensity. Pills also didn't have the same amount of romance attached to them. I had read Burroughs and those guys, and I really had romanticized the idea of the Artist Junkie from those books that are on the black list in the high school library.

I fell in love with heroin. It was like a warm hug. I really did buy into the idea of mind-expansion through chemicals — the whole teenage angst, pissed off at the world, and "I'm not going to live past 30, so screw it," mentality. It was the extreme. Nearly everybody I associated with got high in some way or other, even if they just drank a bit. The thought of being the guy who shot dope — being bigger and more than everybody else — was very appealing to me. I just wanted to try everything. I was already addicted by then. I'd just moved up to the Big Boy.

I was able to fool people. Right out of high school, I joined the Army. Oddly enough, I was a medic. It worked out very well for me. I had to initiate I.V.'s and give shots and that's the toughest week of training for a medic. By then, I could shoot dope riding down a gravel road in the backseat of a car in the dark. It really wasn't a problem for me. The old sergeants who had been in Vietnam, who were teaching those classes, they caught on immediately. They knew what my deal was.

There was a guy in my basic training class, and I remember his eyes lighting up in acknowledgement: You're the same as me. I was 17, and that weekend, he carried me into San Antonio, and I started getting smack there. He knew everybody and everywhere to get Chiba. That's what the Mexicans called it.

I did whatever I had to do to get high. I stole many, many times to buy dope. I don't steal now, and I don't think it's my nature to be a thief. People always ask me what I went to prison for, and I've been a few times, and I always say "dope." The charges weren't always dope charges, but every time, it was either possession of dope or theft to procure dope, or writing bad checks to get dope. I did anything I had to do. I carried my wife to truck stops to suck dicks so I could have dope. She wanted dope too, don't get me wrong, but nothing was out of bounds. I never turned gay tricks, but I promise you that if I'd been dopesick long enough, I would have thought about it.

Dopesick is the worst. When you come down off heroin, it's different for everybody, but it's never good. Some people kick way harder than others. I have a difficult time with it. I always kept a bottle of dilaudid in the house for emergencies in case something came up and we couldn't get smack. You believe you're going to die. It's painful. It's painful in your bones. You're nauseous. You can't poop — heroin makes you constipated in a big way. It's the most miserable thing in the world. If shooting heroin is the best feeling in the world, waking up the next day without heroin is the worst feeling in the world.

I don't have a great story for why I quit. I was living out in the streets, and the dope in Little Rock was just getting worse and worse and worse. Then about that same time, several people died. At first, we thought they were OD'ing on cocaine, but there was some bad heroin in town. Four or five people had died. If the dope had stayed good, I might have never got clean. But I didn't want to keep going to all that effort to keep buying baby laxative.

I love dope. I wish I could use dope the rest of my life. I don't have any qualms about my drug use. But there are consequences that come along with it that are expensive. I'm a habitual criminal by law — The Big Bitch, they call it, the extreme habitual offender. Because I've been in trouble so many times, the sentences started getting longer and longer. I had so many misdemeanor shoplifting charges that I was catching a year for shoplifting at Walmart. The last time I went to the joint, I stole the change out of somebody's ashtray and got sentenced to four years in prison. The first offer they came to me with was 15 years in prison, for stealing about a buck and a half out of an ashtray, from a car that was unlocked with the windows down.

By then, I'd started smoking more and more crack to kind of deaden my mind in between fixes, and crack is not fun. It's not comfortable. There's nothing good about it. It's a shitty high — you're never happy. You're either too high or not high enough. There's never a time when somebody's smoking crack and they say, "Ahhh! This is just right! This is just what I wanted." I was drinking constantly. It was just too much effort. Copping dope was my job. I wanted a chance. In my heart and soul, I'm a writer, not a junkie. For years, they lived side by side. But eventually the junkie took over, and the writer took the back seat. I wanted a chance for the writer to drive the Cadillac and see what happens.

I don't know if I'll go back to it. I always have before. I don't count days. I don't make promises. I've been in 19 different rehabs. I've let down everybody in my life so many times, saying, "This time I'm going to get clean. This time I'm going to do right." I don't even say it anymore. I don't even say it. I don't make promises that I won't go back to the joint, that I won't suddenly start tricking out the next chick that will talk to me. I'm not making any promises. But it's 9:30 in the morning, and I haven't gotten high today.

Esthetician

An esthetician is someone specializing in skin care — facials, hair removal, laser treatments, chemical peels, makeup, medical-spa treatments. The focus is usually on the face, but you can also do body treatments.

I primarily work with machines. I do a bunch of skin tightening and laser hair removal, for the full body. Not every esthetician gets in to skin tightening. You have to have a separate certification. I use something called a Venus Freeze, which is a radio frequency machine with magnetic pulses. On your face and neck it restores collagen, restores elasticity and tightens you, and gets rid of wrinkles. For your body it's a circumference reduction and cellulite reduction. It performs a type of lipolysis on the cellular level, so it's shrinking the fat in your cells. It looks kind of like a probe. It feels good — it's like a warm massage.

A big part of what I do is enhancing vanity and I know that. People want to look younger, feel younger, and I provide that. But I also have women come in with full beards and they're 25, and that can be horrible for them. I get rid of that, which is a really rewarding part of my job. They don't have to feel humiliated every day. Or I have acne clients come in and they've been on Accutane and dermatologists don't know what to do with them. We do acne treatments that really help their skin and they don't feel so miserable, they're not in pain. We help people and I feel good about that.

I went to esthetician school — nobody knows what that means so I just call it "skin school" — for four months. We studied the science — chemistry, anatomy, learning all the bones and the arteries, learning about the different layers of skin, skin analysis. Skin type is based on the size of the pores, and each skin type has to have a different treatment. And the other half is the practical part, learning how to do treatments and facials, learning how to work with clients. We practiced on creepy mannequin heads, then on each other. My hands were rigid and awkward at first, but the more I did it, the more it flowed, and my hands were like Gumby. That's a big part of it: the feel of your hands for the person. You want to make them comfortable. It's all about them. Facials are a luxury and you want to enhance that experience for them.

My school was very traditional but sometimes I worried about new-agey mumbo jumbo. One teacher told me she cured her friend's cancer with her brain. I complained to the director of the school. Skin school's not cheap! You want to make sure it's legit and that you're not getting duped.

Moving from mannequins and other students to real clients was terrifying at first. In skin school, it's people coming in straight off the street to get services cheaply, and it can be anybody. The school was in a nice neighborhood and I thought I'd be working with uppity people, but it was super rough. People would come in on drugs, or with crack-pipe burns on their mouths, or they wanted a bikini wax but hadn't showered in weeks. That kind of killed my sparkle a little bit! But in my job now, I don't have to worry about stuff like that.

A big part of what I do is provide a luxury experience for well-to-do women. Most of them are older. The skin tightening and facials, they feel good. A lot times it's partly therapy for these women. Some women come in to see me and I'm honest: I don't really need to do anything with them. But they don't care, they have the money, and it's just a time for them to treat themselves.

I really had no idea that this world existed. It's all about youth. People like what I do because it's non-invasive. They're avoiding all these facelifts. But people are willing to put in their money and invest their time into trying to stop the clock or reverse it. It's like working your way backwards. People are in it to win it — blood, sweat, and tears — they spend the money and they look amazing. It's totally worth it.

Do I ever feel ridiculous? I think at first it was like, "I can't believe I do this." Now, I feel good about it. These women could go to anybody. I'm really grateful that they choose to spend their time and money with me. It's actually a really big compliment because they could afford to go to Dallas or California or New York. I've gotten to know a lot of them. They give me presents for my birthday. They invite me to dinner. A lot of it is trying to relate to them and trying to understand where they're coming from. I don't really judge anymore and I think it's made me a nicer person.

It's all very intimate. I'm so close my eyelashes could hit their faces sometimes. And you want clients to feel good about themselves. I'm there to restore their confidence. A lot of people come in and they hate themselves and they're mean to their face. They feel down and out. We listen to music and talk about what's going on in their life. It does turn into a friendship. When I'm done, I always want to hug it out. Why not? We've been this close. It's basically like you're ending a date each time.

The laser hair removal is the least glamorous part of my job. Of course women want their bikinis done, but I was like a deer in headlights at first — you have to kind of get up in their personal space and it's an adjustment being right in front of vaginas. It's fine now, there's nothing that can really get to me. But I've had men come in wanting laser hair removal on their bikini line and no, I don't work with male genitalia. I mean, would I need to have the door open? Would I need to have a chaperone? A bucket of ice? If the wind blows ... how do you maintain bedside manner? I know myself. It's not because I'm immature, but maybe I am about that. You have to hold the skin taut, so just imagine. The area they want are their balls. Basically this guy wants me to manhandle his privates. My boss said, "Well if they're willing to pay $4,000..." But I'm not willing to do that. We can hire another esthetician just for the balls.

I was weirded out by some of the anti-aging stuff at first. But now it's my business — you kinda gotta dip in the Kool-Aid a little bit. I get lasered now. If I wasn't in this business, I wouldn't be able to afford any of this. I'm very fortunate to have it at my disposal so if I break out I can go get a laser and zap something. I don't do a lot of the injective oils and stuff like that but I'm definitely way more into my skin and what I'm putting on my skin and the types of products I'm using.

I can't even talk about the mirror time while I'm at work waiting for another client — I'm like "Oh god, my circles under my eyes are so bad, what am I going to do?" You can't help it. It's made me more self-conscious, which I didn't think would happen. It's definitely an adjustment. I try to keep myself in check. I have lines on my face, but I have to seriously take a step back and just remember that I'm young, it's all good. I don't need Botox all over my face. Sometimes I think I'm 60 because that's all I look at. It's a delusion.

I do the skin tightening to myself. Sometimes I'll do it before I go out of town for a wedding, like I need to perk my face up. I'll be honest, summer's been going on so I've been doing it a little more on my body. It's definitely addictive, because it's relaxing and feels so good, but it's also doing something for you. So yeah, I have to remind myself: I'm young, just go to the gym, don't just rely on all these machines. But it's tempting to do that. I keep bugging the other girl in the office: "You need to learn this machine so you can tighten up my butt." Stuff like that that's just crazy. It's like, OK, stop.

I'm from Little Rock, but this job has shown me a whole other world that I had no idea about. A lot of what I do every day is really about spoiling wealthy, older women. And you know what, why shouldn't they spoil themselves? They've earned it. I think they deserve it. I don't blame them. I don't know how I'm going to be when I'm their age. I don't know if I'll be scared or want to fight it as much as I can. A lot of people think aging is graceful. Well, that's great. But some people don't.

Recording engineer

I guess I don't really have an estimate on the number of people who come into my studio to record who don't even know how to tune their guitars, but it's way more than you'd think. Or if they more or less know how to tune their guitars, they'll often have a really lackadaisical approach to it, like, "Oh hey man, play me your E." Well, dude (and it's usually a dude) I hate to break it to you, but you don't have perfect pitch. Use a tuner. There's always one sitting around. Hell, everybody has an iPhone or an Android these days. There's absolutely no excuse for not using a tuner. I feel like a lot of the time, there's a certain level of being an amateur where it's like, you're trying to be too cool or something. "Nah, we'll get it man. Don't worry, we'll nail it." But in actuality, no, you probably won't nail it.

Beyond that, one of the more frustrating parts of my job is that bands will come in that haven't even practiced recently, much less played shows. Like they just will not have their shit even remotely together. The songs might not even be finished. I had a young guy come in recently, a songwriter. And his songs were fine. But he had asked his cousin's band to come in and back him up in the studio and none of these guys had even heard the songs. Not once.

And there's really only so much tweaking I can do while they jack around. I'll say, "OK, why don't you run through it a couple times and while you're doing that I'll be placing these mics." But eventually I'm just sitting there with my thumb up my ass like, "Well, OK guys, I'm rolling just in case we get that magic take. If y'all somehow miraculously do a pass of the entire song, I'll have it recorded." But so much of the time I'll just be sitting around and looking at my iPhone because they're still trying to learn the song in the studio. And it sucks for them because they're wasting money, whereas they could have gotten together for even one single practice session and put pen to paper to write down a skeleton of the song to look at while they're recording. That's not cheating, you know. I mean, if you have to write down, "verse, chorus, verse, louder on this part," whatever, that's fine. It'll save us time and you money. I very much encourage that kind of homework.

I should stress though that not all bands that come into my studio are that green. Many of them have their material down stone cold, and in a weird way, if they've got the songs down really solid, it frees them up to be more creative. They can think about a particular song rather than spending their time worrying about just getting through it, and I can concentrate more on how it sounds and not the fact that they're not playing it well.

But I will say this: of the bands that have their shit together, it's nearly always the groups of older dudes who have less time on their hands because they have kids and jobs and wives. And yet somehow they always seem to find a way to get their shit together. I don't know if that's just because they're better players and it comes more naturally to them, but I think it's really that they've rehearsed more. They've budgeted their time and they're not too busy hanging out at the bar trying to get laid. Or whatever, I don't know what kids do these days. Smoke reefer and play video games? It's just a matter of priorities, I suppose.

If I had to give some advice to bands getting ready to go into the studio, it'd be pretty simple: practice and patience. Practice your songs and have them down so tight you don't even have to think about them. And be patient with the engineer. You're in the studio to record an album, and we're in the studio trying to make your songs sound the best they possibly can. Our name might go on this thing too, and the last thing we want is for someone who knows what the hell they're doing to listen to it and go, "Whoa, I can't believe he let them get away with that." This isn't some ego battle or pissing contest. If me or some other engineer suggests something in a given scenario, it's because we've encountered it a million times and we know what works and what's going to sound good. After all, that's why you're paying us, right?

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