by Ella Karl
illustration by Laurenn McCubbin
I work part-time as a bartender at a club in San Francisco called Rickshaw Stop. It’s a 300+ capacity venue that brings in seriously sweaty club kids and indie rockers four nights a week. DJs regularly play a song on these nights whose chorus consists exclusively of the words “ass and pussy, ass and pussy,” set to a feverish, booty-grinding beat.
On many occasions, the San Francisco burlesque dance troupe The Devil-Ettes has thrown events at the Rickshaw, where they shimmy, slither and shake what God gave ’em, much to the audience’s delight. Today, however, is a story of a different kind. For one afternoon, the Rickshaw will be privy to Grated dancing from the naughty Devil-Ettes, who are hosting Pipsqueak-a-Go-Go, a swingin’ dance party for children and the parents who birthed them. As I walk into the Rickshaw at the barbaric hour of high noon, I am greeted by a manic Christopher, one of the venue’s owners,
“Snack bags! Juice boxes! Fruit! Make signs: one dollar!” he yelps, power-walking past me with a Trader Joe’s bag full of animal crackers.
My bartender friend Megan and I set about the task of transferring pretzel sticks, cookies, and dried fruit into little Ziploc baggies. We stock the bar, wash dishes and try to prepare for the onslaught of toddlers who will soon be invading our club. Upstairs, in the club’s balcony, vendors set up children’s onesies, hats and T-shirts featuring animals playing guitars, and other hipsterish children’s wear. Balloons are blown up, go-go tunes are spun, and the staff silently steels itself for the upcoming rush of activity from the under-10 crowd.
At 1:00, Christopher nods his head. “Doors open,” he commands.
And they descend upon us. Soon, the club’s dance floor is teeming with five-year-olds in mod dresses and go-go boots, one-year-olds crawling towards bouncey balls, and parents who are sporting Vans, Dickies work pants and are sporting multiple tattoos. This is not your average mommy/daddy group here. We have hit the main vein of Bay Area hipster parent gold.
For this party, Devil-Ettes founder Baby Doe, herself a mommy, proposed the brilliant idea of presenting parents with “beer bucks” upon entry to the club. At another children’s event we held at the Rickshaw, parental drinking was minimal. I have the feeling that there was a collective feeling of “Do I or don’t I?” among the parents, as they warily eyed the other mommies and daddies, determining who was most likely to go on a bender. However, the beer bucks give parents a free pass. We are, by presenting them with these dollar-off-alcoholic-drinks coupons, approving their midday parental drinking. And they come to the bar in droves, like sugar-zombied toddlers to an ice cream truck.
I mix a gin gimlet for a pretty, Rubenesque pink-haired mommy. As I turn to wash out my shaker, a high-pitched wailing emanates from beneath the bar. The mommy turns to me, her face the same color as her hair. “I’m going to be in trouble with my husband when she comes home smelling of gin,” she tells me, using napkins to mop the liquor off her daughter’s head.
A hot dog and ice cream vendor has set up shop outside the club, and he’s doing a quick business. Soon there are rainbow popsicles puddling on the dance floor and abandoned wieners littering the tables. The Devil-Ettes start their first dance lesson, teaching the kids the Swim and other essential ’60s moves. The kids are adorable as they enthusiastically twist to French pop. My friend Leanne shows up with two boys she nannies for occasionally. The boys turn up their noses at the child antics on the dance floor and retreat to the foosball table upstairs for the next several hours. Leanne heads to the bathroom, and returns to tell me that she’s overheard someone telling her child that it isn’t necessary for her to be completely naked while peeing. An argument ensues. The mother sighs and pleads, “Well, can you at least leave your socks on?” Thankfully, there aren’t many naked antics outside the restrooms.
Another mommy thunders down the stairs, holding a queasy looking toddler on her hip. “Um, my son just threw up upstairs; I’m sorry, I have to go,” she says. Her son’s green face twists into a sob as they leave the club.
“I’m on it,” I sigh, heading back to the kitchen to don a pair of latex gloves. I grab a bucket, disinfectant, and paper towels, and head upstairs to the balcony. Two displeased vendors point to the puke.
There have been many incidents of barfing at the Rickshaw, but this is my first opportunity to deal with it directly. Usually I’ve been able to pawn it off on one of the bouncers, since I’m too busy intoxicating customers to deal with the aftereffects of their drinking. Child throw-up, at least in this case, is remarkably inoffensive, seeming to consist primarily of apple juice. As I swab up the mess, a little girl on a sugar high rushes towards me. I hold up my arms in warning and she skids to a halt. “No no, honey, you don’t want to walk through here, it’s yucky,” I tell her, as she turns around and rushes downstairs. The other children and parents are remarkably sedate regarding the puke. They raise their eyebrows, walk around me, and plop down on the couch inches away from the barf. I guess throw up is par for the course in parent land.
I have a little bit of baby envy, and I had been curious as to how this event would affect this. And while I am perfectly happy to point out the cutest kids to bartender Megan, I find myself unaffected by the hordes of adorables running into my legs. I’m glad that I’m not the parent, and I don’t have to go home with these little demons at 5 p.m.
Christopher’s wife and their two kids show up. Their younger son, Jackson, is dressed in a cowboy outfit and the elder son, Max, in a fuzzy dinosaur costume. Max immediately sets up shop in front of the beer taps. Max and I are old pros at this: Earlier in the year, when I bartended another afternoon event, Max and I poured beer together for two hours. Today, he stands on a bar stool and pulls the tap forward as I hold a pint glass under the spigot. He’s gotten to be quite skilled at knowing when to push the tap back, and pours nearly every beer perfectly. Soon, he grows distracted by the chaos on the dance floor, and runs off into the mass of children.
The Devil-Ettes perform a few dance numbers, dressed in their go-go costumes, and later, in baby-doll nighties. The dads’ eyes bug out a little bit as they watch the G-rated (though still rather sexy) moves of the dance troupe.
Later, the Time-Outs, a garage rock kids’ band made up of dads, hit the stage. They perform a set of thrilling rock songs that cover fascinating subject matter including bath time equaling fun time and the desire to be an airplane. The kids love them, and I realize that if and when I become a parent, I will force my children to listen to cool kids’ music, and ban Raffi from the home at all costs.
At around four, the nap-deprived toddlers begin to seriously lose it. A horrific scene materializes along the periphery of the club, as children throw themselves onto the floor in tantrums. Parents haul their overstimulated charges into their arms and depart. One mom is overheard calling her son “the little bastard,” though in a loving tone. Christopher’s kids don’t esacape this phenomenon: Soon his wife Amana is requesting her husband’s help in securing their crying kids into car seats outside.
When the last child leaves the club, I sit down on a couch, utterly drained. What is it about 200 children in one spot that makes one feel as if all of her energy has been sucked out? I ponder this question as I wonder whether or not I’ll ever be able to face the reality of my own children. Am I patient enough? Will I really be able to handle all of that crying and pooping and puking? I shrug my shoulders and go upstairs to purchase the most depressing onesie I’ve ever seen from a vendor upstairs. The organic, nonbleached cotton garment has a picture of a sad penguin on its front, with the global-warming warning message beneath it: “Turn down the heat, to keep the ice under my feet!” I cackle to myself as I imagine my ballooning pregnant friend’s reaction to this item of clothing. She will most likely find it as humorously macabre as I do, which gives me hope, strangely enough. Most of the parents at this event seem to share my friend’s child-rearing philosophy: Well, the shit’s hitting the fan anyway, let’s procreate. And damn it, we’re going to drink a nice Pilsner while we’re at it.
Elka Karl is Kitchen Sink’s Revolution and Fiction editor.