17th Mar 2019
Armed with an arts degree, Nicole Flattery questioned what her future occupation would be. Should she pursue a steady job or opt for the life of a struggling artist? But it was a stint as a nightclub coat checker that solidified her life goal.
The first job I had when I finished college was working in the cloakroom of a nightclub. I had graduated with an arts degree and, at that time, had no specific ambitions.
I did it for the same reason I do many things, my own internal logic: I bet this will be funny.
One future was a secure financial, office route, the part of many of my friends; the other future was that of the struggling artist, which required energy, commitment and drive I didn’t possess.
However, in that tiny room off a dancefloor, I didn’t have a future. I didn’t care what the people who handed in their coats did or didn’t know about me, and that was, in its own strange way, a gift. The job had the effect of reminding me just how unimportant I was.
After four years of arts education, this was a small and useful thing. In that room, for a brief period, I opted out of all of it–artistic competitions, elitism, education. I was oblivious to the real world. Even the late hours I kept, usually until the early hours of the morning, made me feel like I existed outside of time itself.
There was the extra distancing of my particular role: nightclubs are primarily concerned with providing their patrons with a “good time”; they treat fun with absolute gravity. If you’re not having a good time, what exactly are you doing here? Mostly, in the space between hanging up the coats and handing them back, I read.
Every night, as I endured a horror soundtrack of pop hits while sitting in front of a tiny wooden desk that was supposed to function like barbed wire–either keeping people away from me, or me away from people, I was never sure which–I worked through a large number of books. I probably read more than I did in college, where, in a fit of contrariness, I had taken against reading since it was pushed so heavily upon us.
From my cubicle, I witnessed a lot of drunken heartbreak, which is useful for any writer. After my shift, I often found money on the floor. I paid the library fees I had to pay in order to graduate from university with money I found on the floor. The irony wasn’t lost on me. Most nights my boyfriend walked me home and asked, “What was it all about?” I hadn’t been conscripted it; it wasn’t army service. Why was I doing it?
The truth was I liked the noise, the warmth, the democracy of it–people were there to dance, idly abuse their health and make futile romantic endeavours. It was a microcosm of the human experience. It seemed uncomplicated and excitingly tawdry in comparison to what I saw as the disingenuous “sensitivity” of my degree.
Also, because I was young and stupid–I can’t stress this enough–incredibly stupid, I thought the job was sexy. My mistake.
By the end of my time there, I looked like an actor who had been dramatically aged up for a final scene in a film. The place had performed terrible CGI on me. It was time to go. I’m a writer now and I’ve a book, a solid object, to prove it. Whenever I go to a nightclub–and there is a cloakroom in nearly every nightclub, separated from club-goers, inevitably run by a woman, often young–I think of the time I spent in that small, cramped space: sitting, reading, waiting.
Nicole Flattery’s work has been published in the Stinging Fly, The White Review, The Dublin Review, The Irish Times, Winter Papers and the forthcoming Being Various: New Irish Short Stories edited by Lucy Caldwell (Faber & Faber, out May 2). Her story Track won the White Review Short Story Prize 2017. She lives in Galway and is currently working on her first novel. Twitter: @nicoleflattery
‘Eclipsed’ director Kate Canning told Jennifer McShane of the challenges...
For Mother's Day Lia Hynes sits down with Rosanna Davidson, whose exceptional journey into motherhood has given many hope.
Painting kitchen cabinets can be transformative and can be achieved relatively low-cost,...
The documentary Miss Americana has shown a different side to...