Attention, Coat Captain: Never Mind My Hang-Ups

Whether it's the Matzah Ball, the Gefilte-Fish Gala, the Chanukah Hora or simply the "Jewish dance on Christmas," it's that time of year again.

Whatever Jews do for Christmas, we certainly know how to throw a dance party. I've been to my fair share over the years.

Experiences at these events are as varied as the people there. I've attended dances where I actually danced with nice girls, following up with a date or two. There were others where my only interaction with women involved drunk girls accidentally spilling drinks on my pants.

I could pontificate on and on about how to enjoy this year's dances with platitudes, ply you with hokey baloney and advice about not being afraid to talk to people, eschew both your inhibitions and expectations, etc., etc.

With Chanukah just hours away, in honor of the Festival of Lights, I'm going to shine some attention on the Jewish holiday-dance scene. My insider exposé comes from actually working the coat room at a real dance.

A Wacky Gig
A few years ago, I spent Christmas moving my friend Jonathan's furniture from his boyhood home in New Jersey to his marital home in Maryland.

Although I was in a relationship at the time and my girlfriend was out of the country, I found myself working the coat room at a Christmas-night gala. Jonathan knew the guy running the thing — "Charlie," a short guy with a short fuse who could have passed for Woody Allen with a patchwork beard and round glasses.

It was a big event at a club with a 1980s/MTV motif, complete with stale, smoky air. Proceeds from the admission allegedly went toward a "charity" — most likely, Charlie's pocket.

My official job was "Coat-Check Captain," a title Charlie gave me after grilling Jon about my credentials and reliability. I've gone through less vigorous employment-background checks.

I was joined at the Dutch-door coat check by "Manny" and "Artie," an oddball father-and-son team clad in dirty, torn denim and flannel, who looked more like roadies for Aerosmith than the nice Jewish guys they said they were.

Wedged between the ladies room and a bar, the coat check was a cramped storage room with racks for the coats and random junk, including mops, paint cans, a Hawaiian mask and the lower half of a mannequin.

Citing an "arrangement with Charlie," they quickly sought to establish themselves and just as quickly put up a tip jar.

After the initial trickle of early-birds — the usual suspects ranging from awkward to freaky — the line swelled. Manny's trite greetings and feeble flirtations with girls old enough to be his daughters or granddaughters did nothing to speed things up.

"I'll take your coat on one condition," Manny said as a look of confusion washed over a guy's face, "You promise me you'll have a good time."

It was a mantra repeated over and over. Manny had more compliments and banter for female clientele.

The confusion subsided with that first guy after Manny repeated his optimistic instructions twice. "I hope I have a fun time tonight. I will have a fun time tonight," the guy said. "You have a fun time tonight also because I'm going to have fun tonight."

"You're gonna meet a pretty girl tonight," said Manny.

"I'm gonna meet a pretty girl tonight," the guy repeated.

It was something to the effect of "Rainman meets Rainman."

Manny's welcome to the women — "All these pretty ladies, I don't know which way to look" — was usually met with polite smiles or rolling eyes. He could dish out compliments, even to girls who would not generate much male attention.

A couple of Israeli women in low-cut blouses and tight pants blew him off.

Some people wanted to check bags, purses and even a backpack. I'll never understand why someone would bring a backpack to a dance club.

I refused these requests, but that didn't stop a woman in a halter top from handing me her "bag of stuff." I said we couldn't accept the double-lined plastic grocery bag with a sweater, papers and other debris. But she thrust it at me anyway.

Then, a guy handed over a leather jacket easily weighing 25 pounds. "Do you have a bag of sand in the pockets?" I asked. The inquiry was lost on the gentleman, but the girls behind him chuckled.

As another woman gave me her coat, she noticed paint on the sleeve, accusing me and the club of the stain. "But you didn't even check your coat yet. There's no wet paint back here," I said.

She complained about it to Charlie, who later complained to me. By about 10 p.m., the club was crowded.

Charlie suddenly burst in, frazzled, yelling at me, "There's a huge line out there. You have to get the coats moving." He continued ranting, "We've got all these people, and they need to get into the party. They can't be waiting on line!"

"I know you're not yelling at me," I said. "I know you're not giving me a hard time about any of this." It was part-Jedi Mind Trick, part-menacing rhetoric.

When he just went on with more of the same, I said, "You see the conditions back here. You see how many people we have back here. What, do you think I'm deliberately holding this up?"

After nearly three hours taking coats and giving out numbers, I took a break, got a soda, and surveyed the club's two floors, and multiple dance floors and stages. There was the usual mix of wallflowers, scantily clad girls dancing, people eating and drinking, groups and loners.

It was like every other dance I'd ever attended, except I was only observing. Still, I did know where all the coats were.

Read about the dance story's conclusion on Dec. 28.

Roy S. Gutterman is a Syracuse, N.Y.-based writer. To contact him, visit:


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