Walking into Hooters on 56th Street is like stepping into a magical drive-through carwash where the water has been replaced by fried food and the surly attendants by big-breasted women wearing orange leggings. It's not an experience that leaves one feeling clean in anyway. We headed up there yesterday to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the restaurant and the unveiling of the 2008 calendar but mostly because we'd never been. Fat white men with cameras surrounded the women. Our photographer Nikola Tamindzic, who's on Atkins but doesn't need to be, was there to cast his male gaze as well.
Evidently they hadn't decided to shut the entire restaurant for the party so regular diners, a bit baffled, looked on as the hullaballoo happened on the red carpet. Michelle Nunes, the cover girl, was signing a calendar for someone she didn't know. His name was, obviously, Mario.
"Look at this," she squealed, "I signed it, 'Dear Mario, Please let me be your Luigi. XOXO Michelle." If it was anyone's night, it was Michelle's. She's was a waitress at the Las Vegas Hooters but has since moved to Los Angeles, where she wants to pursue a career as an actress. "This is my third year in the calendar. I started off with a small picture, then split the back cover with another girl, finally made it to Ms. February and now I'm on the cover. I've made it. I'm at the very top of my profession." Michelle, you are the best Hooters waitress there is.
Who we were really interested in, though, weren't the made-up women outside but the women made to wear the supremely unflattering get up of white socks, white New Balance sneakers, high-waisted jogging shorts, orangey leggings and a Hooters shirt. That is to say, the work-a-day waitresses. Taken as a whole, they're not very good looking. They do have large boobs though which I think has something to do with why they were hired.
One woman we talked to, who was actually beautiful in a grass-fed American way, was Shanell. She's a singer in a group called Neveah which is, as she informed us, "Heaven spelled backwards." How does Shanell like working at Hooters? "it's fun," she said. But after a second of consideration, her smile wilted. "It's all right." And later in the conversation: "It's strange."
Soon Shanell was swept away from us by a man who wanted a Sam Adams. The men, and it was mostly men, were the sort of big husky guys who kept their cellphones in holsters around their waists, wore cheap polyester pants, and fundamentally saw nothing wrong with treating women as pieces of meat. From the way they looked at the waitresses, it was clear that they couldn't tell the difference between the human being in front of them and the baseball game flashing on a screen nearby. Just two things to look at. There were a couple of William Morris guys there. One of them, allegedly named Kenny Kamilo, shook our hand and as he introduced himself, sent a jet of ranch dressing and particles of fried dough onto our clothes. He didn't notice.
At another table, a waitress had brought around a tray of fried shrimp. A man opened his mouth like a baby robin, expecting her to place a shrimp in it. And she did! His friend, a magician named Mark Stone (Magic for All Occasions, his business card read) rushed over. His mouth widened and he tilted his head skyward, looking like a devout worshiper or just a man eager to be fed fried food by a rundown woman with big boobs and a bad job.