Shots in the Hamptons
For two summers in the late 90’s, I earned money being mistaken for a shot girl. Although I did not sell shots, I was a “promotional model” for an importing company. I put the term in quotes because I never considered myself to be a model—I am not especially tall or beautiful. My job was to appear at bars and clubs and promote a certain German cordial, but we were usually greeted excitedly by male patrons as “shot girls!” Every weekend I would proudly slip into my black spandex bodysuit with a white stag’s head embroidered just below my limited cleavage, snap the buckle of the matching black fanny pack around my waist, and clip the trademark black and white contrasting suspenders over my shoulders. Prior to being given this uniform, I had associated suspenders with overweight, beer-guzzling men, but I guess if you put them on a young woman in high heels, they’re supposed to be sexy.
What is the difference between a promotional model and a shot girl? There were very strict rules. We could not drink or even handle the beloved cordial we were pushing, nor could we drink any other alcohol while we promoted it. Additionally, we were not allowed to accept tips. The bar or club would provide an actual shot girl to pour the dark, sticky substance into test tubes that were stuffed into orange foam bricks, and occasionally she, dressed in whatever attire suited her, would imbibe with the patrons. Our job was to lead her around the club, tell anyone who would listen how great the cordial was, and give out free merchandise. Everyone loved the free stuff, but few seemed to actually love the cordial. It was my job to be armed with t-shirts, painters’ caps, lanyards, blinking red lights, key chains, tattoos, and a Polaroid camera—all emblazoned with the cordial’s logo, and all intended to get people to try a shot. And it worked. Even though people would wrinkle their noses when they smelled it, and even though they weren’t required to drink any of the cordial in order to receive a promotional item, they almost always obliged.
The pay was good for a college graduate without a teaching job—twenty-five dollars an hour—but the one-hour drive on either end of a two-hour promotion quickly reduced that amount. When my supervisor (who was much more beautiful than any of the “models” that worked for her) called me to book promotions, I would take everything that was available. Most promotions were only two hours long, so that meant I would sometimes work four in a day: noon to 2:00 at Summers, standing under the bright hot sun and looking out over the ocean; 6:00 to 8:00 at John Scott’s, listening to live acoustic music and feeling the bay breeze; 9:00 to 11:00 at Snapper Creek, walking up and down two flights of stairs to three different bars in near darkness; and midnight to 2 AM at Beach Bar, where the music was loud and the crowd was packed in tight, but the cool night air of the patio was always a welcome reprieve. I was young and single and enjoyed every minute of it, although I was sometimes so exhausted I would have to nap in my car in the parking lot of the Hampton Bays Diner before driving home.
Prior to my cordial-pushing days, my Hamptons experience had been limited to prom night at Sears Bellows County Park, followed by a day at the ocean and a gigantic bowl of peel-and-eat shrimp at Dockers the next day. Driving to the various venues for the promotions gave me a better glimpse of what the Hamptons had to offer. I usually found the people at the Hamptons promotions to be more laid back, fun, and engaging. This was in contrast to dimly lit but extremely loud and crowded clubs in Island Park where wife-beater tees and glow sticks under the tongue were a regular sighting, and the club-goers often danced alone in a seemingly drug-induced trance. (This was my overall impression, but sometimes I felt the same way at CPI.) These club-goers were not interested in hearing about the secret blend of herbs and spices found in the cordial, or the fact that Germans drank it warm after a meal to settle their stomachs.
Apparently I did a good job. I may not have been the hottest promotional model, but I always showed up on time with a smile and followed the rules outlined by the company. My reward: I was eventually asked to start doing premium French vodka promotions as well. These were the crème de la crème of promotions. I was able to trade in my black and white suspenders for a black cocktail dress and a blue silk scarf with white geese flying across it. Instead of talking about the medicinal virtues of the cordial, I informed people of very important facts about the French vodka—how it was filtered through champagne limestone, and the water used to make it came from some fancy spring in France. Even the promotional merchandise associated with the French vodka had an air of superiority to it—money clips and golf balls and blue silk neckties. This was a step up in the world of liquor promotions, so I felt my lifestyle had to reflect this as well. Instead of driving back and forth to the North Shore where I lived, I joined a share house in Westhampton Beach.
Of course, the vodka promotions also enabled me to see the other side of the Hamptons. One Saturday evening I was describing the wonders of the regal French vodka at a Gin Lane estate gala where Michael Bolton was a guest. All of our merchandise was set up in a sunroom with views of gardens on two sides; the third side, which faced the back yard, gave us a glimpse into the covered tent where the guests were seated at round tables with floral centerpieces grander than any wedding I had attended. My supervisor told me to make sure I took one of the gift baskets on the way out, but my shift was over well before the party, and as I walked onto the quiet front lawn where these enormous gift baskets were staged under white tents of their own, I felt like a thief taking one. After all, I wasn’t a guest, and no one that belonged at the estate was there to encourage me to help myself. I walked to my car empty-handed, and a few hours later I was back in my suspenders, pushing my way through crowds of drunken youth at Beach Bar.
By far the most entertaining activity during a promotion was taking Polaroid snapshots. Even the Polaroid camera strapped around my neck screamed the German cordial with its orange stickers and stag logo. This was before the cell phone and the selfie, so partiers loved the concrete souvenir of the good time they’d been having. Unfortunately, the fun had to come to an end. After two summers of driving all over the Island in my beloved black spandex, my car trunk overtaken with cardboard boxes full of point of sale merchandise, I finally found a full-time job and the promotions just became an exhausting responsibility. During the second year of my employment, the company had introduced report cards where we were graded with “+” and “-” in nine or so different categories. All of mine were “+” except: “Has maintained appearance from original date of hire.” It was a nice way of letting me know that I was getting too fat.
As it turned out, I was having a tough time getting rid of the extra five pounds I’d gained, and I found that I wasn’t promoting as vigorously. One of my last promotions was at Claudio’s Clam Bar, where I always had a good time. It was a beautiful breezy night on their deck over the bay. Instead of making my way through the crowd like I usually did, I stayed with a group of bikers that were especially good-humored and covered them with temporary tattoos. Apparently it was time for me to hang up the suspenders.