Working at The Catalyst didn’t start out as a job.
Not a real one anyways.
I was a kid.
If I scraped the gum from the undersides of the tables, I could keep any change that I found under the desk in the office.
If I rolled all of the quarters I could keep what ever was left loose at the end.
It slowly got more specific, more 'job-like'. I graduated to a flat $10 if I came in on Saturday mornings and washed and folded all the rags, did whatever my mom or my grandpa or my sister or my aunt or whoever else was there told me to do without getting in the way.
I could have some of the tips at the end of the shift if I helped with the busing and the dishes.
I think I found myself on the payroll for the first time when I was 14 years old, coming in with my mom on the weekends for the breakfast rush.
My sister left for college when I was 15, which opened up the most coveted coat check job. The coat check girl (up to that point my sister) didn’t get paid directly by the club, but got to keep all of the earnings she brought in, plus tips. For a sell out show this could easily mean coming home with $200 cash in my pocket, on Halloween or New Year’s Eve? You might come home with $350 (most nights I came home with something closer to $60-$70, but that was still nothing to snot at, especially in high school).
I worked most Friday and Saturday nights, plus any weeknights when there were big shows booked. On the weekends, I’d get off at 1:30 or 2 in the morning. My uncle Ben would drive me home after he finished closing down the bar, and after we had all counted out our money. We’d stop at Denny’s sometimes, and not get home till well after 3.
I still worked in the restaurant too. Friday happy hour. Thursday night showcase. Saturday morning breakfast. My mom would use me to fill in gaps in her schedule, when her college student waitresses were gone for spring break or out of town or too flaky to count on. For the bulk of my senior year she didn’t have a Tuesday person, and I went to work instead of school.
When I wasn't working, I was still there, bugging my mom while she counted the money, while she printed tickets, while she made the schedule, while she and my grandpa met with the booking agent. At night going to the shows, getting my friends in, behaving like a spoiled brat, smoking pot backstage, chatting with the cooks, visiting with friends.
Once I moved away for college, my mom would still schedule me to work weekends when I’d be in town. Sometimes she’d ask me to come home for a particular weekend because she was going to need an extra person on the counter for Saturday’s show. Sometimes I'd come home with friends just to see whichever big show.
She used to call me to ask if I’d heard of this or that group, if my friends had, how much they could sell tickets for, who would go.
We all worked there. Our friends all worked there. Our social circles all focused around The Catalyst. There was no such thing as a day or a night spent downtown without stopping by the office for a chat or a snack or a pee.
My mom ran the restaurant. My uncle ran the bar. My sister waitressed. My brother cooked. My aunt baked.
My grandfather, of course, was the king of it all. There every morning, staying well into every night, baking, cooking, busing, tending bar, unclogging toilets. One thing you can say about my grandpa, he would never tell one of his employees to do a job that he wasn't willing to do himself.
In 2003 my grandfather sold The Catalyst.
We all learned to disengage from that chunk of our lives. Home base downtown shifted from the office there to his office around the corner. My grandpa stopped calling it The Joint, shifted from business owner to landlord.
We didn’t hang out there. We didn’t stop in to check out the shows. No more wandering backstage or through the kitchen or back up behind the lighting booth. As a business it’s shifted and changed. Most of the people from ‘the old days’ have picked up and moved on. No more garden room and no more art and no more street-level windows swung open to let in the air.
It’s still The Catalyst but it’s not the same.
The place my grandfather built, where I grew up, where so many of my friends grew up, is just a memory inside the walls.