My exotic college jobs

And why I know how to get out of a straitjacket


My expenses at university were paid via a variety of part-time jobs. I worked at a Greenwich Village pharmacy, for example, and can tell you lots of stories about selling nose spray to celebrities.

One superstar singer came in wearing hot-pink spandex pants, a zebra-striped jacket and an absolutely enormous hairdo - plus sunglasses so he wouldn't be recognized. He was a nose-spray regular.

Another summer I worked for the New York City Landmarks Commission, following up on a new law that required landlords to secure gargoyles or any other masonry on their buildings.

The law had been passed after a Columbia University student was hit in the head on graduation day by a falling Beaux Arts brick.





My unsurprising conclusion: building owners were just sawing off the gargoyles, so they didn't have to worry about fixing them and they didn't have to worry about lawsuits.

This left behind the sort of smooth, functional buildings Ayn Rand would have been proud of, but it made the Landmarks Commission furious.

After that, I parlayed my celebrity experience into a few months in the mail room of a teen magazine called Star Hits, the American version of a British magazine called Smash Hits.

My job was to sort through the letters girls wrote to 1980s pop stars like Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, passionate letters decorated with ink flowers and hearts and sometimes stickers of kittens. Usually they never made it farther than a large pile in the corner of the Star Hits office.

When that ended, I began my very best college job, as a silent figure behind a plate-glass window in a nightclub.



Area was one of the great New York nightclubs of the 1980s, famous for entirely changing its theme and decor once a month.

For the "Sports" theme a giant pool was opened in the middle of the dance floor, complete with swimmers doing endless laps as the disco music pumped.

For the "Elements" theme - the elements being wind, fire, water, and earth - a man hung over a live flame all night. Human beings were an essential part of the decoration.

My first appearance at Area was the "Cars" theme. My college roommate knew the owners, and they needed two people to wear race driver outfits and helmets and sit behind a window playing Mille Bornes all evening.

It was twenty bucks an hour, very good money at the time.


Me in my straightjacket. Apparently people found this setup disturbing, so I was taken out of the diorama after a while and made a cocktail waitress instead.


After that, I became a regular. For the "Suburbia" theme, I played a suburban housewife with curlers in my hair, ironing dutifully as patrons walked past my window on their way into the club.

When they left, later in the evening, I was sitting alone in a double bed, still wearing my curlers, reading a paperback copy of How to Make Love to a Man.

In "Elements" I portrayed 'Earth,' sitting all night in a sandbox on the dance floor (the drained swimming pool, in fact), making giant sand sculptures.

And for "Confinement" I sat in a padded room for the entire evening and wore a straitjacket. Hint: If you ever want or need to get out of a straightjacket, it's all in the shoulders.



Area was enormously popular - people used to wait in giant crowds outside the front door, where the doorman would pick out the lucky ones with the wave of a finger.

"You can come in," he'd say, "and you and you, and you can come in, but leave your girlfriend outside. And you over there - you can come in if you take off that hat."

Another student who worked at a chic clothing store uptown told me that people would come in and say, "I want something that will get me into Area."

But as the summer of 1985 approached, it was time to move on to the next phase of my exciting college employment career, which was a summer internship at the Wall Street Journal Europe in Brussels.

I was supposed to be a copy editor trainee, and made plenty of non-friends by rewriting all the senior reporters' stories the way I thought they should be written.



On graduation day in 1986, in front of Joe Weinstein residence hall, built in 1963.


When I returned to New York, Area had lost its cachet, and by early 1987 it had closed.

Occasionally, when I walk by some 21-year-old smoking a clove cigarette, I'm taken back to my college nightclubbing days in New York, wearing black clothes and bright makeup at the Peppermint Lounge, the Pyramid Club and Danceteria.

Leaving the house in the evening, I would check to make sure I had lipstick, money, and keys - which at the time was all I needed in life.

In June 1986, I graduated from New York University. As I left the Joe Weinstein dormitory, I wrote on the top of the concrete window frame, "Yes, Xander Mellish actually lived here."

If the student living there now finds it, I wonder what she'd think. Maybe she'll Google me, and then she'll find this site.


Next: How I was wrong about the Berlin Wall.

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