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Gorky's graveyard shift

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By the time I got to Gorky's Russian Cafe, its communist-leaning founder had sold out to a south bay capitalist named Fred. He hired me as a server, promoted me to cashier, then made me manager -- of the 1am-9am shift. From 2-6, I was the only staffer there at the corner of 8th and San Julian downtown.

People would come in after Jac Zinder's dance club, or a show at LACE, arty people cooler and older than me. Sometimes they'd spot our well-stocked international beer cooler and beg me to sell them a bottle after 2am, and occasionally I would. But mostly I followed Fred's rules, which included charging cops half price. The neighborhood was pretty rough then -- a block down was serious crack corner, and Fred thought greasing the gullets of the LAPD would get him preferential treatment. One cop realized the deal and made me re-ring him up: giving cops a discount was illegal, he told me. I felt bad; the food at Gorky's wasn't all that cheap, and most of his buddies just went along with their discount.

I only had to call the cops once. I was restocking the beer cooler, around 3am, when something made me turn around. Behind me was our emergency exit, a glass door. On the other side of the door was a huge guy with his pants around his knees, jerking off as he watched me. I ducked away and grabbed the phone, trying to stand where he couldn't see me. I told the LAPD what was happening, and they said they'd have someone out in about 20 minutes. "Thanks anyway," I said. "I don't think he's going to take that long."