As if it wasn’t unpleasant enough, this recession comes with an info glut, all this economic data purporting to answer a simple question: Are things getting better? The answer is rarely straightforward. The numbers aren’t just confusing. They seem to be measuring some other planet.
In New York, we have our own economic indicators, often based on the degree to which people are being thwarted by the lack of opportunity. An old standby is the Overeducated Cabbie Index. The Squeegee Man Apparition Index is another good one. There’s also the Speed at Which Contractors Return Calls Index: within 24 hours, you’re in a recession; if they call you without prompting, that’s a depression.
The indicator I prefer is the Hot Waitress Index: The hotter the waitresses, the weaker the economy. In flush times, there is a robust market for hotness. Selling everything from condos to premium vodka is enhanced by proximity to pretty young people (of both sexes) who get paid for providing this service. That leaves more-punishing work, like waiting tables, to those with less striking genetic gifts. But not anymore.
A waitress at one Lower East Side club described to me what happened there: “They slowly let the boys go, then the less attractive girls, and then these hot girls appeared out of nowhere. All in the hope of bringing in more business. The managers even admitted it. These hot girls that once thrived on the generosity of their friends in the scene for hookups—hosting events, marketing brands, modeling—are now hunting for work.” A Soho restaurateur I know recently received applications from “a couple of classic Eastern European fembots. Once upon a time, these ladies must’ve made $1,500 a night lap dancing. At my place, they’re not going to make that in a week.”
He didn’t hire them, though. Not every restaurant craves stripper-level pulchritude in their serving ranks. Many prefer competence. Rare indeed is the waitress who is so smoking that customers don’t mind when she drops a glass of Cabernet into their laps. But obviously hotness can provide an edge. Being cheerfully attended to by people who might otherwise look right through you is part of the dining experience.
To be actually useful, of course, the Hot Waitress Index must be a leading indicator, and there is good reason to believe that it is. Employment is generally thought to lag behind economic recovery, which is to say that jobless rates remain elevated, and even climb, after a recession has technically ended. But hotness occupies a privileged place in the employment picture. As a commodity that’s fairly cheap, historically effective as a marketing tool, and available on a freelance basis, hotness will likely be back in demand long before your average Michigan autoworker is. Or the rest of us, for that matter.
Until then, glance at your server and hope for the worst. The other night, I had a waitress who looked like Winona Ryder in her Heathers heyday. Winona Jr. was lovely, and she didn’t spill a thing on me. But I would’ve been far happier if she’d been a bald dude with a nose ring.