It is 11:37 a.m. in the Hooters parking lot, and the festivities have already begun. Beneath a be-Hootered banner, two men play "Crocodile Rock" on dueling pianos. The pianos, however, are not pianos. Instead, two electric keyboards have been implanted in black piano-shaped boxes. If dueling pianos can be said to become "more depressing," this has occurred. To the right of the dueling electric piano-shaped boxes is a rectangular fenced-in pen, in which 50 or so Hooters girls are milling about in their traditional orange baby-shorts and white Skechers and diarrhea- colored panty hose. Close quarters. It is hot outside. The air smells of manure.
This is no ordinary Hooters franchise—it is a Hooters casino, one of only three in the known world1 (if a Hooters restaurant can be said to become "more depressing," this has occurred).2 Prior to its Hooterizing, the space already housed a casino. That casino was called Rascals. Rascals is dead now. Hooters lives. We have come to the grand opening of the Hooters of South Park—a semi-industrial, working-class neighborhood south of Seattle, most recently famous for a horrific murder—to witness a fat man cut a symbolic ribbon with a pair of oversize novelty scissors. Also, we will eat wings.
Also, die a little inside.
I know Hooters is nothing new. I'm sure feminists have been pitching fits about it since the first one opened in Buttfuck, Florida, in 1983. But Hooters is new to me. I managed to avoid Hooters for the first 27 years of my life—much as I avoided strip clubs and other social transactions geared toward the male boner—and I was not, I discovered, quite ready for Hooters.
After a few minutes, a handler lets some of the Hooters girls out of their pen, and they receive Hula- hoops. We (journalists, family members, Rascals regulars in mourning) sit in folding chairs and watch as the girls gyrate to "Don't Stop Believin'" while the dueling pianists offer commentary on their bodies and gyrations. "Not only do they do that," one of the pianists leers, "later, they will serve you all food." He transitions seamlessly into "Summer of '69." The girls wiggle and bounce in the manure-scented parking lot. "Those were the best days of my life..." The aforementioned fat man comes out and makes a speech about how working at Hooters is "empowering."3 I sigh forever.
We enter the restaurant,4 seat ourselves in a booth, and meet our waitress, a truly sweet young lady who, in the spirit of Hooters Family Restaurants, I'm going to go ahead and call Professor Boobies. She is nervous. Clearly, she has been instructed to flirt with us. "So have you all eaten at Hooters restaurants before?" Professor Boobies asks, looking around the table expectantly. "Yes."5 "Yes." "Yes." "No." I have not. I am the only one. "Oooooooo!" she peeps. "Hooters viiiiiiirgin!" I prepare to lose my Hooters virginity. I hope Hooters will use a condom. "It's nice outside, huh?" Professor Boobies asks. "Yeah, it's sunny!" we reply. "And in September!" "It's almost October," I remind her. "HALLOWEEEEEN!" she cries, clapping her hands.
On the table are several copies of the September/October issue of Hooters: The Magazine, Special 2009 Swimsuit Spectacular Issue. The Hooters magazine breaks down as follows: 60 percent titties (faux), 20 percent sports, 14 percent idiotic bullshit, 1 percent Ted Nugent, and 5 percent extra titties (because, titties!). The back page is an editorial called "A Separate Set of Rules!" by one I. J. Rosenberg, who owns a "sports marketing company" in Atlanta. I. J. Rosenberg believes that celebrities, or "'special' people," get special treatment, that they live by "a separate set of rules," and that this double standard has led our country into a "financial and moral crisis." I. J. Rosenberg cites many damning instances of celebrities who "never really paid the price," including Bill Clinton ("Clinton lied to me, to you, and to the rest of the American people"), Ted Kennedy ("Is he still a senator? He's the epitome of 'never goes away'"—oops!), and O. J. Simpson ("For 12 years after being acquitted for the murder of his ex-wife, The Juice walked the streets"). I. J. Rosenberg demands justice. Exclamation point!
Of particular note in Hooters: The Magazine is the "JOKES" page, which offers a quip about the terror of rectal thermometers (that's like gay buttsex, you know!); the story of "Joan, the rather well-proportioned secretary" who didn't realize she was lying naked on a skylight; a handful of old-timey blond jokes; and a humorous exchange between two hunters: "Hey, you almost hit my wife." "Terribly sorry. Have a shot at mine, over there."
Periodically, waitresses come by and ask if we want them to sign our magazines. "Yes?" we reply. "I'll sign on the page number of how old I am," says Professor Boobies, "and don't say 16!" Um, I wasn't going to? The owner of the franchise, a remarkably uncharismatic man in an orange tie, comes by to say hello. I shake his hand much harder than is necessary. "Our motto is: Every day we throw a party and you're invited," he tells us, distracted (by boobies?). "We're committed to the growth of entertainment and excitement in the Seattle area." Eye contact is minimal.6
Finally, wings arrive. "Let me guess: Are you guys a spicy table or a not-spicy table?" Professor Boobies asks. We wait for her to guess. She doesn't. "Spicy?" we say. "I knew it!" (Then why didn't you guess?) The wings are deep-fried, which I did not expect. Grease runs down my chin. Professor Boobies' acrylic nails make it difficult for her to open the small, prepackaged tub of ranch dressing. One nail accidentally pierces the foil, and she has to go in the back for help. I dip the wing in the ranch. I feel fat and condescending.
In modern times, because of "society" and "women's rights," it's not acceptable to be (publicly) a person who likes their women dumb, subservient, seminude, and kept in a pen. A lady isn't just boobs with legs, an animated sexy mannequin that brings you food, and you cannot shoot a lady in the face just because she nags or won't give you a mouth-hug on your johnson (see: "JOKES" section, above). Anymore. We did that already (see: caveman times through 1975). Except at Hooooooters! Hooters is like a misogyny theme park, where intellectual curiosity is kept to a minimum (see: I. J. Rosenberg), all the women are girls, all the girls who weren't born "empowered" have cut open their chests and stuck plastic bags of goo in there and sewn 'em up again in the name of making money and making men happy, and no one's shaming you into treating them like humans with brain-parts. You're paying for the privilege, after all. They have the right to vote, after all (going on 100 years now! Girl power!). Jesus Christ. I'm raising my daughters to be ugly.
It's like—a friend pointed out later—if someone opened a restaurant called Niggers, and the all-black waitstaff dressed like slaves and step 'n' fetched you platters of watermelon, and when it was your birthday they were all, "Jump-down-turn-around-pick-a-bale-of-cotton!" and brought you a cake in the shape of a bale of cotton. And racists could go! And indulge their desire to be publicly racist under the guise of a fun-loving theme restaurant! Niggers! It's all in fun. It really is like that.7
Eventually, when we can eat no more curly fries, the Hooters girls, under the watchful eye of orange-tie-man, clap their hands and sing a loud song. It is last call. Lunch is over. Some of the Hooters girls seem happy; some don't. It's a job. They get to make some money. They are pretty. Some of them have fake hair. Maybe they want more than Hooters; maybe they don't. Maybe it's just a restaurant. We step outside into the bright parking lot, hot in September. I'm glad I'm not wearing panty hose. It smells like manure.
by Paul Constant
2. Let's visit with the devil's advocate for a minute. Every job waiting tables sucks. How is a job waiting tables at, say, the Cheesecake Factory any better? You have to wear a silly, impractical outfit (white jeans? In a kitchen?). You may not be objectified as openly, but you still flirt for tips. And how about the poor, wretched human beings at Cold Stone Creamery or Johnny Rockets, forced to sing for their tips while wearing silly outfits? Is that somehow okay because it's not sexual? And Hooters waitresses probably make better tips. One could argue that Hooters doesn't create a problem, it just capitalizes on it. We are America. We have capitalized on our problems from the very beginning. At least some women are making more money off of it now, right? Right?
3. The fat man also makes a speech about how he will protect the Hooters brand. It's unclear exactly what he's going to protect Hooters from—socialism?—but he made that vow, in front of journalists and family members and the all-encompassing odor of shit. So if something awful happens to the Hooters brand because of the Hooters casino in South Park, we all will know who has failed in his sacred calling.
4. To get into the restaurant, we have to walk through a gauntlet of cheering Hooters girls. A reporter for some local publication or other, a large, slovenly, doofy guy with a goatee, holds up his hands and throws his chin in the air pridefully, accepting the applause like some loose-fit-khaki-wearing potentate returning home from JCPenney with a great bounty.
5. My previous trip to Hooters: On a business trip to Washington, D.C., three middle-aged ladies thought it would be hee-larious to drag their bookish young employee to a Hooters for a business lunch. I ate a pale, gamy chicken sandwich, watched a Hooters waitress try to teach an awestruck 3-year-old boy how to Hula-hoop (she was probably more successful at creating a future panty-hose fetishist), and puked my lunch back out on the side of NPR's headquarters during the walk back.
6. If you are embarrassed to be in a Hooters and you are a straight man, eye contact is incredibly problematic. You don't want to just stare the waitress in the eye, because that seems to somehow proclaim "I'm not staring at your tits" in a very blatant way. So you just have to look at the tabletop, or some neon orange thing or another, or your glistening food.
7. Okay, it's not quite like that. But here's the most problematic thing about the Hooters brand: its positioning as a family restaurant, built on family values. They encourage people to bring their kids. They sell child-size Hooters T-shirts (one kid's T-shirt has handprints all over it, and it reads "Hooters Girls Can't Keep Their Hands Off Me") and even Hooters bibs and onesies for infants. In this way, it is more dishonest than, say, strip clubs or porn, which are clearly for adults. Hooters avoids that kind of stigma in part thanks to regular and publicized charitable donations—today's restaurant opening trumpeted a gift to a local cystic fibrosis foundation and featured a heartfelt, and incredibly awkward, speech about the horrible disease by the relative of a CF sufferer.