Notes From the Frontline: Bartender Edition

Tuesday nights I’m bartending in a basement dive/lounge that plays primarily metal and hard rock. It’s a long shift and a late night crowd; drinks are cheap, other substances are most likely imbibed on the sly. Much of the clientele lives on the edge, if you know what I mean, and at the moment it’s sort of an experiment in how much I can take for the purpose of new/old adventure.

This week a man came in appearing possibly drunk, and I was prepared to refuse him. He was small, of some kind of Latin descent, wearing a mustache and a baseball cap. I’m going to call him Mario for the purposes of this blog, as I can’t remember what his real name was and he sort of looked like one of the Mario Brothers. When he sat down and ordered a drink he spoke articulately and pulled out a wad of cash, so I amended my first assessment and poured him a beer. He thanked me, tipped, and sat happily nursing the beer and singing. He knew all the words to practically every song DJ Mr. Tim threw on, and when Patti Smith’s “Rock and Roll Nigger” came on, he sang along cheerily and shouted to me, “This song is a sign! It’s a sign! I’m an asshole!”

Okay, I’ll bite. I asked why, and he told me that an hour earlier he had been woken up with a shove in Tompkins Square Park by some sort of park official, who called him a drunk and told him to get out. He said that the brusque treatment and name-calling made him so mad that he called the man a nigger. The man then closed the gate between them, and once it was safely shut, spit a big loogie in Mario’s eye. He stated, “It was gross, I had to wipe my eye, but I deserved it! It was a shitty thing for me to say! What do you think the lesson is for me?”

I said, “The lesson is to not use the n word, and to not get so drunk that you pass out in the park. You got lucky that you didn’t get hurt.” He mulled that over for a few seconds and threw his hands up and said, “Ah…maybe…” and went back to singing.

I liked him. He was smarter than he appeared on first sight, his energy was friendly, he wasn’t needy for my attention, he pulled his money out as soon as he ordered. He stayed there, drinking and singing along with the songs for some time. He spent a lot of money on shots of whiskey and beer, and I monitored him to see if he was getting too drunk but he seemed to be one of those people that could just go until they collapsed. Finally, to be on the safe side, I told him no more shots. He was fine with that and stuck to singing and holding on to his beer.

Soon after a young guy came in wearing a plaid shirt and a backpack, short hair, looking sort of clean cut nerd-indie. He seemed friendly enough and he sat next to my drunk friend. I think his name was Dave. So Dave said, after backpack removal and PBR purchase, “God, I love this place! But I miss the sign that used to be over the register. I’m going to make them a new one. That’s how long I’ve been coming here! Since that sign was there. Since I moved to New York!”

Okay, I’ll bite… “How long have you been coming here?” He said, very proudly, “Three years!”

Sigh…All right, it’s not a contest to see who is the most ancient and has lived in the East Village the longest. And I like a lot of the new kids I have gotten to know, and he could be awesome and there was no reason to comment upon the flimsy quality of his neighborhood “cred’ at that juncture. I smiled and listened as he listed the bars that he frequents in the neighborhood, and he mentioned Blackbird, where I also work, and which is owned by friends and my fairly famous ex-boyfriend, whose name people love to drop. 

I said, “I work there.” And he said, “Oh, I know X, Y, Z and [famous ex-boyfriend] and he is always giving out drinks to the girls, but he never gives ME a free drink and oh I know him so well, but he’s all about the girls…” And I think, ooh, better nip this in the bud before he starts saying something really shitty, because I have a rule in which only I am allowed to publicly slag the men in my life. So I stopped him before he got too far and said, “He’s my ex.” 

And the guy got very excited that we know the same people and he stopped gearing up to shit talk and in return I gave him a break and didn’t tell him that there’s a professional reason that bar-owners give an attractive girl a free drink rather than his lame, nursing a $3 can of beer for an hour and a half, just got here three years ago, backpack wearing in a bar, not really dolling up the joint or bringing in any revenue ass.

I got distracted by other customers and the night rolled on, until a few minutes later Dave got up from his seat next to Mario, and moved to the other end of the bar. He said to me and the customer next to him, “That guy at the end of the bar is trying to pick a fight with me. I will fucking kill that guy. I will kick his ass!”

Mmm hmm… I walked down to Mario’s end, and asked, “What’s going on? Are you picking fights now? Do I have to kick you out?” And he said, “No! I promise I wasn’t! I was asking him a question, but he didn’t understand me! I was trying to explain…” I said, “All right. Just be careful. He thinks you’re trying to fight with him and you know you’re kind of drunk and I don’t want any drama.” 

He agreed. But he thought he had to make amends, so he got up and walked down to Dave the neighborhood veteran and tough guy, and apologized, very sincerely. But Dave, instead of accepting the apology decently, just kept repeating, “GO DRINK YOUR BEER.” Like he owned the place, and like Mario was a moron, which he was not. I found this all very irritating, but it wasn’t my fight so I let it go.

And luckily, Mario was not a violent man, and he quickly gave up and went back down to the other end of the bar. He called me over and asked, “Are we all right?”, meaning me and him. I said, “Yes. Of course. I’m not going to give you any more booze but you and I are cool, and I appreciate that you tried to apologize.”

Now, while this magic is unfolding, one of the regulars, who is a rock and roll dude and very sweet, but loses all filter about halfway through each night, said, “I read your blog. It was decent. You’re a pretty good writer.” I said “Thank you.” I should add before continuing that this regular regularly mentions the fact that I am older than he is, not in a directly critical way, more in a generational reference way. But he likes to mention it A LOT. You know, that I’m OLDER.

He went on, “But in your bio it says you’re a rock wife.”

I said, “I am.”

“But you’re not married. That was your boyfriend, right?” Drew had stopped in to say hi earlier during this never-ending good time that is my Tuesday night right now.

I said, “We’ve been together for 9 years, we both consider ourselves married at this point.”

He rolled that over in his brain for a moment, but couldn’t accept it. “But you’re not legally MARRIED. So you’re not a rock WIFE, you’re a rock GIRLFRIEND.” Sigh…check my phone, 2:00 am, two more hours to go. He goes on…

“So let me ask you this. How many years younger than you is he?”

“He’s X years younger than me.”

“Oooohhh! So you’re a sugar mama!” 

Now my blood is starting to simmer. I’m tired. It’s 2:00 am, I’ve been opening cans of beer since 8:00, I’ve got two more hours of babysitting drunks and yes, I KNOW I’m OLDER THAN YOU. I want to snap sarcastically, “Yes, dear, you caught me. This desperate cougar has to PAY some guy to be my boyfriend, so thank you for always tipping on those Budweisers.” But I take a breath and say, “Actually, no. We support each other equally, although he probably pays more dinner tabs than I do.” 

And he says… “Oh! That’s really nice, that doesn’t happen too often with age differences!”

At this moment, Dave, who has finally pulled out the big three bills for his second PBR of the night, points at Mario, who is sort of blearily looking in our direction, and says, “That fucking guy is staring at me. I will break his kneecaps, I will fucking kill him.”

I’d had enough. I snapped, “Really? Are you gonna bust his kneecaps? Are you gonna walk over there in your little plaid shirt and your backpack to do it? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure I can fucking take you, dude, and I’m totally sure that guy can as well, so maybe you should stop throwing out empty threats for the time being and GO DRINK YOUR BEER.”

Dave pretended he didn’t hear me, which seemed prudent and his only recourse under the circumstances. Meanwhile, contestant number three, who hadn’t been paying attention to this exchange, says, “Hey! What’s the name of this song? You should know this, being OLDER and all!”

New York City 2012. It’s still not for the faint of heart.



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4 thoughts on “Notes From the Frontline: Bartender Edition”

  1. “lame, nursing a $3 can of beer for an hour and a half, just got here three years ago, backpack wearing in a bar, not really dolling up the joint or bringing in any revenue ass.”

    Sometimes words are worth a thousand pictures 🙂

    Like

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