Call of the Wild

I like to watch the show “Snapped” when I’m getting ready to go to work. It profiles women who murder, which I find interesting, and it isn’t especially visual, they’ll show the same photos and people repeatedly, so I can concentrate on drawing on my eyebrows without having to look at the television too much. Drew doesn’t really get it, he thinks it’s morbid, which is probably true, but even he will occasionally get sucked in and add commentary: “My, that’s a handsome woman…” or “You’d think he would have noticed all that anti-freeze in his spaghetti…”

I saw one recently about two high school girls who fought over the same guy: a skinny little kid with a baby mustache who considered himself a player and enjoyed pitting the girls against one another. One girl was from a blue collar background, very pretty, a dropout who worked as a waitress, the other one was from a more middle class background, still going to school with straight A’s, not as pretty but with other advantages. The competition for the boy’s attention quickly escalated to threats via phone and text, harassment at the waitress job, aand generally picking at each other whenever possible until combusting into a physical fight in which the pretty waitress stabbed the good student, who died. So over some selfish jerk that neither one of them would probably love forever, one girl dies without fulfilling a blossoming potential, another one goes to prison for 27 years. Two families devastated while dumbass “playa” remained unpunished and claimed remorselessly on the stand that neither girl was his girlfriend.

Hmm…there but for the grace of God. In my youth I suffered mightily over many mistakes and got into all kinds of verbal and physical altercations struggling to keep my own prizes. Thank you, Jesus, thank you Lord that I had the presence of mind to leave the knives at home. But I feel great sympathy for the girl who didn’t. You do stupid things when you’re young and haven’t got the full capacity to appreciate the likely consequences. One weekend in jail was enough to cure me of the need to be right, what would 27 years do?

I was at work on Saturday night a couple of weeks ago when a trio parked themselves at the end of my bar: an American brunette woman, American blonde woman and a European, possibly French guy. The women were in their late 20’s, early 30’s and each beautiful in a different kind of way. The guy was average looking, attractive, with a short beard and nondescript clothing. He had an accent and kept ordering whiskey sours for the three of them without knowing what they were called and without tipping. The brunette woman would notice and put a tip down for me, and one or two times handed money over his shoulder to me for the drinks while he fumbled with singles for what seemed an interminable amount of time, leading me to suspect that he didn’t have a lot of cash and wasn’t super pumped about paying for all of the drinks.

The brunette seemed most in control of the situation: she leaned against the wall looking cool and talking while they drank, whereas the blonde got bombed almost immediately and would sort of veer around wildly to stare at me with her mouth open. If I approached and asked what she needed, she gaped without response until slowly veering back toward the other two.

It was an annoying and somewhat bovine behavior. My apologies to the cows of this world for that reference, as they are generally more endearing when they stare, but that was the word that came to mind as I tried to ignore the constant eyeball.

The blonde didn’t seem to like me much and didn’t seem to know when to stop drinking. Euro-dude kept trying to order her another whiskey sour, to which I would reply “Hell, no!” and told him that if she couldn’t form a sentence she couldn’t have any more booze. She continued to stare with her mouth open while these exchanges went on, ignoring the consolation glass of water I plunked down in front of her. My impression was that Euro guy was with the blonde, as he seemed most interested in her, and the brunette was sort of hanging in there to keep an eye on her drunk friend.

The brunette thanked me for the blonde’s water, and as it was late and slowing down, I asked her if she wanted to do a shot with me. She did, and we did. After the shot I waved my finger in a circle at the three of them,

“So tell me what’s going on here.”

She said, “This is my best friend, and she and I are in competition for this guy right now.”

I was tempted to recite one of my favorite quotes, made by Rosie Perez in a pretty crappy movie called Untamed Heart:

“Look at him! He looks like a tumor sittin’ over there. Ugh, and his hair! It just bothers me so much!”

I wish I could find the movie clip but it appears that no one on youtube thinks it’s as funny as I do. And I can’t do Rosie’s accent justice so I stuck to the truth and said, “Really? But he’s so ordinary. He doesn’t seem to have much money, he’s average-looking…” She turned around to look at him as he was in the middle of doing a happy little I’m-with-two-babes dance.

I rolled my eyes and continued. “There’s a pot belly under that sweater. That’s only going to get worse you know. And you’re hot, and smart, and can have any single guy in this room right now. And your friend…Well, she’s hot anyway…”

She laughed and said, “We just both really like him and I think neither of us wants to let the other win.”

I went back to bartending and the stand-off continued for another half hour. Brunette got Euro-guy to dance with her while Blonde glare-gaped at me and spilled the water. I was a little nervous that left unattended she might vomit on my bar, so I refilled it and stuck it in front of her again.

Eventually Blonde pulled herself together, registered that the other two were dancing too closely for her liking, did a little foot-stomp, and ran out of the room. Brunette took the opportunity to grab Euro-guy and make out with him for a second before they both left the room to get their friend. I thought that was the end of the show but they brought her back for a convo. Blonde yelled at Brunette, Euro-guy tried not to grin too obviously with glee before chasing after Blonde as she ran back out of the room for the second and last time. Brunette turned and said,

“Thank you for everything.” I replied,

“Dude, seriously. You have all the power. Don’t hand it over to this doofus.” She waved and left.

It wasn’t exactly a bummer; the unfolding of a good drama is entertaining when you’re bored behind a bar. But I did feel badly for Brunette, she was so much better than her current choice. It would have been nice to save her a little pain and suffering, as I already know exactly how it will play out. Euro-guy will happily sleep with whomever will have him, but will always lean toward the blonde. Someone will feel hurt and betrayed, harsh words will be exchanged, and the two girls will experience a rift in their friendship which might never be repaired, even though both of them will look back one day and wonder why they thought he was so duel-worthy. He will most likely go back to France and tell all of his friends how much fun American girls are…

There is no moral to this blog or way to wrap it up, just wanted to tell the story. I hope that at least a little of what I said to the brunette sinks in. People have made very wise statements to me that I didn’t quite get at the time, now I understand them fully. Most of the time the words don’t make sense until the experience connects. Knowing something in your brain won’t affect behavior until you know it in your stomach and heart as well, so most of us are compelled to heed the call of the wild until it doesn’t appeal so much any more. It could be worse, at least I got the lessons after a few smacks on the head, I know people who are still repeating their same mistakes at very advanced ages.

It’s all a journey, I suppose. I’m sure I’ve written this before, but it bears repeating: I had a conversation with a friend in which I said,

“I can’t believe I wasted so much time suffering and fighting over so little.” She shrugged and said,

“Eh. You had to learn the lesson from someone. At least he looked good…”

Maybe that’s all we can hope for as we repeat the mistakes of those that came before us: to be able to forgive the idiots we were, try to pass on the knowledge gained, and accumulate a few good stories and photos in the process.

Piglets and Brickbats

Hello, my people!

Zoe and I started a new company called Fear City Custom, and as a result I haven’t had any time to blog. Truth be told, I didn’t really start it so much as Zoe came up with an idea and shoved me squawking through the door. I am extraordinarily fearful of anything new, but really good at details, while she is always instantly gung ho about any ideas that pop into her head but can’t be bothered with the details. So between the two of us we are a good balance.

She was updating all of her old jeans and tees with zippers and patches and people began asking her to work on their items, so there you go, instant business. We like the idea of making existing stuff look cooler, it’s a good way to recycle and save money, and there seem to be a lot of people in our sphere who agree. It’s been nice to have someone push me out of my comfort zone, and I did quit my day job to find alternate means of income, so hopefully once we get rolling we’ll be able to make a little profit. We’ve almost got too many orders to keep up with already, so fingers crossed. This is the facebook page, I will work on a website soon and once we have enough items ready made we’ll set up an Etsy store:

Aside from that, I have been thinking about who I am and what motivates people, the same as always. Here’s a small incident that has had me thinking over the last couple of weeks:

I have a very good looking male friend who was visiting from LA (transplanted New Yorker) and hanging out at my bar on a Saturday night. It was late enough into the evening that things had slowed down enough that he could stand at the bar and observe while I was able to chat with him in between orders.

An attractive girl in her 20’s came up next to him, and without really looking in my direction, as she was focused on him, ordered an inexpensive drink and handed me her credit card. Ordinarily I have to explain to people that there is a $20 minimum for cards, but it was 2:30 am and I am tuned in enough to energy to know that there would be an argument. So I chose to take the $8 and move on. I rang her card and she tipped a dollar on the slip and continued talking to my friend.

They spoke for a couple of minutes and as she walked away he laughed and said, “She just gave me her number. She lives in LA, her father is a gazillionaire, she’s never worked a day in her life.” I said, “Agh, whatever, she’s pretty, but you’d be bored in a day or two.” He agreed.

Another woman, not quite as tall or standard model-ey, but very pretty, walked up to the bar and also started talking to my friend. He looked at me over her shoulder and I rolled my eyes at his obvious glee at being so popular with the ladies. She finished her conversation, ordered an $11 drink from me, left $9 on the bar and walked away. I thought she forgot it and slid the bills near my friend in case she returned.

The first girl, let’s just call her Asshole for simplicity’s sake, had been dancing pretty heavily and asked for a glass of water. She again talked to my friend for a minute, chugged the water and asked for another, which I gave her.

The second girl, we’ll call her Guinevere because that’s a pretty name and I like her, came up after a half an hour and ordered a second $11 drink. I mentioned that she’d left $9, and she said it was mine, and she put down a $20, took the drink and walked away leaving another $9 on the bar for me.

Meanwhile, Asshole ordered another water at the top of my head while I was busy pouring someone else’s drink, got it from me, went back to dancing, then came back in ten minutes and ordered a fourth water. So now I’ve poured her five libations for a net personal profit of $1. But I always try to keep in mind that there’s a balance and I knew she wasn’t purposely torturing me and is just a spoiled idiot who has never worked a service job.

Ten minutes later, on the FIFTH water order, she said, “I know you’re going to hate me, but can I have another water?”

I said, with a smile and not a hint of animosity or annoyance, “Of course you can. But I want you to know how things work for bartenders: we make very little, if any, shift pay, and are completely dependent upon tips for our livelihood. SO– our bar and water relationship would be greatly improved if you could throw a dollar out here and there with your orders.”

She took a step back and made a scared face as if I’d slapped her, and seeing me reaching for a glass, waved her hand and said, “I don’t need it.” And she ran out of the room. My friend rolled his eyes and I said, “What the hell was that?”

Asshole runs back into the room 30 seconds later, with…

Wait for it…

Here it comes…


That’s right people, rather than dig into her deep pockets for a fucking dollar bill, she chose to act wounded and use someone else’s time for free.

The world went red. I wanted to step out from the bar and slap the water out of her hand. I wanted to pick up a stool and smash it over her head. I turned to my friend and grabbed his arm with a talon grip and growled through gritted teeth, “You, my friend, are going to booty call that piece of sh*t when you get back to LA and you are going to anger f**k her in the most humiliating ways possible. I want you to bang her head so hard against the headboard that daddy can feel it. I want you to tear her up and then never call her again.”

He laughed and I gripped a little harder and said, “I am dead fucking serious.”

And I was. My rage was boundless, I scared myself a little with the blackness of it.

It wasn’t the money. Two or three dollars is not going to change my life one way or another. It was two things: First, this behavior that I see in many spoiled children lately, who act as if they have been mortally wounded when you are frank with them in any way, regardless of how gently the truth is delivered. I am guessing this is what comes of being told you’re awesome 24 hours a day without ever being required to prove it to yourself or the world around you. I am also guessing that these are the adult versions of those kids that are allowed to run screaming around your table in a restaurant unhindered by parental control.

Second, it was the fact that someone would act so blatantly selfish toward another human being who has been waiting on their needs for the last hour and a half, without a look back. It was as if I only existed to serve her and if that was impeded in any way, she would simply step over my corpse to the next need-filler.

I festered on this the next day. I was so pissed that I briefly considered finding her on facebook and sending a scathing email. But I would never do that to my employers, and really, what would be the point? As the sayings go, you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, and/or it’s futile to throw pearls before swine.

By the way, why do pigs get such a raw deal in the saying department? They’re so cute and smart. And I imagine they’re grateful when you give them water.

But as I festered, I remembered Guinevere and how pleasant and generous she was without expecting a giant thank you or special treatment from me. There are usually more of her on my Saturday nights than there are of Asshole. So why am I so focused on the negative? Why can’t I bask in the glow of the many positive people I encounter and let the shitty few roll of off me?

I do often feel waves of gratitude on a good night, when everyone is dancing and happy and generous and we’re all in sync. I might not feel a deep connection to “new” New Yorkers, but in fairness, many of them are nice people. And I once had a dad who paid for me to get here, so who am I to begrudge them their existence if they aren’t hurting me and are in fact supporting me with their business? And I am eternally grateful that I work in a place where I am trusted by the owners to comment occasionally to a customer about their lack of tips, as this is not the case for most service workers. It’s not even so much that I want to take advantage of that freedom, it’s more about knowing that I am respected and cared about enough to be granted it in the first place.

I did a quick google search and discovered that I am not alone, and found this article which sums it up very well: Praise is Fleeting, but Brickbats We Recall.

Maybe it’s that the deeper soul lessons come from things that make us uncomfortable? When I was suffering mightily in my youth and all lessons were learned with a maximum of drama and poor decision-making, I began saying an affirmation to myself: “I learn my lessons through joy.” I said it over and over again in my head as I walked through the city, scrubbed the toilet, combed my hair, etc. I still say it to myself occasionally. For the most part that affirmation morphed into reality. I am free from the crapfest of the past and I see that there was no way I could have gotten here without being hurt there. But there’s still always more to be learned and my stories about the shitty days are, I assume, more interesting than the happy ones. Everyone loves a sad song, right?

Or quite possibly I’m overthinking Saturday night and could have gotten straight to the point with a bit of Jenna Marbles wisdom?


I’m not sure though. Just to be safe, I think I’m going to email my friend and make sure he gives Asshole a call, as I’d surely feel honored to be the catalyst for some of her own soul education.

Cursed Diamonds

Was there something planetary going on last week? I got super sick with the flu the week before and spent days holed up in the apartment feeling hot, then cold, then cranky. My guru mom says that we are all going through more clearings, past life and this life, and that I was clearing out energy/toxins from drug usage in this current lifetime. To which I whined, “Well, that’s gonna take forever!”

But it didn’t. If you’re interested, we’re supposed to be moving from carbon based bodies to crystalline. I don’t feel very crystalline and clearing, if that’s what it is, sucks–“Cher, I don’t want to do this anymore. And my buns: they don’t feel nothin’ like steel.”–Tai in Clueless.

But hope does indeed spring eternal and all things must pass.

So after some heavy couch time I was eager to get back to stabs at productivity, especially as lately I’ve been feeling less procrastinaty about the book, like for the first time, ever. I sat down last Thursday and wrote some pages, and was very pleased to see I’m closer to measurable progress. Then as I sat there determinedly typing, seemingly without provocation, I burst into tears and went on nice little crying jag, the likes of which had not been experienced since viewing Les Miserables while in the full throes of PMS. That damned Anne Hathaway.

It was weird. But not. After honking into the sixth kleenex that little bulb went bright and I thought, “Ooooooohhh… So I’m not LAZY, it’s that it sucks to dredge this stuff up. That’s why I’ve been procrastinating for the last 10 years. Not lazy…SENSITIVE! Not lazy…PAINFUL! I felt quite vindicated despite the snot-producing state of affairs. Though it’s not fun to carry shame and sadness over the past, it’ is very nice to find a reason to justify ten years of steady video gaming.

The next day, feeling slightly vulnerable and a tad off my game, I worked my happy hour at BE. Patrick Kavanaugh, the supremely talented Mad Hatster, came in and gave me the most gorgeous bowler you’ve ever seen, custom made for my tiny yet remarkably hard head.

So that was awesome and I love the hat so much I haven’t taken it off since.

And then various friends  from varying eras in my life, from varied parts of the country, stopped in, just by random chance all converging in NY at the same time. The evening was shaping up to be nice.

And then it wasn’t. One of the friends who I hadn’t seen in twenty years, and who I was very close to back then, confessed quietly that they’d been homeless for a number of years. For the purpose of privacy, let’s call this person “X”. That made me sad and also meant I would be putting some of my tips in the register to pay for the drinks, which also makes me sad. But I was glad to be reunited and am grateful for all I have, and am happy to pay it forward when possible.

Things went from fun and reunion-ey to overly drunk and sloppy in a very short time. But I didn’t notice because the bar manager forgot to tell me there was an open bar halfway through my shift, and I was suddenly faced with a hundred eager-for-libation strangers waving free drink wristbands and shouting drink orders at the top of my head as I concentrated on pouring as fast as humanly possible.

One woman in particular got belligerent because she wanted two glasses of water immediately (no intention of tipping) and I was not getting to her fast enough. I tried to explain to her, while making ten drinks at a time with hands and toes, that water took the same time to pour as a drink and that there were many other, more well-mannered people who had been waiting much longer than her. She ignored all logic and human decency and continued to insist that she wanted her water asap. She waved her hand without stop and and shouted, “I ONLY WANT TWO WATERS. I ONLY WANT TWO WATERS!” I finally screeched, “ALL RIGHT EVERYONE! THIS WOMAN GETS HER ORDER BEFORE ANYONE ELSE BECAUSE HER NEEDS ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT IN THE ROOM!”

Everyone looked nervous as I slammed two glasses down in front of her, the contents sloshing onto the bar. She made a face, not cowed in the least, and took her gd water. I felt badly immediately after, because my behavior reflects on the bar and could get me into a conversation with my bosses, and because it sent an adrenaline surge through my system that quickly alchemized to angst and weird afore-mentioned weepy shame from the day before. So when she came back feeling hydrated and insisting upon a complicated drink (again no tip), I apologized. I still think she’s an asshole, but it made me feel better to do the professional thing. Sometimes I don’t care about being right or wrong, I just want to be comfortable.

Once the shift was over I took a deep breathe and collected my things, anticipating some relaxing down time. Whew!

Not to be. Asshole Lady elbowed me and pointed to my long-lost friend X and said, “Someone better do something about THAT.” X was at that moment trying very hard to simultaneously choke and punch another friend while sliding off the bar stool. We were in full Barfly mode. I’m surrounded by fancy white people in business attire and free-drink wristbands and MY people look like hell and are attempting to kill each other.


After an interminable one-way conversation about the fact that it was time to leave (heads too busy lolling on necks like the proverbial bladder on a stick to respond verbally), and some dragging/carrying out into the street with the assistance of Mr. Tim, we were able to get a cab and escort sorted out. I shoved hard-earned money into broke hands and Tim loaded them into the back of the car. I mouthed the words, “I’m sorry.” to the cabdriver, and Tim and I  ran screaming into the night.

We made a beeline to Manitoba’s for a nightcap with wifey Zoe Hansen and friend and jewelry designer Sara Samoiloff. I figured I deserved it at that point.

Zoe, having gotten my frustrated texts, handed me a cocktail upon arrival. Sara handed me the gift of a GORGEOUS, clearly expensive silver and pearl necklace. I was thrilled and grateful. I sat there sipping and sporting my beautiful necklace and hat, marveling at my generous friends. The angst began to melt away.

And then another person in the bar sidled up with mischief on the mind and cocaine in the bloodstream, and began shouting what would turn out to be a really boring story set on repeat, illustrated with even more boring phone photos, at a decibel level well over all sane, inside-voice conversation. It went on and on and on. And then without warning, the story veered, with no assistance or prompting from me whatsoever, to crap from my past and just by chance, exactly what I was writing about the day before that sent me into an emotional tizzy.

Ah geez.

I shouted, “I don’t want to talk about it!” and as my eyes rolled into the back of my head preparing for what one could only hope would be a blissfully conscious-deadening seizure, someone else elbowed me from behind. I turned to see a man who looked somewhat familiar, but I could not place. He said, I kid you not:

“No one likes you.”

I squinted and said, “Huh?”

He replied, “You know me. You remember me.”

I shook my head and turned back around away from him. After that initial crack I wasn’t too interested in any further trips down memory lane. He elbowed me again, I turned, and he said, “You know me.”

I said, “I’m very sorry, but I don’t remember. Care to enlighten me?” He paused, pulled out a giant wad of cash very ostentatiously, handed a $20 to the bartender, and said, cryptically,

“Indian Larry.”

I said, “Larry’s dead.You’re not him. If you’re not going to tell me then we don’t have anything to talk about.”

I turned back to Zoe, who was now glaring at me wild-eyed and desperate for rescue from the too-loud cokey story on repeat. Money-bags purposely banged a chair into my back. I ignored it.

I get this a lot. Between bartending, age and being a mini rock star for five minutes, I’ve simply met too many people for my limited and self-absorbed brain to hold each and every person clearly anymore. Most are nice about it. Last week a girl told me how grateful she was that I’d saved her life by slap/shaking her out of an OD in the bathroom of a bar (good times!), which I hadn’t remembered it at all. Some people, like this guy, aren’t nice and take it personally when you don’t remember them. I do think I remember him now, but fuck it. I’ll pretend like I don’t if I see him again just to drive him bananas. Sometimes it’s more entertaining to be right than it is to be comfortable.

I had a hard time getting to sleep that night. I felt very sad about the friend that I’d shoved into a cab, who had been such a fierce creature when we were young, almost otherworldly with that stardom and beauty that we all had in our youth. I wondered how some of us, like Zoe and me, have been able to emerge from our crazy, often drug-fueled pasts into a happy present, while so many others are dead, or still using and/or not fully there, or simply cranky about being forgotten. For every one of me, who survived with only residual sadness and regrets, there are numerous others who are either dead or trying to punch a friend in some bar well past the age when that sort of behavior can be considered dignified.

The alternative/artistic/rock and roll/whatever-you-want-to-call-it existence can be pretty cool. You get free hats and jewelry. You get attention and you go to a lot of shows. You get remembered more than others. But it destroys many and is not a life for the faint of heart. Which, I suppose, is the reason that so many dabble in it in their 20’s and then move on to more normal-seeming lives, the only evidence of the past being a few photographs the kids find amusing. This is probably the sanest way to go.

But I have never been called sane, and don’t know how or wish to live any other way. I woke up after my fitful night and decided that the truth I would choose for each one of the people involved in the last 24 hours would be the one that suited them best. Meaning, I choose to believe that my punch-drunk and sometimes homeless friend is merely taking a soul detour for the moment, and that the truth of who they are is that amazing creature I knew so many years prior. And that one day, maybe in this lifetime, or maybe the next, that truth will shine again and forevermore.

I would hope that people would do the same for me: remember me at my best and brightest and forgive some of those not so shining moments, as I am only now learning to do for myself. Maybe on the other side we will be able to look at each other with full memory of all of the people and events and absolutely no blame or shame, and go, “Whew! That was a fucking ride, wasn’t it? Now where’s that asshole woman with our water??”

Bartending 2.0

It is so weird to be bartending again.

It’s not the kind of gig you dream about as a child, most people just sort of end up in it as a means to an end. In my case, I stood jobless many years ago in the middle of Danceteria, in a bondage cap and goth drag, surveying this brave new world, and said to Michael Schmidt, “Maybe I could bartend…”  Rudolf, the owner, happened to be passing by, and Michael touched his arm and said, “Rudolf, she wants to bartend.” Rudolf replied, “You’re hired, come see me tomorrow afternoon.”

It’s funny how every person’s destiny hangs on one random moment or another. At the time, I thought getting a job was the easiest thing in the world because I’d had a similar experience at a Betsey Johnson a few months earlier. I didn’t realize until later that my youth, looks and willingness to dress as outrageously as possible were opening doors for me. I was shocked and hurt when I started at Danceteria and the barbacks and many of the female bartenders expressed open hostility toward my presence, quickly exacerbated by the fact that I hadn’t a clue how to pour a drink. Karen Finley, a performance artist superstar and a very kind woman, taught me how to pour a count during my trial by fire on a busy Friday night, graciously and with a minimum of eye-rolling. Rudolf paid for bartending school, and I cultivated some non-hateful work relationships, and it quickly became amazing.

I met rock stars, formed bands, picked up new boyfriends, learned how to do drugs, learned how to spot drug addicts, wore my underwear as outerwear, wore a ponytail on a belt fashioned to look like a horsetail for a good six months. I slept all day and got up at dinnertime, usually opening my eyes to whomever I’d partied with the prior night and morning: sometimes punk rock Jill, her giant mohawk leaning sideways, cigarette already in her mouth, sometimes a new guy. After a childhood in Michigan feeling like an alien, I loved having my fellow aliens around. I’d chainsmoke, send Jill out for coffee, tease my hair, put on a ton of makeup, belts, belts, earrings, earrings, scarves, jackets, leggings, hats, and roll on out to do it again, night after night. I had so much cash around my apartment that I would forget where I’d put it and find $300 under my jewelry box two months later.

And then eventually, as time went on, record deals procured and lost, rock stardom almost reached and then dashed upon the rocks of grunge and foolishness, romance turning out to be something excruciating and horrible that I clearly couldn’t navigate properly, drugs serving to create suicidal tendencies, bartending morphed from a party in a job to something I had to do because I didn’t know what else I could do. I began to hate it. I hated being around so many people. I hated people waving their hands in my face and shouting my name. I hated talking to lonely drunks. I hated people in general, especially wasted ones. Every minute behind the bar was a punishment and it showed in my face and demeanor. I became THAT bartender.

And so it was time to stop, or die, or kill someone, and learn a new trade. Which happened, and I excelled and enjoyed it for a time and I thought I’d never return to the bar. Yet here I am. Never say never. And strangely, it’s not bad. At moments it’s awesome in a completely different way.

Saturday night on Avenue B is quite a different scene from the last time around. The crowd is primarily all the people “we” have complained about for years, who now completely dominate our once-fringe neighborhood, which was a tight knit community of musicians, artists, drag queens, freaks, and faggots, who had invaded the primarily hispanic ghetto that came before us. My people. My adopted homeland. Our tribe is gone now: died of old age, mohawks grown out and cut into sensible bobs and moved to suburbia to raise children, moved to other cities more amenable to the artistic temperament and financial state. But because Avenue B is a little off the main drags of Avenue A and further west, it’s not too horrendously collegiate just yet. And I work in an elegant little bar that attracts, for the most part, intelligent, educated young adults from good families who know how to behave in public. Most of them are either in college or recently graduated and working in one prestigious profession or another.

Let’s call a thing a thing. Yuppies. I’m waiting on a lot of yuppies. People I used to sneer at if they dared to walk my block, which they rarely did because it was dangerous and held nothing of interest for them. But that was long ago. They won the war; my people defeated. But I am not a sore loser (after loudly going through the seven stages of grief). I have come to terms with my loss and am willing to meet them on the battleground with shield lowered and hand outstretched, especially if said hand receives a cash tip.

So there I am, a curious relic from another time, covered in tattoos and rock and roll gear, manning a small island bar by myself in a side room off the main bar. I provide a little bit of East Village flavor for their evening’s entertainment. I am older than they are, I am of another world, I Am Legend.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic. And it’s slightly turned around because I’m the one wearing too much makeup. But this is how it feels more often than not.

Because of the size of the room, I work a lot of birthday parties or groups of people who want to escape the larger and more crowded main bar. So I sort of get the cream of the new New York crop. They’re hip enough to land on Avenue B and adult enough to want to hang in a side room. They don’t scream for Pickle Backs, but they think an Old Fashioned with an expensive bourbon is a really cool drink and they do a lot of shots of Jamison.

I feel sad for them in some ways, they are too young and their pop culture too vapid to know the exquisitely painful rock and roll heart burst that came with, say, hearing the end breakdown and buildup of “Sick as a Dog” the first time you put Rocks on the turntable. So much promise of an ecstatic life imminent in the music of my youth. They’ll never bounce up and down in a sweaty, joyfully mind-blown crowd in front of The Cramps. It’s just oldies radio to them. Most of them don’t really care about music, and what they do enjoy sonically seems flat to me. Where is the sex? The danger? The passion? The beauty? Why don’t you ache for anything?? But maybe they do, and I can’t see it. I have not enjoyed the pleasure of living in a luxury apartment, and I am not so selfish to think that just because the things that move me aren’t interesting to them, doesn’t mean that they don’t have things that move them equally as deeply. We all carry beating hearts within our individual chests.

So lately I’ve been making connections with people that I once viewed as the enemy. These are fleeting connections, to be sure, we’re not making plans to hang out after work, but they are connections nonetheless, and I’m finding that I enjoy it. And interestingly, I’m finding that many of them yearn for my good opinion. They have no idea that I had and have a life outside of pouring drinks, but the smarter ones know what “we” think of them. They know they’re not that hip, but they really want to stand next to hip and feel comfortable. They ask me questions about my life. They ask me where I got my dress. They give me stock tips. They want the tattooed and scarred alien to be nice to them, which I am, and they respond, for the most part, in kind.

This week I had a guy who told me that he had been robbed of his iphone at knifepoint on his way to the bar. It was easy to see how it happened. He looked very normal, had a beautiful navy wool coat on, a good haircut, clearly a well-kept guy and one who is not going to fight back if you pull a knife on him. Although who knew that people had knives pulled on them anymore on a Saturday night in the East Village? I bought him his first drink as consolation, and he tipped mightily on all subsequent purchases and high fived me for hours. His friend kept repeating, “If you had full sleeves I’d marry you.” (Meaning if I were tattooed to my wrists instead of elbows). Finally I laughed and said, “How is that a  reward for getting more tattoos? Am I supposed to be tempted by this random offer?” That drew more high fives from his friends. Now we were hanging.

Another guy said, “You’re the first bartender in this neighborhood who has been nice to me!” And his girlfriend answered, “Yes! Everyone has been so bitchy, we’re going to stay here with you!” That made me smile. I never cared about people like this the first time around because I was too busy making sure Joey Ramone had a beer or that the biker at the end of the bar wasn’t going to beat the crap out of my latest, half-a-fag potential boyfriend. Anyone outside of my circle was invisible. Now everyone is visible. I like being liked, I want people to have a good time. I like paying attention to signs, I have more compassion and am more able to let the little things go. I’m not looking for something or someone new, there’s no agenda, just a desire to earn a living with a minimum of angst. When I have the time and inclination I dance behind the bar along with them to the dumbest songs. They think “Shout” by the Isley Brothers is the pinnacle of dance heaven because they remember it from Animal House. I’ll make bullshit girlie drinks for the 22 year old girls, who leave a dollar tip like they’re doing me a huge favor. I’ll pour water for the shitheads who know they should tip for it but don’t. I don’t care. It evens out in the end, the good outweighs, or outtips, the bad. It’s all good, I guess, until it feels bad again.

It’s edifying to view these people as people for the first time, when throughout my life they have just been the nameless army of “straights” hell-bent upon destroying my world. My beloved past is gone, but the present is here and there is still fun to be had. I’d rather dance to a tired old 50’s song in a roomful of mostly strangers than not dance at all. 

So uh, yeah. Tip your bartender. Don’t ask for a mojito when the bar is slammed and there’s nary a mint leaf in sight. And if they’re really crabby, don’t take it personally. We’re all in our own bubble.

Photo by Felix Rodrigues

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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