I Was Once A Bartender–Part 3

I once was a bartender, but then I was fired. And here’s how it happened, my anxious 3 readers.

Uplifted by Dale Carnegie’s rickety advice, I walked into the buzzsaw that was my remaining bartending career.  I used people’s names so much it creeped me out. I asked how everyone was doing. They tended to be doing fine.

I asked what my college-student co-workers were going to do with their lives. There is nothing more horrifyingly boring than a college student talking about his plans. It’s even worse when–midway through their rehearsed unrealistic expectations–you realize that you asked them the same question the day before.

I asked about the lives of my customers. Then, I had to remember the last time I was interested in anything (an experience which was becoming distanced in memory), and then playact that demeanor. I nodded quickly to the intricacies of organic vinegar production and lutes. Or to overlong stories from last night’s gross overconsumption. Or most often, to their problems with the game. I actually began to read the sports page so I might contribute to the endless blatherings concerning whatever sports ball event.

Oh, and I smiled. I smiled and smiled. I propped up the corners of my mouth as the 70 hour work week, the feigning interest in everything, and the wasteful absurdity of it all, slowly dragged my face downward.

Nonetheless, it actually worked. I started getting repeat customers. Customers began buying me drinks. It looked like a few co-workers were happy to see me sometimes.

My first day back after our phone conversation, the bar manager thanked me for returning, saying that he was sure it was going to work out.

Nonetheless, it was obvious the ongoing conversation behind my back continued. There were servers actually vying for my position.

I was relearning from them the lessons of my last bartending job, how the service industry diminishes you, how it circumscribes your ambition to this inconsequential, sleazy, and ultimately unprofitable hole.

And I repeatedly asked myself what I was doing. On my best night, I made $200 dollars. But I menially busted my ass 12 hours for it. I could make the same during a peaceful, intellectually engaging 8 hour day working for Darth Vader. Plus, I was drinking too much, I hadn’t read anything recently I wanted to, and I hadn’t seen a gym in months.

What was I trying to prove to these kids and dead-enders?

Although the answer may yield self-discovery, it would be deferred. A month after our phone conversation (and uncoincidentally a day before the bar’s holiday party) I was asked to come into the private dining room after my shift. We both sat down at the table. I was quickly dispatched by the bar manager with an I-don’t-think-it’s-working-out.

This time, it wasn’t that I wasn’t friendly. He assured me that I was actually liked. (Thanks, Dale.)

No, this time it wasn’t about likeability. It was that I appeared uncomfortable behind the bar. He said, “You look like you’re in pain.”

I shrugged. I was in pain. I worked 40 hours a week for DV. And then I’m coming into the bar on Friday night to work till 2am, and then on Saturday from 10am to 2am, and then on Sunday from 10am to 4pm. I can hump this, but I can’t hump it painlessly.

I was careful not to defend myself this time.

He had expressed an unconvincing hope that we could still be friends. I was surprised to discover we were friends. He hoped we could “share a pint” sometime soon. I instinctually stifled, but ultimately let loose a guffaw.

I walked out with my last employee discounted order bangers and mash. At first, I thought the firing would at least take away my appetite. But it was nettled, not upset.

Later that night, finally finishing Updike’s Run Rabbit, Run, I came across the line, “I was simplified by this failure.” I smiled.


  1. Eric, what? Is the world being mean to you? Do you just want to hide in the warmth of your kittens? Want love and understanding kindness from your girlfriend and mates? Well, yeah, I understand my man. I have this awful feeling that I will not find a position when I complete my PhD. Will I be ABD or PhD? I don’t know. However, at least, you’re in Madison and still have a job with the DV corporation. That’s wonderful. While your soul is being sucked from the marrow of your body, your thirties will have passed with nothing to show but a few extra pounds and an attitude that is even worse. Naaaah! Just kidding. Sometimes, my personal struggles boil to the surface and I become lost in the rage. Slainte.

  2. BTW, Jerry, do you still have that naughty mug?

  3. I am honored to serve as the canvas for your projected sorrows. And yes, I still have the mug. Can’t post the image though. I get reported everytime. Nonetheless, I swig from it tonight in your honor.

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