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.

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I Was Once A Bartender–Part 2

I once was a bartender, but then I was fired. I swear I’m getting to it.

The first time they attempted to fire me came in the form of a phone call. I was called by the nervously-new bar manager.  The bar manager fashioned himself a tragically failed academic (there’s a dustbinned Ph.D. thesis on herbs and mythology lost to the world), and not just the regular failures we both are.

He said I wasn’t going to work out because I “just don’t have it.” “It” was some natural bartending essence.

I hesitated to remark that those type of naturalizing arguments perpetuate racism and sexism throughout the ages. But who am I to challenge the preconceptions of the enlightened? And plus, this white man appreciates poetic justice.

When I asked for specifics, I was told I wasn’t friendly or sociable enough. This caught me by surprise. I felt I was doing a great job. And it didn’t seem like it was my job to be overly friendly or social. I’m not a clam, I talk when I want to talk. But I have a pretty big freak flag, so I minimize casual social interactions lest it fly unwelcomed.

And then, it doesn’t help that I’m like Nixon. My face at rest appears like I’m in a brooding foul-mood. Oh these heavy sagging polish lips. What misperceptions have you spread.

I was also told I wasn’t engaging the customers enough. I was just working weekend days during Winter. There were not many customers to engage. And if you weren’t aware, my last bartending gig was pretty high-end. We were not encourage to engage our millionaire customers.

Essentially, I wasn’t delivering “craic” in sufficient quantity. “Craic” is gaelic for “good times” or some bullshit. Much like the flair on one’s TGIF vest, I was to deliver the requisite restaurant brand atmosphere however shallow and unsolicited.

Instead, I busied myself with cleaning. The place is pretty filthy and I thought I was doing a good deed by organizing dusty drawers, cleaning disgusting coolers, and tossing rusty equipment. My old high-end bar manager would have been proud.

It was more likely that I wasn’t engaging my co-workers enough. I’m not a big fan of hanging out in bars. I can’t hear anyone. And when I do, they don’t mean it anyways.

I’m even less of a fan of hanging out where you work. I have a lot of interests. I have a girlfriend. And a few cats. And I’ve been working 70 hours a week. If I don’t have to be at work, I won’t be.

  

These aversions were not shared by my co-workers. If they weren’t working at the bar, they were hanging out at the bar. If they did something outside the bar, it was usually with someone from the bar. 

They depressed the hell out of me. I could wait to get home to kuddle with my kitties.

On the phone with the bar manager, I became immediately defensive. I explained to the bar manager that I was surprised by his reasons for firing me. I thought I was a friendly and social person (or at least I said that I’m not particularly mean or sociopathic), but from my past experience bartending, these were not qualities to exude. And I said that it was a little strange that this firing was the only feedback I had received in 2 months on the job.  

He actually agreed with me. And said he was going to give me another chance. But I had to really “turn it around.”

I didn’t expect that. My defensiveness wasn’t supposed to change his mind, but to protect my ego. I wasn’t sure I wanted the job anymore. I was doing well working 9-5 for Darth Vader and I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to waste my days at a dank pseudo pub for minimum wage and uncertain tips.

But then, I became infatuated with the challenge. Moving to a new city offers opportunities for re-invention. I could become friendly.

So I took the next day to read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, which basically tells you to smile all the time, use people’s names all the time, and constantly ask them personal questions. 

With this 120-year-old advice how could I fail?

How are you doing, Bobby? What did you do last night, Bobby? Bobby, you are fantastic! What do you dream about, Bobby?

I Was Once A Bartender–Part 1

I once was a bartender, but then I was fired.

Not a terrible loss. I’ve been doing well at Darth Vader corporation (DV) and I’ve begun freelancing live music reviews for the local weekly.

But like any rejection, great and small, from the nervously proffered marriage proposal to the lazily submitted credit card application, it still stings.

Nonetheless, the bartending thing wasn’t sitting well with me to begin with. I used to think I had an affinity with bartending. In convincing ways, the bartender is the middle child of the service industry–both a facilitator and a mediator between the management and the rest of the service staff. But this is probably a romantic narcissism.

The bar was an Epcot-on-the-cheap version of an Irish pub. Its service was Madison-style (read: terrible). It’s food, though, not bad.

My first day should have been signal enough for things to come. A large-ish man comes in right at the 11 am open, bellies to the bar and orders a shot of 151 proof rum. Now, I’m not even sure this is legal. But I’m needing to deal with a snafu’d to-go order and management is MIA (this would become a familiar absence). I pour and move on.

5 minutes later, he asks for another. I pour it, trying to anchor my alarmed and raised eyebrows. He continues to order and drink 3 more shots. It’s not even noon. I’m being drafted into his own Leaving Las Vegas.

I’m overserving him, but he leaves before this binge affects him.

I’m not sure what one does for the rest of the day after consuming 7.5 ounces of 151 proof alcohol (the equivalent to 11.4 Bud Lights in a half hour)-but it can’t be productive.

This bothered me a lot. My last bartending gig was very high end. I didn’t get much dealing with the dangerous self-polluters, so I was unprepared for the moral quandary that squatted there my first day.

When your serving someone you don’t think you should be serving, you’re dispensing to the vulnerable the means of their destruction. Like knowingly selling a gun to a depressive, or razors to a cutter. But unlike a gunshop, your customers don’t take their self-harm outside, but carry on in front of you.

It makes really hard to self-justify when watching your service directly cause the harm of another.

I served a Jager-bomb and saw the young girl fall over. I served a shot of crème de menthe that unleashed a raving looney. I served a 3 Wise Men shot and was then threatened with a punch.

Noticing a trend? Yes, I’m going on a limb. Shots are stupid.

I guess bartenders aren’t supposed to feel this way. But I guess I wasn’t a bartender for much longer.