It is a dark and stormy night…
I’m not kidding. I’m looking outside the window, hearing the pelting orchestra of a March ice storm in Brooklyn, New York City, U.S. Of A. against the glass window of my bedroom.
The shadows scurry around, bundled silhouettes, faces wrapped with scarves, moving through the slush and the snow, on their way home, on their way to work. Some are coming home to lovers, some, to their children. Some come home to an empty room, some to half full bottle of Spanish red wine.
There’s a million stories walking by my window today. A million emotions, a million dreams. And the only words that keep running through my head are:
Do you have what it takes?
It’s a strange phrase: do you have what it takes.
I mean we’ve heard this line in a thousand ‘heroic’ films. You know that moment when our protagonist is down and out, lost all their money, and now sits, alone, doubting both their talents and their destiny.
There is a mentor figure that appears, somewhat older, with much more experience, someone who has seen all the fire and the strife before. This mentor figure walks alone in the darkness, seeking out our hero.
Now debauched, nursing a glass of whiskey, their fifth, our hero stares bleakly at the wall. We know in the audience what this scene means, it’s ‘the talk.’
The mentor stands proud, staring down at the broken man before him. The mentor explains:
“You know what you must do. You know what happens next in the story. You are just afraid of this step. But you must take this step. You have no choice. But you must ask yourself: Do You Have What It Takes?”
Such an odd phrase.
I press my palm against the windowpane, staring out into the darkness of the streets. It’s cold on the glass, out past the frame, the world, full of its triumphs and its tragedies.
I think about all the people I served drinks to over the years. All of their smiles. All of their tears. I’ve watched men weep at the bar, alone, with no one but me and some free shots of whiskey to pass the hours by. I’ve seen a reunited couple make out so hard as if their lips would part it would crack the fabric of the universe itself.
I’ve worked fine dining, the dive bars, waited on thousands of tables, slung millions of drinks, spinning the church key with one finger and taking a well whiskey shot down hard with the other hand.
But the whole time, the world was passing right along without me. The bartender stands, stationary, like some stone in the middle of a rushing river, as all the events, up and down, good or evil, pass by, all with some slurry blur of slightly recognizable Fates.
Not my own, however. You see, the bartender stands there, surely a conductor of their own deranged choir, stands alone. Yes, are they the Kings and Queens of their world?: Abso-fucking-lutley. But there is a catch.
I’ve exalted the bartender in these spun all too fast four years, this now 100th entry into the service industry canon. But one of the ideas we have never discussed was how the bartender is separate from the rest of the world, standing on rubber mats behind 3 feet of old elbow-grooved wood. The world, literally, is passing them by. So after all the laughter and the cheers and the drunks falling into each other, the bartender is now left alone with only the echo of the lives that had passed before him.
Do You Have What It Takes?
Again, the words are projected on the inside of my skull like some early century picture show.
The sentence stipulates two things. Do you ‘have’ what ‘it’ ‘takes’? The question asks that this mysterious thing, the ‘it’ portion of the sentence, will reach into you and pull this mysterious elixir out. So both at the same time, it says:
To do this thing you want to do, you must possess something as a kind of barter. One must be willing to trade something to receive some other unspecified creation. Does this mean a soul? Like some pact with Papa Legba?
Whatever this thing is seems to me like a great sacrifice. Do you have what it takes. So, in other words, you must possess the exact thing that will, at the same time, be taken away from you. In the end, it begets another question:
What are you willing to give up to get what you want?
Because to get somewhere, one must sacrifice a part of themselves, sometimes some of the most cherished parts, to set foot onto that unknown terrain.
I’ve received countless fan mail from all of you, some angry, some sad, most pleasant and supportive, asking repeatedly:
“Matthew, what are you doing? Why are you walking away?”
I turn away from the darkened night, slip on my jacket, zip it all the way up to my neck. I wrap my own scarf around my neck and pull the boots over my feet. The ice spit down like gunfire on the chilled window. I lock the door behind me, walk down the hall, step by step over the shitty 70’s linoleum. The night air hits my face. It is a dark and stormy night. People pass, huddled against one another in a frenzied pace to avoid the cold.
I don’t feel a goddamn thing.
Do you have what it takes?
Ask yourself. When you think of your truest dreams, what do you see? I’ve watched thousand of mouths explain to me why things can or can’t be done, why certain things are useless and why things must be fought for with all ones might.
I think to the poem that ended my only published book “Rivals Of Morning”. (BUY IT HERE AND AMAZON WILL DRONE IT TO YOUR HOUSE) It’s called ‘Finale’, and it goes something like this:
the music from
the radio sings out
late on a midnight
with each note:
how do you feel
about your life?
I don’t think that’s the right question
I tell back
to the empty speakers
each day is a dollar
and most of the time
there isn’t any proof
of what you paid for
so as the next one too
like the last and
and the birthdays come
left with yesterday’s
my message for this night
sleep well with the life
you had yesterday
and ask for
what you are willing to do
Do you have what it takes? That’s the question.
We have been great friends, dear readers, for a long, long time. We’ve traveled to New Orleans together, across the Atlantic to Paris and Berlin. I’ve been 86’d from bars because of this blog. I’ve fought with countless women about the contents of these pages. I’ve received hundred of emails from across the world, all proclaiming: “You come to my bar, Matthew, and the drinks are on us!”
I’ve spent thousands of nights behind the 3 feet of wood, watching, learning, studying, all to bring you, what I thought, the bartender truly knew.
I suppose there are a couple things I learned along the way.
I see up ahead, through the frozen trees and the moonlight above, a subtle glow down the street. As I move closer, the form appears:
I make my way through the raining ice, eyes squinting and firm on my target. The door creeks open, and I saddle up to the bar, my elbows tucked nicely into the grooves. The bar is empty, of course, except for a few hunched faceless figures down the bar bathed in red light.
The bartender, a young man, much like me when I started this fine profession 13 years ago, strides up confidently, a smirk across his face.
“Cold night?" He says.
“Oh, yes,” I say. “Beer and a shot please.”
“Any preference?” He asks.
“God no,” I say.
“Good man,” he says. I watch him flip around a pint glass and pour a domestic. He, with firm skill, pours the well whiskey into the glass. “Here you go, buddy.”
I raise my glass. “To you, young man,” I say. We are mirrors of each other.
He grins and pours himself one as well.
“I can’t very well let you drink alone,” he says.
“A good bartender never should,” I say, sliding a 20 dollar bill across the wood bar.
We drink together in the darkness. He walks back to the register.
“Keep it man,” I say.
I sit for a moment. The words pass through my head again, quietly, like some beacon of light.
Do you have what it takes?
I take a long pull from my beer and answer, all to myself.
You’re goddamn right I do.
OUT IN THE DARK AND STORMY NIGHT...
THE LONE BAR...MY LAST CHURCH...
AND THAT'S THAT, MY FRIENDS. DON'T WORRY. THE DRINKS ARE ON ME...