Monday, August 22, 2011

The Confession Booth

            Now I was baptized Catholic, and that is, I’m sure, the reason for the illicit nature of my life and the cause of my sexually depraved, whiskey-addled evenings that have become rampant as I slowly glide into middle age (I just shuddered at ages’ death rattle). Now there is nothing wrong with this age-old religion, as long as one ignores the litany of massacres of indigenous people, the blatant ‘turn of the cheek’ to the sexual molestation of thousands of children, and the occasional clash with other major faiths, leaving cities burning in ruin. But at least you can say Catholicism likes to win, and as a betting man, I like that sort of gumption. And rosary beads are super cool.
            How can two centuries be wrong?
            On top of that, I am an Italian-French Catholic, which explains my penchant for fine food, beautiful women, extensive alcohol intake, and some BDSM tendencies.
            The first mention of Catholicism in the history of the world was in 107 AD by Ignatius of Antioch where he decreed: “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” Now, we live in New York City, and I highly doubt old J.C. is anywhere in this 9 mile radius. I like to think he’s getting blown by Mary Magdalene and fanned by the Angels Gabriel and Michael on a rooftop Hilton in Dubai.  
            Ladies and gentlemen, we live in one of the most radiantly hedonist, debauched, highly sexualized, drug-rampant town that has ever been born upon this fine Earth since ole Gomorrah.  
            And isn’t it great?
            Since most of us despise even the mention of faith and religion, it is up to our minor deities to protect us in our travails out here in the mire.
            There’s only two places you can go when you’re are in need of some serious spiritual guidance:
            The pulpit or the bar stool.
            And if you’re anything like me, you’re skipping Sunday services for Jack and Ginger’s on a patio with a fine cigarette and a joint all rolled up for dessert behind the ear.
            People tell you lots of things under the influence of alcohol; all kinds of secrets about martial abuse and infidelities, about the wreck their children are doing to their lives, their fears about lay-offs and someone trying to back stab them at work.
            I hear about as much as one of those black clothed priests in the dark of the confession booth.
            But I got Vodka and Gin for your sins instead of Hail Mary’s and Our Fathers.   
            Which brings me to this week’s question:
            “What is the strangest thing you’ve seen bartending?”
            Thank you, Anonymous, for your question.
            There is novel just waiting to be written for every year I’ve worked as a bartender about the things I have been exposed to. But the weirdest? This story takes the cake.
            Our tale, dear reader, begins one late afternoon in Boston where I working at some schlocky margarita joint in Harvard Square. I was new to the restaurant, so then properly cursed to the day shift. It was relatively painless, just a shift full of alcoholic graduate professors and other miscreants looking for libation at 3 in the afternoon.
            Not only did the place play old country songs in a unforgiving 3 hour loop, I also had to wear an oversized white button shirt and a bolo tie. You don’t know degradation until you’re condescended by some prissy undergraduate in a sweater-vest while making blue frozen margaritas in a fucking bolo tie!
            The afternoon was slow and I looked forward to my break to spilt up the twelve hour double I was about to work when a slightly heavy-set woman walked into the bar. She plopped right down on the stool, sweat glistening on her forehead like sugar granules, and huffed out a large breath.
            “Oooh, it’s a hot one out there, boy!” She explains, brushing her dishwater blonde hair out of her face. Her eyes were strange and wide, a clear blue, and darted back and forth as I moved between patrons behind the bar.
            I knew something was off right away, my bartending Spidey-sense ringing alarm bells. I ignored them, and greeted her.
            “What can I get you, Miss?”
            She paused, still staring intently right at me, as if she was trying to look through me.
            “Well, I need something very, very strong.”
            “And very, very sweet.”
            “What would you recommend for that?” she says, leaning on her thick arms over the bar.
            “We are a margarita bar.”
            “And you make good ones?”
            “That’s why they pay me the big bucks.”
            “Well, why don’t you fix me one of those then,” she said, winking.
            I do what I’m told, feeling those wide and strange eyes watching my every move. I use a heavy hand in my pour. She chimes in, “You can put a little more in there, can’t you?”
            To avoid trouble, I poured a couple more jiggers worth.
            “Oooh, that’s just right,” she said after gulping down ¼ of the glass. “Just what the doctor ordered. Can I ask you a question?”
            I started to polish a glass with my bar rag.
            “You would say that bartenders are pretty knowledgeable, yes?”
            “Some of us know more than others.”
            “And I’m sure you hear a lot of things back there?”
            Her eyes glazed over, still wild and blue, as she chugged back the rest.
            “Another, please.”
            I started on it. She continued:
            “Well, you seem like you probably have some answers for me.”
            I felt it creep up my spine. That cold chill of danger. I filled the glass with tequila. This was only going to go one way. I place the glass slowly in front of her, feeling those strange eyes burning a hold in the back of my head.
            “What did you have in mind?” I ask.
            She, again, ferociously puts down half the glass, a little liquid spilling over her thick lips. She rubs her face with her sleeve.
            “What would do if you had nowhere to go?”
            “What do you mean? Like you’re homeless?”
            “No. I have a home. I have a husband. I have a job. I’m saying if you can’t go to any of those things.”
            I step back and start polishing another glass clean.
            “Like you can’t go home?” I asked.
            “No. I can go home,” she said, her eyes wide, “I just can’t. Do you know what I mean?”
            I slowly shake my head: “I don’t understand, Miss, I’m sorry.”
            She leaned further over the bar, as if to tell me a secret. Her voice is low and steady.
            “I-just-can’t-go-an-y-where. Do you know what I mean? What would you do if you couldn’t go an-y-where…? What would you do if you found yourself in that position? How could you get out?”
            The clank of glasses slammed down behind me and I jumped out of the strange hypnotic eyes of the sweating woman. My boss, a fat Irishman named Bob, stood there with a case of dirty glasses.
            “Matthew, you’re on break. Take 20. I handle the bar from here.”
            I looked back to the woman who coolly sipped her drink, not taking her eyes off me.
            “Think about it, Matthew,” she said. I shivered as she said my name, overhearing it from my stupid boss. I threw down the towel and slipped out the back door.
            During my break, I ate a sandwich in Harvard Square, trying to shake that woman’s face out of my mind. All I could hope for was that she was gone when I went back in.
            I snubbed out a cigarette as I turned around the corner off Church Street when I saw the flashing lights. An ambulance was parked out front of the restaurant.
            I shook my head and swore under my breath as I walked through the double doors.
            There, on a stretcher, was the lady, tied down and flanked by a police officer and two EMT’s. As they wheeled her past me, she stared at me with those empty blue eyes and grinned, showing her teeth.
            “I found my way out. Thanks, Matthew.”
            They wheeled her out and I felt bile rise up in my throat. My boss came up behind me with his hands on his hips.
            “What the fuck did you say to her, Matthew?”
            I turned towards him. “What? I didn’t say anything. What the fuck happened?”
            Bob grunted. “Well, you left and she pounded that drink and told me what a great bartender you were. Then she went over to a table, grabbed a steak knife, brought it to her neck, yelling at the top of her lungs something about ‘getting out. What the hell did you do?”
            I felt dizzy. “I didn’t do anything. Jesus.”
            “You fucking better of not. We don’t need any more lawsuits,” he said, lumbering off, me not quite sure what that meant. I walked slowly back behind the bar. Two college kids saddled up, and laughing, asked for two frozen blue margaritas. Keeping my hands from shaking, I poured the tequila into the blender.
            They certain don’t teach you shit like that at Bartending School.
            That’s why bartenders are crafted out of steel.
            And why we’ve seen it all.
            Cheers to finding a way out, anyway you can.
            Just next time, do it at someone else’s bar.
            See y’all next week.    




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