Friday, June 22, 2012


             I could have been a lawyer.
            What’s more punk rock than that? In a country run by lawyers, what better profession to aspire to? If both the Senate and the House of Representatives are chalk full of lawyers, and these are the men and women who decide the Fate of our country, wouldn’t it be the smart decision to know exactly how the game is played, and, on top of that, be able to learn the rules of that game to break them and exact some kind of change? Pass a bill of legal fuck offs and slam into Congress like it’s a judiciary mosh-pit.  
            But that’s not what happened.
            I opted for a life of tax free money, loose women, and deranged drunks, swimming in an endless ocean of Jameson shots. If one is not careful, one can lose oneself fully in this sea of debauchery, only to find oneself stranded in ones mid-40's, still trying to chase 23-year-old college ass, all while wearing some kind of ironic tee-shirt far too tight on ones bloated and liver spotted stomach. That is a Fate worse than death.    
            It’s not technically our faults. Our ‘clients’ want us to share in their intoxication. No one is more boring than the sober and irritable bartender. It’s not like the common populace wants to stop drinking anytime soon. I try to imagine a world without alcohol and bars. That’s what made the Baby Face Kelly’s and Capone’s of the world so popular. People want a drink so bad after work they’ll deal with blood thirsty thugs just to get their hands on a Budweiser. And if they buy Anheuser-Busch products (owned by John McCain’s family), they already do!
            It is an essential part of life, drinking in pubs, seeing a familiar face that will greet you and slide a cold one across the bar. Hell, I remember when I was a kid, I would see one of my Uncle’s crack open a beer, take a long pull off the bottle, and set it down hard, a look of relief on their face, and say: “I needed that.” I’d stare, wild-eyed, at the bubbles of this mysterious elixir.
            “You want some?” They offered my young self.
            Trying to be a man (at 12), seeking the same feeling of ecstasy, I took a pull off the bottle and spat it out.
            Beer tasted like old man sweat. I never understood why my Uncle’s wanted to drink an octogenarian’s excretion and found such comfort in it.
            Now I get it. Now I drink 31 Budweiser’s and feel better for it.
            Beer is poor man’s Prozac.
            No, the bartender’s life is very different than those who follow justice’s blind eyes.
            I recently went on an interview for a new dive bar job. The proceedings were simple. I already came recommended by another bartender (a minting worth its weight in gold) so I did NOT bring a resume. As we have previously stated, no one will ever get a dive bartender job from a resume. The bar keeps resumes in their basement offices to use as fodder for jokes during work meetings. 
            I walk in at 230 in the morning, the bartender’s version of late afternoon, and set my sights on the man behind the bar. I roll up, dig my elbow into the lips of the old wood (I already like the feel of the place) and extend a hand.
            “I’m Matthew.”
            He introduces himself, wipes his hand down with a white bar rag, and we shake with a firm understanding.
            “Hey,” the boss man says, “you doing all right?”
            “Any better I’d be dead,” I say.
            “Hear that,” he says, giving me a once over. “so you know about this…” he asks, gesturing to the liquor lined bar wall.
            “Oh yes. All too well,” I huff.
            “I know what you mean.”
            I nod: “I’m 35,” I say, bluntly.
            He nods back with a gentile accord: “I hear you. I’m 40 and am really feeling it back here. You drink?”
            “Does Momma Kennedy own a black dress? Wanna pound a Bud Light?”
            He’s take’s a moment and I see a sparkle in the man’s eyes. He grins: “Sound about right.”
            He cracks open two bottles, We raise them under the dim bar light. They're gone in a minute and a half flat. We place them hard down on the wood bar. He nods:
            “Can you start Tuesday?”
            And that’s how you get dive bar jobs. No Law School necessary. No diplomas, no degrees. Just a hundred yard stare, a fierce thirst, and a casual understanding that you can handle a room full of liquors and the people that consume them. The bartender stands against the wave of humanity and pours them a shot. And we have to judge situations as they arise, just how dangerous or tedious they may be, and deliver a verdict.
            Here are some cases that no law degree could ever help in determining a fair outcome. There’s no logic or sense in dealings with these whiskey-soaked defendants, nor the already drunk prosecutors who have left any semblance of reason and dignity at the door:  
            THE BAR FIGHT

            It happens.
            Try a cocktail of a shitty day, a horrible boss, not enough money for rent, and a recent break up and that same cocktail will get spilled across the bar, dropping F-Bombs and threatening lives. The bartender can usually sense tension from a mile away, but sometimes it’s the shattering of glass or the yells of men from the darkness of the back of the bar that cues imminent danger.
            The only thing you can do is jump over and get in the middle of it. Most of the time, drunk patrons will not hit the bartender. It’s when they are so blind drunk they don’t even know who they are swinging at that you will take a hit.
            Just a couple of month ago, one of my favorite bartenders, T., took a punch to her face (yes, a woman), knocking her glasses right off her nose and giving her a bad shiner. The only good thing to come of it was that the douche bag woman-hitter left his IPhone at the scene of the crime. Not only do we know who he is, but his personal information was put up on Facebook.
            Nice job, dick head. Now you’re known as the guy who hits girls. You’ll get what you deserve soon enough. Vengeance is a dish best served ice cold.
             The dangerous thing is that once the chaos starts, there is no time to call the police or scream for help. You have got to get the skirmish out of the bar ASAP. Once past the threshold, it is now the cities problem. You lock the door behind them, batten the hatches, and pour some shots for the rest of the patrons trapped inside with you.
            I’ve been punched. I’ve had pint glasses thrown at my chest, and beer bottles sail past my nose. It can get ugly late at night, and bartenders without doormen must join the fray. 
            And bartenders can get hurt.

            GET YOU LAID
            As I’ve stated before, bartenders are more trusted than strangers.
            Our word is better than cash money, and when a certain young lady asks us, even with the slightest hint of flirtation about you, we can add or subtract to your fuck quotient with a smile or a wary glance.
            This goes the same with female bartenders in regards to other women. I have had many a female bartender friends vouch for me to her female cohorts. There is just something trustable about a person serving you drinks. Never have drug dealers received such lauding since Pablo Escobar from the people in his village. We are those civic leaders, aware of the many tidings around the veranda. And as local celebrities, we can change the order of Fate for the right kind of people.
            My favorite move is the: “Come and sit over here,” technique. Let’s say a lonely guy friend of mine is in need of a little attention and another friend of the fairer sex rolls into the bar, I usually signal her over and guide her to the empty bar stool conveniently next to my ‘client’. I begin a dialogue with her about her day, warm her up, offer a free shot, and make a couple of easy jokes to loosen her up. Then a couple more customers need some drinks down the bar (or I fake that they do) and I leave her with: “Oh, by the way, this is my friend, X. He’s cool (I give the approving nod) and...(insert something relatively interesting about him that she may dig)...I’ll be right back.” And that is that. It’s up to the guy from there (we are not love magicians). If he comes off like a rapey stalker weirdo, that’s his fucking problem.
            But that’s us bartenders, just here to help.
            Or we can fuck your shit up. Don’t think we won’t.
            Remember that extra buck for extraneous services.

            Actual psychologists get approximately $250 an hour. We get about a dollar a drink.  
            I can’t tell you how many hundreds of people I have served who have just received horrible news.
            Recently fired (like that day, the 2008-2009 recession was a tough one).
            Family sickness.
            Loss of a pet.
            Serious heartbreak.
            That’s when we shut up. Just as much as a bartender needs to know just what to say for the mood, they need to know as well just when to shut the fuck up.
            Just pour the whiskey quietly. Lift up a glass for yourself. Cheers somberly. Knock on the bar in front of them and leave them be. And keep the others away as well.
            Sometimes when you look into the abyss, you gotta do it alone.       

            There’s a whole different kind of justice system that exists in the bar rooms.
            There are rules.
            There is a right and a wrong. And it is the bartender who wears the somber, magistrate black robes. His gavel is his church key, his bouncer is the bailiff (if he even has one). Judge Wapner ain't got shit on us.
            And in a lawless world, somebody’s got to act the part.
            Let the lawyers run the country.
            We’ll clean up the rest.