People frequently mistake me not talking as me listening. It’s why I’m a good bartender. That, and I can mix a martini so delightful you’ll be tempted to ask for my hand in marriage but please don’t.
My first “real job” after getting off the road was at a neighborhood Italian place in Los Angeles County. It was a tiny white building with giant red awnings that shaded the front windows. A billion twinkling Christmas lights covered everything like English Ivy while empty Chianti bottles, from their perch on the window sill, peeked out from beneath as if to say, “What the fuck you lookin’ at?”
When I called to inquire about the position, a woman with a thick, unrecognizable accent answered the phone. My guess was Russian. For some reason whenever I can’t place an accent I immediately assume the person is from Russia. They rarely are. I also sometimes think people sound like Count Dracula, which isn’t a country or an accent, and usually not correct either.
The dining room felt warm and lived in, like a grandma’s house, the air heavy with smells of garlic, freshly baked bread, and an occasional whiff of mildew.
It was decorated by the owner, Tony, who enjoyed gluing stuff to the wood-paneled walls. My favorites were an old Army shovel and the right half of a broken beer mug. Inside the mug was imprisoned a tiny clown wearing a top hat and playing the accordion. He stared straight ahead with a big smile on his face that didn’t quite reach his cold, dead eyes.
I totally feel you, buddy.
The ceiling, was painted light blue like the heavens, with cotton candy clouds and half-naked cherubs flying around playing the harp. Directly above the bar was Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, exactly like in the Sistine chapel, except for God’s disproportionately long index finger and Adam’s downtown area which looked disturbingly lobsterish, or lobster-y, or however you’d say his junk resembled a lobster.
A large antique mirror covered the back wall, and with the soft red and amber glow of Tiffany lamps, the ambiance was a combo of an old west saloon and a house of ill repute.
I learned a lot working that bar. Most notably, I look amazing in brothel lighting.
It’s true what they say about folks treating their bartender like a shrink. And, I guess if you think about it, it makes total sense even though it doesn’t.
Six days a week at 4 p.m. I’d open the doors to find my regulars impatiently waiting to get started drinking and bending my ear. Sometimes they’d knock on the front window in hopes of being let in early. You could hear them all the way in the kitchen where I’d sit and pretend I couldn’t hear them.
By the way, no judgment if you need a cocktail in the afternoon. It’s a little too early for me but I get it. Besides, pretty sure that 4 o’clock counts as 5 o’clock and if it doesn’t then it should.
Once a customer asked Tony if we had a restroom, to which he replied, “No. We shit in the street.” That job was a good fit for me. Although, I stayed way too long – as one will do when hiding from whatever it is that one is hiding from.
Most of the pressing issues my crowd wanted advice about were just common sense things. Stuff adults should know and it really annoyed me that they didn’t. A fact that was never hidden and also, unfortunately, didn’t seem to be a deterrent.
My sage advice was usually along the lines of “Grow up and pull your head out of your ass.”
Perhaps not the guidance hoped for but I suppose is what’s to be expected when a disenchanted comic is your bartender, and your bartender is who you’ve chosen as a mental health provider.