I think I’ve mentioned before that I work at a bar. I started at as the lowest cocktail waitress with the worst section and climbed my way aaaaall the way to the top position of…. bartender. (The ladder of success in a dirty little bar really doesn’t have that many rungs to climb.) It’s not a bad way to make money, except that it doesn’t really suit me all that well.
I’m a morning person, and in a perfect world I’d be in bed before 9 pm.
I don’t like to dress up.
I don’t like to party.
I don’t enjoy small talk, and even before I was married I didn’t like “flirting”.
I don’t really like to drink or even the taste of alcohol very much.
To top it off, alcoholism runs in my family, so I’m fairly uncomfortable around drunk people.
My only saving grace is that I have pretty darn good acting skills. You kind of have to, as a bartender. It takes a great deal of skill to smile instead of punching the 3rd drunk of the night who has come up to your bar and says, “I’ll have Sex on the Beach…. Oh! And I’ll have a drink, too! Ha, ha!”
Drunk people don’t make the most scintillating conversation I’ve ever heard, and after enough time with them, you start to realize that the majority of humanity is really just faking social interaction.
On a side note, I’ve decided that this is the main reason why Showtime’s series “Dexter” is so wildly popular. Everyone who likes it identifies with the main character (who happens to be a sociopath serial killer incapable of real emotion) who has to fake his way through life’s awkward social interactions with fake smiles and canned responses. I know that’s certainly why I like it.
But I digress.
Last night was a slow night at the bar. I was leaning back against the register, chatting and laughing with one of the few patrons that was actually sitting at the bar. Every bartender has their niche that they try to use to get good tips.
Some of them have hot bodies with lean, toned thighs. (Not me!)
Some of them have big, plasticky boobs that they gather together like unruly children and squash into a low-cut blouse. (Not me!) One of the bartenders at my job manages to herd her gigantic, plastic beasts into such a high, protruding “Look-at-what-I’m-serving-up” position that I always have the strange urge to hand her a sprig of garland and a lemon wedge to adorn them. Sometimes I just feel sorry for her boobs. It’s like looking at a Clydesdale in a 10×10 box stall. Give those girls a little more room! Let them be free to be boobs and actually move around a little!
Some of them have mean personalities that they use to scare people into giving them tips. One of the bartenders at our bar is known for throwing quarter or .50 cent tips back at people before hollering so loudly about their stinginess that they generally end up digging back into their wallets and leaving a large tip out of embarrassment. (Not me!)
Some of them try for witty conversation and funny banter, in the hopes that someone thinks they’re funny enough to leave them a big tip. (Me!)
Is it any wonder that I don’t make the same tips as the rest of the girls?
Like I was saying, I am a bartender, but it’s not exactly the right job for me.
And like I was saying, last night I was chatting with a customer, when in walks James, one of the regulars.
James is a nice guy, kind of funny and loud, and he drinks the same thing every night: Clan McGregor whiskey on the rocks with a tiny splash of soda. He leaves a $1 tip for every drink he buys. Whenever I see James come in, I try to have his first drink ready for him before he even hits the bar. He’s good friends with the manager, and the two of them usually end up in some kind of heated political discussion that is more cuss words than anything else before the night is through. They enjoy needling each other, and lately James (who is black) has been trying to negate all of the manager’s points (who is white) by laughingly saying, “Well, that’s just because you’re racist! You hate black people!” The two of them then end the night by slinging racist epithets back and forth, each one trying to outdo the other in terms of sheer, disgusting shock value.
It’s actually one of the highlights of my Monday nights, listening to those two.
Last night, as James made his way to the bar, I didn’t hasten over to greet him, but lingered for a half second to finish whatever it was I was saying to the first customer. Just to get a reaction from me, James slammed both hands down flat on the bar as soon as he reached it, and hollered out, “Can I get a little service in this damn place?” I jumped at the loud noise, and looked over to see him grinning at me. I decided to take a chance, so I replied, “No. We don’t serve black people in here. Go away.”
James immediately began laughing, and I laughed with him, and all was good. I poured his drink a little heavier than usual to take the sting out of my joke, and he tipped me $2 instead of just $1 in appreciation for the laugh.
All’s well that ends well, right?
Mmmhmm. You know this story wouldn’t be on this blog if that were the case.
Several hours later, James is still hanging out at the bar, only now he’s a little worse for the wear. He’s one of the few people I don’t cut off, because his house is within rock-throwing distance of the bar. When he’s done he just staggers home and sleeps it off, and I know I don’t have to worry about him behind the wheel, or getting mugged on the way home, or anything like that. He and the manager have already had their friendly evening spat, and he’s leaning against the bar, looking a little faded, slowly sipping on his Whiskey soda (Number four? Five? I lost count.) I am in the process of making two long islands for a beautiful black couple. They were absolutely, hands down, the two best looking people I have seen in a long time. To top it off, they were speaking with a beautiful accent. South Africa? Uganda? Kenya? I was just opening my mouth to ask them where they were from, when from the end of the bar I hear:
“Oh, so you serve black people now? Because I had to beg you for my drink, and you didn’t want to give it to me because I’m black. That’s what you told me, isn’t it? You said, ‘We don’t serve black people here— get out.’ You’re so disgusting. Racist. Racist pig.”
Beautiful African Couple in front of me glanced at James (who was doing a very admirable job of faking genuine anger), and then looked back at me, mouths narrowed in anger and distaste.
“Wait. No. Wait…” I spluttered.
“Isn’t that what you said, Becky? Didn’t you say that? Didn’t I hear the words, ‘We don’t serve black people in here’ come out of your mouth? And now you’re serving these two people?”
“But, but, but… No, wait. Wait.” I could feel my face flushing a deep, horrible red. “That’s not what I meant! It was a joke! I was just joking. I’m not racist! It was just a joke! I like black people! No, wait… that sounds racist, too. I mean, uh…. I mean… Uh… It was a joke! I was just joking!”
The more I talked, the stupider I sounded, and the more James secretly laughed. And the more I tried to make it sound like it was all a big joke, the angrier the African couple in front of me became. It’s one thing to make a joke about racism to James, who while I’m sure has encountered racism in his life also makes a VERY comfortable living as a stockbroker on Wall Street. It’s another thing entirely to joke about racism with someone from Africa— in Africa racism is frightening, and depressing, and violently alive. There’s no joking about racism with someone from Africa. My joke with James at the beginning of my shift had been funny because of its shock value, but it had been within the lines of good taste. Suddenly, now, taken in its real context, I realized how unfunny it actually was.
I never really did recover or fully explain myself to that beautiful African couple. They only ordered the one drink from me and shortly thereafter took their leave. I felt terrible.
James spent the last two hours of my shift hollering out, “You hate black people! You told me you wouldn’t serve me any alcohol because I’m BLACK!” at the top of his lungs to anyone who happened to wander near him. Ha, ha, ha. I guess it serves me right for making the joke in the first place. Karma had its revenge, and I learned a very valuable lesson.