oh, it’s your birthday? well, my night just got more annoying

I want to preface this by saying that I fucking love birthdays. I love them so much that I have to use profanity to express it. I think they are the most important of all possible celebrations. They are even bigger than Halloween, and that is a difficult thing for me to utter out loud. After all, birthdays commemorate the pure creation and existence of each individual human being on the face of this earth. What could be more important than that? Unless, of course, you are a Jehovah’s Witness.

On my friends’ birthdays, I try to make them the star of the show. I force them, in the most loving way, to wear a tiara or button or sash, anything to draw all attention to them on their special day. I try to ensure that we spend the day doing whatever their heart desires. I encourage strangers to sing to them. I don’t let them pay a dime for food or drink or rent. Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get the gist.

That being said, when I see you and your posse roll into my bar amidst a cloud of balloons, whooping and hollering for “shots, shots, shots shots shots, shots, shots, shots shots shots,” I know that my evening has just gotten a little more annoying.

As soon as I notice you and your friends are here to celebrate your day of birth, I have already decided that your first drink is on the house. I appreciate you choosing my establishment as your hall of festivities. I want to honor you and make you feel special. But if you walk up to me and shout, “Where’s my free birthday shot?” I no longer give a shit that you were even born.

As I have told you before, kiddies: Only classless people ask a bartender to dole out free booze. We want you to remember this night forever. Or not remember it, whichever you prefer. We want the pictures to be untaggable on Facebook. We want your friends to wish their parties will be half as legendary as yours. But we have our limits. If you simply enjoy your time and act like someone who understands common courtesy, the free hooch will come to you without asking.

Now I don’t want you to think I am being hypocritical here. I know I said that I don’t let my friends pay for anything on their birthdays. And that is true, with one huge exception: If I am actually behind the bar on the grand occasion.

I have been unlucky enough to work on several of my friends’ birthdays over the years. In this business, I often miss out on great holidays and events. And that usually means the bar I am tending is a stop on the birthday crawl. We do a round of shots and embarrass the guest of honor as loudly as possible. Then they tip excessively and move on to the next watering hole. Or, at least, that’s how it is supposed to go.

Sometimes the entourage sticks around too long with hopes that their connection to the shot-pourer will make the whole night damn near free. I once lost a good friend as she slurred the words, “But it’s my burfday,” and stormed out upon learning that they actually owed money for a tab. Although it sometimes seems like an adult funhouse, I still have a business to run and true friends recognize and respect that.

Speaking of respect, in my eight years of running a college bar, my favorite request was, “It’s my best friend’s birthday. What shot can we give him to make him puke?” After laying down my law that whatever vomit spewed would be their responsibility to clean, we could get down to the serious discussion of disgusting concoctions. Here are some of my go-to spew inducers:

* Rusty Nail: Equal parts scotch and Drambuie. You don’t know what Drambuie is unless you bartend or are over the age of 70, but rarely is this potion imbibed for pleasure.

* Prairie Fire: Shot of tequila with a dash of hot sauce. ‘Nuff said.

* Brain Hemorrhage aka Bloody Abortion: Layer an ounce of peach schnapps with half an ounce of Bailey’s Irish Cream. Drip a drop of grenadine down the center of the shot. This one doesn’t actually taste bad at all, but if the name tells you anything, the sight of the shot is nauseating enough on its own.

* Three Wise Men: The classic birthday shot. Equal parts Jim, Jack and Jose. Not for the feint of heart. Make it a Four Horseman by throwing some Johnny Walker into the mix.

* Sweaty Armpit: Warm rail gin sprinkled with salt. This one is just mean.

* Flaming Blue Jesus: I have no idea what is in this, but I know some downtown OC bartenders who do. And I know just as many people who have regretted visiting said downtown bars on their birthdays.

Birthdays are distinguished days where you should get to feel like a bona fide rockstar amongst the local public. If you choose to have your revelry in a barroom, please remember that the rules still apply. You have to realize that whether or not this is the day on which you were spawned, you are still not the only customer in the room. Other folks are here willing to spend their hard earned money, too.

Sure, I will do my best to spoil you with my attentiveness, but when you start butting in the drink line or demanding that your song be played next on the jukebox, then you just look like a jackass. A tiara adorned, disrespectful jackass.

this article was previously published in “the hard times magazine,” december 2011

just because i bought you a drink, doesn’t mean that i’ll be taking you home

There are a plethora of reasons why people choose a career in the grueling yet rewarding world of the service industry. Most of the time, it‘s all about the Benjamins. Some bartenders are working their way through college, or are looking to supplement their desk job income with a nighttime gig. Some are trying to put off entering the “real world,“ while, for many, this is as real as it gets. A few don’t make it past their first shift before realizing this is not the life for them. Others look up after eight years and recognize that they are making more money than they ever would using their B.A. in English with a minor in Women’s Studies. Those of us who choose to stay, do so because we are damn good at it and we love the requisite crazy pace and late night hours, not to mention the fat stack of cash in our pocket come closing time.

And then there are the ones who do it because, as my illustrious friend, Lynn Lendyak, was recently quoted as saying, “Chicks dig bartenders.” Although he may not be fancy with his words, he speaks the truth. I think I answer for most chicks out there when I say that there is nothing better than a sweet piece of eye candy pouring you shots of Fireball and sliding them across the bar with a wink. In that regard, it’s safe to say that dudes dig bartenders, too. There is just this twinkle of hope in a boozer’s mind that tonight, between the cocktails, the flirty banter and the smooth use of over tipping, “last call” will not apply.

While I have tried to live by the Coyote Ugly rule of seeming available, but not being available, I will not deny that there is a power held by those of us who have control over the liquor. Even back in what I consider my chunky phase, I was still garnering the attention of boys almost a decade my junior. Okay, and girls. I will admit to my occasional inappropriate use of pool tables, pinball machines and storage rooms. After all, what’s the point of having the key to the bar if you never use it to lock yourself in?

But I would like to make a Public Service Announcement at this time: If I happen to tell you that this round is on the house, it does not mean that you should be waiting for me in the parking lot while I am locking the doors. It also doesn’t mean that I will ever give you another free drink again, so don’t bring all your friends in under the mirage that you have me wrapped around your finger. Don‘t hate the player, hate the game.

One of the job requirements in this industry is making sure the customers are having a grand ol’ time. When they are smiling, laughing and chatting up a storm, they tip better. Bartenders who are all business make less money than those who crack jokes and playfully harass their regulars. I don’t have any scientific research to cite for that statistic, but I have worked alongside all types of ‘tenders and am confident in my conclusions.

Do I flirt with you while pouring your beer? Of course. Do I mean it? Not always. Will I buy you and your friends a round of fruity shooters just to hear you “Whooo!” while you are toasting? Most definitely. Am I going to show up to your after hours party that you wrote directions to on the back of your credit card slip? Probably not, but keep the hope alive.

The funny thing about most people who gravitate towards a life of slinging drinks is that they are usually brutally honest, sarcastic and an almost painfully astute judge of character. If you follow my basic rules of patience and general social manners, I want to reward your good behavior so that you come back on another night with a full wallet. That reward may come in the form of a complimentary Jager Bomb, but that doesn’t mean you should slip your hotel room key into my hand with the check. If our flirtations leave me wanting to see you outside of work, trust me, I have no qualms about asking for your phone number. But if you write it down for me without a request, I am just going to staple it to the Wall of Shame behind the bar for my coworkers and your friends to enjoy.

this article was previously published in “the hard times magazine,” 23 sept 2011

if you can’t afford to tip, then you can’t afford to drink

You sidle up to the bar and grab a seat. I smile, say hello, toss you a coaster and ask what I can get for you. The first words out of your mouth are, “What’s cheap?” I smile again and respond, “Drinking at home is cheap,” and walk away.

Okay, I don’t really say it, but I think it as I list off drink specials and explain that Natural Light is always the least expensive choice. Your stinginess has also made me aware that you’re probably not the best tipper in the world, so our transaction has started off on a sour note. Subconsciously, I have decided that you are not going to receive the best service I have to offer, and that sucks for both of us.

I am a firm believer that it should be a life requirement for everyone to work in the service industry for a short period of time. Whether or not you choose to make it a career, you should know what it feels like to have your livelihood depend upon the generosity of those you serve. The bartenders, barbacks, servers, bussers and food runners who have dedicated their hours to making your drinking and dining experience the best it can be, rarely receive a paycheck. The $3.63 an hour we make is usually just enough to cover taxes at the end of the week. When you tip poorly, it is not only a hit to the bills we owe that month, but also to our sense of self-worth. If you choose not to honor the customary dollar per drink or 15% gratuity on a check (FYI: these days, it is actually 18%), you are blatantly stating that my precious time is not worth your money.

One balmy July evening, I was working the dreaded “karaoke night” shift. A group of 15 customers were drinking Grateful Deads like they were free. I made copious rounds of this labor intensive drink which consists of seven different liquors and a skillful pour that creates a tie-dyed appearance, all while simultaneously serving 40 other thirsty patrons. When this group asked for their bill, which was well over $200, they balked, complained and proceeded to tip me a whopping $1.50. I begrudgingly held my tongue (not an easy feat for this broad) because I know that I have to take the good with the bad in this business. I usually have my share of tremendous tippers who make up for classless chumps like this.

It was not until one member of the group came back to the bar and asked, “What can I get with my last $5.00,” that I lost my shit. I refused to serve him explaining that those five bucks, along with many more, should have been mine. To this he responded with some of the sharpest words to ever be uttered in a barroom: “Well if you wanted to make real money, maybe you should have gotten a real job.” I have served a lot of rude and ignorant drunks, but this one cut straight to my soul.

I chose this career path. I hung my B.A. on the wall next to my coveted collection of shot glasses. I have a mortgage payment and a myriad of other bills that get paid because customers value my efficient, friendly service and my knowledge of boozy concoctions. I work hard. I run and sweat and cater to the ridiculous requests of finicky drinkers. There is nothing fake about this job and it is certainly not always the shot-taking funhouse it may appear to be. At the end of the day, I expect my efforts to be rewarded just like any cubicle occupant out there.

There is a running joke in my family about how extravagant of an over-tipper I am when on the customer side of the scene. I usually drop an extra twenty dollar bill on the table after the check has been paid, just in case. My bare minimum gratuity is 20% and the service has to be abhorrent for me to lower that. I don’t expect everyone to follow my lead, but the moral of the story is this: If you are not willing to tip sensibly on top of the cost of your food and drinks, then I suggest you pick up a 12-pack, swing through the McDonald’s drive-thru and drink on your own couch.

this article was previously published in “the hard times magazine,” 19 august 2011

keno is the work of the devil

I am single-handedly responsible for several people not becoming the millionaires they deserve to be. This has directly affected my own wealth, a fact of which they have loudly made me aware. Ever been blamed for your customers not increasing their income while sitting at your bar? Well then, my friend, there is a four-letter word in your vocabulary that is more offensive than the F-word is to your grandma.

Ahhh Keno. If you have never had the pleasure of working in an establishment that provides this form of legalized barroom gambling, consider yourself a winner. The rules are simple: Choose how many numbers you want to bet on, how much money to bet and what your lucky numbers will be. Fill in the bubbles on the Keno card correctly (don‘t ask me how just because you’re too lazy to read instructions), hand the card to the bartender and pay for your wager. Then sit back, watch your numbers not appear on the magic screen, get angry and fill out another card. Surely, this one will be the golden ticket. If you win big, tip big. If you lose, tip as much as you should have before betting away your booze fund.

There are different breeds of Keno players. Just like bingo addicts with their troll dolls, every participant has their method. Some choose numbers based on important dates like birthdays. Some have delusions that if they watch game after game, they can crack the code of randomly chosen winning numbers. Groups fill out cards together and buy rounds with their winnings. Most place meager bets to casually fill the space between drinks. Yet there are some who spend more money in one night of Keno than I make in a week. I’ve been known to play the game. My numbers are the same every time: 13 (my lifelong favorite), 29 (the age when I first tasted the joy of winning enough to cover my bar tab) and 77 (the glorious year of my birth). I celebrate when I win and laugh when I lose. Life, somehow, goes on either way.

But I have met several patrons who seem demon-possessed when they have that tiny pencil in their hands. Some fill out five different cards for every game and literally wave them at you every two minutes, counting aloud how much time is left before they’ve lost a chance at glory. They blatantly ignore the sign stating, “Drinks and Food First. Keno Second,” expecting all other customers to go thirsty while you pander to their obsession. Don’t bother reminding them that this is not a casino. They can’t hear you over their lust to win less than they are spending.

One frantic Friday taught me to guiltlessly lie about the Keno machine being broken. My bar was two-deep, the service tickets were ceaseless and the food runner seemed to be hiding in a closet somewhere, forcing me to make mad dashes to the kitchen every ten minutes. My loudest customer had just won $225, accelerating his need to play more, and now. I explained to him several times, in my best Kindergarten teacher voice, that I would get to his tickets as soon as possible.

Soon, he began incessantly proclaiming to everyone within earshot that his numbers were hitting but I was causing him to lose by not putting his bets in fast enough. Every time I passed by, he tried to grab my arm. At one point, his head spun around Linda Blair-style while he complained to strangers about my lack of customer service skills. People trying to enjoy a leisurely evening were so aggravated that I handed him his check and told him that my hospitality had come to an end. While paying, he loudly announced, “Here’s twenty bucks for being a bitch.” He even wrote “BITCH” on his receipt. As he left, my bar erupted in applause.

If I just could have found the time to run his Keno numbers in between sitting on my ass and scratching said ass, I’m sure he would have won enough to share. We all could have quit our jobs and reveled in the creation of a game designed to circumvent the tedium of having to work hard for your money, all while pestering someone who is trying to work hard for their money. And just for future reference: I will take twenty bucks for being a bitch any day of the week.

this article was previously published in “the hard times magazine,” 2 september 2011

tales from the tip jar: a bartender’s chronicle

I’m pretty pissed off at myself right now. Super pissed, actually. I attended a friend’s wedding this weekend in Fell’s Point, which happens to be one of Maryland’s prime spots for barhopping. We hopped pre-ceremony, and we hopped post-reception. Around 2:03 a.m. is when I broke one of my own cardinal rules: I attempted to convince the bartender that he should serve us one more round of shots after the dreaded announcement of “bar’s closed!” I begged. I promised much cash. And, still, that diligent slinger of drinks said “no.” As he should have. As is the law. As I am well aware.

So here I sit, on a coveted Sunday Funday off of work, under self-inflicted punishment. I am not out day drinking, as are many of my friends. I am grounded. I have offended my own sensibilities. I have done unto others what I would not have them do unto me. I have turned upon my own. Granted, I was wedding-drunk. Any of you who have experienced the words “open bar” know what I’m talking about, but that is no excuse. There are just some lines that you do not cross.

At this point, some of you are saying to yourselves, “Rules? There are rules to boozing?” And my answer, after spending the last 13 years wasting my English degree behind a bar, is an emphatic “yes.” Gather ‘round and listen, kiddies. Momma’s gonna teach you a thing or two about a thing or two.

This week, let’s ease into the basics: any bartender worth their weight in beer-soaked dollar bills knows that their purpose in life (or at least while on the clock) is to serve you drinks. Even though I may be running around like a crazy person, I can see that your glass is empty. Chances are, I even know how long you have been waiting and that the guy sitting next to you got there first. Do not shout at me to get my attention. You will be pushed to the back of my mental queue. Do not whistle or snap at me. I am not a Labrador retriever. Do not bang on the bar with your fist or anything else. I have been known to snatch pitchers and throw them away when such unacceptable behavior is exhibited.

Now I realize that not every day-squad can be the A-squad. I recently witnessed a bartender who had to have been on valium for the lack of hustle she possessed. A gentleman ordered two draft beers of the same type. She poured one of them, walked 20 feet to hand it to him, and then walked back to the tap to pour the second one. A little part of me died as I watched this unspeakable act of inefficiency, but I still felt guilty every time we had to wave at her to remind her that she was supposed to be working.

Patience is a virtue in the world of barroom etiquette, and will be rewarded as such. I see you. I know you want a drink and I want to make it for you. I want this to be a pleasant and profitable exchange for everyone involved. But for the love of all that is unholy, if you manage to not offend me and have my undivided attention, do not wait until that final moment to ask your five friends what they want to drink. You have had time to make these decisions, and now you will have even more time as I move on to the next customer in line.

this article was previously published in “the hard times magazine,” 5 august 2011

well, hello there

as some of you may remember, this website was created a decade ago to showcase some of my poetry.  ten years and 5,000 measly but appreciated hits later, it is time to re-purpose this humble space.  i have yet to decide if it will have an actual theme, but, more than likely, it will become home to the random, fucked up shit that runs through my head at any given moment, sometimes not so poetically.   i apologize ahead of time.

the closest i have ever come to actualizing my dream of published writerdom was as a contributing columnist for a small, local publication called “the hard times magazine.”   that progressive powerhouse of a paper has since gone by the wayside, and i am sure that not nearly enough of you had a chance to experience it.  in order to remedy that situation, my first posts on this blog will be reprints of my ‘tales from the tip jar’ column.  hopefully, this will keep you satiated until i get my lazy ass in gear and write something new.