THE BARTENDER KNOWS #5
THE CONFESSION BOOTH.
I was baptized Catholic, and that is, I’m sure, the cause of the sexually depraved, whiskey-addled evenings that have become rampant in my life as I glide into middle age (I just shuddered at ages’ death rattle). Essentially, 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’ towards the sexual molestation of thousands of children and the occasional clash with other major faiths, leaving their cities burning in ruin. But at least you can say the Catholics like to win, and as a betting man, I appreciate 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 light 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 imagine him getting blown by Mary Magdalene and fanned by the Angels Gabriel and Michael on a rooftop Hilton in Dubai.
Ladies and gentlemen, New York City is one of the most radiantly hedonistic, debauched, highly sexualized, drug-rampant towns that has ever been spawned upon this fine Earth since ole Gomorrah.
And isn’t it great?
Since most of us despise even the mention of faith or religion, it’s 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 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 their secrets about marital abuse and infidelities, their fears about lay-offs and who’s trying to stab them in the back at work.
As a bartender, I hear as much as one of those black-clothed priests in the dark of the confession booth. But I’ve got Vodka and Gin for your sins instead of any Hail Mary’s and Our Fathers.
Which brings me to this week’s question:
“What is the strangest thing you’ve ever seen bartending?”
Thank you, Anonymous, for your question. I get this one all the time.
There is a novel waiting to be written to describe the years I’ve worked as a bartender. But what’s the weirdest moment? Only one takes the cake — so here we go.
Our tale, dear reader, begins one late afternoon in Boston when I was bartending at a schlocky margarita joint in Harvard Square. I was new to the restaurant, so they properly cursed me to a 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 an unforgiving 3 hour loop, I also had to wear an oversized white button shirt with a bolo tie. You don’t know degradation until you’ve been condescended by prissy Harvard undergraduates in sweater-vests while serving them blue frozen margaritas in a fucking bolo tie. How we suffer for higher learning.
The afternoon was slow and I was looking forward to my lunch break 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!”
Her eyes were shifty. She kept folding her fingers over and over again.
“What can I get you, Miss?”
She paused, still staring intently, 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 said, leaning 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,” I said.
“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 blue eyes watching every move I made. I used a heavy hand in my pour, like I always do. She chimed in anyways: “You can put a little more in there, can’t you?”
To avoid any 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,” I said.
“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.
I started on it. She continued:
“Well, you seem like you probably have some answers for me then.”
I felt a chill creep up my spine. My eyes darted to the clock on the wall. It was only 3:10pm. I filled the glass with tequila. This was only going to go one way.
“What did you have in mind?” I asked.
She ferociously drank down half the glass. A little liquid spilled over her thick lips. She rubbed her face with her sleeve.
“What would you 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 stepped back and started polishing another glass.
“Like you can’t go home?” I asked.
“No. I can go home,” she said, her eyes widening, “I just can’t — you know what I mean?”
I shook 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 was 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 would you get out?”
A clank of glasses slammed down behind me. My boss, a fat Irishman named Bob, stood there with a case of dirty glasses.
“Matthew, you’re on break. Take 20. I can handle the bar from here.”
I looked back to the woman who coolly sipped her drink. She did not take 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 my towel down and slipped out the back door.
During my break, I ate a sandwich in Harvard Square, trying to shake that woman’s eyes from my mind. All I could hope for was that she was gone by the time I got back.
It was when I turned around the corner off Church Street that I saw the flashing lights. An ambulance was parked out in front of the restaurant. I shook my head and prayed 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 pushed her past me, she stared at me with those empty blue eyes and grinned, showing her teeth.
“I finally found my way out. Thank you, Matthew.”
They wheeled her out. “Thank you, Matthew,” she echoed through the double doors. Bile rose in my throat. Bob The Irishman came up behind me, 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, after you left she pounded that drink and then told me what a great bartender you were. Then she went over to a table, grabbed a steak knife, brought it to her neck, and started yelling at the top of her lungs something about getting out. I had to keep her talking while the hostess called the cops. We’re lucky she didn’t slit her own throat. What the hell did you serve her?”
I felt dizzy. “I didn’t do anything, Jesus!”
“You fucking better not. We don’t need any more lawsuits — it would really ruin lunch around here,” he said, lumbering off. I walked back behind the bar. Two college kids saddled up laughing and asked for two frozen blue margaritas. I poured the tequila into the blender. The crushed ice swirled the same color blue as the crazy woman’s eyes. The ambulance pulled away down the street.
They certainly don’t teach you shit like that in Bartending School. That’s why us bartenders are crafted out of steel. We’ve seen it all.
I guess we all have a way out somehow — some through religion, some through booze and some with a stolen steak knife to the throat during a lunch shift.
Just next time, if you’re in that sort of mood, please:
Do it at someone else’s bar.