I Was A Shitty Bartender
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I Was A Shitty Bartender


This post was originally published on September 17, 2014.

“Don’t quit your day job,” the guy with the red hat shouted across the bar at me as Eric Clapton’s “Lay Down Sally” leaked out of the jukebox and mingled with the thick smoky air.

“Excuse me?” I shot back and leaned in closer. I squeezed my left hand behind my back in a loose fist just in case I needed it.

“You’re the worst fucking bartender ever,” he slurred, his words tripping over the coagulated globs of drunk spit that had collected in the corners of his wobbly mouth.

As soon as this guy had walked into the bar, I’d been able to tell that he’d already had a few too many and that cutting him off would ignite an explosion that would rival the atomic bomb. But I’d done it anyway.

“It’s time for you to go, my friend,” I said. Then, when he ignored me, I said it again. The third and last time I had to say it, I pointed at the front door with my other hand still resting in a fist behind my back, my fingernails cutting half moon imprints into the flesh of my palm.

In a mix of pantomime, Spanish and garbled English, he leaned across the bar. “Do you know who I am?” he asked.

“Do you know who I am, asshole?” I responded, pitching my voice above the music, hoping I would get the bouncer’s attention; alas, he was busy flirting with a crowd of giggly, half-clothed coeds that were wiggling their way through the front door. So I decided I would handle the situation myself.

If this fool comes any closer, I thought, Ill whack him on his head with one of the bottles of vodka lined up behind me. As I nervously glanced over my shoulder, I figured that the bottle of Absolut, with its thick glass and short, sturdy neck, would do some serious damage; of course, in order for it to work, I’d have to lean in dangerously close to him. Then there was the long, thin, elegant bottle of Belvedere right at the edge of the shelf that I could grip with both hands and swing like a baseball bat while maintaining a safe distance from this guy.

Luckily, the bouncer tuned in to was going on and swooped in just in time to escort the belligerent guy out of the bar before the bottles started flying. I waited until he cleared the front door to start breathing again. This was not how I’d expected my first shift at my first legit bartending gig to go down.

I knew, as the daughter, sister, cousin, niece and granddaughter of a long, stumbling line of alcoholics, that getting a job at a bar was a horrible idea. But I lived in Manhattan, arguably one of the most expensive cities on the planet, so I was willing to silence those thoughts in order to score some quick and dirty cash. But once I got used to the cash, I grew to regret this decision and so I became the bartender with possibly the worst attitude in the world.

Every Thursday at precisely 10 pm, Scott— an aspiring politician and expert schmoozer—and his suit-clad entourage would pile into the bar for their usual end-of-the-week celebration. Scott took great pride in being known as one of the bar’s regulars and squirmed with delight when members of the staff embraced his presence. From the start, I wasn’t impressed. And although I never announced my disdain for Scott and his crew, I made my disapproval known in every passive aggressive way possible. No matter how many times I served Scott, I purposely pretended like I couldn’t remember his name, which I knew he took as a grave insult. I ignored every one of his attempts to strike up a friendly conversation with me and when I was really in super-bitch mode, I added drinks to his tab knowing that by the time he left the bar, he would be too hammered to make sense of the check. I was convinced that Scott was an alcoholic and in my own twisted way I reasoned that it was my duty to punish him accordingly. What budding politician or intelligent person charging at success, I asked myself, would be hanging out at a bar on a weeknight, willingly pickling his brain with booze and beer?

Then there was the guy who would come in every Saturday at 5 pm with a thick book in tow. He’d order a medium-well burger and glass of red wine. He’d sit at the corner of the bar, quietly tugging on his beard, glancing out the window and pushing his thick-rimmed glasses back towards the bridge of his nose when they slid too far down his face. I didn’t know this man’s name. I had no idea what he did for a living. I didn’t know if he was married or divorced or gay but I assumed that he was a drunk and I treated him accordingly.

With time, I started to notice how drained and nauseous I felt after my shifts and I decided to tune into what was going on. When I became aware of the snarky and ever-colorful thoughts I would have when people sat down at the bar, I discovered the true targets of my anger. I wasn’t angry at Scott or the red wine guy but rather sitting on some raw, unexpressed anger towards my mother and her drinking. I was also angry at my father for spending more time in the garage with the beer tap he built then he ever spent with me. And I was also uncontrollably angry with my brother and how he let our relationship melt into a puddle of shit as a result of his obsession with drugs and booze. Clearly, within the context of my life and my family’s sordid history, my anger and reactions made total sense. But they didn’t belong in a bar amongst a sea of random people.

Miraculously, despite my horrific attitude, I never got fired from the bar and I ended up working there for two years altogether before quitting. Although I regret my behavior, I’m grateful for the experience because it helped me to process emotions that were literally making me sick. Of course there are safer, saner and healthier ways to process the past and heal. Scott, the red wine man and all the other patrons I treated with hostility had their own families whose hearts they were probably breaking; they didn’t need my contempt as well.

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About Author

Dawn Clancy is the creator of Growing Up Chaotic, a blog and radio program for those determined to survive and thrive despite growing up in toxicity. Her goal is to create a community hell bent on breaking, cracking and demolishing the cycle of dysfunction.