“When to Say When” by Bunny Walker

Bunny Walker’s Corner

(Bunny Walker is an in-cognito, verbally vicious, veteran drink slinger.  Her rants appear regularly here on The Drinkslinger.  Bunny is currently doing what rabbits are best known for:  Making babies!)

March 1, 2010

When to Say When

By Bunny Walker

I came into bartending the same way many people do:  I was a stripper at a dive bar in New Jersey and the girl slinging drinks got so wasted she passed out in the dressing room.  After a brief discussion with Trixie and Raven, it was decided that I was the least high, most sober, and best candidate to replace our fallen comrade.  Changing into my street clothes so the locals wouldn’t be confused, we carried on, the girls on stage and me pouring draft beers and shots of Jack.

Bartending in a titty bar in Nowhere, New Jersey was a snap.  Bikers and construction workers don’t order martinis, margaritas or much of anything that involves a shaker.  It was probably two years before I ever  actually learned how to chill a shot.

One thing I did learn the hard way, you must always know when enough is enough.  You aren’t doing anyone a favor by over-serving them.  I learned this at the Golden Moon just as quickly as I learned my first pole trick.  The Golden Moon had low prices and low security, so we were a haven for many outlaw biker types who oftentimes would find themselves a dancer to be their “old lady”.

Tawny, so named because she once resembled Tawny Kittain, was dating a dude named Coffin.  Now I’m sure his really name was probably something like William Kowalski (and his mama called him Willy) but he was a bad little dude in a biker gang and you don’t get a nickname like Coffin for nothing.  He came in shortly after I started my shift and sat down to wait out Tawny’s entire Friday night shift which was approximately 7 hours long.  Coffin wasn’t a big man, but neither are a lot of other badass scary men:  Napoleon, Kublai Khan and Alexander the Great were all under 5’6”.  Like these legendary shorties, Coffin had a nasty demeanor to begin with and he drank Wild Turkey with Budweiser draft at a rate of about three rounds an hour.

Because I was scared of him, I kept bringing him round after round.  After he had been drinking for five hours, I decided that maybe Tawny could leave early so that I could get him out of there without having to cut him off.  I gave him his tab and he gave me a fifty and two twenties.  Lighting in scary titty bars isn’t the greatest and I thought Coffin had handed me three twenties.  I put the money in the register, went back and asked him for nine more dollars.  He told me I better get him his “fucking change” or “shit was gonna get ugly.”  As I continued to plead my case, all hell broke loose.  The first barstool missed my head by a matter of inches, catching Tawny in the shoulder.  The second barstool broke every bottle of liquor behind me before causing a barroom brawl that ended up costing me my job.

Although I don’t think I could’ve safely cut him off, I didn’t have to be right there at his beck and call every time his glass was near empty.  That would have been a wise time to risk being a “bad” bartender.

Since then, I’ve bartended in lots of places much better than The Moon.  I chill things regularly and I almost learned flair.  I’ve worked with all kinds of management, lots of mom and pop type bars and restaurants and even one family business that’s now become an empire.  An important component in bartending, is in fact, the management.  It really, really helps when they’ve got your back, especially when cutting someone off.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

One bar owner in Portland wrote me up for kicking out a “tweaker.”  I never saw a “tweaker” until i moved to Portland so for those of you cool cats that aren’t “hep to my jive”, a “tweaker” is a person who is completely whacked out on crystal meth.  Typically really skinny, dirty, covered in scabs, sweaty, twitchy, and potentially violent, they aren’t necessarily the best customers.  These are the kind of people who eke out their living stealing bottles and cans from your recycling bins in the wee hours of the morning.  You can’t leave anything outdoors you intend to keep and never leave anything in your car.  I’ve heard stories of car windows getting broken for the little cup of change many people put in the cup holder for tolls.  Upon asking one of these creatures to leave the premises after refusing to sell them a $1.50 can of Pabst I’d basically sealed my fate with Mr. Pinchpenny.  I wasn’t fired, but I was given the knowledge that it’d never be okay to cut off anyone in that place again, not even a “tweaker.”

These days I do my thing for a massive corporation.  We’ll call them “L.L. BiscuitEaters” to protect me from their identity.  I don’t really worry about cutting people off so much at this place because due to its bland and unimaginative cuisine and corny atmosphere it mostly attracts the old and the cheap, neither of which are known for gettin’ wild.  I’m sure there are benefits to working for a corporation as many such places offer health benefits and 401K’s to their full time employees, or so I’m told.  I’ve found the experience to be more akin to being a factory chicken as opposed to free-range.

This past December the front of house staff was split into two teams to compete for the highest sales.  The winning team would get to go on a sunset booze cruise while the losers would have to come in for “special cleaning.”  What the short-sighted management team hadn’t taken into consideration was that on the day of the cruise, our manpower would drop to fifty percent or less depending on either illness (Jagermeister related or not) or our incredibly high turnover rate.  So who ran the show and worked for fourteen hours so the winning staff and management could get wasted?  A woman who had had spinal surgery less than three weeks prior to the trip, and me, in my second trimester with my first child.

Somewhere around eleven hours into the shift, I watched “Spiny” fall up the stairs with a full tray of food and almost land headfirst in a trash can.  The manager on duty was more concerned about the lost food than whether or not this young lady was going to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.  I was so powerless to help and full to the brim with rage so I went into the back walk-in refrigerator and used my pocket knife to destroy a few hundred dollars worth of inventory.  As I’m slashing away at beef in bags (like some kind of goddamned cow mortuary) it occurred to me that I was losing my religion.  Rather than committing random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty I was committing intentional malice with a heart full of hatred.

It was then that I decided to cut myself off.  Flagged.  Done.  I’ve had enough of this business, and certainly enough of “L.L. BiscuitEaters.”  One of the most important aspects of this job is knowing  when someone has had enough, including yourself.

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