Screw You, Too, May 10th

It’s springer than a motherfucker here in Chicago, and like the eager trees and flowers lining the city’s streets, the douchebags are in full bloom after only a few days of sunshine. This past weekend, I had to involve myself in two altercations with patrons of my pub, and venting to the people around me just hasn’t sufficed, so I’m back to writing (also I’ve been feeling increasingly guilty for suppressing the urge to type some shit out for far too long).

In the first display of machismo-laden idiocy, two gentleman who had been cordial with one another for upwards of 30 minutes suddenly turned sour on the prospect of friendship. Granted, the guy who was more of a regular does tend to spew his fair share of bullshit, but to most its simply the endearing behavior of an alcoholic. Tatted up, straight-brimmed-hat, large-cross-wearing white dude with a finely manicured chinstrap goatee felt differently about his rantings. After detailing his plans for expunging his previous assault charges by saying he’s on the autism spectrum, homeboy had finally had enough of our regular when he insisted that he had some Swedish heritage.

“If you don’t shut the fuck up, I’m going to hit you over the fucking head with this glass,” he said, pulling the straw from the glass in what I can only imagine was an attempt at increased aerodynamics.

The regular recognized this as a legitimate threat, and knocked the glass to the ground. If you rewatch this bit on the security cameras (like I did), you could see my shoulders slump in a clear, “Please don’t be this dumb” body language plea for sanity. No luck. Homeboy hit the regular right in the face, dropped him to the ground, and continued hitting him. It lasted maybe 15-20 seconds before I got to them and pulled the guy off the regular, but it was enough time for him to land some pretty good punches.

My manager and I were between the two, saw a wallet on the ground, and I handed it to homeboy thinking it was his. He looked it over for a second, then handed it back to me because it was the regular’s. Pretty kind and compassionate post-face-punching, but hey, I’ll take what humanity I can get. Homeboy went outside to collect himself, I noticed a bunch of his blood on my arms (I assume he got cut when he landed on all the broken glass), then he was gone into the night.

Fast forward to that evening (the next day for me, but that’s only because I sleep during the day like a vampire as a result of working at a 4am bar). There’s a gentleman that I’d put at around 6’4″ and 250lbs wearing a black hat with red embroidery that reads, “45th.” Apparently that’s a Trump hat, and I feel like the potential that you’ll run into somebody who voted for a sitting president at any bar (no less a honky tonk bar) is pretty decent. One of my patrons felt otherwise, and thought it would be a good idea to walk up to that dude, poke him in the head, and call him a racist.

As one might imagine, the gentleman didn’t take kindly to being poked in the head, so he grabbed the guy by the neck and pinned him to the ground. I got to them in maybe five seconds, then ushered Pokey and his wife out the door, but not before the wife could call a few more folks racist, so then I had to stand in the way of those folks rushing up from behind me to continue the back and forth.

Somewhere in the frantic yelling, Pokey’s wife chided me for defending racists, and kicking out her husband who “protects our country” as an officer of the United States Navy. Now, if you know me at all, you know that I’m a big fan of the military in most regards. I’d say that nine times out of ten, you’ll get a fair amount of leeway from me if you tell me you are presently serving or have previously served in our armed forces. When you and your wife are screaming it in my face while I physically restrain you from coming into my bar after you literally ran across the street to continue your fight? Honestly, it doesn’t matter what words are coming out of your mouth at that point – you could be yelling about how Earth is actually round – you seem like the crazy person in the equation.

Ultimately, I was put in the position of defending someone whose political views I very strongly disagree with. Why did I defend him? Because supporting our idiot of a president doesn’t automatically make you a racist (I assure you, I would not allow explicitly or implicitly racist material through the front door). Because we are in a country where all people are allowed to support the politicians they want and wear articles of clothing that say as much (though in this instance, it was the most understated it could have been). Because there are no fights allowed in my place of business (no matter how justified). Because I’ve never been a fan of military officers who demand that they’re soluted by people of lower rank because it screams entitlement, and so did Pokey (he threatened to sue the guy at some point – you started the fight Pokey – don’t be mad because you lost).

Pokey, if you’re out there, I agree with you and your wife about a lot of things, and under different circumstances, we very likely would get along really well. But please, for your sake and mine, leave your shitty attitude back in the cold, dark winter where it belongs. The bees are buzzing, the birds are chirping, and it’s sunny as fuck outside. Have a cold beer and chill the fuck out. Cheers.

Deep Dives and Fine Dining

Valentine’s Day was my first day as a barback at the fancy restaurant. There was a lot to learn on Day 1, and given the nature of the establishment and the holiday, all space at the bar was reserved for the entirety of the time we were open. I got there a bit early so I had ample time to familiarize myself with the layout of the bar and ask some questions I had about any number of things that can come up during service at a bar.

Honestly, I’d say it went pretty well. Luckily, they were restricted to the tasting menu, so I just had to memorize the order of the menu, what silverware, plating, wine-pairing, etc. went with each course, and who was ready for what when. It certainly wasn’t a small task, but it was doable. By the end of the night, I had most of that down, and I was able to sneak away from time to time to help the folks downstairs polish glassware and silverware, then hall it back upstairs for immediate use.

It’s really just about letting yourself fall into a rhythm – check plates, check water glasses, check glassware, check faces, check bus tub, check with bartender, check with dishwashers, repeat. Stressful? Sure, but again, manageable. I mean, I only had one tiny breakdown where I had to crouch behind the bar and remind myself to breathe. Totally normal, right?

I woke up on Friday feeling ready to get back in there and kick some ass. I walked the dog, did 30 minutes of stretching and breathing meditation, and got myself ready for work. On the way to the bus, I always check the bus status on my phone to see if it’s necessary for me to run the two blocks to the bus stop, or if I can stroll leisurely. It said APPROACHING when I looked, so I put my phone in my pocket and ran. The bus did that thing where it sort of stops, then stops all the way on the other side of the street because the driver realizes there were people hoping to get on.

I ran a little faster, thanked the driver for stopping, then found my seat toward the back of the bus. I was glowing because I was going to be hugely early that day, which was good because I would get family meal and have plenty of time to fill out my new hire paperwork. I reached for my phone so I could schedule my dog’s walk for the evening, and it wasn’t in my pocket. I frantically patted all my pockets and looked all around me – nothing. I asked the people who got on after me, “Hey did you see my phone fall out of my pocket?” They said no.

I immediately pulled on the cord to request a stop (maybe four blocks from where I got on). I jogged briefly but thought, Meh, there’s no need to hurry – I’ve got plenty of time and I can just call a Lyft once I’ve got my phone.

I saw three or four people walking in the opposite direction, and I considered asking them if they saw a phone, but I thought, Meh, they wouldn’t have been looking for a phone. I’ll be there in a minute.

I retraced my steps, scanning back and forth along the sidewalk and the grass I had run through to catch the bus. No phone. I did one more back-and-forth, looking into potholes and small divots I might have overlooked the first time. Nothing. Well fuck. My phone was gone. I didn’t have time to brood – I needed to get to work. So I got on the next bus thinking, It’s just a phone. The most important thing is that I call Wag customer service and schedule Max’s walk when I get there.

I got to work on time for family meal, I ate, I filled out paperwork, then I got right to work cutting limes and lemons. I looked at my watch and realized it was already about the time I should be clocking in normally, so I rushed to the phone to call Wag. I sat on hold for eight minutes, tapping my foot impatiently, sighing heavily, and putting all my effort into not throwing the phone across the room every time the woman’s voice said, “Thank you for your patience.”

At the eight minute mark, I pressed 2 so that they’d call me back when a customer service rep was available, and ran back to the bar to help with setup. When I got there, the bartender said, “I just had to do all of the prep work by myself. I’m only going to say this once – that wasn’t cool.” I made a weak attempt to explain the situation, but it was too late – I had already fouled up the start of Day 2. I had a small panic attack right as the first customers of the day walked through the door, and the bartender sent me away so I wouldn’t be seen breaking composure.

I went out of sight and collected myself. It took fifty breaths, but I got my head back in the game. I went back in with a smile on my face, but I still got a talking to from the restaurant manager about how important it is to keep your cool. I assured him I could, then went behind the bar to get to work.

The rest of the night went pretty smoothly. I did hit my back twice on the metal cover over the entrance to the bar, which makes a loud metal-on-metal noise that you can hear across the whole restaurant. And at some point, I asked a question with too many Um’s and Uh’s in it, and got reprimanded for not being concise.

A married couple (Cory and Lorie [you can’t make that kind of shit up]) who were regulars came in, and engaged me a little, which was my saving grace for the night. Rapport is my fucking wheelhouse – I can charm the shit out of just about anyone. I did, and it redeemed some of my mishaps.

The manager and the bartender were nice enough to let me go right at close because Wag never called back, so my dog was just stuck in my room the whole shift. I asked for notes on Day 2 before leaving, and initially the bartender just said, “Oof. I’m not ready for that, yet.” Finally he said, “My two main points are that you need to work on decisiveness and conciseness. Be confident in yourself. You’re a smart guy – we wouldn’t have hired you if you weren’t.”

That felt encouraging. I felt better. I got home as quickly as public transit would allow to clean up the urine and feces that were largely a result of how much time Max was in that room by himself.

Here I am a few days later, though, and I find myself questioning the value of my employment there. Can I learn a lot from those folks? Absolutely. Do I really need that information? I’m not sure. Given that I’m not planning on making bartending my lifelong career, I don’t know how good at this I really need to be. I can learn a fair amount from the folks at the rooftop bar about bartending, and I have the greatest potential for actually becoming a bartender there. I can learn a lot about bar management from the folks at the honkytonk pub, and I feel like I really fit in with those people.

I talked it out with a close friend, and she encouraged me to read my own blog – I’m overwhelmed by how quickly my life is changing. I’m not going to reread anything because writing it is hard enough, but thank goodness she’s reading it because I needed her insights. I’m stressed the fuck out a lot of the time as it is. Do I really need to add to that considerably just so I can say I’ve worked in fine dining for a bit? I can do this job, but should I? Maybe not.

Especially considering that none of this post was decisive or concise, and after rereading it, I have no edits.

But I do have an addendum (I added this bit a few days after the original post): I was offered more hours and thereby more money at my other job, and given my plans to move to Europe in less than a year, the money really is important to me. After spending another two days at the fancy place, I really started developing a rhythm, and once I fell into it, things ran very smoothly. I worked there a grand total of 4 days, and in retrospect, I loved all of them (stress included). I was pushed to be better, to work harder, and to think faster. I enjoyed the patrons, and I enjoyed providing them with excellent service and a warm smile. I was fulfilled there.

When I told my manager that I had to take the better monetary offer, I could tell he was hurt. He had gone out on a limb for me because I was passionate in my emails to him – both about the restaurant itself and the industry. I sat down with him after my last shift and it felt like a breakup. I hope I was able to communicate clearly enough that I love him and his staff and the masterpiece of a restaurant he helped create. I am ultimately sad to go, and sorry to have let him down.

Sitting and Breathing: Day 26

Oof. Last night involved a lot of drinking. Well… The last two nights, I guess. Saturday was particularly hectic at the rooftop bar, so the whole staff drank together after we closed. Then I saw one of my coworkers at the bar on ground level, and he convinced me (it did not take a lot of convincing) to join him and the two ladies he just met at a late-night spot.

I spent much of my time hitting on the wait staff and ignoring the two women he brought with us. Interestingly, both of the ladies I was interested in had neon-colored hair – one was lavender and the other was lime green. Finally one of the two that my coworker was chatting up snapped and insisted that they go back to their hotel (they were staying at the hotel on top of which was our place of work).

In the Lyft on the way home, the one who snapped kept making drunk, biting commentary, and I found it very funny. She was, however, not trying to be funny, so her friend got mad at me for continuously chuckling at how ridiculous the situation was. I excused myself and made my way to the train station to go home.

I got home when the sun came up on Sunday, went right to sleep, and got to work only slightly late yesterday afternoon. I dutifully stood in the doorway of the pub until around 8pm (taking only brief pauses in professionalism to chat up the attractive campaign manager for the alderman who was having a fundraiser there), then my manager and I had a few drinks after clocking out.

Well, it was karaoke night at the pub, and my thought was, “I’ll just sing one song, then I’ll get out of here.” I sang California Love by 2Pac, but the words were wrong on the screen, which distracted me, and fucked up my performance. I couldn’t leave on a bad note, right?! So I signed up for another one. A few more drinks later, I was flitting around from table to table buying shots for small groups of customers with my employee discount.

At one point my coworker thought, “Man, Sean knows everybody in here!” Then he listened in on one of my conversations and realized that I didn’t really know anybody and I was just starting conversations with people at random. Before I knew it, the bar was closing and it was time for me to go home.

Fastforward to today: after tending to my rather severe hangover with some greasy Colombian food and strong coffee, I decided I had better do that whole meditating thing I’ve been doing lately. Luckily, today’s meditation was on quieting the inner critic, which was serendipitous because he’s particularly loud on days after some drinking goes on. The goal was to focus on a recent negative emotion (I chose regret), and sit with it and work through what it feels like and what comprises the list of associated concerns.

So I played out the worst-case scenario: I get fired from this job. I don’t think it’ll happen (my other coworkers drink rather heavily, so I’m in good company there), but what if it did? Well, I’d be down to just two jobs. I’d up my availability at both of them, and I’d be just fine. The takeaway from any real deep diving on failure is, “Life keeps going.”

Again, I ended up crying during the meditation. I’m finding that I spend most of my days when I’m upset just being marginally upset. I hold the emotions on the fringes of my mind while I focus on getting things done, and they just sort of sit there gnawing at my awareness the whole day. Meditation gives me the opportunity to stare them directly in the face, take them in fully, and profile them so I better understand them.

So much of my time is spent trying to be or look happy that I don’t get the opportunity to sit with my feelings, and it turns out there are a lot of them eating away at me. It’s relieving to confront them. It’s so very necessary to feel. Ultimately, I’m more happy because I let myself be sad or angry or whatever more fully. Meditation doesn’t make me emotionless, it helps me be at peace with the fact that I’m going to have unpleasant emotions sometimes, and that’s okay.

I could definitely stand to drink a little less, though. I’ll give you that one.