“Silence, Everyone! Time for Humiliation!!!”
Photo by Camilo Jimenez on Unsplash https://tinyurl.com/bdzez6z2
My first bartending job was at the Russian Tea Room. I started at the top and went downhill.
I worked there for a year and then moved on to a French Bistro.
Following that, as my addiction to alcohol progressed, I had a string of gigs. None of them went very well.
Here’s the story of one of them, and the lesson I learned from an abuser.
NYC has a rotation of hot spots for lunch, especially in Chelsea and the Flatiron District, as well as the Village, SoHo, and Tribeca.
I landed a daytime bartending gig at the newest fabulous-for-the-moment place in the Flatiron.
Like many restaurants, it had two faces.
Facing the employees was repression and abuse.
Facing the customers were smiles, good cheer, and puckered lips to kiss the asses of the stylish clientele.
Daytime bartending jobs suck. If you have drinkers at your bar, they’re day drinkers. Not good customers as they’re mostly alcoholics and don’t tip well, if at all.
The biggest drag, however, is spending much of your shift cutting lemons and limes, replenishing the wine, liquor, beer, and ice. Your main job, other than serving drinks for the wait staff to take to the tables, is to set things up for the nighttime bartender who’ll waltz in, pour tons of drinks, and make a lot of money thanks to your work.
Being a brand-new restaurant, the staff went through an indoctrination phase.
This is where we met the maitre d’.
He was short and round and had a mustache with a combover of jet-black hair. He also had penetrating eyes, a sneer, an imperious attitude, and a vicious streak. We’ll call him Monster.
Monster hosted a few sessions in the days leading to the opening where he went over all of the protocols and expectations. Like me, most of the staff were actors or artists of some kind who were just trying to pay rent. We couldn’t have cared less about this minutiae except to pick up what we needed to do our job.
Monster saw it differently. He presumed his every utterance was profound.
He was, to put it mildly, an asshole.
His wife was tall and gorgeous. She had great style and played the role of Hostess perfectly. She had an air of warmth and made people want to ingratiate themselves with her. Sadly, she was lost in life at that moment as her world was beholden to Monster.
I arrived each day in a hungover state, but as I was still young I could get by, for the most part.
The big potted plants appeared, the final preparations were in place, and we opened.
Voila! Success. NYC’s newest lunch spot for the trendy had arrived.
We moved into routines. Arrive, get your work clothes on, and set your station.
A bit of music and banter set the mood. It certainly wasn’t lively or joyful, but it was ok.
Until Monster decided it was time to abuse.
First thing - cut the music. This was a cue to freeze up to find out where his wrath was to be directed.
Frequently, it was his wife.
One day, she was carrying a tray of glasses. The music stopped, all eyes on Monster.
He stood in front of his wife and glared as she quaked in his glare.
He screamed at her in Italian (they were from Italy, running an Italian restaurant).
He made threatening gestures. He paused, paced, fumed, and timed his screaming outbursts for effect. I had no fucking idea what he was saying.
Finally, he smashed the tray of glasses to the floor, breaking them, and then in the same motion hit her with a powerful smack to the face.
She cowered. We all cowered. He stared at her for a while to express his utter dominance. Then he ordered her to clean up the glass from the floor. He turned and pointed to the room - “Nobody help her! Get to work.”
Silently, and with eyes down, we got ready for the shift.
At that point, I knew I would not stay there long. I hated what I saw and I hated him.
But as an alcoholic who spent too much of my money on booze and drugs, I needed the work. For that day, at least, and for a bit longer.
As many abusers do, he picked his victims at random.
One day it was my turn.
Music off, silence, frozen work staff, eyes on Monster. He made his way over to me. He strutted around me and picked apart my setup, my uniform, my hair, and most vehemently, my attitude. He walked in front of the bar, faced me, and yelled “You must par-ti-ci-pate!”
The Italian accent made the word memorable for me. I must participate.
Monster was right.
I slacked. As I said earlier, I could get by.
Who wants to “get by” in life?
I, young, talented, and full of dreams, was burying my chances under a sea of booze and a haze of smoke. I wasn’t participating in life.
I didn’t realize at the time that he was speaking the truth to me. I was defensive and full of foul phrases in my mind.
And I kept that attitude whenever I’d remember that exchange after leaving that horrible place.
It was later, when I was hitting bottom and I reflected on my drinking life, that those words hit me. They were a part of the sea of ideas and words and moments and darkness and accusations and near-misses that swirled around my brain and my being.
I had to ask myself - did I want to participate, or did I want to miss out on life?
I got sober. I stopped tending bar. I learned to show up fully and to participate in life.
I hope his wife heard something that helped her to leave Monster in the dust. She seemed to be a good person.
As for Monster? Fuck him and his power trip. Asshole. Some people really need to get ahold of themselves.