Sunday, September 26, 2010

Passing the Bar - Part 2

So I sailed my car over to Grimaldi’s around 3 pm. I walked in the front door and asked to see the manager. I had grown accustomed to sitting and waiting while filling out a job application that asked me where I went to high school and what my course of study there was. As if where I learned how a bill became a law was really relevant for making a martini.

But this place was different, I went up to the bar where I immediately shook hands with the bartender and was handed an application by the owner. I sat down to fill it out when the manager walked by carrying plates to the back said, “Don’t worry about it.”

I didn’t really know what that meant, considering I wasn’t sure I would have been worrying about in the first place. So I just smiled and went back to filling out the application.  I was barely 10 percent into the application before he walked past again and said it again, “Hey boss, don’t worry about it. Just come next Sunday dressed in black and George will train you.”

Was that really it? After countless Arizona applications, convoluted interview processes, and a job at a country club that required 3 different phone calls, was this all they really asked from me? I wasn’t complaining but it almost seemed too easy. Did I really look that competent? What was it about me that finally did the trick for this restaurant?

Whatever it was I didn’t ask questions, I said thank you and left. This was it. I finally had become a bartender at not one but TWO different places.

I went home and told my parents. My father was particularly elated. “I have a bartender AND a bus driver for a son, wait until I tell my friends.” We both laughed. I have to smile looking back now after 5 years of working professionally, and 4 different office jobs, it's kind of hilarious that the pinnacle of working career at one point was pouring beers and driving around 7 year olds while singing songs. It seems my career aspirations have shifted.

All of that aside, this was it; this was the beginning of my life of rolling around in cash and beautiful women writing their phone numbers in lipstick on napkins.

But in a lot of ways bartending wasn’t what I expected it to be, and it was a lot of things I didn’t expect too.

The women? They never really came. I never got a single phone number from a woman coming into my bar. There was never some cute chippy sitting at the end of my bar waiting until my shift was over to come talk to me. If there was a cute woman at the end of the bar, I probably brought her in and put her there so people I worked with believe that women liked me.

I did however make more money than I probably ever could have imagined. The first night at that crappy country club I made over 100 dollars. Cash. In my pocket. I immediately went home spread it out on my bed and took pictures of it.

Smile money! Oh you look so cute! Smile!

But the country club quickly wore on me, poor management, and archaic payment structure ended in a confrontation where I quit, 3 weeks after I started.

And from then on I was a Grimaldi’s guy. I made more money that summer than I had my entire life. It quickly became the easiest and greatest job I ever had. The summer passed with many free drinks and a lot of laughs, a boss who pretty much let me do anything I wanted. That goes for the Christmas party too!

The owner’s brother owned a bar in Arizona near my school and he got me a job out there. And when I graduated and came home looking for a full time job, they let me work day shifts until I got hired full time. And when that happened they asked me if I wanted to keep Sunday nights, an easy shift just to make some money on the side.

Considering I made a dollar at my first job, it seemed like a great idea. And it was. Because even though it was only one night a week, it was enough pocket change that I didn't have to dip into my checking account during the week. And even though I eventually I got tired of bartending, having had no intention of doing it past the age of 25, I can't look back on it with anything but fondness.

Bartending allowed me to save up enough money to get my apartment. It allowed me to see Greece, Croatia, Turkey, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay without bankrupting myself. It allowed me to furnish my apartment with furniture that doesn't suck, go out to dinner with my friends, go to concerts, shows, and revel in the glory of my early to mid 20s.

But eventually I grew tired. And then I moved out of my parents house and stopped driving to the bar and started taking the train. And then my parents moved away. And the longer I did it, the harder it was to drag myself out of my apartment and pour drinks for people who screamed, "GIVE ME A COORS LIGHT" like I was serving drinks on a helicopter pad in Vietnam.

Something about being a bartender in college was incredibly cool. And then after college it was still pretty cool. But the older I got, the more I lost interest in doing it. That feeling grew until that bar was the only thing tying me to the town I grew up in.

And then after my most recent job change I realized it was time. I would save up enough money for one more vacation and then hand in my… umm.. wine opener. While the cash would be hard to give up, it would be great to watch football in my underwear and just work on the projects I have become so fond of filling my life with.

And being done feels wonderful. I don’t miss it, which is the way it should be. I had a lot of fun, made a lot of money, and really only because a certain manager saw fit to hire me because he thought I was a good person.

I am very aware that the only reason I am allowed to have grown tired of bartending is the intersection of chance, good fortune, and timing.

And now, 5 years, 7,500 tap beers, 2,500 bottled, 1,200 bottles of wine, and god only knows how many mixed drinks later, I am done. I no longer have my trademark pens in my ears. I am a bartender no longer. So if you ever see me behind a bar again, well, please put me in a cab home because I’m drunk and shouldn’t be back there.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Passing the Bar

I am writing this from my couch at 6 pm on a Sunday night while watching Football. Admittedly that is not something that seems so impressive as that seems like what any healthy (or maybe not so healthy) American would be doing on a Sunday.

But my Sunday nights have been different. For the last 5 years of my life I have bartended on Sunday nights. So instead of sitting on my couch like the world's most stagnant man, I was pouring drinks for strangers watching the TVs behind me.

Super Bowls, Oscars, etc. I bartended through all of it. Dressed like a drink Ninja and standing on my feet for 6 hours is how I passed nearly every single Sunday since April of 2005. It had become part of my regular workweek. Five days in the office, one day behind the bar.

But I quit 3 weeks ago and I can’t tell you how amazing it feels.

For a long time people had told me I would make a good bartender. I don’t know what that actually means. Like I looked trustworthy enough to pour drinks for people I don’t know? I might be really good at handling glassware? I look good in black? (It just so happens that I do.)

Whatever it was that those people saw bubbling beneath the surface exploded after I watched the movie Cocktail. For those of you who have never seen it, it watches like a loveletter to all things bar related. Tom Cruise is looking to land a job in business but can’t, and thus ends up living the wild exotic life of a bartender.

I tell you, that Tom Cruise certainly can sell a lifestyle. Wild nights, gorgeous women, and more cash than he could handle! I mean, granted the end of the movie where his Bartending mentor kills himself wasn’t exactly appealing, but ya know, all the money and the women kind of pushed that visual out of my mind. It was decided, I would become a bartender!

I had a big problem though. I had no idea how to make a drink. A vodka tonic was easy enough, and I had opened beers before obviously. But things like cosmos and tinis and shots I didn’t have a clue. I was halfway through my 21st year on the planet and only 1 year removed from the time I had my first drink. I drank beers and simple drinks. I wasn’t walking into bars asking for a Harvey Wallbanger… mainly because I didn’t want to get punched in the face.

It was winter break of my senior year of college. So I looked online for bartending schools. There were many. Very expensive, very cheap, online only, etc. But getting a bartending certification online seemed kind of like passing a road test over the phone. I needed the experience, I needed practice pouring and mixing, holding the tools, and perhaps, flipping them in the air.

So I found a place in Arizona. Two weeks, 5 nights a week for 4 hours a night. It cost 400 dollars. It was a big chunk of change, but I was pretty sure I would be able to make it back pretty quickly if I got a gig. So I did it. The ABC Bartending School or something. It is there that I learned a whole crapload of things that I can no longer remember.

I finished the class in the beginning of February and set about looking for a spot to bartend at. But bartending in a college town is a competitive gig and the only person I ended up pouring drinks for was myself.

So after the semester I came home to NY where I got a day job at a summer camp sharing my life advice with a gang of 7 year olds and of course, driving a school bus.

And yes, it is in fact a short bus. Please, no comments.

But I wasn’t about to let my hard earned bartending knowledge (and 400 bucks) go to waste. I started looking around my town for a bartending job. I drove my sailboat (1990 Crown Victoria) from bar, to hotel, to restaurant looking for an employer looking to hire a bartender with no experience but a hell of a certificate.

It was incredibly unrewarding. Here I was, a worldly individual nearly done with my degree which I was getting on full scholarship 2,500 miles away from home, and I couldn’t convince people I was qualified enough to pour rum AND coke into the same glass.

Managers would look at my resume and the job app I was filling out and kind of make a face or tell me they only hired from within. I would smile back and say thanks for letting me know but I really wanted to say “YOU TURDWAGON, I TRAVELLED THROUGH 9 COUNTRIES IN 30 DAYS BY MYSELF, I CAN FIX A COUPLE FRIGGING DRINKS!”

But of course, that is not appropriate bartending application etiquette.

I finally got some luck at a second rate country club that I should have known was going to be an awful experience. But I wasn’t sure it would come through so I kept driving around, eventually spending an hour at chain hotel to fill out an application. I left there and was on my way home when my mom gave me a call on the cell.

There’s a new pizza place that opened in Garden City. It says its looking for a bartender. Why don’t you go check it out?

So I did. I walked into Grimaldi’s. And even though it was technically the second bartending job I had been hired for, It’s really where it all began.

To Be Continued...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Different Down South

On its best days, there is not greater city in the world than Manhattan. On it’s worst days, this city can make you want to walk through the streets screaming expletives and throwing manhole covers at tourists.

That is why it is always a good idea to get out of town for a little while, if only because manhole covers are expensive to replace. I enjoy heading down south to visit my parents a couple of times a year. I refer to their house as the “South Carolina Writer’s Retreat.”

I call it that because the pace of life is so much slower down there that I have a bunch of time to work on whatever writing project I am currently focused on. But since life slows down so much when I visit I am also able to pay attention to just how different life is down there.

Like when I get off the plane at the Savannah airport I am greeted by a sign advertising robotic surgery.

Now I’m no expert but I’m pretty sure that guy isn’t a robot. But maybe my robot knowledge isn’t what it should be?

I have mentioned that people in my parents’ area call it the “low country.” Now I think this was a geographic nickname but I think low stands for a couple of other things. Like a low interest in healthy sandwiches.

For example, New York is so health conscious that they post the calories for food on the menus, and they don’t allow you to fry foods in oils with trans fats. And there certainly are very few restaurants in New York where a “fried sandwich” would be featured prominently on the menu.

But after I landed and my parents and I stopped for lunch near the airport… that is exactly what I found. So naturally I ordered it.

And it was just as amazing as it looks. I thought it came with a side of fruit…

I guess raspberry dipping sauce counts right? The whole weekend down there was pretty much one big commitment to “low” health standards. I don’t keep cookies in my house so of course I harass my mother as soon as I walk in the house that there are no cookies in the jar. So she went out and bought 3 packages… that I promptly ate.

My parents have their friends come and visit so staying in the guest room there is kind of like staying at a cozy bed and breakfast. The bed is super soft and the room is very comfortable. So comfortable that when I walked in and tried to turn on the lights, I actually got to second base.

I accidentally groped this metal mannequin my mom has in the room. Over the course of the weekend that mannequin and I would have quite the weekend tryst based on how many times I felt her up trying to turn on the lights.

I do love that room though. When I fall asleep there I wake up never knowing what time it is. I don’t mean in the sense that time just seems to stand still.  I mean literally.

The clock doesn’t work so I have no idea what time it is when I wake up.

I roll out of bed when I’m finally rested and then stumble into the kitchen to raid my parents’ cabinets for all the food that would normally last them 2 weeks, but that will now be gone in 18 hours.

At home in New York my life moves so fast and is so hectic sometimes that I don’t spend a lot of time just sitting on the couch eating cookies or sitting on the porch taking a nap. I mean, I also don’t have a porch. And taking a nap on the fire escape outside my window really isn’t the same.

The only time I fall asleep is on the train, and falling asleep on the train doesn’t really count as a nap, that only happens out of necessity. It’s usually all I can do to keep from drooling on the stranger next to me.

Eating is always a strategic affair as friends and I are always picking specific times we have to eat for dinner, rushing to meet up, texting to coordinate. When I visit the retreat, nobody has anywhere to be so we just eat when we’re hungry. And I just leave my phone on my bed. What do I need it for? If it rings its just going to wake me up from my nap.

But its not just the slower pace of life that catches me off guard, it’s the interactions I have when I visit stores and restaurants. Like when a server asks me if I want some coffee or tea after my meal, sometimes I order a tea, or a chai tea if I’m feeling adventurous.

I have ordered chai tea before from many nice places and chain establishments like Starbucks. I usually have a level of expectation of what I’m going to receive. Never does that level of expectation involve a teakettle wearing a dress.

Things are just different down there. I really miss it when I accidentally end up in SoHo during Fashion Week and nearly punch a sea creature in the face. (She wasn’t an actual sea creature, but she was so awful she might as well have been.) Not one of my finer moments.

Anyway, my point is for as different as it is down there, I love it. Even just writing this is making me long for the time I get to visit, albeit with a couple less cookies maybe. In fact I think I will go make myself a healthy dinner… with a side of raspberry dipping sauce.

Monday, September 6, 2010


The Sky: Home of fluffy white clouds, sunshine, and Superman.

But there is one thing that comes from the sky that I am not OK with. Something that happens millions of times a day all over the world, which you don’t think about it, until it affects you directly.

I speak of course, of pigeon poop.

I’m not sure if my mother actually believed this, or this was just something she made up to prevent us from crying, but she always used to say it was good luck.

I think the first time she said this was when my sister and I were really little and my sister got pooped on in the backyard. If you don’t know the feeling well, lucky you.

When you are a kid you don’t realize excrement can fall out of the sky. Rain, acorns, things like that yes. But poop? What precedent is there that a poop bomb is even a possibility?

I have been lucky enough to travel to different countries around the world and the one consistent thing that I come across in every single country is the effen pigeons. They are everywhere. I swear when the apocalypse comes and giant aliens eat all of the people on the planet, all that will be left are pigeons and cucarachas.

I can see those frigging cucarachas now, riding their pigeon planes through the sky.

Cucaracha: Dive Sebastian, dive! The skies and land are ours!
Pigeon: Victory is ours Benjamin!

Gross. I hate them all.

Pigeons hit their high note in terms of coolness the first time I was in Venice when I was in high school. This was back before the city of Venice changed the laws, and vendors were still allowed to sell bird food in the Piazza San Marco.

Tourists from all over the world would pay old men with bags full of bird food. And then you would dump it in your hands while pigeons molested you so your friends could take pictures of you looking like Lord of the Birds.

To be honest when I did it, I thought it was the funniest thing in the world. Even when that pigeon landed on my head and grabbed a…. um, claw, full of my hair.

Have you ever looked at a pigeon’s foot before? They are awful. They are so often mangled and dirty and tied up with dental floss and other trash they can’t get rid of because they don’t have hands.

Because they are pigeons.

Upon my return to Italy in college, that delight at the hilarity of pigeons quickly disappeared as being exposed to 40 million of them every day, every place, as they try to land on your pizza, and steal your gelato, quickly gets old.

As much as I hated them I tried not to piss them off. They outnumbered me. My roommates in Italy didn’t feel the same way. One of them, lets call him Rob, had what I can only describe as a karmic experience with pigeons.

We were visiting Sienna for a day trip, checking it out and exploring the sites when we had sat down outside a church to rest for a bit. It was there that Rob began an interesting interaction with a pigeon.

Rob: I really want to catch a pigeon.

10 Minutes later

Rob spits on a pigeon

20 Minutes later

Rob: Oh man I just got shit on by a pigeon.

It seemed like poetic justice to me, something that Rob deserved. The story I am about to relate to you though, has no justification in it whatsoever.

It was in June of this year, several weeks after I had started my new job. The weather for the summer hadn’t yet turned to unbearable. I was excited to be heading in to a job that I loved. I emerged from the E train out into midtown.

The sun was shining, the air was crisp, I was in the best possible mood. I took a look up at the sky and said aloud:

What a beautiful day!

And then I took about 10 steps before somebody threw an entire cup of soup on me.

At least, that’s what it felt like. I looked down on my arm and saw that was in fact PEA soup. Gross. Green pea soup all over my shirt, which thank god was a long sleeved one I had rolled down.

I looked up in shock. Who had thrown this soup on me?  Surely somebody had seen the culprit. But nobody seemed to care. How could nobody have seen the… oh I get it.

It quickly dawned on me that it must have been a pigeon, a pigeon that had eaten a bean burrito for dinner.

Great, my arm now covered in bird shit I couldn’t tolerate it, I had to find a fix and quick. Lucky for me, midtown is chockablock with bodegas trying to sell tourists t-shirts that New Yorkers wouldn’t be caught dead wearing, unless of course, that New Yorker had been shit on to start his day.

So I bought the only shirt that seemed appropriate after being pooped on coming out of the subway.

I then walked into an alley and took my shirt off because I couldn’t have the poop sleeve touching my skin anymore, I was starting to go mental. I put on my new t-shirt and then walked directly into a Dry Cleaners and told the nice lady at the counter my story as she began to touch my shirt. (This brought me an instant flashback to an early blog.)

I was pooped on.

“What?” she said.

A bird pooped on me, just now, outside.

Needless to say she slowed the pace at which she was folding up my shirt. She asked me to spell my name about 7 times before giving me a receipt for my shirt and telling me I could pick it up in a week.

Well, we are going on 3 months now and I still haven’t picked my shirt up. Maybe it is because I am so grossed out by that shirt that I can’t wear it in good conscience any more.

Or it could just be that the shirt isn’t actually mine.

I don’t know who that Rich Poehncke is, but I wouldn’t want his shirt. I hear there’s poop on it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mad Men... Myself - The Conclusion

So after 30+ pictures I finally called it quits on my roof. Now you might think 30 pictures doesn't sound like too much. But it was

1. Hit menu
2. Select timer
3. Line up shot
4. Press the button
5. Go pose and wait
6. Review picture
7. Restart

Add into the fact that halfway through the shoot my batteries were almost dead, so I had to stop and charge them for like... 4 minutes so I could continue being a narcissist on my roof. I also kept panicking that my whiskey bottle was going to fall off the roof and kill someone walking by and really, I would have no good alibi there.

At one point after taking so many pictures I started taking swigs from the bottle. And let me tell you...  old Jim Beam does not taste as awesome as.... well, nobody probably think old whiskey tastes good. Yea that one was all on me.

Anyway, after I finished I spent 3 days sorting through the pictures, asking people's opinion, cropping, moving, and stressing over which one to pick.

The fact that every single person I asked like a different photo certainly didn't help either. But I was able to choose one after narrowing it down to this batch.

The Executive

The Suspicious

The Dreamer

The Desperate

It is amazing the differences of opinions. Some people are very vehement about which pictures I submit to contests I probably don't have a chance to win. So which one did I eventually choose?

Well I'll tell you. But only if you promise to vote every day!

See the final photo here: