Just a Bartender…

Note: Maybe you have to be a bartender to appreciate this week’s entry, but I hope not!

Here we go…

Instead of resorting to an ovine headcount the night he couldn’t sleep, or taking some kind of a pill that would make him groggy in the morning, your friendly bartender took to the couch and turned on his old TV for a little diversion. That strategy, if successful, would not only silence the voice in his head that was chattering away like a myna… recounting events from his shift that went down badly…  but would lull him into that stupor that drifts into slumber.

Did it work? Hell no. For when the bartender delivered that line in the movie that struck him as stone cold ludicrous, it not only wiped out the cob webs  but it kicked off an internal chat that lasted til dawn.

The movie that stopped my surfing that night was a classic black and white western the name of which escapes me. But what didn’t escape my mind that night (and obviously doesn’t escape still) is this brief exchange that occurred in the town saloon. The hero of the movie (either Jimmy Stewart or Henry Fonda, I can’t remember which), stumbling into love for the first time ever and in search of  some sage advice on the “female species” (you know, how ta’ handle ’em, etc.), instead of going to a shrink which hadn’t been invented yet, sought out healthy counsel from his local barkeeper. And here was the exchange that knocked me out of my slumber…

Hero to Barkeeper: “So, Mac, have ya’ ever been in love?”

Barkeeper to Hero: “Nah, I’ve been a bartender all my life.”

And as the Hero nodded knowingly… fully accepting that one rules out the other… I laughed my ass off.

I also then began this self-conversation…

Excuse me for inquiring, Mr. Scriptwriter, and I don’t mean to be a “noodge”, but why does being a bartender rule out love? Am I missing something here? For I could see if the question were something along the lines of, “Have ya’ ever done a heart transplant?” And the answer had been, “Nah, I’ve been a welder all my life.” That would makes sense. For it’s rarely heard in the operating room when a ticker is being replaced, “Scalpel, gauze” and then, “blow torch.”  So I get that. But why does the pouring of drinks for a living eliminate the notion of long-term female society? Just askin’? And still laughin’!

And the chatter continued…

First of all, the way the bartender was depicted back then in all those old westerns, you were given no indication the man was a person? You know, a real live character with thoughts and views and flaws and virtues just like everyone else. He never had any pals, never an outside life, and never (God forbid) any female company. I mean did you ever see a western bartender getting so much as a kiss, let alone a roll in the hay or a march down the aisle? Hell no. There was nary the hint of a man of substance, or at worst some smooth Lothario…  just that anonymous, invisible, “What’ll ya’ have?” Joe in a big white apron. Poor bastard. He just  served up his glasses of nameless rotgut, ducked when the glasses flew, and took all the shit the scriptwriter wrote his way. And if he ever did show an ounce of balls, like reaching below the bar for a bat or a rifle, he was immediately shot in the chest and out of the movie. Next!!!!

Ah, then this thought chose to tip-toe in at now three o’clock in the morning, adding more wood to the crackling flames of insomnia…

Since this movie was written in the late 1930’s was this the screenwriter’s opinion back then of his bartenders? And was this the opinion in general of people about bartenders? For when he took  his seat at the bar each night at the famed Brown Derby Restaurant, did he think the mixer of his sweet Rob Roy was a complete and total non-entity who slept in the back? Or someone who lived to just pour out drinks and then go home to an empty house and gear up for the morrow? Probably not. But then why was he prone to create each time a complete non-fucking-character, each time he entered the word “BARKEEPER” into his script? Couldn’t he just once have made that character a person? Again, just askin’!

Hmmmm, note to self: Write a cool western movie based on a cool western bartender, a Tom Jones of the old wild west. Never been done, you can bet your drink-pourin’ ass on it.

Yes, dear reader, some diversion I picked that night to quell all that internal dialogue, for instead of watching a movie of escape that would toss me into the arms of the mythical Morpheus, I instead got tossed to the wolves of personal resentment. But with a smile, I happily add, for if the line hadn’t been so goddam funny… “Nah, I’ve been a bartender all my life”… my romp through that riff might’ve taken a turn far more righteous.

And then finally, as if my mind hadn’t chatted enough on this topic so near and dear, this last thought jumped into play and entered the fray… this inventory of Scribbler that ensured his insomnia.

a) I pour drinks for a living.

b) I’ve never been married.

c) I’m not in a relationship right now.

d) I came home to an empty house tonight.

Holy fucking eremites, Batman, what’s going on with me??? Then I went to the kitchen and whipped up a snack, there was no way in bloody hell I was getting any sleep.

And so what is the lesson to be learned, dear reader, the next time your friendly bartender can’t doze off? Take a fucking pill and wake up groggy! End of story!!!

Over and out from Barland… see ya’ next week-end!

40 Responses to “Just a Bartender…”


  1. 1 d-a-p August 22, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    as i recall,westerns have,over the years offered no end of ironic and still amazing statements…for example..wasn’t there a now forgotten scene, in a long ago “b” western, where the hero had gotten the best of the bad guy,i think in a bar, and in answer to an obviously hostile group of cowboys,said the immortal line, “boys he’s a bad hombre, but no man has the “right” to take away another man’s pants….”
    “i’m just say’in”
    d-a-p

  2. 2 Fargo August 22, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    Most of the more recent bartenders in movies, at least in my mind currently, are completely the other way. They’re all sort of sleazy and trying to nail anything that moves.

    Not much of an improvement, at least in terms of being presented as people. Not many characters show up as people in movies though, so I wouldn’t take it too hard.

    Good luck with the loneliness though. That stuff’ll kill ya’.

  3. 3 scribbler50 August 22, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    d-a-p: Good grief, that is hilarious!!! And no man has that right, the man’s right.

    Fargo: I agree, bartenders in present day movies are more in the Sam Malone mold… horndogs of dubious account or assorted con men. And though I appreciate the kindly wishes you send, I’m not taking the depiction “too hard” nor am I suffering from any kind of “loneliness”, just having some fun with a night I recalled from the past. Thanks a lot for your comment.

  4. 4 Anonymoustache August 22, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    Wow. Introspectafication and phychoanalytification. Fascinating post, man.
    But anyways….. what I took from THE REPLY was not that being a bartender precluded being married but that getting married precluded being a bartender….y’know, with the wife making an honest man of him, Sunday church and don’t ply the plebs with the drink and all that stuff….
    Also, item (b) of your inventory may indicate to many a man that you have always been wise beyond your years….
    /ducking as my wife slaps me across the head with her book…

  5. 5 scribbler50 August 22, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    Anonymoustache: Hah! Like your “psychoanalyfitication” as well. Especially your death defying swipe at item (b). But as far as your (what I will call) the chicken or the egg problem… the marriage therefore no job, the job therefore no marriage… I don’t think it really matters in either case. The line still implies that one man can’t do both. At least as far as my “introspectafication” of the situation is concerned. Speaking scientifilogically of course, in terms of the actual clarificatinality of it all. N’est-ce pas, Dude?

  6. 6 Donna B. August 22, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    You are right about the bartenders in westerns. I read this earlier today and have been thinking about all the westerns I watched with my dad over the last, um… many years and I can’t remember the bartender character in any of them except The Shootist.

  7. 7 scribbler50 August 22, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    Donna B: My point exactly. That’s because those characters weren’t characters… they were stereotypes. I find it funny more than anything, one of the great cliches in cowboy movie making. The silent pourer!
    Hope you’re enjoying your summer, Donna, thanks for stopping by.

  8. 8 Anonymoustache August 22, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    Au contraire, mon ami! It makes beaucoup de difference! If le job precludes le marriage, it could mean that the job prevents you from meeting your soulmate or from obtaining her suitable and desirable hand in marriage.
    But if le marriage precludes le job, it could mean (assuming you had a say in le marriage) that you have sacrificed a profession that vouz likes for a person that vouz loves.
    C’est l’affaire de les pommes versus les oranges! Pardon, of course, my fucking French.

  9. 9 scribbler50 August 23, 2009 at 12:05 am

    Anonymoustache: I just got home, I’m half in the bag so I can only say to you, Sir, “Oui, oui, Monsieur, and Vive la fucking France!” I’ll not try to fence with “the finest swordsman in all of France”!!!

  10. 10 Jennifer August 23, 2009 at 9:43 am

    Women don’t usually have much of a role in westerns either… Madonna or whore.

    Sam Malone may be the antidote to the western bartender.

  11. 11 scribbler50 August 23, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    Jennifer: You’re right about that, women didn’t have much to do in westerns. Hand wringing saints or saloon singing sinners. You’re also right about Sam Malone. Now if we could put him behind some old western bar, I’d have my Tom Jones concept.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  12. 12 Isis the Scientist August 23, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    If Mr. Isis ever keels over, I’ll add you to the list.

    There. Crisis solved.

  13. 13 scribbler50 August 23, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    Thanks, Isis, I knew I could count on you!

  14. 14 jc August 23, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    Scrib, you were wearing a cape prancing around Burg rooftops a few weeks ago, for your birthday I presume, Cancer man? You are totally not a non-character! Put your superhero getup back on.

    I’ve been a scientist all my life. *sigh* I’d give my left nut, er, uh, foot to get out of the gypsy life and have a house and family. A hot tub in said house would also cure my insomnia.

  15. 15 scribbler50 August 23, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    JC: As for the caped crusader blog, that was just an excuse to take a week off… for no particular reason. No birthday. I’m a Libra so I’m a couple of weeks away from that. As to the other, geez, I think people are taking this blog as some kind of lament. Not so. This incident happened quite a long time ago, life couldn’t be better for me right now. But thanks for the well wishes, friend.

  16. 16 jc August 23, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    Glad you’re not nursing a broken heart. We’ll have a birthday party for you!

  17. 18 robe August 24, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    I believe many people from different occupations go home alone . At the moment they’re not in a relationship. The home is empty. I would not worry about the -never been married- part. I say that because it’s not as much the norm it once was.But in anycase. it’s different from behind the bar. I understand your thinking and how that got to you. And here’s why. Number one : Unlike alot of professions, you see people having fun all night. On dates, with friends etc. You’re working. Two: The hours differ from most people’s schedule. Three: Alot of women (I hope less than more.) see bartending as a b-level job, which it’s not. A talented bartender is gift to behold. So , fuck them, they miss the point anyway. I will say without hesitation that I feel it in my bones , love is near! ALWAYS. The key is not to EVER think the bus has passed you on that count. I don’t care if you’re 80. Open up and let it come in. By the way you write ,you can most likely charm the best of them .I’m not worried…As far as the way bartenders are portrayed in movies , what concerns me much more than the lonely bartender , is the guy who gets an order for two martinis up. He doesn’t move from where he’s standing, he reaches under the bar and brings up two perfectly made up martinis and places them on the bar. Like they’re at the McDonalds for martinis. THAT guy keeps me up at night.

  18. 19 scribbler50 August 24, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    Robe: Good insights on bartending and thoughtful words indeed but I have to repeat… as I mentioned to JC and Fargo… I didn’t mean to send out the message I’m running for future president of the Lonely Hearts Club. Scribbler is doing just fine. This blog was simply about having some fun with a long ago sleepless night where a whole bunch of stuff came crashing into focus. All from one silly line in an old cowboy movie.

    And… I’m with you… if I ever see a guy produce two martinis magically from under the counter, he’s drinking them himself because I ain’t payin’. Thanks again for your comment.

  19. 20 robe August 24, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    “Lonely Hearts” No I was not suggesting that. Still, it hit a nerve or you would not have let it affect you at all. The story is great because it hit you a bit. All I’m saying is I get it. I have felt the same. In your mind , or at least mine, It’s 4am, the whole world is cudling someone or something and you’re wiping down speed racks. Then you go home and Walter Breenen or whoever is behind the bar doing the same. Let us show a little love and understanding. It doesn’t mean we think you’re “Marty”. You know , you’re a very sensitive guy. That’s a good thing.

  20. 21 siobhan August 24, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    No more Westerns for you, young man! It’s not often a Western can set off an all-night existential crisis, so I give you two points for originality (plus a zillion points for sheer entertainmnent factor). I’m determined to think of an old movie with a great bartender role– other than Casablanca, now that I think of it, one of the greatest movies of all time.

  21. 22 scribbler50 August 24, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    Siobhan:
    Don’t worry, my friend, lesson well learned… no more all night westerns for this guy. Hah!!

    And since you’re a bona fide movie buff I have total faith you’ll come up with a great bartender role. I know I can’t think of one and definitely not from a western.

    Agreed on Casablanca too… every time I stumble onto it (no matter where in the movie) I’m in for the duration.

    Hey, thanks for stopping by and thanks for your comment and since I know you’re on vacation… double thanks!

  22. 23 siobhan August 25, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    OK, I’m still working on it. Thinking, thinking, thinking…. Meanwhile, JUST got home from vacation and found my 1:30 mtg tomorrow afternoon was moved to 8:30 a.m. Guess my green chile dreams are truly over…

    Oh, and while I continue to ponder bartenders from the classic movie era, I would like to point out the sterling TV examples of Moe and Isaac.

  23. 24 scribbler50 August 26, 2009 at 12:22 am

    Siobhan:
    Welcome back to the Big Bad Apple and totally unfair about the meeting. “Chili dreams” replaced by black coffee reality!!!

    By the way, I assume you mean Moe from The Simpsons and Issac from The Love Boat, yes? Well that’ll do for now but I KNOW you can do better than that. But please take you time… something tells me you have more important things on your mind right now. Glad you had a great trip.
    Best,
    Scribbler

  24. 25 Katherine August 26, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    Just stopped by to say that in movies in general, frequently everyone except the main character (if that) is a stereotype. Lazy writing, the honest perceptions of the writers, or is it “what the public want”? Who knows. I know personally I’m always thrilled to see a little bit of the life of a non-main character; it’s nice to see that they are a real person and not a stereotype.

  25. 26 siobhan August 26, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    Scribbler, all I got so far (and this is pretty weak, I know) is Nick from “It’s a Wonderful Life” and Lloyd from “The Shining” (the briefest of roles but oh so memorable! a bartender who keeps his cool and stays in control even as his patron gets crazier and more violent; of course, he’s either a ghost or a figment of Jack’s deranged imagination, but still….). It seems every movie I love from the 30s SHOULD have a great bartender character, but mostly, they just have great drinking characters – i.e., Nick and Nora, in The Thin Man, are first seen in a truly great bar scene, where Nick is teaching a cluster of bartenders how to shake various cocktails to their appropriate rhythm.

    I’ll keep my eyes peeled for a few more worthy role models for you.

    siobhan

    ps Thanks for your sympathy on my forced early rising today. I survived my day of meetings (actually, the day was pretty interesting, and went well) and am now climbing into bed, with NO alarm set for tomorrow! Bliss….

  26. 27 scribbler50 August 27, 2009 at 12:14 am

    Katherine: I’m certainly no expert but yeah, you’re probably right… lotsa’ stereotypes, lotsa’ lazy writing aimed at focus groups. If you really want to find great secondary roles unfortunately you have to dig into your NetFlix library and go back to the thirties and forties when they actually existed. That’s when the great secondary roles were not only in abundance but they were played by all those great, great character actors. Back then it was less about action and speed and more about dialogue and story. And though I still think you can find it today in most of the English drama (BBC as well as their movies) it’s sure as hell hard to find around here. Unless of course you take in a Vin Diesel flick! 🙂
    PS: I added that last part just because you taught me how to do the Smiley face!

  27. 28 scribbler50 August 27, 2009 at 12:26 am

    Siobhan: Amazingly, I can’t remember the guy in The Shining (I’m one of the few people in America who didn’t go nuts over that movie) but DAMN do I remember Sheldon Leonard in It’s A Wonderful Life. As I’m typing these keys I can picture him hitting his register keys saying each time the bell went off, “Get me, I’m making another angel!” Yeah, wise ass that he was, in just that five minute scene he created an eternally memorable character. Great choice, friend, I’ll take it. You’re off the hook.

    Glad you survived the meeting,,, sleep well.

  28. 29 siobhan August 27, 2009 at 7:39 am

    scribbler, here you go:

    lessons in nonplussed bartender behavior.

  29. 30 scribbler50 August 27, 2009 at 10:11 am

    Siobhan:
    Good Lord! (Great LLoyd!!) Terrific scene!!!
    But that said, and preferring the active to the passive, I’ll have to take Sheldon Leonard’s Nick over Lloyd by a nose. Granted, one has to go by the words in the script so Lloyd was clearly the reactor, but Sheldon Leonard burned his words into lore. Even though he was a minor character he choreographed the action in that scene like a maestro. In fact I’ll bet that scene was the one responsible for launching his career thereafter as the quintessential “wise guy”. (Until, that is, he
    got even “wiser” and produced every damn sit-com it seemed on sixties television.)

    Hey, thank you so much for sending that along, I really appreciate it… mission more than accomplished!

  30. 31 siobhan August 28, 2009 at 10:37 am

    phew. I was fearing failure in my assignment, so I’m glad you’re happy with what I managed to pull out of the movie database I keep in my head.

    My vote still goes to Moe.

  31. 33 mvpalex August 31, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Times have changed, any smart bar/restaurant owner will lean toward married tenders. Less problems for them and more to lose for the keeper.

  32. 34 Hod October 2, 2009 at 11:34 am

    A great bartender role can be found in “Irma la Douce.” The terrific actor Lou Jacobi plays the Paris bartender like a nice uncle from Brooklyn. I think Billy Wilder originally wanted Charles Laughton for the role. Anyway, Jacobi is great.
    “But that’s another story!”

    The Western that moved you so was “My Darling Clementine” (1946), one of the best John Ford westerns ever. Henry Fonda was Wyatt Earp, and the bartender, “Mac,” was played by F. Farrell MacDonald, who appeared that same year in “It’s A Wonderful Life” as a grumpy homeowner.
    And why was he grumpy? Because Sheldon Leonard had overserved Jimmy Stewart and then he drove his Model T into a tree in front of the grumpy man’s house.
    So much for Sheldon Leonard.

    “Or shall I slip you my left as a convincer?”

  33. 35 scribbler50 October 2, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    Hey, Hod… great stuff. By the way, I knew it was either “My Darling Clementine” or “Destry Rides again” and not wanting to err I just left it alone. Thanks for clearing that up. You really know your movies. I especially love, “Or shall I slip you my left as a convincer?”
    Welcome aboard, movie buffs are always welcome in this bar

  34. 36 Hod October 2, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    Thanks, glad to hang out here a while.

    Another great bartender role occurred to me today, but maybe it’s too close to home. “The Lost Weekend” featured Howard da Sylva as the bartender who listened to Ray Milland’s stories as he’s getting stewed.
    Finally he gets fed up with him.
    But in the final scene he makes a surprise appearance at Milland’s apartment and delivers a great line.

  35. 37 Chris Leonard February 28, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    The western you are talking about is, “My Darling Clementine”, with Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp and Victor Mature as Doc Holiday. One of the greatest movies about the OK Corral shootout.

  36. 38 scribbler50 March 1, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    I don’t know how you found this post as I wrote it a long time ago, but thanks, Chris, all these years later. And it was a great movie.
    Cheers!

  37. 39 Shaun Naborn April 7, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    most of the bartenders i’ve known and i know are not in any relationship right now. I kept on asking them, why? they answered me “I’m busy workin’ at night til dawn and i’d rather sleep in the morning than chat” oh well..

  38. 40 scribbler50 April 8, 2014 at 8:50 am

    Shaun Naborn:The profession, especially when practiced at night and for myriad reasons, really doesn’t lend itself to a having a traditional relationship. “Oh, well,” indeed.
    Thanks, for the comment.


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