“Mad Men” to Sad Men

Watching the return of “Mad Men” last week (a ritual when the show is in season) your friendly bartender couldn’t help but to go back in time. But not to the era depicted on screen when cocktails in the office were as common as IBM Selectrics, when lunches were three hours long if they ended at all, but to the era immediately following that time when there was no workplace to go to, when lunch was all there was for there was no job. The aftermath… the hangover… the days when I first started doing this thing called bartending.

Some say it started when Jimmy Carter declared the “three martini lunch” a bogus business expense. Others believe it was all those mergers giving rise to the ubiquitous bean counter… the guy who was brought on board to trim all the fat. But whatever it was that sobered us up it marked the end of an era, and it turned a lot of these ad men into sad men. Very sad. For it took away all their toys which I witnessed first hand…

My first experience with all this stuff took place in the nineteen eighties (my first real job as a bartender), at a one-time haunt for agency types and sales people. Deals were made there, trysts were played there and bullshit bounced off the walls like balls in a racquetball court. Phrases like, “Cost per thousand” and “What were the overnights?” could be heard in the air as readily as “Pass the salt.” This was a place for “players”, especially if they played “hardball”, or at least it was before I’d gotten my job there.

For when I arrived at this venerable spot the tsunami had already hit, and a lot of these one time players were now out of work. Ah, but  they still tried to play the game, these guys, as if they were still on top…still wearing bright red party hats when there was no fucking party… which provided for your brand new bartender quite a balancing act. The guys who were still employed were fine and they always did the right thing (like pay their tab!!!), but those who weren’t used to drive me right up a wall. They hung around almost all day long, lying to me and each other (“Hold my check, will ya’, bartender? I have a three o’clock and then I’ll be back”), or in general got sloppy drunk and sometimes belligerent. But you didn’t really know who was who at first… which is where the balancing came in… so you smiled at all and played the game til you did.

And how did I eventually separate the wheat from the chaff? Well, even for a rookie like me, dear reader, it got to the point where I could spot these guys in the doorway. Their suits were a little bit shiny at the elbow, their shirt collars toyed with a fray, the soft leather cases they carried around were as thin as The New York Post, and (to quote myself from a past blog) a conversation like this might have easily taken place.

“Hey, Kid, where the hell’s (owner of the bar), that crazy son-of-a-bitch? We used to have more fucking fun than a barrel full of monkeys.”

He’s not here right now, he doesn’t come in til four.” (I worked the day shift.)

“Oh, r-i-i-i-i-g-h-t, I forgot. That’s just dumb, for cryin’ out loud, I better have me an eye opener. Listen, young man, give me some quarters to make some calls, I gotta confirm some appointments, and pour me a Dewar’s on the rocks while you’re at it, okay?”


“Oh, and by the way, can you cash a two party check while I’m here, my friend? (Owner) used to do it all the time, I’m cash poor today.”

“Geez, I’m sorry, we’re not allowed to cash checks anymore. New rules.”

“Shit, okay. Then let me go take this meeting and I’ll pay you when I get back.”

“Whoah! Wait a minute, Sir, what about a credit card?”

“Hah! Are you kiddin’? The wife’s got it. She’s out spending all of my fucking money!”

Or something like that, as I recall… fast talkin’, smooth talkin’, full-court press bullshit as if I were a client. And when he’d hurriedly walk out the door, this type, you might even see some shiny suit pants as well! They were funny, they were tragic, and a far cry from some of those lovable rogues we see each week on Mad Men, who were one generation away from perhaps the same fate. Which brings me to a little incident I had a few weeks ago.

This guy used to be a regular with us and though loaded with phrases like, “Sorry I haven’t been in in a while, I’ve been traveling a lot to Germany,” aside from that nonsense he wasn’t an unwelcome guest. His B.S. was somewhat harmless and so was he.  But lately he’s just been coming in and standing around the piano, listening to the music (to the untrained eye) when the truth be known he was waiting for a friend to walk in. A friend who would pick up the slack and buy him a drink. So on this night of a few weeks back… this night which took me back to the Eighties… he sidled up to the bar for a change, ordered a glass of wine, and proceeded to have a total of three for his stay.Then, after a good two hours of sipping and smiling he called out my name rather loudly, mimed a note pad with one hand while he feigned writing on it with the other (the universal sign to tab out), then shouted even louder, “Let’s have my check!”

“You got it,” I shouted back.  Then I tallied his check, walked to his spot, but when I got there he went and said something that really bugged me. He said, “I said I’ll have one more and then my check. Didn’t you hear me?” Now of course you know what’s going on, dear reader, it’s the oldest ploy in the book, and one that has about as much chance of flying as a Studebaker on blocks without a pilot.  Because here’s the scenario. He figured, rather than me redoing his check at this point, a pain in the ass to be sure, I’d simply say, “What the hell, this one’s on us.” And the funny part is if he’d asked for a fourth, which he clearly hadn’t, I assure you, I probably would’ve given him a buy-back anyway. But this, as I said, just bugged me for its sheer transparency. So fuck it, he’s paying! I know that sounds cut and dry and harsh but you get cut and dry and harsh when you’ve done this a while. When you’re being played!

So I placed his glass of wine on the bar, the rewritten check beside it, picked up his cash (by the way, cash with these guys is also a sign that things aren’t going too well, it usually means their credit’s been called to a halt), and I rang up the tab for four drinks much to his chagrin. It was simply my way of saying to this guy, “Don’t do stuff like this, man, you know you’re better than that, and you look like a fool for thinking that I’m your fool!” End of story.

So what’s my point in telling this? It’s that nothing changes. The “song and dance” goes on as before, just like it did in the Eighties, with different partners now taking the floor and your friendly bartender still doing his best to lead. And the Mad Men are still the sad men, alas, at least the ones who still try to play these games. (Cue the violins!)

Hey, but before I go I’d like to end on a high note, or at least a note from Bar-land I think is humorous. A customer of mine… actually one of my best and a real gentleman… came up with this little scenario I thought worth repeating. He said, “What are the three worst words you can hear in a cab?” “I don’t know,” I said, “what are they?” He said, “If you meet a terrific woman in a bar and actually get to leave with her, she says when you climb in the cab, Two stops, driver!”

I like that, ’cause it’s happened to me and every damn guy in New York.

Over and out from Bar-land, now I gotta go try and cash me a four party check!!!

16 Responses to ““Mad Men” to Sad Men”

  1. 1 Ken August 1, 2010 at 9:01 am

    Good post, Scrib. I hope to have a Jack on the rocks in your establishment one day. I hope you don’t think less of me when I pay cash, as I usually do. Don’t like to card food and drink when it’s strictly my own personal stuff.

  2. 2 scribbler50 August 1, 2010 at 9:05 am

    Ken: You can pay any way you want, I’d be honored if you stopped by.

  3. 3 physiobabe August 1, 2010 at 10:47 am

    All the sad, sad men. You’ve seen it all, haven’t you, Scrib? One day I’d like to see your world.

    Kisses, Caro

  4. 4 scribbler50 August 1, 2010 at 11:11 am

    physiobabe: Thanks, bella mia, you’re invited to stop by as well. But I’ll have to brush up on my Eye-talian first!

  5. 5 Comrade PhysioProf August 1, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    “Two-party check”. I had to Google that shit up to figure out what it means! Sounds totally fucken shady.

  6. 6 Anonymoustache August 1, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    Think positive dude….why does “Two stops…” have to be bad news all the time? The first stop could just be one of you to pick up a toothbrush and change of clothes before proceeding to the second……;-)

  7. 7 scribbler50 August 1, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Comrade: It can be, especially when it beomes a three-party!

    Anonymoustache: Positive is one thing, delusional is another. 🙂

  8. 8 Petro August 1, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    Wow, Scrib – glad I never pulled that stuff.

    I was a nightly regular at my haunt for many years, and when the bottom fell out on me, I didn’t play any “pride” games. I was only able to scrape up enough to visit my old friends a couple of times a month. They were so kind to me, asking me how many pints I was planning on having and ringing them all up at happy hour prices ahead of time, throwing in a couple for free – not to mention the occasional shots I would get from other patrons mindful of my past years of generous spending.

    (It got awkward sometimes, as I would be questioned sometimes as to why I had a rack of empty pint glasses in front of me – their “accounting method” – and I certainly didn’t want to bust the staff for giving me special favors. I’d just let the “you must be popular” comment hang there with a wry smile.)

    I would even get an occasional phone call if I hadn’t been in for awhile, with a very welcome invitation to come and drink on the house for free that night!

    Getting a little misty here, I really miss those guys and gals…

    (Sorry for the TMI, Scrib and all – but I feel bad for those “sad men,” all the more so since they can’t shake the entirely inappropriate feelings of humiliation.)

  9. 9 scribbler50 August 1, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    Petro: First off, not “too much information” but a lovely story. And sentiment. Because I have sympathy too, man, for these guys who feel the need to still try and fake it. To act like things are cool when they clearly aren’t. It IS sad! But I was young back then and naive about the game and I felt like they were trying to push me around. Which they were. So I resented them. (self-preservation) And as far as the guy the other night is concerned, that was a case of “Don’t insult my intelligence!” I’m not that kid anymore so please can the nonsense.

    Plus, though I hate to admit it… you see so much bullshit in this line of work (along with the good, of course) that you become, dare I say, quite cynical. Or hardened. Now I’ve given you TMI!

    Meanwhile, friend, you must’ve been something when times were good to be treated like that when they weren’t. That says a lot about you.


  10. 10 Petro August 1, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    Kind words, Scrib. And I didn’t mean my parenthetical to imply criticism! Of course these folks need to have reality in their face – regardless of the sympathies we quietly harbor. Kind of how we deal with our misbehavin’ children. 😉

    Thank you again – I really was afraid it was TMI!!

    Here’s a hoist for the love of humanity… click!

  11. 11 Jager August 3, 2010 at 1:20 am

    Scrib, I worked for a guy in the late seventies, knew his stuff, good manager, smart, but he had grown up in the business world of the 50’s and 60’s. He’d drink himself stupid at lunch, he’d come in at 8a, do all his meetings and tend to important business until 1 and head for a long wet lunch. In the earlier 80’s I left the company for a corporate job, a year later we bought the company he ran. He called me and said, “what do I need to know about my new boss”? I said “don’t drink at lunch when you meet him next week, he’s not a teetotaler, but he hates it when people get wasted in the middle of the day”. He said, “cool”. The boss returned after his walk through and took me aside and said “your pal is finished”, I asked “why’? He said, “he drank 3 Rob Roys and a bottle of Cabernet at lunch and was shit faced by the time he finished his salad, he’s done”. The guy was gone the following week. He called me and was outraged that he’d been canned, I told him if he’d stuck with soda at lunch, he and his new boss probably would have gone out to dinner that night and the drinking would have been charming, just as I had done just that many, many times with the boss. Old habits die, really, really hard.

  12. 12 Donna B. August 3, 2010 at 4:24 am

    Sad. Yes. And because I’m mostly clueless, I’m now wondering if the “50” part of your name is age. If so, I’ve got some years on ya pal!

    With those years comes a unique and mortifying understanding of pride and its ugly manifestations. Pride itself doesn’t age well and pride in superficial things (prestige, for example) ages not worth a damn.

  13. 13 scribbler50 August 3, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Jager: That’s a textbook scenario and one that happened to Freddie last year on Mad Men. Yeah, old habits die hard, especially when those habits move their way into addiction. That performance by your friend, particularly after being warned, was nothing short of occupational suicide.

    Donna B.: Wise words, my friend, I guess that also comes along with aging. And as far as the “50” in my handle is concerned… it has nothing to do with age so call off the search. Five is my lucky number but since it was taken when I stsrted I moved the number to “50”. (Pretty clever, huh?)

  14. 14 d-a-p August 5, 2010 at 10:17 am

    …sad story…but so true..a natural sequel to “Mad Men”…well told..

  15. 15 scribbler50 August 5, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Thanks, d-a-p, and that’s why the series Mad Men is so spot on. Everyone of a certain age can relate to the stories they tell… the fun, the tragedy, the rise, the fall, and those who ran through the raindrops without getting wet.

  16. 16 MadMenGirl August 21, 2010 at 11:56 pm


    I’ve entered a contest to win a walk-on role on the sexy retro-licious TV show “MadMen”…. but I need your votes to win!

    Click my name (or the link above) to go right to my picture and vote!



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