This is about your friendly bartender trying to do the right thing, and a very young customer not knowing when to say when. Did he manage to pull it off? He certainly hopes so. Did the customer take offense? He’s absolutely sure of it. With her lower lip jutted out in pout and her party mood stopped in its tracks, she ended up looking like a sad little girl whose ice cream scoop had just fallen off the cone. For which he’s most sorry.
Here’s what happened….
I saw her come in out of the corner of my eye and wasn’t too thrilled at the prospect, for I’ve seen her performance too many times of late. And it hasn’t been pretty. She always comes in with a friend or two or meets someone new at the bar, then proceeds to drink what I feel is beyond her capacity. Now it’s not that she gets stupid drunk in the process (or else I wouldn’t serve her), just louder and louder by the glass and more demanding. And her voice ascends into high-pitched shrill that arrives in a baby-talk mode, which not only annoys yours truly but those around her. But on a serious note… gradually moving from a vodka and tonic to a vodka martini straight up (the opposite progression for most) and ordering another when her glass is still half full, her behavior displays all the classic signs of a “problem”. Or someone dangerously close to having a problem. Now I’m not trying to pass any judgment here, just callin’ ’em as I see ’em, and what I see is trouble just waiting to happen. Either from a habit that will only grow worse in time (she’s only at best twenty five), or a guy who will take advantage after they leave. And that really bothers me. But on this night she was alone and just as well.
“Give me a vodka and tonic,” she shouted, the moment she walked in the door, even before she’d settled herself on the stool.
This obviously wasn’t her first stop that night, it was somewhere around eight thirty, so someone else’s Happy Hour turned up her volume. Which I ignored. Because unlike what I normally do I didn’t respond to her shout, first to control my temper I guess but also to send a message she was showing bad form. You don’t just walk in a bar and shout out your drink like that. So I finished my chat with the nice young couple who happened to be first timers, then I made her drink, then slowly walked it over and set it in front of her. Without saying a word. No “hello”, no “How ya’ doin'”, no freaking nothing in way of showing a welcome. Then I returned to the couple she’d rudely interrupted. Now I realize that might sound petty on my part… giving her the silent treatment… but sometimes a message has to be sent and actions in a case like this speak louder than words. Or so I hoped.
“Where’s the piano player?” she again shouted, piercing the room anew, proving to me she hadn’t gotten my message.
“He’s standing next to the piano,” I shouted right back. Then it started.
In her best baby talk voice she said (cooing is much more like it), “Awwww, don’t be mean, bartender, you remember m-e-e-e-e-e, don’t you?”
I just couldn’t help myself. I walked over and leaned in close and in a whisper that no one could hear I said the following. “Obviously I remember you, miss, that’s why I shouted. Listen, I don’t really know how to say this to you but since you’ve been coming in here… for what is it now a month?… it hasn’t always been a pleasure having to serve you. You don’t know when to say when most nights, which means you have too much to drink, and you do stuff like this whenever that happens… shout out orders no matter what I’m in the middle of. I’m sorry, miss, but that’s just not the way to act.” (Like I said, I couldn’t help it.)
After a good thirty seconds had passed and after her facial expressions had run the gamut of emotions, she finally spoke. “But I live right here on this block so it’s not a problem.” (Huh???)
“Where you live has nothing to do with it,” I said. “If you lived upstairs I’d say the exact same thing. It’ not about where you live it’s where you drink. And how you drink. Listen, I don’t mean to hurt your feelings here (her lower lip was jutting out) but really try to think about what I’m saying, okay? I’m sure you’re a nice person, just know when to say when and try to behave yourself. That’s all.” Then I walked to the other end to let her think about it.
But when I looked back I could see she was really hurt. Or extremely pissed.
Dammit! That’s what you get for trying to do the right thing. Or was it the right thing? Did you overstep your bounds here? You’re not her father, ya’ know. And she is over twenty one for crying out loud. Yeah, but you’re also running a bar, man, and female or male you can’t let the lunatics run the asylum.
So after a few minutes had passed, and in an effort to try and make this woman feel better, I walked back over and tried to start a conversation. “By the way, miss,” I said, “the piano player’s name is…” but she cut me right off.
“Give me my check,” she snapped, handing me a credit card. And so I did.
Let well enough alone, I figured, at least you won’t have to worry about how many drinks she’s having, or some clown coming over and trying to take advantage!
After signing the slip she stayed a while longer but except for exchanging glances we made no more contact. Good or bad, villain or hero, the movie was edited and done so roll the credits. But then something told me to go over and check her credit card receipt. Which I’m glad I did. For in the space where you put the gratuity, on a tab for $8.75, she’d written in a whopping fifty dollar tip. And now I felt worse.
Miss, miss,” I said, taking her hand, “please don’t do this. It’s not necessary. And I’m definitely not going to accept that amount, I assure you.”
“But like I said,” she said, “I live right here on this block… I really, really like this place, and I’m going to be coming here over and over and over again.”
“And you’re welcome to come here over and over and over again,” I said. “And I mean that. But you don’t have to do this to make yourself welcome. Again, I’m sorry I hurt your feelings and maybe I could’ve worded it better but I’m just trying to look out for you if you can understand that?” Then I let go of her hand, picked up the pen and said, “Look, I’m scratching out the fifty dollars and putting in a dollar twenty five, that will make it ten dollars even, how’s that?” But apparently she didn’t want me to do that or simply couldn’t care less, because she turned away and never acknowledged the gesture. And whether that was just more pouting on her part (in keeping with “baby-talk” central) or simply saying, “Go to hell, you bum!” which is entirely understandable, I haven’t a clue. Because after I walked to the other end to make a drink for the waitress, I looked back and just like that the woman was gone. All that was left was a glass and her copy of the bill. Left blank.
So will she remember I rewrote her fifty dollar tip the next morning? Doesn’t matter. Will she remember that I tried to plant a seed that may take root down the road? I certainly hope so. The seed of taking a very long look at the road upon which she’s embarking, that life can’t be an endless “happy hour” devil-may-caring through life, unless you’re prepared for the saddest of hours at road’s end.
Hey, sorry to be so serious this week and come off like Father Flanagan, but these are the things that happen sometimes in Bar-land. For what started out as a mere annoyance progressed to a cautionary tale, which wasn’t about how I reacted but how she reacted. To something quite serious. And by the way, in case you happen to be wondering, would I have said and done the same thing to a guy? You bet. I have and will again, but with a different tone and with far less care for his safety. Maybe that sounds chauvinistic but that’s the deal.
See ya’ next week-end.