… or Gladys, or any fucking thing besides my real name! Jeee-zuzzzzz!!!
When your friendly bartender first started out he began as a waiter at Clarke’s… the famous P.J. Clarke’s in midtown Manhattan… and that’s where he got this rather odd piece of advice. It came from a guy named Tommy, one of the old timers.
“C’mere, kid,” said Tommy, my very first day on the job, “ya’ want a piece of advice you can take to the bank?”
“Sure, Tommy,” I replied in earnest, never thinking I’d be in this business long enough to open an account let alone make a deposit, “what’s your advice?”
“Never tell a customer your fucking name,” he said.
“I heard you tell that guy just now your name. Don’t do that,” he said.
“Because the son-of-a-bitch will own ya’, that’s fucking why. Just watch how many times you hear your name now.” We were interrupted just then by the sound of my name. “See,” Tommy admonished. “now he owns ya!”
Well, first off, whether or not this was sound advice was up for grabs at that moment, the dilemma was, “How could I not tell my name?” How could I not come clean with someone sitting with a group at a table, and the first thing out of his mouth is, “What’s your name?” To this day I still can’t think of a graceful sidestep. “None of your business,” doesn’t work. “What’s in a name?” is a little too Shakespeare and to not respond at all is just plain rude. Or stupid. Neither of which is the best approach if, just like Blanche DuBois, you “depend on the kindness of strangers” for your survival. Which in my case is tips.
But, dammit, Tommy was right (as the old timers usually are, by the way), for in almost ninety percent of the cases where a customer asks for a name, the customer then says that name til you hear it in your sleep. And then some!
“Oh, Bob… Bob? When you get a chance, would you get us another round, please? Thanks, Bob.” Then, “Hey, Bob, you were right, this soup is delicious. Good choice, Bob.” And, “Hey, Bob, more water, please. Thanks, Bob. Oh, by the way, Bob? You’re doing a great job!” And finally, “Tell us about the desserts, Bob, you might as well know right now I’m a big dessert guy! Any suggestions, Bob?” (Yeah, I have a suggestion, lose my fucking name or I set fire to your table!)
But what tends to irk even more, dear reader, during this assault on your handle… this placement of your very being in a freaking echo chamber… is the casual schmaltz in tone with which it is uttered. Because if your name really is Bob they’ll say, “Oh, B-a-h-h-h-b” not “Bob”, all drawn out, unctuous and way too cozily. Like a goddam family member. But hey, even if you were his actual family you wouldn’t let him pull off this schmaltz, you’d probably smack him upside the head and say, “Quit your whining, J-a-h-h-h-n, my name is Bob!”
Now of course this is all about being known, which I’m sure you’ve already gathered, as if knowing you’re name and shouting it aloud will somehow validate their “in-ness”, will make them part of the “scene” into which they crave entry. Especially in a place like Clarke’s where you once had celebrities. And it really is silly.
Anyway, this all came flooding back to me, this advice from good old Tommy, when a customer pulled up a stool with me a few weeks ago. Because once again I couldn’t apply Tommy’s rule.
(Let me just call myself “Bob” in the following exchange.)
“Hey there,” said the customer, a suit-and-tie in his mid to late thirties reaching out his hand for me to shake, “what’s your name, Sir.”
“It’s Bob,” I said, as I reached out and shook his hand.
“Nice to meet you there, Bob,” he replied, “mine’s Martin.”
“Well welcome, Martin, what can I get you?” I asked.
“Hmmmm, ya’ know, B-a-h-h-h-b, (right then I knew and thought about old Tommy’s rule!) I probably shouldn’t do this ’cause I’ve got a big day tomorrow, but I think I’ll have a Plymouth martini straight up. With an olive, Bob.”
“You got it, my friend,” I said, hoping that would end it. But of course it didn’t. He then proceeded to order some dinner and “Bobbed” my ass to death from soup to dessert. Non-stop! It was “Bob this” and “Bob that”, almost twice per sentence, til I wished we had a trap door through which to drop him. With Sweeney Todd waiting! And just for good measure, as if he hadn’t “Bobbed” me enough, he “Bobbed” me two more times on his way out the door. “Bob, this was great, thanks a lot, Bob.” (You’re welcome, Martin, believe me you’re fucking welcome, Martin!)
Now I don’t know whether I’ll see him again, he gave me no real indication, but if he walks in again I’m putting on a pair of Grouch glasses. Or a ski mask!
But alas this problem still will exist when others of his ilk walk in, this problem of implementing Tommy’s advice with some grace. Or some tact. So I consulted two fellow bartenders to see how they do it.
Alex, who works the bar at Elaine’s, said, “If I can see the guy’s an asshole I just say, ‘Fred. Call me Fred’.” Now I’m not sure how that works but I like his gumption. Then the guy who works the day shift before me said without missing a beat, “I just say, ‘Call me bartender!’ and that’s the end of it.” Which I like even better. It quickly establishes, “I’ll be breaking the ice here.” But given those two rather sage solutions the fact still remains I’m screwed, I’m still up the veritable creek without a good oarsman. And here’s why. If I do apply either “Fred” or “Bartender” (both cold responses you’ll agree), I’ll have to change my name to “your un-friendly bartender”. (And you think you have problems????)
Over and out from Barland, see ya’ next week-end…
In the meantime… if you happen to visit your favorite pub between now and the next time we meet, try and keep the bartender’s name to a minimum. Like in saying “hello” and saying “good-bye” and maybe just once in between, unless of course you’re fame bereft which I doubt! 🙂