BARTENDER X

Cocktails and Screams

          Way past your bedtime Iím cleaning up your crap. Iím picking up tab ends
from damp wooden floors. Sweeping up pools of booze and sometimes blood.
Long after youíre passed out Iím cleaning your carnage with the sounds of
your music still ringing in my ears. The mess that youíve createdÖI get to
tidy up after you like your fucking mother used to do. While youíre having
drink-fuelled dreams, Iím still here, wiping away the memories that you
spent extortionate amounts of cash to create. Now your memories are just
past events being swept into large blue bins by an anonymous person you may
or may not have seen tonight.

          Iím a professional barman. I work the nights. The long nights filled
witnessing just how fucking stupid and desperate you can get. I see it all
through sober eyes, and you can look pretty lonesome, out there in your
groups, clamming together, making the noises of pack-animals and letting
every sordid little thought youíve ever had come to the surface, right
before my eyes. Iím the witness to all the crimes and misdemeanours of your
soul. If you own one.

          I make you cocktails. I make you Raspberry Ripples and Vodka-Redbulls.
Pitchers of beer. Baby Guinness. White Russians, Black Russians. Shooters.
Irish car bombs, B-52ís, Olympic flags, Brain Haemorrhages. White wine
spritzers. Tequila Slammers. Jack Daniels, Bacardi, Courvoisier, with or
without coke. Gin and tonics. Vodka slings. Absinthe and Aftershocks. I make
whatever you tell me to make and if you donít know what you wantÖIíll decide
for you.

          I see you cause fights; argue and attack from the substances that infuse
with your bloodstream. I see you dance and fall down and lose clothing and
complain to me about a situation which you created that now youíve decided
you donít like. Iím the bartender; the hero of society. Iím a fucking social
psychiatrist: you come to me with your problems and I prescribe drugs.

          Iíve been in this game for years, working faceless and nameless and
penniless for years, but I always come back for more. Maybe itís because you
can get addicted to seeing the shameless side of humanity. Maybe itís
because Iím fucking good at my job. Maybe I do it to get you women drunk so
I can take advantage of you. You donít know why I do it and neither do I.
But we stand on opposite ends of the bar, you and I.

          When the bar empties and itís gone four in the a.m. and youíre passed out,
breathing out those sticky lungfuls, Iím here, erasing your very presence
like a crime scene cleaner for minimum wage profit.


          I was still a teenager when I pulled my first pint. Iím now looking at my
late twenties. That gives me nearly ten years of seeing you make fools of
yourselves, thinking that youíre the first Iíve seen doing what you do. Now
I work the student nights, the gay nights, the fancy-dress nights, the
special occasions and the run-of-the-mill weekend mad-nights. Your actions
Iíve seen repeated a thousand times in a thousand different ways. Show me
something different and Iíll buy you a drink myself.

          I put up with your ghastly anthems: the YMCA, the fucking monkees, the
electro-pop, the hardcore dance, the house, the slow songs that see you
cling together in unknown and shortly forgotten embraces at the end of the
night. Come on Eileen? Fuck you Eileen!

          The place I work at now is a major player in the structure of nocturnal
activities. Major. I work with another twenty barmen, each with their own
small reasons for doing what we do. The tips, the music, the lifestyle, the
company, the women, the men, the thrill of being out after the sun goes
down. Vampires that serve society. Thatís what we are.


          Thereís the management who tell us what to do and how to operate, while
they peruse the club, seeking out new lays. Thereís a lot of different
people, with a lot of different motives.

          Thereís gay James whoís aiming to rise through the ranks. He likes to
write his name and number Ė with kisses Ė in complimentary matchbooks and
hand them out to other queers on the dance floor. Straight James whoís
aiming to get jiggy with every teenager he can get his hands on, including
the barmaids. Heís doing pretty well. Thereís Enrique and Joe, who share
joints outside every twenty minutes. Thereís Jon whoís the most unassuming
character you could find, who makes explosives and deals very exotic
cocktails of his own, including base, rocket-powered coke and fuck-you-over
acid. Thereís Ian, the head-barman, who practises his bottle skills
constantly and fucks like a champ and helps himself to magnums of champagne.
Weíre all here. The characters you deal with in your lifeÖwe have them here
too. Tenfold.


          You think you know what you get up to when youíre out here, throwing money
at me? Na. Think again. Let me tell you what I see. On the flipside.

          Hereís a normal night for me:

          Itís six p.m. I stand and talk to the bouncers at the door for a few
minutes before I walk into the bar. Itís getting busy and you glance at me
as I walk behind the bar while youíre stood waiting for your drink and you
instantly, secretly, thank me because hereís another helper; another Agent
of the Alcohol so you can get your fill quicker. I take my jacket off and
take my till key from the wall and clip it to my belt-loop. I look at the
rota on the wall to see whoís with me tonight. Which brothers are standing
with me to fight you off. Then Iím ready. I take a deep breathe and head
into the fray.

          Youíre on me like vultures waiting for fresh dead flesh. A hundred wobbly
eyes vying for my attention. Iím your hero. For the hours Iím here, Iím your
god, delivering you sustenance and escape. Eye contact is crucial and every
barman worth his own shit knows it. The moment I make eye contact with you,
you think a contract has been signed and my main priority in life is getting
your order to you quicker than I can actually get it to you.

          I avoid any eye contact until Iím stood in my place, raise my eyes and
shout ĎWHOíS NEXT?í And thatís it; for the next eight hours Iím stuck in
this circle of servitude.

          Itís early and the orders come in thick and fast. Itís like the battle of
Rorkeís Drift, fighting the fucking Zulus off Ė DONíT SERVE ĎEM TIL YOU SEE
THE WHITES OF THEIR EYES!

          Four double Vodka-Redbulls, two JDís and coke, four pints of Fosters,
three blue WKDís and thirteen shots of Sambuca. A typical order. You take it
all away and in five minutes youíre back in the queue, gagging for more,
like seeing your favourite whore.

          You flash your tits at me, lay them on the bar, hoping my eyes will filter
you out and youíll get your booze in a more rapid fashion. I see bundles of
women checking the men and hordes of men checking the skirts and cleavages
and the sea of long blonde hair. A barely contained orgy.

          When the club opens upstairs I go up to work off the rest of my night.
This is where you really let your hair down. You let it down so far that it
gets trampled on and in the convenience of the crowd you loose both your
identity and your mind. In the loud darkness you gleam low and ineffectual.
Now weíre rockiní-and-a-rolliní together. Iím flat out like a squid on
speed; my arms instinctively reaching for the shelf of a bottle fridge or a
shot glass or into the waist high fridges under the bar to top your vodka up
with orange juice. I spin bottles and glasses and pour spirits faster than
your drunken eyes can focus on, BANG, itís on the bar and my hand is out,
shouting the damage count at you. Youíre amazed at the forty-plus cocktails
I can push your way, like itís my first language. Iím a socially accepted
drug dealer.

Two pint jug, add ice
75ml Vodka
75ml Archers
Fill with orange & cranberry juice.
One Sex on the Beach for your swilling pleasure.
Add straws and hand it to the whores.

          Iím the gatekeeper to your fantasies, your desires, your fears. Without my
kind, you get sweet fuck all. You abuse me at the bar, you complain that
youíre not getting your swill quickly enough, you wave money in my
face?Öyouíre at the back of the queue my friend. I remember all of your
faces. I remember each action, good or bad, that you perform. You shout
something about ĎÖbeen here for fuckiní half an hour,í and Iíll stop serving
and single you out and make you look like the biggest cunt youíve ever heard
of, in front of all your friends and fellow drinkers. Iíll flip the tables
and let everyone know that itís people like YOU who get served reserved. I
reserve you until the last person. Until your mouth is dry and youíre
wishing youíd just kept your fucking mouth shut and gone with the flow. The
secret rules of the bar. The unwritten conduct. The rules that you abuse,
but I operate by.

          Youíre patient and have a sense of humour and are appreciative of my
talents and maybe tip me?...The next time you hit the bar, youíre on the top
of my priorities. Swings and roundabouts baby, swings and roundabouts.

          Itís all there in front of you and itíd make your liver-swelling career
much easier if youíd take note of these social undercurrents. Believe me, I
know what Iím talking about. Thatís straight from the horseís mouth. Iím
giving you a gift and you shouldnít look me in the mouth.

          The nightís in full sway. Mob psychology is being propelled by dangerously
high levels of booze. Your blood is being diluted by a foreign substance and
the goodness that once ran through your body, a few hours ago, is now just a
tsunami of guilt, false love, uncoordinated actions and maladjusted
loneliness.

          Youíre screaming at me for champagne. For more Vodka, for something,
forÖyou donít even know what, but for something that will take you away and
make you feel like everythingís going to be fine and dandy. To give you the
biggest high and best night of your life. But without illegal chemicals,
youíre stuck with the overpriced products I push your way.

          I stop for a cigarette. Me and one of my buddies go out the back of the
bar, into the cold air punctuated by the dull bass sounds of your anthems
oozing through the walls. Youíre in there, making memories and temporary
happiness and weíre out here, discussing that blonde with the black dress
and legs weíd like to chew on. The luscious tits that sparkle the
atmosphere. The drunken whore who fell over, flashing gash in our path. How
much money weíve made from your feel-good nature, passing fives and tens
over the bar to gently line our pockets. We rape you and you canít even
remember it. We like you in our own little way. Your lack of pride and
levels of never ending dumbness make you seem like harmless pets at times.
We finish our cigarette and he tells me to watch out for a tall blonde who
doesnít get on with her guy, who heís going to make a move on. He tells me
that she looks like sheíd try anything twice. Anything. Thatís what
bartenders talk about. Men always talk about how women talk in secret. Well,
thatís what we talk about in secret. Women, stupid drunk fuck-heads and how
weíre going to get high after the glass gymnastics stop.

          I walk back into the club and someone grabs me in the darkness and pulls
me onto the dance floor. I hope itís the tall blonde, but I turn and itís
not. Itís a small drunk whoís talking in pigeon-human and after filling in
the blanks I make out that someoneís been mutilated in some dark corner. He
pushes me through the blondes and brunettes and sickly smelling beauty
products that coat the air like chocolate humidity.

          The victim has vanished and my informant shrugs his shoulders and gets
back to making a cock out of himself to one of your anthems. I fight my way
back through the exultation; the strobes highlighting you, accentuating your
movements in slow, beautifully paused moments in time and Iím the only one
moving with purpose. The whole crowd looks like an animation flip-book. Each
flip of the strobe captures you in sequence in disorganised motion. Youíre
stuck in time-spliced drink-history.

          I get to the edge of the dance floor and I see some kind of scuffle at the
door. I wander through you and talk to a bouncer. Heís laughing and points
to the corridor, through a set of double blue doors and says that someone
got nailed on the dance floor. One of you got head butted, punched and when
they hit the floor, people were dancing on his head to the sounds of Queenís
ĎWe are the Championsí. The bouncer and I, we stand there and laugh at the
imagery.

          The bouncer curls into the corner and presses his earpiece into his ear.
Thereís another drink-rage downstairs and he accelerates off into the crowd
waiting at the door to come in. Waiting to join this madness. To be
surrounded by this mass-denied negative energy. To be laughing and full of
gladness. To be one instant away from damage and violence, an instant away
from breaking glass and ripped faces. Your version of civilisation kills me.
It really does.

          Iím stood in the corridor, between club and crowd, looking left and right.
Left is heaving crowd. Right is dark, loud club.

          The manager asks me to stay and provide some kind of presence whilst the
bouncers are absent, dealing with blood and crime.

          Opposite me, through the double blue doors, is a scene that highlights
your version of civilisation. A man, the guy who got nailed to Queen, is
down and out. Laying on his back, the innards of his face exposed to the
cold, grey elements and the warmth of his wounds creates steam that can be
seen exiting in hot plumes from his new-look. Heís surrounded by a few
people, presumably friends and also by two paramedics, three policemen and
one policewoman. Sheís small, blonde and chews gum like a Texas sheriff. On
her nights off sheís probably dressed like the people who are on my left,
waiting to gain entry to some bar or other. People are pretty much the same,
despite their station in life: They all like a bit of carnage and petty
violence. No matter how they deny it, women love a good, long, hard look at
fresh blood pumping from the wounded.

          The manager is counting the ins and outs of the club. With his right hand
he clicks a counter as someone leaves and with his left he clicks as he lets
someone in.

          A girl comes over to me, with a drink in her hand, casual as you like, and
says ĎI bet you see this stuff all the time,í and for the first time I donít
have to lie or puff out my chest and say in a deep voice Ďyeah, all the
timeí. I just turn to her and say Ďyeah, I do see this all the timeí. She
stands next to me and we both watch the paramedics working on the guy on the
floor. Thereís a rush of nervousness as another girl comes out of the club,
awash with fresh tears and black make-up trails and sheís crying and her
hands shake like a crazy child.

          ďWHERE IS HE?Ē she shouts at me.

          I instinctively point to the double doors and as she turns the screaming
begins. Mad, uncontrolled. Like a banshee she squeals at the sight of blood
and unconsciousness.

          A fuss starts and people are coming at me like warmongers, shouting ĎWHERE
THE FUCKíS THE CUNT THAT DID IT?í

          How sad, Iím thinking.

          Drunken flies buzzing around me. Guess that makes me shit.

          The police come over and give me a description of the ĎÖCUNT THAT DID IT,í
and tell me to relay it to my people. I leave the manager on his own,
looking rabbit-like in the on-coming traffic. I get downstairs and give the
description to the guys on the door. For minimum wage I become the
drink-police.

          The manager is tending the animals, pulling velvet ropes across the
entrance to the club, like crime-scene tape. I laugh at the amount of
similarities between here and a crime scene. I stand around for a while and
then the manager tells me he can handle it from here. Sure you can champ.

          I take a last look at the guy being repaired on the floor. His girlfriend
on her knees at his side, baying and howling.

          A guy grabs me by the arm and asks me if I work here. I nod. Heís lost his
coat and wants it now. The cloakroom staff have lost his coat and he wants
me to retrieve it. I ask him what it looks like and what ticket number he
was given. He gives me his ticket and I fight through the club to the
cloakroom. I open the stable door and start to sift through jackets. Fur
coats, scarves, hats, expensive suit jackets, cheap, stained jackets.
Hundreds of them. And Iím searching for one. One of the assistant managers
is telling me heís looking for a jacket for some guy whoís not happy. I tell
him I think Iím looking for the same item. We spend five minutes looking,
but nothing turns up. I have the job of telling him we canít find it.
When I tell him he starts shouting about his father being a lawyer and I
NEED to find it, if I donít want to be sued. Right, I tell him. Thatís going
to make it appear. Heís got his swarm of friends surrounding me. The manager
comes over and asks if everythingís OK. They tell him the story and he
starts to say that theyíll either have to wait until the end of the night or
they can have the jacket sent on when they find it. I tell him that shouting
isnít going to solve his problem, itís only going to make me hate him even
more and my will to find it will diminish heavily. My will might get
dissipated and lost in the deafening hum of the club. He tells me what the
jacket looks like and I ask him to name something thatís in the pockets,
something specific, so I know itís his and so I know heís not pulling my
pisser.

          Once again my hands are hovering over hundreds of jackets in the cloakroom
and I find something that looks like what he wants. I put my hand in the
inside pocket and pull out the contents. Itís his jacket, with the said
items in it, a mobile phone and a pair of gloves. When I hand it to him Iím
bombarded with assurances that Iím the king and that Iím the best bartender
that ever stalked the Earth. My face stretches with a false smile and I bid
them good evening.

          I glance at my watch. Itís gone eleven pm and you only have three measly
hours to throw as much junk down your throat as you can handle. I head back
behind the bar and itís still swelling and heaving with your orders. The
Vodka-Redbulls still flow like water.

          The unmistakeable chimes of the grease soundtrack kick in. I look at a few
of the barmen and they look at me and we shake our heads and say Ďfucking
hellí and laugh at you as we push more overpriced crap in your direction.
How we long for real music, to keep us animated, to stop us waning and
turning into flaccid servile geeks. But we struggle on. Thatís our job: to
struggle on, listening to your garbage, commercial bullshit, with a smile
and helpful demeanour.

          The women are still going strong. Theyíre still there. The young, barely
legal, monosyllabic pig-women. The professional. The posh. The older women.
Youíre all still coming at me with wads of cash, trying to fly higher than
Ben Franklinís kite. You lean over to me and splutter spit and incoherent
sentences at the side of my face, the sticky residue of aftershocks sliding
down my face from your breath. Your breath stinks, your eyeballs are shot to
bits and you spill drinks and throw up right in front of me. No shame. But
itís OK, this is fun. This is the pinnacle of human fun. You slander drug
takers and pot heads. But your drug is OK. Drinking has always been the
accepted drug. If you want to hide something, the best place is in public
view.

          I always find it ironic and extremely interesting when ĎWater-Timeí
arrives. You aware of this phenomenon? When water becomes some kind of God
on which you pin all your hopes of atonement. It creeps on slowly, like the
introduction of a new idea. After half an hour or so, the place is flooded
with people drinking pints of tap water. It amazes me, it really does.

          Youíve spent since maybe six pm or earlier emptying your wallets and purses
onto the bar in the hopes of breaking your liver, and now you cower in the
face of adversity. Order after order you require pints of tap water. Some
times you donít even get tap water. I wonít tell you what you do get; thatíd
be spoiling all of my fun, now wouldnít it?

          As the bar population slows and recedes into (possibly) water-drinking
weaklings, I stand there and throw judgement upon you. Your hopes and dreams
havenít happened, have they? And now youíre desperately trying for
repentance. They say we, as a race, get the most fun out of watching people
come to harm or personal injury. This is pretty funny. Watching you fall
flat on your face or fall down stairs or beat seven shades of shit out of
each other. All in the name ofÖwellÖThe God of Overpriced Drinks. Why donít
you just empty your wallet or purse down the toilet, piss on it, flush it,
throw yourself down your stairs and stick a broken glass in your face.
Things would be much easier for you. I guess some people are just slow
learners. And I guess some people just donít learn at all.

          When the last song finishes itís all over. You donít realise it, in your
state, but we just want you the fuck out of the building, so we can get high
and back to our own little reality, instead of whoring ourselves out to
fulfill yours.

          Legally, according to the official rules of drinking, you have twenty
minutes to casually finish your drink and make your way to an exit, before
youíre thrown out. But when do you ever see that happen? When do the
bouncers ever allow you time to finish your tap water in your own time? You
donít. Take it from the horseís mouth again: we want you the fuck out, NOW.
Weíre sick of you.

          When the last drunken warrior is escorted out, the doors are locked. Then
itís like a pause in battle; smoke Ďem if ya got Ďem. Then itís back to
hacking away at the social cleansing. Mercenaries of alcoholic genocide.
There are the hundreds of glasses to collect and wash and put back. The
floor to be swept of glass, lipsticks, money youíve thrown away and recently
those gelatinous pads that you women put in your shoes to stop your little
trotters hurting when you dance Ė poor little poopsies. The first night I
found one of those I wiggled it in the air and wondered what the fuck it
was. I thought someoneís fake tits had spilled out on the dance floor.
Thereís the hundreds of bottles to replace in the fridges, the damage count
is monumental. Thereís the huge blue bottle-bins to waddle out the back with
to dump in the other huge, yellow bins that are taken away and replaced,
awaiting their stinking, rancid nourishment the next night, every night, one
after the other until the end of humanity. Thereís the avid cleansing and
wiping of the bar. Thereís the stacking of stools and tables. And thereís
the eight hours worth of misused spirits and beer and bad music that has
pooled on the rubber floor behind the bar.

          So, thatís it. An average night in the presence of a professional
bartender. Your friendly bartender that sees everything you do.

          The next time you feel like abusing a bartender, or getting above your
station waiting for service, think about what that person has to go through
to keep your squalid and grimy little blood stream filled with your poison of choice.

          Think about it. Because I do.

          As I push on the door into reality again, the sun is rising and the fresh
wind gusts in off the coast and I walk, appreciating the cool, calm air.

          My ears are filled with the sound of nature; a vast contrast, replacing
the screams, the music, the sound of breaking glass and liquids being
poured.

          I think of the irony, knowing that it will all begin again tomorrow night.

          And the next night.

          Bottoms up.








© 2005 Underground Voices