Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The March, Chapter Three: Employment

H.I., you’re young and you got your health, what you want with a job?
-Raising Arizona

The next morning, Brooke woke up, did some East Indian deep breathing exercise she’d read about a couple of days before, read The Tribune editorial page with a cup of coffee, wheat toast and an impressively furrowed brow.  Then she left for her interview.

Brooke preferred to travel by bicycle.  She was happy to explain, exhaustively, to anyone who asked that the bicycle was the only sound environmental choice, but, really, she rode because she loved it.  She loved taking off and kicking her leg over the seat when she was already in motion.  She loved pumping up to a good speed and then coasting.  She loved the feel of the wind through her long hair (no one wore helmets in 1990) and the cool, confident calmness of sitting back with her hands off the wheel.  She was a good rider who looked good riding.  She caught a fair number of appreciative glances as she rode down Clark Street.  She may have also, from time to time, caught an irritated honk or an extended middle finger, but such is the relationship between cars and bikes and you should not take this as a commentary on Brooke’s riding skills.

She arrived at The March right on time for her interview.  She locked up her bike and took a moment to second-guess her decision to interview for a tavern job.  She didn’t drink much, didn’t socialize much, and frowned on time wasters.  She was afraid she wouldn’t fit it.  But she squared her shoulders and soldiered on, reminding herself that she needed the money and that she was used to not fitting in.  

The March was a typical Chicago tavern, comfortable, smoky, bordering on grungy. The March was located below ground level, such that out its windows, behind the various neon beer signs, you’d see the legs up to the knees of passersby.  The front part of the bar, near the stairwell, was furnished with pub tables and red vinyl, backless barstools.  There were plastic framed advertisements for beers and boozes on each table as well as a black, plastic ashtray.  Look to your right and you’d see the bar itself, parallel to the far wall, surrounded by more red backless barstools.  There is a long mirror behind the bar, bottles displayed in front.  One TV, showing a baseball game or ESPN coverage, was mounted at the east end of the bar, called “the corner,” with another at the far end. The only other TV was at the front end of the bar, near the stairwell.  No one ever watched that TV.  Can you even imagine a bar where no one was watching TV?

 There was a fooz ball table and a small DJ booth.  It was cleanish but not sparkling; dim but not dank.  The March was a place for having a beer and watching the game.  It wasn’t a first date kind of place.  It looked like a million other neighborhood beer-and-shot joints in Chicago. 

Oh, it was just a great bar!

The bartender that day was a young woman named Mary Garth.  Mary was the daytime manager/bartender at The March, daughter of the general manager, Caleb Garth.  She was medium build, mid-twenties; she had medium length, medium blonde hair.  She was medium pretty.  She was a nice woman.  She was really smart.

Mary was good at this job.  She was competent, friendly and tough. Most of her lunch regulars, blue and white collar alike, where a little in love with her.  But for Mary, this job was just a way station, a vehicle for getting the rent paid until she started her real life.  One more year and then she’d be out of law school and would bid the March a fond farewell.

Four days a week she served lunchtime pitchers of Old Style to construction workers and lunchtime Dewars and waters to middle-aged, middle management types.  She enjoyed a quiet mid-shift, where she was often the only person in the bar.  She finished off her shift opening bottles of beer and mixing vodka/cranberries for the after work crowd.  Her shift ended at 7:00.

At this point, she was relieved by her father, Caleb.  Caleb’s resume was a veritable roadmap of the myriad ways there are to eat and drink in Chicago.  He’d managed hushed, haute cuisine French restaurants and he’d supervised the intentionally rude staff at chain restaurants offering outsized burgers and greasy fries.  He’d stood ramrod straight in black tie behind sparkling bars in sparkling hotels and he’d befouled his sneakers with dirty bar water from soaked bar mats in bowling alleys.  He’d done it all.  Ten years ago, he’d landed at The March and The March was where he intended to stay.

Caleb was a master of bar management.  He kept the liquor license violation-free and passed every health inspection without resorting to bribery (no small feat in Chicago).  His staff was fond of him, as he was of them, but they wouldn’t dare try to take advantage of this fondness.  He was best friend to all his regulars and could cut off a drunk with such gallant aplomb that the drunk ended up thanking him for his concern. 

During his weeknight bar shifts, you’d find Caleb with a smile on his face, towel tucked in his belt, chatting amiably with the regulars in the corner.  On the busy weekend nights, he roamed the floor, keeping the crowd in line, keeping the young staff on point.  On Sundays, he rested.

On this Wednesday morning, Caleb sat at the bar, sipping coffee, inventory sheets in front of him.  He looked up when Brooke approached and smiled, “Gio’s friend, right?”

“Yes,” Brooke replied, holding out her hand. “Brooke Dotry.”

“Caleb Garth, general manager,” he said, shaking her hand warmly.  “And this is my daughter, Mary, daytime manager-slash-bartender, soon to be Mary Garth, esquire, attorney-at-law.”

Mary grinned and waved at Brooke. “Nice to meet you.”

Garth father and daughter were fond of each other.  Genuinely fond of each other.  Mary liked her father who, in turn, liked her.  I don’t mean to belabor the point, but this is not an everyday kind of thing.  We love our parents and we love our children.  But when the child grows into an adult and the parent is no longer obliged (or welcome) to parent, how often do these two end up as friends?  How often do they grow comfortable enough with each other to stop seeking approval or deference and just accept the other as is?  Mary and Caleb had found their way to this, easily.  They were genuinely fond of each other, with such expansive fondness that it became contagious.  Brooke found that she liked them both and wanted them to like her.  This surprised Brooke, who had up until then believed that she didn’t give a rat’s ass what other people thought of her. 

(There is, of course, as vast chasm between not caring what people think and not expecting people to like you.  And I expect you, from your excellent vantage point outside looking in, know on which side of that chasm Brooke stands.)

Caleb decided to hire Brooke on the spot.  As a matter of fact, he’d decided to hire her before she walked in the door.  Gio was a good judge of character and a trustworthy employee.  Caleb had cleared it with Gio that Brooke was a girl who would show up on time for her shifts and wouldn’t think of those shifts as paid party time.  Plus, they really needed a new waitress.

“Can you start tonight,” he asked.

“Uh, yes,” said Brooke, surprised.  “I guess.”

“Good.  Be here at 4:30.  What do you say we train you on the job?”

“OK,” said Brooke, nervously.

“Here’s a W-2 and a price list,” said Caleb.  “Take them both home.  Bring back the W-2 filled in and do your best to memorize the price list.  Mary, do you have any advice for Brooke?”

“Don’t take any shit,” said Mary.

“Excellent advice,” said Caleb.  “See you at 4:30.”

Chapter four