Friday, October 24, 2014

The March, Chapter 41: Amateur Night

Chapter 40

That was my skull!  I’m so wasted!
-Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Most humans come standard with impulse control.  Within our brains, as nasty impulses and terrible ideas pop up (as they are wont to do in all of us, everyone), impulse control kicks in and throws up one of those yellow sawhorses that city workers prop up in front of potholes and open sewer grates.  It warns us, “Look out!”  It stops us from saying this or doing that.

Its first purpose is, of course, self-preservation.  This caution response keeps us, for example, from testing whether a chandelier will support our weight by swinging from it, or complimenting a stranger on her excellent cleavage.  But there’s also an evolutionary social aspect to it.

Over the course of our shared existence on this planet, we have agreed, tacitly, to suppress our most honest impulses.  We think terrible things, have gross urges and want to have sex with so many people.  And no one wants to know about that.  So we lie to each other, either through omission or outright, all the time.  This is the price of living in a civilized society.  We keep our truest nature sequestered underneath a patina of civility in order to make our shared world a more agreeable place to live.  This is, I think, an incontrovertible good.  How awful would it be if everyone just said what they thought and followed through with every urge.  We’d be so groped and insulted.  It would make us brittle and unpleasant.

The protestation, therefore, “I’m just being honest” is qualitatively dishonest. It implies a moral superiority on the part of the “honest” person when he is, instead, cavalierly breaking our tacit social contract.  Trust me: statements that follow or precede “I’m just being honest” would almost invariably be better left unsaid.  In fact, the phrase “I’m just being honest” could quite easily be replaced with “I’m just being an asshole.”

Now, let’s examine this through the context of drunkenness.  Contrary to conventional wisdom, drunkenness does not cause terrible ideas. It releases them.  These terrible ideas were always with you.  You just left your impulse control at the bottom of a glass.  If you were to drunkenly pee on the sidewalk outside a bar, it’s not as though the idea of peeing on the sidewalk flew fresh into your virgin brain.  A sidewalk is certainly more convenient than a public toilet.  But a sober mind tempers this impulse by remembering that (a) no one wants to see you pee and (b) private genitals are always better than public genitals.  But when you drank that last shot of Jagermeister, your native aversion to public elimination was disabled, and you acted on an honest impulse to relieve yourself in the most convenient manner. 

Which is gross and offensive to the people with whom you share the sidewalk.

There are people out there with oceanic experience in drunkenness.  The bulk of The March corner regulars are among that group.  They have learned to mimic functioning impulse control.  Their thought process might be: I need to pee.  It would be nice to pee in the corner instead of walking all the way to the bathroom.  If I were sober, I wouldn’t do that, though.  So I’d better go see a man about a horse.
These people are the drunk exception to the drunk rule, which is: Drunk people act like assholes and are only easily tolerated by other drunk assholes.

This being the case, there are two days that every bar employee dreads: New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day.  On these days, people who live comfortably in civilized society give themselves permission to drink themselves silly and are unequipped to exercise mock impulse control. Neighborhood taverns like The March, which are typically filled with people who have trained themselves to behave moderately well at most levels of intoxication, teem with sloppy, drunken assholes, some good percentage of which will most likely pee in inappropriate places.

Bar staff refer to these two nights as “amateur night.”

On New Year’s Eve, a couple of months ago, Brooke had worked the floor as a cocktail waitress.  She’d navigated through a sea of disheveled party clothes, in a haze of cigarette smoke and sweaty bodies and spilled drinks.  In the middle of the thickest part of the evening, she’d had to find her way to the bar more by instinct than sight.  The tips were poor, the atmosphere was uncomfortable, and she’d been groped by drunken jackasses about a million times.  At 1:00 am, trying to move through the bar with three drinks in her left hand, she’d loudly said, “EXCUSE ME” to the man blocking her way.  He turned and said, ”What, did you fart?”  And then he and his friends guffawed.  This was Brooke’s seventh encounter with the “did you fart” joke that night.  At 2:00, she’d picked up what she thought was an empty pitcher to bring to the bar for washing only to find that someone had vomited in it.  At 3:00, a man had pulled his shirt off, grabbed her around the waist and said, “Your turn!”   As the bouncers dragged him to the door, she found herself close to Teddy-esque levels of misanthropy and disgust.

Pity the poor cocktail waitress on New Year’s Eve. But pity her more on St. Patrick’s Day.  On New Year’s Eve, the festivities began around 8:00 pm.  On St. Patrick’s Day, at least in the city of Chicago, the party gets started in the morning.

The bartender is in a much better position.  They might be undertipped and harassed, but they are separated from the crowd of drunken assholes by the bar itself, which is sacrosanct and inviolable.
And this St. Patrick’s Day, Brooke was behind the bar.

She had a 14 hour shift: 12:00 pm to 2:00 am and would be sharing bartending duties with Mary and Gio.  Mary, with the most experience, worked point, the busiest corner of the bar.  Brooke, since she was speedy, worked service.  Gio took the far end of the bar.  When Brooke got there at noon, the place was already half full.  But people weren’t fully soaked yet.  Yet.  Brooke hopped behind the bar and said hello to Mary, who was pouring a beer into a 16 oz plastic cup.

“These fucking guys,” said Mary, gesturing to the regulars.  “Every fucking time I hand one of them a beer, they complain about the goddamn plastic cup.”

The policy was, on busy days like this, that no glass was to go over the bar.  Instead, bartenders poured every beer, every cocktail, every shot into plastic cups.  It was an environmental nightmare that distressed Brooke in no small way.  She urged waitresses to gather up the cups and let her wash and reuse them.

By 4:00 pm that day, she’d grown too busy to recycle.

The March staff worked like a well-oiled machine.  Drinks went out promptly, kegs were changed apace, Caleb prowled the floor and made sure that as soon as behavior strayed to the far side of tolerable, the drunken idiots were escorted out.  Mary charmed the regulars with her affectionate abuse, making sure they made money despite the parsimonious nature of St. Paddy’s Day drinkers.  Brooke got the servers in and out quickly and when they told her stories about drunken assholes grabbing their butts or hollering “Erin Go Bra-less” at them, Brooke sneaked them shots.  Gio made sure that the rotating cast at the far end of the bar got the drinks they wanted and took in a fair amount of cash himself.

Before too long, Brooke found that she was kind of having fun.  The staff were like brothers-in-arm, forging the bond that comes from being the only sober people in a bar on St. Patrick’s Day.  At midnight, they raised shot glasses together, glass ones, deliberately antagonizing the corner regulars, letting them know who really ran the show.

At a table off from the bar, Karl Rafferty sat by himself, getting dunk on green beer, which he was content to drink from a plastic cup.  He was remembering St. Paddy’s Days gone by. He’d passed many at The March.  It was pleasingly familiar.  The more beer he drank, the dewier his remembrances became.  He thought more and more on what things would have been like if Bulstrode hadn’t sent him to shit.  If it weren’t for Bully, Raff could have been running a nice place like this. He should have a nice place like this.  Bulstrode owed him more than a grand here and there.  Bulstrode owed him a life. 

Bulstrode owed him The March.