"It is indecent not to provide,"
said John, looking at me wearily.
I was busy but managed my time so that a large
chunk of attention was thrown his way. It wasn't that I
felt obligated to listen, either, like you do with some
people who make it seem like you're their only sketch pad.
I always felt sorry for those people.
I would usually lend an ear until the barrage
of excuses became so embarrassingly drenched in denial that
I could no longer see past their dripping woes. In desperate
efforts I would try to shape their helpless words, give
them form and presence, only to find that I was being just
as repetitive to them as they were to me. The bars are alive
with dead issues.
"Provide what?" I asked while making
a cocktail for an impatient waitress. It was happy hour
and besides that she thought John was creepy.
"Well, you know, provide," he said
while adjusting the tape that connected a limb to his glasses.
"John, you need another Sprite and water?"
I asked after handing the drink to the rolling eyes of the
"Yeah, another Sprite and water please."
He was always polite.
The drink tickets kept rolling in. Suits began
spilling toward the bar, impatient for their sake martinis.
The place was a fusion joke. The owners acted as if the
idea to combine regional northwest cuisine with classic
Japanese was revolutionary. It was like shoving a square
peg into a decimal point. The place had no freedom; it was
mapped out like a bad Hollywood movie a concept with
a mission statement: to inflate the ego with a false sense
of chic delivered through the pretense of sparsity. It was
as bad as a pet rock, only this place was created by a machine,
I made the next cocktail, a Tokyo melon martini
served on the rocks in a laughing Buddah. The drink menu
described it as an enlightened blend of infused vodkas and
liqueurs that calms the soul.
When I first got the job, the idea was to
provide service with passion and fire in the heart. Let's
say it together: "passion, fire in the heart."
"Hey John, go ahead provide me
with a clue," I said, shaking a cosmopolitan like a
fucking maraca. He just looked up at me and smiled like
I delivered a punch line to a joke he didn't get.
"A clue, John, something I can hold on
"I don't quite know what ya mean."
I could tell he was intrigued by the question,
but it was just a bit too random for him to take hold of.
"You mean about providin'?" he finally
asked after I had already abandoned the inquiry. I was mixing
a passion rita served in a flamboyant ceramic coconut followed
by a scotch on the rocks. It was for a cheerleader out with
"Yes, provide. Provide me with a clue,
"Well, I was an electrician for 36 years
till they just let me go. Just like that, they let me go."
"Let you go?" I asked filling his
water back up. He drank a lot when he got anxious.
"Yep, they just let me go because I didn't
put up with their crap. They thought they could just do
whatever they liked with me and I didn't put up with that
crap at all."
Behind John stood a tall, muscular
fellow with a wounded expression. He was wearing one of
those T-shirts a few sizes too small, allowing his biceps
to seem even more ridiculously exaggerated than they already
were. In a flexed right arm he was holding a drink that
I could tell was yet to be sipped. I refused to make eye
contact, knowing that there was some ludicrous request to
"Excuse me," he called out. His
voice was scarcely what I had expected.
"What kind of crap?" I continued
my conversation with John, well aware that I was aggravating
"Well, I don't know how many kinds there
are," was John's resolute reply.
"Excuse me, bartender." The gentleman
leaned over John's shoulder, to which John just looked up
at him and smiled.
"Excuse me, but I was here last
night and ordered the same exact drink and it was served
in a different glass."
"What kind of drink is that?" I
"It's a lime rickey and last night it
was served in a tall kung fu glass or something."
"We don't have any kung fu glasses here,
sir." I wanted to drag it out as long as I could.
maybe I'm not describing it properly. It was a very tall
green glass with a face on it, you know like that guy in
'The Karate Kid.' The older guy." He smiled at me,
probably assuming that everyone loved that movie and just
the mention of it delivered a warm, kitschy type of nostalgia.
"Nope, still not ringing a bell,"
More drink tickets were flooding my printer
as the cocktail waitresses cursed me behind my back. Just
as I was about to abort the situation, this relentlessly
boring individual pointed at a glass behind the bar and
said, "There! That's the one, that's the glass it was
served in. Now, can I please have this drink put in the
Mr. Miagi glass?"
He handed me his glass and gave me one of
those smarmy sarcastic grins in tandem with a small tilt
of the head.
"That's not a Mr. Miagi glass,"
I said with a serious scowl. "That is a Confucius glass."
I grabbed his beverage and dumped it into
the wise head of Confucius, then handed it back to his thick,
"Whatever," he said as he whisked
John just stared straight ahead, seemingly
in his own world and thinking about providing.
"Can you make my drinks, please?"
It was a waitress in the key of impatience. I turned around
to find a trail of about eight separate drink orders, each
with tiny helvetica modifiers describing a preference under
every two-ounce concoction. One was neat, another had a
splash of cranberry juice, another wished for a float of
coconut puree with six straws and a maraschino cherry without
the stem or formaldehyde.
"Sorry, I had to take care of that situation.
That guy is a friend of the owners." I was hoping that
bit of false information would quell their hopped-up attitudes.
"Well, I need those drinks now,"
said the one with chopsticks in her hair, oblivious to my
"Captain's on it," I said, saluting
the bitch. It was the same salute I learned in bartending
academy, two fingers out, three tucked in. I pulled the
first ticket and began mixing.
"Those are not my drinks," the little
princess pointed out.
"Captain's going in order, babe."
She hated when I called myself "captain" and despised
it when I referred to her as "babe."
"I've been waiting 20 minutes for two
beers and a glass of wine. My customers are in a hurry to
see a movie."
"Which movie?" I asked, salting
"This is ridiculous!" she spouted,
rolling that pretty green mascara of hers. She then huffed
away, presumably to gather a manager of some sorts.
"Have you seen any movies lately,
John?" I called out in his direction while filling
my second prescription. It took him awhile to register and
respond, but by my fourth ticket, the two beers and a glass
of wine, he'd come up with an answer.
"I liked 'Cool Hand Luke' an awful lot.
That sure was a good movie."
"That was a good one." I
set the anticipated drinks down in the server station with
a fluid motion and spun back around to find a lofty manager,
standing semi-erect, looking down into my seaworthy eyes.
"Are you a bit backed up?" He delivered
his words with diplomatic inaccuracy.
"Just trying to satisfy everybody's needs."
Always beware the harpooner.
"Well, if you can't get drinks out in
a timely fashion just come and get one of us managers and
we will gladly give you a hand."
There was a large group of them somewhere
in some cold basement, pooling together their psychological
resources. They were all part of a devious plan.
"I'm fine. I'm right in the process
of calming things down. Thank you, though," I said
with my cup half full.
"You sure? I'm here to help." He
had the look of a crazed missionary suffering from malaria.
"I appreciate that, but the rush is just
about over." The conversation had a rotting appeal
"Okay. I'll be in the office if you need
me." He walked away, hunched over as if his chest was
tangled with heavy wiring. I imagined him going directly
to his keyboard so that he could type up an efficient incident
report while the details were still fresh. They were an
inspired crew, all extensions of the big head who gave each
of the managers a unique calendar every Christmas party
that had a message for each day of the week. Today's had
read: "The illusion of freedom is a powerful tool."
sure are doing a good job," said John, peacefully observing
this strange, stretched-out scene.
"Sometimes I wonder why, though, you
know?" I replied as his words fixed a grin on my tumbling
He smiled back toward me. "I'm going
to the bathroom; can you make sure nobody takes my seat?"
"Nobody's stealing your seat, John,"
I promised as he walked away, his camouflage pants blending
in with the gardenias in the hotel lobby.
I turned to focus back on my duties, the details,
my fire in the heart. My next order demanded four hot sakes.
The hot sake was served in a small white ceramic vase and
when the vase heated up a fortune appeared on the side.
Most of the fortunes were these pleasant little sayings
like "you are a kind and caring person and luck follows
you in stride."
But there was one fortune, one lonely bitter
vase among the multitude, that wasn't as imposingly kind
as the others, it read: "Your main article is a small
It was a cryptic piece of information, but
nonetheless amusing. I loved coming across that pompous
outsider of a vase because it lightened things up a bit.
It possessed a subtle, accidental kind of genius that seemed
rebellious within its formula.
Miss America was back again, unashamed of
her loose lips nudging me with sour words to make more drinks.
"Can I have my sakes, please? They are for the owner
of the hotel and his guests. It's embarrassing that he has
to wait this long."
"Captain's got you on his list, babe."
"My name is not 'babe,' and you calling
me that is sexual harassment."
"Sorry. Here are your sock-eeees, steaming
and ready to go." I set them down politely in the server
station, winked at the little darling, then followed with
a karate chop through the thick air.
"I am not serving this one," she
"What? Did you say you needed a wine
key?" I was conveniently hard of hearing.
"No. I thought the managers decided to
get rid of this glass. You know I won't serve this glass
to my customers anymore."
A semi-regular had come in about four weeks
prior; a street guy who always sat at the same table, always
paid with the same dirty nickels. He was deeply amused by
the fortunes and came in specifically for the sake. Each
time it was brought out to him, he'd sit and stare, amazed
as the message revealed itself on the side of the vase.
He would usually write the message on a beverage napkin,
put the napkin in his pocket, take a sip or two and leave.
She was reluctant to serve him the enigmatic
vessel, saying this particular guy was a bit strange and
might in some way take offense to the message. I convinced
her that it was a charming little anecdote and, besides,
it could be read in numerous ways.
After I steadfastly refused to give her another
vase, she begrudgingly took it out to the gentleman. He
was anxious, just like always, to receive his personal message;
his pen in hand, he smiled broadly. But once he read the
words that appeared magically on the side of his drink he
picked the vase up from the table and hurled it at the waitress
with inexplicable force.
stormed out saying how we had launched an evil scheme against
him and that he'd seek revenge. It was quite an odd scene,
but what was even stranger was the fact that the vase, although
it ended up crashing into a wall and just missing our favorite
employee, bounced on the floor a few times, spun around
a few times more only to land upright with a kind of graceful,
"Come on, that guy obviously had self-esteem
issues," I said. "That was a one-time incident."
"No. Now give me another glass and I
am personally going to get rid of this one." She dumped
the sake out in the sink, forced the gladiator vase in her
apron and stood waiting.
"That's cutting into my liquor costs,
you know." I went and poured her some more sake in
a less impulsive vase. I didn't even ask for the other one
back. Some intuitive resignation came over me its
life resided in my faith and any attempt to get it back
would diminish its reputation. The new one read: "Your
wisdom is infinite."
John returned from the bathroom with some
travel brochures in his hand, happy to find his seat still
"Thank ya for watchin' over my seat,"
he said with a slice of sincerity that made you wonder.
"No problem, John. Everybody here knows
that's your seat and wouldn't dare sit there while you're
He smiled big and round, like a child. "No,
no, this isn't my seat. I'm just here 'cause I like ya.
You're a good person."
"Well that's your seat when I'm here,
okay?" John wasn't used to feeling welcome.
"I guess, but I don't want you to kick
nobody out of it for me, though."
"No, I wouldn't do that but I'd ask somebody
to leave." That was the icebreaker. John laughed so
hard that his face turned bright red, illuminating the room.
Later that evening, after things slowed down
to a recognizable pace, John pulled out his wallet and showed
me his V.A. card. He was younger and sturdy looking. He
also showed me a picture of his only son, maybe 17. John
said his kid was smart; and it seemed to have disappointed
him greatly that the kid dropped out of his first semester
He talked about his sister who lives in Kansas
and how he loves her dearly but that he just can't live
in the same state. He told me about his pills and how they
keep him from getting too depressed. He said that he lives
on $20 a day and that if he comes in on some days and he's
not able to tip, it's because he's running low on funds.
"It's tough when you can hardly provide
for yourself sometimes," he said, looking down at a
picture of a whale jumping through a hoop on the Sea World
brochure he'd grabbed in the lobby. "I mean, it's not
the money. I worked as an electrician for 36 years and I
did alright. My sister makes sure I get $20 a day, and that's
plenty if you're careful enough. The V.A here treats me
nice. They treat me real nice here. I have a comfortable
cot and all."
"What do you mean, then?" I asked,
wiping down the bar.
"Well," he said, not quite comfortable
with the question, "I'm mostly talking about providin'
the things for ya that make ya happy. I've done a lot of
things in my life that I just can't seem to shake. You know,
them pills help but they can't erase everything."
Before I could respond, the anxious sound
of the printer went off as I routinely turned around to
supply the demand. It was for a lounge lizard, a specialty
cocktail featuring a spiced rum from Barbados combined with
muddled mint and caraway seeds.
I began making the cocktail with robotic precision,
while in my peripheral I noticed that John's demeanor had
changed drastically. His head was buried in his hands and
tears hung from the creases of his fingers. I immediately
stopped all my civic duties and walked around the bar to
see what was wrong.
"John, is everything okay?" My own
voice sounded sterile and rehearsed. "Can I get you
I noticed his glasses had fallen. I picked
them up and set the fractured spectacles beside him.
"Hey John, it's alright, man."
I had no idea about what my own "it"
was and here I was trying to console another man's. I somehow
felt responsible, like I pushed the conversation too deep,
bordering on infected areas.
waitress was nervously staring at the situation as if she
was somehow going to be affected. She was watching me fumble
with my empathy. I was trying to diversify my emotions,
but all that came out was a state of confusion that skirted
the edges of embarrassment.
"Do you want me to get a manager?"
she walked over and asked with spit and polish.
"No, there is no need for a manager."
My response was curt.
"Well, this is freaking out some of my
"What do you mean, freaking out your
customers? You have one four-top and it's on the other side
of the bar." I was trying to keep my voice down so
that John couldn't hear us.
"Well, if they see him they will get
freaked out," she said with a disgusted expression.
"Look, do you realize ..."
I stopped myself from a potential deviation
from what really mattered. I walked over beside John, where
he shivered like a frightened child.
"John, you okay? Want me to call somebody?"
My words were accidental thorns. There was a long silence
in which I could tell he was trying to gather himself.
"I'm sorry," he said, still hiding.
"There is nobody to call, anyway. I'm sorry."
He slowly lifted his head. His face was wet,
secluded in the past. An elemental sense of defeat had crossed
"I'm sorry. Sometimes just thinkin' sometimes
gets me all sad. I'm sorry."
"Stop apologizing, John."
"Now ... I know, I know." He wiped
his cheeks with a napkin. "I get worried, is all."
He pulled his barstool back and stood up,
"Have you seen my glasses? I need those
to see ... to see properly."
"Right there, John." I pointed.
"My wallet. You seen my wallet? That
has my only picture of my boy in it."
"There." I pointed again.
"Do I owe you anything?"
"Nothing. We're square."
"Well, square is good, square is good."
He turned around and walked out.
"Good night, John. You take care,"
I yelled, ashamed of my internal thoughts. There was a sense
of relief to his departure. I walked back around the bar
and nervously straightened up a bit, cut a few lemons, washed
a few glasses.
Moments later I saw the shadow of the illustrious
manager with his minion by his side. He approached in a
fascist zen fashion.
"Is everything fine?" he asked.
His blue contact lenses stared back at me like stranded
"All is well," I replied, somehow
concocting half of a smile for reassurance.
"Good, then. No problems, then?"
"Not one." We both knew that the
world is filled with liars..
"I'll be in my office if you need me."
He turned and marched out.
Two incident reports in one night must have
been exciting for him. Last I heard, incident reports could
be cashed in for a free appetizer at our sister restaurant
on the hill. Sept. 7, 1998: "Incentive inspires involvement."
I needed a cigarette. I needed a reason to
just walk out and leave, to pursue something beyond mixing
drinks for the weary, afflicted souls of the world. I threw
back a shot of bourbon to calm my nerves.
"I'll have a gin and tonic, light on
the tonic, and a glass of pinot gris. Your house will do."
A deep southern drawl snuck up from behind.
"I'm sorry." I turned around, a
bit flustered. A tall, thin man pulled up a stool beside
a slightly buxom curly-haired brunette with sagging eyes.
"Gin and tonic, heavy pour and a white
wine, a pinot gris for the lady," she looked up at
me with a coy curve of the lip. The man picked up his cell
phone and started dialing.
I began pouring the drinks, wondering the
whole time if they had seen me down that shot or if either
one of them even cared about my indiscretions. I set the
drinks down before them and lit a cigarette for the lady,
to which she seductively mouthed the words thank you. By
the time she gently tapped off her first pile of ashes,
the guy had gotten through to whomever he was calling.
"Yeah, honey, I'm fine. The flight had
a bit of turbulence, but I slept most of the way. Three
days is all, I figure; maybe I can close the deal in two.
Yes I know. I know you don't have to keep reminding me.
Okay, now ... okay. I love you, too, honey. No, no, you
don't have to wake her up."
He looked over to the woman beside him and
rolled his eyes, holding a finger in the air to signal one
"Okay, okay. Put her on."
The lady, making love to her Virginia Slim,
"Hi, baby. How's my little girl? Sleepy,
huh? Well, daddy is, too. I miss you, too, sweetheart. I'll
be home in three days. That's Wednesday. Yes, Wednesday
when you have swimming lessons. Now you get some sleep.
Okay, sweetie, I love you, too. Goodnight."
hung up, then leaned over and kissed the brunette's swollen
lips. As she put out her cigarette, they picked up their
drinks and headed for the relative privacy of a booth.
I poured myself another shot. My bones felt
frail. I felt ashamed and alone. More ice. The well needed
more ice. I turned, gathered a bucket and walked over to
the machine that made the ice. My stubborn conscious, in
such dim light you paint. It seemed all of my confessions
had been stolen.