Sunday, October 28, 2012


Chapter 16 Beautiful

As a small child I was very inquisitive and quiet.  This was during the days before the bar. Before I would become self-conscious about my weight, looks or what people thought of me.  It was before the days of Keeping up with the Kardashians, and The Jersey Shore.  I was just a boy. 

My mother would always tell me stories about how I, much like MacGyver, would always try to figure out things very quickly.  The only difference between he and I was that I would get frustrated easily, quit when I got fed up and end eating something sweet.  In reality I was never really like him, I mean I never had the attention-span to build anything and it would be years before I had a mullet.  My mother said that I always would create new ways to climb out of my crib as an infant.  This was a difficult thing to accomplished be since I, also had to sleep with a brace, intended to cure my severe pigeon-toe.  This brace was a metal bar holding both of my feet outwards.  The brace was heavy and gave me something to complain about from a young age, every Jewish person’s dream.  This brace really just worked as leverage to help me climb out of my crib or play-pen and to create a comedian.

I would keep calm while supervised, then during naps I would study the crib for new ways to escape and nearly give my mother a heart-attack every morning as a result.  Often these missions would lead to success in terms of surprising her, not the heart-attack part.  I would find a way to move my soccer-sized head with legs over the edge of the crib or playpen and somehow end up making my way safely to the ground.  As a child I looked much like Stewie from Family Guy, all head and a little body, a real caricature type of kid.  The climbing out of the pen, during the age of innocence, was before I learned what fear was, before courage had to be earned.  I just did what I felt like.  This, partially, is the mentality that has remained with me through my adult life.  Just as an adult I learned to drink and curse like a sailor.  As a child I worked with this mantra: do what you feel like, find out how things work, maybe taste them and that’s it.  When I was younger though, that concept was followed by, how can I get things to work and get people’s attention on me? 

Once, when I was around 2-years old, my mother awoke to me looking like I had just came out of an alien movie.  This child-like creature who resembled her baby boy was standing near her bed. My mother’s reaction when she first saw me was one where I think she thought she was hallucinating.  After a few blinks and getting the sleep out of her eye, she just stared for a few seconds like she wasn’t sure what was going on.  After about 3 seconds of being awake she yelled my name at this volume that probably broke a window.  “YURRRRRAAAAAA?!?” It was around here that she realized that I was covered in what looked like blood.  I was like a baby swamp-thing, but red, which was appropriate since that comic would be big a few years later.  Her heart sank and she was ready to take charge, call an ambulance, lift a car from off of me, if she had to, all within a heart’s beat.  It would be any mother’s nightmare to see their child drenched in blood.

After a second or two I whispered in Russian, the only language I knew at the time, “I am pretty.”  This was before I knew how to sound jaded, or roll my eyes after every sentence.  By this point I had already learned that the world had a concept of beautiful and that I wanted to be just that.  It was at this moment that she began to smell fumes like formaldehyde.  She then realized that the blood-goo was actually globs of a dark red nail polish bottle in my hand.  Was she upset about the mess or disappointed in my color choice?  That I will never know.  I had splatter-painted all over the small infant-size body I once possessed. 

She immediately didn’t miss a beat and went into fix-it mode.  She started a bath while she went for the nail polish remover before the nail polish stopped my skin from breathing.  I got a fever as a result of this whole ordeal.  My skin couldn’t breathe and there were fumes, on top of fumes, a freshly filled diaper top of that.  I never heard this story until I was in my 20s.  Why my mom hadn’t mentioned it, I don’t know.  She recanted the story to me over a glass of wine cause well she’s a light-weight.  One glass an she is gone.  When she told the story she had a confusing mixture of laughter with a calm, serious tone.  Not sure if it was the booze that made it seem that way or just a part of the story.  The interesting thing was that this was all done to be “pretty.” This would be just one of many missions during my childhood where I would aspire to be that one which one viewed as pretty or handsome.  It’s funny how then the concept was so simple.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Elijah, not the Profit.

The first infatuation of my life was this guy named Elijah.  He was my first gay friend in San Francisco.  The truth was that until then, all I knew about gay people was that they were supposed to be loud, flamboyant and wear little hats.  I got all my facts off of  ‘In Living Color.’  I met Elijah before I knew that I, too, was gay.  Gay was as foreign to me as vagina.  I just thought I would have a wife, some kids and a white-picket fence like on T.V. cause that’s where I got all my role models.  Like all kids I had a plan, gay couldn’t be in those cards so I just didn’t consider it.  There have always been people who said that they “always knew” when talking about their own gayness.  I was not one of those people.  I knew, but how could I be sure.

I may have been gay my entire life, but it wasn’t until I met Elijah that I knew it.  The worst part was when I did the whole coming out thing, which people ask me about all the time.  It’s always some girl that has to ask it about it all loud and uncomfortable, “what was it like coming out?”  Coming out doesn’t always have to be the way the WB shows of the 90s painted it.  My life wasn’t an episode of Ellen and coming was no big deal.  I made out with Elijah one Halloween and told my friends/family soon after that I was gay.  The most annoying part was that very few people were surprised.  It was like telling them the shy was blue.  They would just smile but their eyes would say “what did you think I was blind?  So what, who cares?”  Then it came to being a homo, it would be another couple years, a flower march, several tons of vodka and 3 seasons of the ‘Real Housewives’ shows, and several bad dates before I would become good at it.  I hope that this story doesn’t sound like a bad after school special, please contact me about making one.  I would like someone super hot to play me.

It was my second week of my junior year of college.  I transferred from a community college in San Diego to San Francisco State.  I decided to live on campus that year.  I had no idea that essentially meant a plan on drinking all year, ignoring my studies and learning how to drunken surf San Francisco busses like a champ.  Drunken surfing on buses is a San Francisco past-time I perfected in college.  This is where you get wasted first or at least on that path (you don’t have to be drunk, but it doesn’t hurt), stand in the middle of a bus without holding on to anything and just ride the wave.  It’s totally unsafe and stupid, perfect one’s early 20s.  When most people have heard this story, they have generally been shocked that I went to college at all.   I digress.  It was during an impromptu kegger that my roommates had facilitated, in my apartment, I went outside to see what the rest of the world was doing.  More so, I was looking to grab a free beer from someone.

There he was on the patio next to our apartment.  It was a shared courtyard/patio area where students would hang, smoke, sneak booze, start bad habbits, puke and just be kids.  He was just average-looking, skinny, with buzzed light hair, complimented by a fair complexion, blue eyes that seemed to glimmer of their own story and angst, while at the same time they gave off the essence of innocence.  Sitting there by himself with a can in one hand and a box the “Champagne of beers,” Miller “Highlife.”  He was studying everyone on the patio.  He was very different from everyone.  What drew me to him, I don’t know.  It’s like how I can’t control myself around ice cream.  I even get upset when someone else eats ice cream, doesn’t finish and lets it melt in front of them.  He was my ice cream.  Sometimes we just Maybe it was kismet, fate or down right bad luck?  He was 19.  I was 20.  He was about my height, actually a little taller, but I digress.  He was scrawny, in a plaid black and white shirt, a cigarette behind one ear, and an essence that reeked of apple pie.  He looked like the type of kid that grew up in a household that drank milk with their meals.  Growing up with Russian/Jewish parents, from the Soviet Union, I had never seen that until I was a teenager and was horrified the first time I saw it.  I have never been a fan of milk, never understood why people drank it.  I introduced myself, and invited him to our party.  As he smiled, he revealed his slightly buck-toothed smile, while accepting my offer.  I knew that this moment would change my life forever.

Elijah and I were inseparable from then on.  He was the first gay I had ever met that didn’t act, well, gay.  His taste in music didn’t consist of the usual classics like Kylie Minogue, Madonna, Mariah or Britney.  His eyebrows weren’t even plucked.  He didn’t even have a feminine voice or use feminine nouns for men.  He was just a “normal” guy, so I thought then.  Until him, I didn’t even know gays had an option to be like everyone else.  I assumed there was some disco-balled legacy of ‘flaming’ that had to reach in order to be gay.

My relationship with Elijah, become a yearlong infatuation rollercoaster ride.  I would feel the whiplash for years to come, but that’s another story.  He became my best friend.  Until him, I never had a real male best friend.  Most of my close friends until college were girls.  I was that guy.  I was always that little boy playing with girls that everyone was speculating could have been “playing” with the girls, but obviously wasn’t.  I could barely stomach oysters. We would always start off playing house and end in me braiding one of the little girl’s hair.

I learned from Elijah how to let go and worked to be much less uptight.  Prior to him I was much more conservative and less free, so I later realized then.  I didn’t realize just how anal retentive I was until I met him.  It was almost like I was afraid to live.  I was also a virgin to most definitions of sex. Being a virgin half way through college was not cool.  It deemed me as “uptight” by some and sad by others.  Being a virgin at that age seemed to be as cool as cancer.  Maybe cancer wasn’t the best choice of that example, but you get it.

We also experimented with various drugs together.  I would never suggest this to anyone because the idea that one would need drugs to become inspired has never been one that I have wanted to prescribe to or advertise.  I would though admit it was not an experience I would later regret, nor ever want to repeat.  He would stay over pretty often even though we lived on the same block.  Through our mutual loneliness it seemed that we connected.  It would take me years to realize that even in loneliness one could still feel happiness. 

He was a little rich kid, the baby of the family.  When he came out of the closet, he burned it down, as he had been openly gay to since he was 16-years old.  He was one of those that had a same-sex prom date.  I had never met anyone like that and didn’t understand how he knew so young.  I was convinced that he would be the love of my life, but I also was in love and engaged to food for a short time so not sure if that mattered.  I felt for him in a way that I still couldn’t put into words.  It was love the way I knew it then, young, pure and stupid. 

We never did consummate our relationship, although we had gotten close to it a few times.  It was like on “Friends” waiting for Rachel and Ross to get back together. I could happen any moment or make it another season without.  Although we never really talked about it, I actually, was secretly crushed by the fact that we never had.  Oh how young love could be.  We never called each other boyfriends or held hands in public.  Something that was shockingly accepted in San Francisco in a way I had never in my life seen before.  It was an unsaid thing that everyone else saw and knew better than we did at the time.  He truly was my first love, when I thought that I knew what love was.

After that year of college, Elijah and I moved into an apartment together.  This, of course was the dumbest idea ever.  Ironically this was after we had broken up for the third or fourth time, even though we never really dated.  For some reason he kept crawling back into my life like herpes with a drug problem (not that I’ve had that. I’ve never even had a cold sore…).  After 3 months, and about 15 major arguments, we parted ways after I found chemicals and methamphetamines under our sink for the third time.  I yelled at him as I threw them out.  It had been a while since I had been that kid who experimented with hallucinogenic and whatever else we did at the time.  Now I had a job and was working to build a productive life in the city, aside from the occasional bowl now and again, I was moving on.  Besides, In San Francisco, smoking pot seemed like it was equivalent to having a drink there.  I was a new man who was responsible. 

I was still living with him when I first started working at the bar.  I would come home often at around 3 am and get to sleep around 4am.  One morning, around 8 am, Elijah came home and woke me up.  We weren’t really talking at this time because I was finding him super annoying to live with, messy, inconsiderate and always leaving whip-its chargers all over the apartment (the most stupid substance ever).  I was over him and didn’t want to be a part of the drugs.  He was sweaty, frantic and talking faster than the micro-machines guy.  I couldn’t understand him at first.  He told me that “people” were after him and trying to kill him.  He told a long, farfetched story to me that I couldn’t grasp and then told me about how he had some big drug dealer in our apartment the night before.  My first reaction was slamming the door in his face to go to bed until he busted it open.  He was freaking out and now so was I, on many accounts.  I called the cops as Elijah spaced back and forth.  They came in minutes.  Within one minute of talking to Elijah, they asked him what he was on.  After he admitted to GHB and METH the night before, they turned away from him and talked to me.  They told me that they couldn’t take anything he was saying into account or as record since he was “under the influence” and they left.  I didn’t know what to do.

The next day I found some chemicals under the sink.  I didn’t know what they were for, but knew that they didn’t belong there.  I later found out that they were chemicals to make various drugs.  It was like living in an episode of “intervention,” less fun when you’re in it.

The new me realized that Elijah both had a problem and I couldn’t deal with it anymore.  My love for him couldn’t handle being a parent to him anymore.  Eventually, I severed all ties and called his father.  He was on Elijah’s portion of the lease.  I told him that his son needed help, had a drug problem, was making drugs in our apartment, and couldn’t live with him anymore. 

I always presumed his parents sent him immediately to rehab as a result.  I don’t know really what happened after.  I heard that years later he had been in and out of rehab several times.  Not sure really if he made any major progress though.  I heard that he had been caught with alcohol at the first one, but after 3 times friends said that they heard he was doing much better.  I moved out of our apartment within 2 days, like a criminal breaking out of prison.  I left him to clean up his own messes, while he left me shattered.  I spent the next month listening to Fiona Apple and TLC “Red Light Special” on repeat.

Ideally, I wanted to think that time healed wounds.  After 9 months of not talking to Elijah, I had been at the bar nearly a year then.  In my mind, he was dead.  I assumed that if he wasn’t, it was about time.  This made it easier for me to not miss the person I loved, who had helped me understand myself.  I went to get tested as every responsible adult should.  Having never had unprotected sex, I was sure that I would pass with flying colors.  I took this HIV test, where they swabbed the back of my throat and within minutes the volunteer nurse came back and told me that I was preliminary positive.  This meant that I would have to come back in two weeks to find out what that meant. 

I forgot to mention that Elijah had gotten very sick with what we had thought to be the flu.  This was right before we had moved in together.  It turned out that this flu was actually the beginning of acute HIV, he then told me that I should get tested a little more regularly as a result, just in case.  As he put it, since he would regularly black out and we had experimented with drinking and other substances together, there could have been something we had forgotten.

            For the next two weeks I lived life like a zombie, thinking that I was probably HIV positive and would have to begin planning to live my life as another happy, healthy HIV positive, gay man.  All I could think of was Magic Johnson for some reason.  I had remembered as a kid when he was diagnosed, how that sounded then and how much better science had become since then.

At work, while I would try to look happy, I was horrified on the inside, and a ticking time bomb with every step.  All I wanted to do was smoke pot and be doped up so I wouldn’t have to think about life and its many problems.  Nick, the “chocolate doctor in training,” as he so poignantly nicknamed himself, patted my shoulder to say hi about twenty minutes into that shift.  I had a handful of glass beer bottles in my hands that I was putting into a drop-in cooler.  Being in a daydream-moment I dropped the beers all over the ground.  I guess he startled me.  I kept dropping beers, and did little talking, because I didn’t want anyone to know.  I tried to hide my hurt and uncertain nervousness from those around me.  After 2 days in, I had chattered a pint glass in my hand, in turn cutting my ring finger right on the bend and deep enough to almost see the bone.  All I could think of was how I would never be able to wear a wedding ring.  Silly, right? Gays couldn’t get married anyways.  At that second, I realized that if could still feel.  I was still alive.  While I was in the emergency room getting my finger stitched up, I realized that this was not the end of the world.

            Seven days after my finger was stitched up, I went to get the results of my second blood test.  They asked me what I would do if this second test too came out positive.  I smiled and said, I would live and still plan on a future.  I also said that I would smoke enough pot until I couldn’t see.  The advisor didn’t find that funny and just stared at me with judging eyes.  It was the same way one stares at the fat kid’s plat at Sizzler.  This all may sound silly now because in the end, that test and the one after would in fact come out negative.  At the time it blew harder than Jenna Jameson (I assume).  After though, I realized that I was letting Elijah hold me back from meeting new people and really growing up.  I never wanted to bring people to our apartment cause well I didn’t want to look like a crack head.  I was too pre-occupied tying to take care of him that I couldn’t take good care of myself.  I loved him for who he was to me and even how he hurt me.  As a result of him I grew fast.  It was the kick in the pants I wouldn’t wish to anyone, but it changed my life.  Dating would never be the same.  It took me years to trust anyone.  I went through a phase where I assumed all the men I met had HIV.  Not true.  If I could walk around in a full body condom at that time I would have.  It would take me several years to learn that not everyone else was like him and that gay men came in every shape, size and type.  Some were honest and afraid like me.  That was okay.  Elijah showed me that being gay didn’t have to fit any one stereotype.  I learned that HIV while scary wasn’t the end and that rather than fear it, I should be come educated in it.  Until him, I had never been that close to another guy.  He introduced me to a world that I had never known, including the one that every gay man becomes acquainted with in their lives, either first hand or via their found family, HIV.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

“Watch out for the Marbles” Or in this Case, Glitter.

Chapter 14 “Watch out for the Marbles” Or in this Case, Glitter. 
Now I am beginning to understand what they had meant in the movie “Showgirls.”  There is that scene where the one skank tells the other skank to “watch out for marbles.”  The work environment at the bar requires a similar etiquette. How the fuck did that happen?  Don't get it twisted though, I am not a stripper, I get nervous swimming in my board shorts without a T-shirt on.  I’m learning that one may lose the weight but body dysmorphia is here to stay.  I don’t even know if I could do the whole dead eyes thing that strippers do so well.  I am living the bartender lifestyle, which is a choice, and now becoming more just than a means to an end…  My mother will be so proud. I don’t have to strip for my dinner here, but the competition is just as bad.  The Labyrinth is the type of place where there is always someone out to steal your thunder.  By steal, I say rip your thunder away from you when you least expect it. Here, there is always someone ready to take your place.

I am wearing new-ish jeans to work today. They are slightly tighter then the pairs of jeans past. They also have the smallest waist of any jeans I have ever owned.  I am very happy about this for now, but am feeling the pressure to slim down.  While I, like everyone else in this field knows that I am an individual, great at my job and feel irreplaceable, deep down we know we’re dispensable.  Anything that can give us the edge, we cling to like a pissed off girlfriend clings to keys she scrapes on her cheating boyfriend’s car.  For me, here, looking the part of the fit bartender, is my edge along with personality and whatever other crap my mom tells me.  While I have lost weight, it takes a little while for the weight loss to catch up with my mind.  I have this phantom fat meanwhile.  Mine, I call him Wilber.  He is mostly in my head and noticeable to me but I see it.  Within the first five minutes of work, a ‘regular’ has the nerve to tell me that I look like I’ve gained a few pounds in the past few months.  He then assures me that it wasn’t meant to be a stab at me and that he loves my haircut.  The gay man-sting.  This is where you come in with an insult backed by a compliment.

What the fuck does that mean? Essentially, he is saying that I look like a pig, but no one will notice cause my hair is great. Are the backhanded compliments also a part of the gay turf? I want to turn back to the fat fucker and ask him if, or actually when he has to pay people to have sex with him. Also, when some poor guy does bite the bullet and take this asshole out, do they have issues finding his penis amongst all his fat? The truth is that I stay silent. I have only been working at the bar for a few months and really have little recollection of this customer who looks a lot like that fat molester looking guy who put together the Backstreet Boys. For some reason the fact that they have the nerve to come up to me and say something like that just makes me even more upset. In my mind this is the moment I switch from innocent gay boy to someone who cuts a bitch.  I already have issues with my weight, but to have a stranger come up to me and tell me this crap is ridiculous.

Everyone seems to be so damned tough in that bar and the public just adds to that impression. I just don’t get why. On top of everyone’s cutthroat attitude there, I have to deal with stranger’s crap and ridicule. They give me their unsolicited opinions on me personally, my body, my brain, cause I’m either too smart or too dumb, my eye color is too dark, my mannerisms being too gay or not being gay enough, who I date and everything in between. I get told a lot that at this point I am a “straight acting” guy. Why is it that gay men find the concept of this so enticing? I get the description and why they find a straight guy as more attractive and passing in gay culture, but who the fuck wants to date a straight man? I want a gay man that knows what they want and is confident in whom they are. Besides, I want a man that has been around the block, slutted it up and knows what they are doing in the sack as well.

They talk about me with both compliments and down right insults within an ear’s reach. It’s like I am not human, just the help and am not supposed to have feelings. This must have been what Alice felt like on the Brady Bunch.  Even though I try not to listen, it’s hard to be thick-skinned all the time.  Especially when the line between friend, patron and co-worker is blurrier than Liza Minelli’s taste in men.  I also wonder how much of the shit they say is true, exaggerated or false. It’s hard to deal with and something I never really bargained for.

Everyone at that bar seems to walk on eggshells out of fear of Charlie, the owner. While working, and when out in public, these guys always act tougher than rocks, like gay rebels without causes. The interesting thing is that while working at a bar they may give off the appearance of being party animals, even the life of the party.  But the truth is that most of it is a show. The “part” is a distraction from who my co-workers really are and how normal they really are, if normal exists. Many of them have created this show to avoid their own problems, families, and their current life-shortcomings. I will admit that these people work just as hard as they play. Everyone takes their jobs very seriously, as a profession and not just a job the way much of the public may assume.

I have come in to this industry as a blind man in a city of lights, unsure of what this place has to offer me and what it will take from me, rhetorically speaking. What will this probably take away from me next?  My assumption?  Just my youth and my soul, just a guess… In-turn I am not sure what I will take away from my time here. I fear though ending up a life-long bartender, although I am in school and that’s not the goal, it never seems to be. The guy that people call their bartender who always knows their drinks and can tell a good dick joke?  The other issue is this, what’s wrong with being a lifetime bartender?  If Sam on Cheers could do it soberly, I could do it my way right?  It’s not like I’m committing to a life working drive-through. It’s nice to be the life of the party, but all the time? Do I always have to appear happy? If I have learned anything from the “star magazine,” I have learned that no one can be happy at all times, we all have bad days, just ask Lindsey Lohan. Regardless of the questions I have, it is a good profession for the right people. Some people seems to portray the bartender roll to me like that of a model, everyone has an expiration date. 

I’ve heard several strangers who without being asked their opinion on this topic have told me, “You’re a bartender?  Great.  Make your money while you can, you won’t be the it boy forever.” Isn’t that true in all fields and pretty much everything we do in life though? Work it before the sand runs out?

Since working here, I don’t like to admit the changes coming over me.  I am transitioning into a person who I do not know, although I am familiar with him. I am now peppering my sentences with words that I swore I would never use, the other day I said that something was “fierce” and wanted to punch myself out.  It’s not terms like such are bad, it’s just that I have never been comfortable enough to use them.  It’s like a non-black person using the N-word in casual conversation it just seems odd.  The nice thing about being gay is that there are no rules like that.  You can be as flamboyant or masculine as you want and talk however you feel comfortable and it’s okay.  I am getting awkwardly more comfortable with being the “big-headed fag boy” bullies always knew I was. I am more comfortable with the world of the gay, the rainbow and all that is connected to this, especially the going out to gay bars and drinking part.  I am learning how to flirt with men and play the song and dance with them. It’s hard because we are all raised to date and flirt with the opposite sex, but for homosexuals, kids my age have no real gay relationship role models.  We don’t have people like Laura and Rob, Zack and Kelly or Rachel and Ross to look at as an example of what dating looks like.  I didn’t play spin the bottle game in and “7 Minutes in Heaven” game ever.  I did though date several girls who I never slept with.  This is an important social aspect of growing into an adult gay man, one must know how to socialize, flirt,  and simply be around other gay people and not in a dirty way.

There are “gay” phrases that I will not use. It's not that I can't use them. I don’t use female words for men, unless I want to piss them off. For example, if some burly guy comes into the bar and asks me for a drink, but is a douche-bag while ordering, I’ll call him Sally to get a rise out of him and piss him off. I do not have a lisp, but am getting more comfortable with my feminine side, although I don’t plan on entering the world of drag any time soon. I will not yet admit out loud my closeted love of old Mariah songs. Yes, I said Mariah Carey, she may at times look like a Rhino in heels-not saying she looks fat, but more so that she needs to stop wearing the same thing she’s worn since she was 19.  Regardless, the woman can sing like no other and I’ll leave it at that.

I am getting used to the hassle and bustle of busing a club that is packed from night to night. I am one of the little lemmings who keeps it clean and carries heavy boxes of beer through crowds of hundreds of people on a daily basis. I am oddly used to getting groped, ass-grabbed and having coworkers at times treat me like a simple machine. The messy drunks are like moving wallpaper there. Once the pop music plays there is a furry ignited in each and every one of them.  Their inner 12-year old girl is let out and the man they are is forgotten while the music goes. For the entertainment value alone, I suggest checking this to who hasn’t witnessed this before.  You can watch it play out at any gay watering hole or roller skating rink.  I am more comfortable with the fact that I traded in the smell of coffee grounds-soaked work cloths for ones soaked in beer, cheap booze and man musk.

I now know that in a bar there is no such thing as an appropriate topic of conversation. There are no doors left closed. Most customers have no limits. Every queen seemed to feel it their personal duty to work your self-esteem down to a nub, to the best of their power just because they can. It’s like they are working hard to watch you crumble. If you break, these bitches win. If you don’t react to these cunts, then really you win. If you loose a few pounds, they would tell you. If they thought you looked attractive, they will sure as hell let you know. If you have a bad day and come off as a dick, they will tell you and make sure to cause a scene at your expense. If you are a barback, accidentally take their melted, nearly empty, well-cocktail, the storm will begin. Word to the wise, never get between a gay man and their drinks, the consequences could create a monsoon.

The other thing I am now used to is the sort of initiation that one goes through when barbacking. It was almost like hazing but not in a weird frat sort of way that is illegal and homoerotic, one could only dream about that one. The homoerotic undertones are just an accepted part of the scenery and frankly, welcomed by most employees to a degree. If you do a good job as a barback, coworkers will much like the customers, do little holding back. If they think you suck, they would make sure you understand such. If they simply do not like you, you then are simply not a member of their exclusive club. It’s like trying to get a seat at the popular kids’ table in high school; you have to earn your respect and place. A thick skin is absolutely necessary to make it in that place. Otherwise, an unsuspecting new hire may as well quit before getting started. Nothing is to be taken too personally or literally. While this sounds easy, it’s the most critical and hard part of the game.

As a barback I am at times in charge of backing-up 5 bartenders with everything that they need. I must be able to work while at the same time keeping the rest of the club clean. I am expected to do it all. To do this, one always needs to have their self-esteem in check or they can lose themselves. If one bartender gets more attention from you than another one, then it’s your problem and they will take it out on you.  As a barback you have to work your way around busy bartenders, replace whatever they need at the moment without getting in the way. Walking behind and around a bartender who feels they aren’t getting enough attention from you during their shifts, will tell you or make your job hell. As a barback, these people are your bosses and the ones who tip you out.  Some even block my walkway at times just so I focus on them alone. Like most gay men, bartenders here think they are beauty queens and therefore are attention-whores. Others simply tell me that I needed to get a different job if I can’t pick up the pace, like a robot. Some may even hand me a job application for the 7Eleven down the street. Some even joke about taking a portion of my tip-out being cut down to lack of working. Some will reward me alone and hand me a couple of extra dollars at the end of the night for working hard. It all depends on each individual bartender, the night and their temperament.  I guss I’m a trained seal.  Did I mention that 20% of what each bartender makes is put into a pot so to speak to be divided by all the barbacks working per shift? I soon learn that as a barback, what is true about most jobs. While working hard is always important, it’s not the most essential ingredient to doing well at any job in any profession. One must always make sure that they also look like they are working hard as well.

My new BFF, Jose is one person that understands the concept that one must look like they are working hard at all times. He is great at looking hot while working and also like he is working fast and hard. He hits on daddies left and right, while dancing, sliding around bartenders in a very smooth fashion to stock their glasses. He simply glides around them and makes sure they see him as he does things. He views himself as the example of how our job should be done. Everyone seems to love him because he makes the job of heavy lifting and grunt work look effortless. He has style in the way he dresses, works and makes it look like he is performing every night. He plays up to customer’s expectations of us, and how they want us to look. He always has the most expensive, flashy new jeans and shoes on.  I stick mostly with comfort and shoes that may be a bit hideous and look like something I bought at the supermarket but they support. He even break dances while working, busing glasses on the dance floor, with a full arm of glasses.  I can barely make it walking down a street gracefully without tripping on my own feet.  I once walked into a phone pole before a lunch date, had to meet the date with a black eye and embarrassment.  That is another story though.  Back to Jose, it’s like he isn’t human.

Now, Gina raves about little Jose all the time. She always mentions how he “rocks” at the end of the night. At this point I am working hard at trying not to care nor develop some silly jealousy over this. Like many others working there, I just write her off as a bitch that I will never understand or ever really get to know. She is the only one to really give me insightful advice there but it is her delivery though, abrupt, harsh, without a cushion. I guess it’s her way of cutting to the chase and I don’t like it. At the end of that night in particular, she offers to drive Jose home even though he lives really close to the bar. Normally he and I would leave the bar together and I would drive him home so we could have a chance do what we love to do after work, which is smoking pot.  Jose accepts her invitation and they are off.

Now I have noticed Aaron and Jose are too getting close. They both bond apparently over their similar style, fashion, tattoos and their love of older men. Sorry I don’t want a sugar daddy or men who’s balls are saggy enough they drag on the ground.  It’s just not my thing.  About a week ago when Jose wasn’t working, I watched Aaron tip Jose a bit extra on the side for doing a good job.  Jose was getting tipped out for the hour he worked earlier that shift.  I had already seen him pick those tips up. Usually we both would get something extra from Aaron. This time I was the odd man out. The nights to follow, Aaron and Jose would chat all the time and leave me out of conversation or talk about things that I couldn’t really chime in on like tattoos since I didn’t have any. I felt so left out and couldn’t figure out why I cared.

It has been 3 months that the bar now been put under the spell of Jose. It’s getting to be this confusing conspiracy. I am the only one who isn’t under his spell. While Jose and I still hang out, our relationship seems to be shifting to one of arch-rival. It’s the “friendemy” type-friends who you act friendly with but really have a vendetta against and are enemies. At the beginning he mentions to me he thinks he is the next logical pick to bartend, if a bartender is to quit or get fired that he will fill their shoes. He then asserts, that he got along with everyone that matters anyways. This is the thing I am learning about the bar.  Everyone is always trying to get ahead even if that means to knock over everyone around them.  Yeah Jose looks like he is working, and I am doing all the heavy lifting but not so good at the show part.  He soon starts to hang out with all the queens at that place and that encompasses the whole scene that we have become a part of. He then starts to take personal conversations from the past, add lies and made them public. He tells coworkers that I am gossiping to others about who at the bar I assume is HIV positive and negative. Joking about people’s status in a gay crowd is never funny, nor relevant, nor something I would ever do.

While working one night a group of our mutual “friends” come by. These girls have become mutual friends with Jose and myself in the past few months. These lesbians always come and say hi to me upon their arrival into the club. This time, one of them told me that I am a jerk and that she knows what I told Jose. I don’t even know what I told him. It’s like high school all over again, if I had friends who were this dramatic and vindictive then.  She says that she know I actually hate women, “especially dykes.” It makes no sense. I was pissed and didn’t know how to respond so I do what any respectable person in my situation would do, ignore everything going on and try to laser focus on my job.  What else can I do?  Get into an argument with women strong enough to hurt me more than any men I know?  I don’t think so.  I tune everyone out in the same way one might tune everything out after accidentally walking in on their grandparents having sex.  Back to the point, from the beginning of time, the majority of my friends have always been women. In retrospect, I always have a fag hag/fruit fly on hand since the beginning of time and I should have told these ladies to fuck off.

At work Jose always keeps up the facade of looking accomplished, like he is doing his job. All his glasses stocked, the bar looks clean from a front-end perspective. On a closer inspection, half of the glasses are not completely clean. Instead of stocking beer, he makes each cooler look like they are stocked well by piling the beer in weird shapes so that no one would notice the large pockets of air between them. He somehow always finishes work with less than a bead of sweat, while I looked like the Swamp-thing, all melted, drenched with sweat at the end of each and every night.  He always looks calm, well dressed and eyes more red and glossy than Snoop Dog’s.  If he worked before me, he keeps up the appearance that everything is done and stocked at changeover. Then once Jose leaves I notice that the image is nothing. I can see that all the little things are left undone. He makes it so I will have to spend the rest of the night trying to pick up his slack, stocking what he leaves undone, cleaning up his mess. This in turn makes it look like I am not able to keep up according to the whispering bartenders who I hear now and again.

One happy hour, I come in for work ready for the day. There is a note on my time card from the owner of the bar, good old Phil. It says that I need to “shadow another barback and review how to cut fruit,” it also says that I “should be seen working on the floor more.” Essentially, he is telling me that this is a warning and I look like a slacker so they will treat me like I just got off of the small bus. I later find out that Jose has written him a note ripping up my performance as an employee, saying that he thinks he has seen me drinking at a near by bar before work. Our bar has a strict no drinking policy if one was caught under the influence, they can loose their jobs within seconds. He is now trying to get me fired. His games are going too far. I explain my conspiracy theory to Mike, he nods and acts like there was nothing I could do, a helpless soul. I soon decide this is wrong but that Jose should fall soon on his greased head.

I soon started to watch Jose very closely. Now, I wish I learned how to give someone the evil-eye the way my 97-year old grandmother would whenever a putz would cross her path. Every mistake he makes I am there. Every time he slacks off and sneaks off for a smoke break, I am there. I also act like nothing bothers me. I talk very little while working now, but when people are around treat Jose like he is still a good friend. It’s kind of interesting how this seems to piss him off even more. The harder he tries to get to me during shifts by blocking my way during work, giving me more work to do, the quieter I become. Silence seems to have become the sharp dagger that I need to hurt him. He trips me while I gather glasses on the dance floor. One time, he literally trips me right in front of a dishwasher as I was setting down a whole arm full of glasses. As the glasses crash on the dishwasher and shards start to rain on to the floor, there he is watching. He is about 5 feet away, on the other side of the bar. He smiles and walks away. I am left to clean up the mess. While angry, I stay silent and look unbothered. One of the bartenders watches the whole thing and then asks Jose why the floor is so wet near his dishwashers, enough to be a hazard. Jose doesn’t have an answer. This night it seems to be a battle between good and evil. Jose lies so much by this point that his words are his own noose.  He keeps trying to cover his tracks with more lies that he can’t do it anymore.  Jose has lied more than Donald Trump’s weave.  All his new friends slowly begin to switch teams and turn on him.  Gina asks him to deep clean her bartending-well, which is essentially busy work that is not necessary.  Aaron does not offer Jose a portion of his pot cookie the following shift but does me, so I have a great shift.  That bartender starts chatting with the other guys about what he sees. Soon poor Jose is under a microscope, while I keep far away from him still keeping silent.

A week later Jose comes in to work insanely drunk, reeking of his usual blunt aroma. This is a normal daily event which has until now gone unnoticed. But no one was paying attention to him before, the way we are on today’s particular happy hour. The bartender he is working with is Mike, the one who is silently watching and putting all the pieces together. Jose has been working for about two hours and then suddenly disappears. While it is slow, Mike decides that it is time for a bathroom run. Needing someone to cover his bar, he begins to wonder what the hold up is with Jose. After 20 minutes of waiting Mike realizes that the other bartender is at least 15 minutes late by this point. Mike leaves the bar worried and walks around the back area looking for Jose so he can call the missing bartender. Needing to pee worse than he ever has, Mike entered one of the many unisex-bathrooms the establishment has. As Mike sets up to use the urinal next to the first stall, to his dismay, he heard a slurping, and this queeny moan. Caught red-handed, literally gagging on the evidence that the missing bartender has placed in Jose’s mouth. Mike is upset because he knows the who Jose is with, it’s Mike’s good friend and senior bartender.  I hear the story second hand out of Mike’s mouth.  Mike is shaking, upset and angry all at once.  He is even more upset because Charlie calls him that evening to find out what happened.  This put Mike in a bad situation, he ends up having to snitch on both his “friend” and dumbass Jose.

Soon the news spread to “daddy”. The way he finds out was the happy hour’s events is when he asks Mike why he had disappeared off the camera in front of the bar for such a long period of time. Mike, is not known for lying and really has no choice but to tell the truth to cover his own ass. That horny bartender and Jose both are soon whited-out off of the schedule in the back room, within minutes of Mike’s conversation with “daddy.” It's as though they had never worked there.  Soon it’s like a healed scab.  We know they were there but soon they will barely be a memory and I couldn’t be happier.  I said it.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

You hate smokers? So what!

    I dont really smoke...  I do though hate it when you're at a coffee shop one of the few places that still allow smoking and this happens whenever anyone lights up.  They start doing the loud coughing and eye rolling.  Or even go as far as saying "my lungs are important."  Really?  Why not just move upwind or something?  Or at least compromise.

     I hate when they go as far as saying "I'm allergic to cigarettes."  I went to high school with a kid like that.  He would come to parties with a mask and tell everyone he was allergic.  It's like, no shit sherlock.  It's cigarettes, we all went to that day of class.  Just cause you don't smoke doesn't mean you have to be an asshole to those around you.  You don't like their cigarette smoke, I don't like your cologne!  You smell like you are dipped in regret.  Get over yourself!  So the asshole in front of you likes to smoke, you bite your nails in public which is revolting and not eating meat doesn't help you keep the air clean much either. Blerg.

Friday, October 12, 2012


Chapter 13. SIX MONTHS LATER, Time Off
It’s three weeks before Thanksgiving and I want to go visit my mother.   She just just moved to the lovely state of Austin, Texas, a place I really know nothing about.  What I do know is that they call it “the San Francisco of Texas.”  Ironically anyone I have met who says that will later admit that they in fact have never been to San Francisco.  For this reason alone I should like it or at least that’s what my mom tells me.  I am from San Diego, which seems to be a very different place.  All I do know is that Texas is a red state.  Why would I go to a red state?  For this reason alone, I have no interest in the place.  From my mom’s description, the cheese stands alone.  She makes it sounds like they are the only Jews in Texas.   

It’s 6 months into working at the Labarynth.  I have lost some weight and gained a vindictive side.  Now when I put my jeans on I don’t have to exhale to do so.  Shit, I may even cut the sleeves off of my work shirt like all the other whores I mean friends I work with.  I switched to contacts and tossed out those clunky Buddy Holly glasses.  It’s much like when Paul on the “Wonder Years” switches to contacts, he loses his virginity first.  I can only aspire to be that cool, with a smaller nose of course.  I am still in school and working.  That’s my life, school, working, drinking, going out and repeat.  When I say drinking I don’t mean that in the alcoholic way, cause I’m not a quitter (sorry for the hacky joke, I had to).  I just mean it in the college-lets have fun and know when to stop way.  If my mom asks, I’m studying.  I have grown and changed so much.  Can’t wait to see my mom’s new digs.

I write down my request in letter-form to the boss.  I am told to set it in his mailbox because.  At the bar all requests must be hand written or at least that’s what all the signs in the backroom say besides that that customary “use a condom and don’t do meth add” that most gay establishments seem to have.  While I would prefer to talk to Phil, the owner to be assured I can take that time off, there really isn’t anyone to talk to about this.  The odd thing is that I have yet to really meet or see the owner Phil since that odd interview.  I am told he is there every day but maybe he just lives in the shadows?  I don’t know how I haven’t ran into him.  He is like Charlie from “Charlie’s Angels,” only to be known via telephone conversation, through other coworkers or through notes he mysteriously leaves on our time cards.  In the note I nicely ask for Thanksgiving off and tell him that I will though be available for other holidays.  Then, as I am writing my time-off request, there is Aaron a few feet behind me.  Aaron is the coworker/friend who’s style is David Bowie meets Bette Middler and maybe Gem of the Holograms.  He is staring at himself through a mirror we have perched above the time clock.  He is putting on his usual Spackle routine of eye cream, powder and a sheer gloss.  Aaron’s routine of getting ready for work is much like that of a show girl’s in the old movies, powder and a mirror with a lot of lights.  He then glances over my shoulder to see what I am writing.  I hate when people glance over my shoulder it makes me as uneasy as when you’re driving and notice a cop behind you, even though you’re doing nothing wrong, you feel like you’re going to get busted for something.  Aaron proceeds to fill me in and explains that “daddy” (which is what the staff calls Phil when they think he isn’t listening) may not like me taking off on a major holiday.  Aaron then explains how I can easily get fired for the request alone because I am inconveniencing him.  Another possible outcome apparently is that he could simply make it hard for me later, with bad shifts or no shifts.  The way Aaron warns me, it comes off so unreal, as though my life is now destined to be under the thumb and of Phil who will guide my future’s fate.  The way people describe Phil is almost as though he is the godfather.  The amount that my coworkers fear Phil’s wrath is immeasurable, constant and hard to put into words.  He has this power over many of us at the bar that I just can’t figure out yet allow to dominate me.

A week later, on a Sunday night I had finished working happy hour and decide to then stay out for one drink.  One thing about working in a bar is the second you are off the clock, everyone wants to get you loaded.  It’s common courtesy.  It’s like having a Potato chip, you can’t have just one.  First it’s a drink, then a shot, after shot, random drink, after random drink.  I am about an hour and a half into my night, I am happily trashed when I bumped into a group of my coworkers who are equally obliterated and have that awful mothball breath that for some reason remind me of my grandmother, random, but true.  Since they find me at our bar, we all decide that it’s Jager-Bomb time.  Whoever thought up the idea of Jager-Bombs, should be shot.  For those who don’t know what that is, you’re lucky.  It’s a pint glass filled with a little red bull, then you drop a shot glass of Jager into the glass and proceed to chug your last memories away.  They call it a bomb cause you blast away all remnants of sobriety.  It’s almost as evil a concoction as a Long Island Iced Tea.  It’s at this point when I know I’m going to be sick from this, but decide to keep going because I’m young and stupid.  Soon we are off.  This is where my night normally ends.  Tonight this is where my night just begins.  We hop from bar to bar.  They all start to blend together and really after a while all the drinks taste the same.  I can’t remember much but I’m told these guys get us the best drinks, set our group in the best locations and always tip like money was toilet paper.  I have never seen money used so frivolously and loved it.  This must be what Paris Hilton feels like but without the night-vision.  I am someone raised by immigrants who actually came to the U.S. as refugees; spending money so casually like it’s nothing astonishes me.

By the end of the night/the beginning of the morning, our group has thinned out.  We end up at someone’s house, I’m not exactly sure who’s, maybe Johnny’s.  Whoever’s home it is, he has an entire bar set up in their kitchen.  In my drunken stooper I can’t tell how and when we left the bar or how we are now at someone’s at-home bar.  This is the first time I have ever been smashed with these guys.  It’s odd to be this fucked up with coworkers around.  Is this standard?  By this point I am so drunk that I can’t exactly remember how long I have been in this person’s apartment or for that matter what part of town I am in.

I find myself staring at this beautiful, blue tequila bottle and listening to some random dude chatting into my ear who’s name escapes me cause he is obviously so memorable.  As I am staring at the bottle, I can see my horrid reflection in it.  It’s at the point in the night when your own reflection begins to look scary.  It’s like I am in a trance, “snap out of it girl, I got some Frosted fFakes!”  He passes me this plate that looks like it’s covered with powdered sugar.  I am not known for passing up stuff with powdered sugar.  I am not really sure what’s going on so I take my finger to the plate of powder then wipe it on my tongue and gums.  This isn’t the kind of sugar I am used to.  I pass the plate on.  Aaron then says, “Look boys, touch of the gums, like a pro.”  My entire mouth is numb, the sensation is uncomfortable while euphoric at the same time.  I feel like a mess inside, yet for some reason I can’t stop smiling.  I watch as they pass around this magical hors d'oeuvres. They keep passing around a bowl, while James, the one who previously I had only hung out with on our private Mc Donald’s runs, plays bartender and puts on some pop music selections off of his iPod.  I can’t tell how long I have been there, although I feel really chipper now.  James keeps topping off my glass while calling me stud.  As James fills my glass for the millionth time, Paulo in his Latino gay accent says, “I heard that princessss asked Daddy to give him Thanksssgiving off, ha, nice working with you babe.”  He then gives me a hug and a playful peck on the cheek.  The rest of the guys just laugh and go back to being absorbed in themselves.

It’s morning now.  I just woke up with the taste of last night’s regrets in my cotton mouthed-face, on the couch of a living room that I can’t recall, alone in yesterday’s clothes. My shirt is on the ground for some reason and covered in the smell of puke. I think I’m in the apartment from the night before. There is that powdered sugar plate which is now empty on the coffee table in front of me, next to a bullet-looking thing that kind of looks like one of those magnifying glasses used to look at jewels. I am hugging my favorite black hoodie like it’s a lover and have some strange cat, who’s set up shop on my thigh. I have no recollection of how I came to be here shirtless, alone and on some strange couch. I left shirtless in my hoody with the taste of vomit and moth-balls in my mouth. On my way to the bus, being in San Francisco’s wonderful Lower Haight, I stop by Walgreens to get the usual hangover treatment of pepto, gatoraid and mints. While eclectic, I hear this isn’t always the best part of town. This particular part of the Lower-Haight area happens to currently be peppered with cracked out homeless people and recovering hippies that took one too many doses. These people are the hippies who haven’t sold out, end up in corporate America or as Whole Foods junkies.

Once inside, the maze of aisles again, I am reminded of the night’s events with one burp. That burps makes me realize that I am, a still astonishingly drunk chemistry lab, ready to explode everywhere. Once I have the Wallgreens version of Gatorade, in hand, peptobizmuf, mints and random crap that I find near the register, I am ready to get going. As I get to the register the clerk looks me straight in the eyes.  My eyes are probably more red than Joy Beyhar’s head at this point.  It’s as though she is looking into my soul. It’s freaking me out. She looks like she has seen a ghost. She mutters, the amount I owe and then says in a stern tone “Ya’ll best be safe out there. Take care of yourself.” I don’t get what she was talking about, pop open the drink in hand and ran to approaching bus right outside.

Once I walk into my apartment, I catch a glimpse of myself passing by a mirror.  I look I look like Sideshow Bob from the Simpsons if he was in Trainspotting.  After 10 minutes of staring at my freakish mug, my mother calls me. Being a good boy, I answer because I am like many gay men, a self-admitted momma’s boy. She asks me about the upcoming holiday plans and I then confirmed that I am coming. By the third step into the apartment I can feel a grumbling in my gut. I burp and tell my mom I have to go, hang up on her and run straight to the bathroom. I puke all over the bathtub because I’m classy and that’s the first thing I see when entering the bathroom. I turn around to the sink and begin to wash my face, brush the signs off and put a clean taste in my mouth. As I looked in the mirror, I realized how fucked up I actually look. My eyes are met with purplish-bags, my cheeks are pale and flushed at the same time. My skin has this off grayish hew. Within seconds of seeing this horrid vision that I am trying to wash away, I feel the grumble again and end up puking hugging the toilet bowl as though it’s a long lover.  At least I wont have to buy him anything and he’s silent.

This morning, is more brutal than any I have seen since the 9th grade. It’s like I’m fourteen years old all over again. I am more hungover than I was the first time I got drunk enough to puke all over the Denny’s bathroom in the ninth grade. Like that faithful New Year’s Eve, last night I drank every alcoholic type of beverage within site to show I could roll. Unlike that New Year’s I did not professing my love to my best friend (who would later be my girlfriend and then become my best fag hag) and smoke 10 cigarettes in one sitting because I could. So much has changed, yet so little. Like then, I am just a small fish in a big pond, learning to be me in just another coming of age story.

I end up the only guy at the bar who actually gets Thanksgiving off and do get to go to Austin which is unique to itself, weird and that’s how the locals like it.  My mom’s house is actually 30-minutes from anything cool but is close to a Dairy Queen where I discovered my first Austin gay.  I am excited cause I feel like I have found a unicorn.  He is like 18, his voice cracks when he handed me my Blizzard and he winks at me.  Frankly nothing happens besides the exchange of the ice cream.  Honestly that ice cream does more for me anyway.  It’s my first love.  Until going on the trip I worked an average of 5 shifts a week.  After the trip I was down to 3 a week for a month.  There was a new guy who was also hired a few weeks before I left, he is completely whitted off the schedule.  I’m glad I never memorized his name.  It’s as though he never was.

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