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.

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