Over the past couple of weeks we’ve touched on the various ridiculous things I’ve seen and heard in my many years as a bartender. We’ve gone over some examples of the absolutely absurd behavior that many display while out in public and drinking heavily, rendering them just south of lucidity. We’ve discussed proper and improper attire, manners, etiquette, proper tipping, and the never-ending onslaught of stupid questions and ridiculous statements. This well is deep my friends, and there’s a seemingly infinite amount of material still to be written about on these subjects. I’ve also gotten some pretty positive feedback from the first two installments, so I’ll keep going with it.

A little later, I’ll give some more of the stupid questions that I’ve been asked often, and a list of the various answers that have been given to them. Keep in mind, that I never approach my customers with guns blazing. I always let them dictate how the conversation will go. If someone asks a legitimate question and they just don’t know any better, I’ll respond with sincerity, and compassion. But if the person is rude, condescending, belittling, abrasive, or just completely lacking common sense, I will respond accordingly. Some questions are so completely ludicrous that it is nearly impossible to answer them without sounding sarcastic even if you’re trying not to. While others just warrant sarcasm. I’ve found that in many cases, the only thing separating a smart-ass from a dumbass is two and a half feet of bar top. I believe I’ve just provided myself with a new mantra. If you happen to see that phrase on a tee shirt one day, remember where you heard it first.

I’m a firm believer that everyone in America should be forced to work in the service industry for six months out of their lives, preferably as a bartender or waiter. This would solve a multitude of problems. If everyone had to stand, if only for a little while, on the front lines dodging a maelstrom of idiocy just to make a buck, things would be a lot different. First, they would gain empathy for those in my line of work after having to be on the receiving end of the rudeness, cheapness, verbal diarrhea, and constant behavior that would shame most parents. They would then in turn gain an understanding of how to properly act and treat people in a public forum. They would learn how much weight simple words like “please”, and “thank you” hold. They would learn what it’s like to put in a seventy-five hour workweek only to get a paycheck on Friday that reads, $0.00. They would understand what it’s like to rely almost solely on the gratuities from people who are rapidly losing the ability to speak or hold their own heads up as your livelihood. I still often have nightmares about the fact that herds of drooling, mumbling, halitosis stricken buffoons are indirectly putting diapers on my kids and food in their mouths. I hope my daughter forgives me if I don’t show up for career day at her elementary school. It’s not always so easy to be proud of what I do when I look around at 2:00 a.m. and see the fruits of my labor.

A nationwide mandatory service industry stint would also squelch the common misnomer amongst the throngs of condescending folk that people in my line of work are stupid. Contrary to how we may look in the view from your pedestal, we’re not just doing this because we are morons with no other skills. Many of the brightest people I’ve ever met in my life are bartenders, and I can’t think of too many of them who are socially inept. So why don’t you swap your three masters degrees for some manners and a personality and we’ll sit down together and match wits? In many ways, what we do is like having a PhD in psychology without the student loans. Is there any better platform from which to study human behavior than behind a bar?

I’m not suggesting by any means that everyone pursue a lifelong career in the service industry, just a brief foray to gain an understanding of what we go through and how to properly treat others without being an ass. Truth be told, if I went back in time and traveled the career path again, I probably would have chosen a different fork in the road. Though my stories wouldn’t be nearly as good. I considered modeling, but it turns out you have to be good looking. I thought about becoming a professional athlete, but I just wasn’t very good. I thought of being an actor or musician, but apparently you have to have talent. I considered being a racecar driver, but my license was suspended. I thought about being a doctor, but there was all that school stuff. I entertained the idea of being an astronaut, but I hate Tang, and I have trouble crapping into a vacuum tube while standing up. Spending my evenings getting complete strangers one shot shy of a date with a stomach pump by providing them with elixirs to alter their personalities and abandon their inhibitions, now THAT, I can do. That’s right up my alley. It may not be the most noble profession, but as it turns out, I’m pretty damn good at it. And until I can master this whole writing thing, I’m keeping all my eggs in this drink slinger basket.

Since we live and work in a seasonal beach resort town, most of our core clientele are mainlanders hailing from the north, or west of us. A large number of them have a preconceived notion about what our lives are like. Contrary to popular opinion, we don’t all really sleep until two in the afternoon, wake up, grab our surf boards, spend a couple hours in the waves, take a nap, and then party all night until we pass out.

I recently did an interview for National Public Radio discussing the common misconception of those who dwell on the other side of the bridge regarding how we live our lives. A surprising number of people are amazed by the fact that we are not a bunch of drones shuttled in every day to make drinks and take crap. We actually live here—many of us year round. We raise families, we buy groceries, we mow the lawn, and we help our kids with their homework, just like you. We face genuine problems and deal with them accordingly. Hell, we even have schools. And when I say schools, I don’t mean that every morning our kids get up, climb on their boards, and paddle across the bay or canal to get there. We have busses and everything! It’s not a one-room schoolhouse for all grades being taught by an overweight sixty-something guy in a Hawaiian shirt with a ponytail while swinging in a hammock and listening to Jimmy Buffet. Some of us despise Jimmy Buffet. School is not actually canceled on days that the waves are good. Another myth that many of them believe is that I can’t possibly make a living as a bartender. With all that said, one of the most commonly asked questions of me by bar patrons is: “So what else do you do?”

In fairness, most of them don’t even realize how offensive and belittling the question itself is. So the level of pedantic condescension with which the question is asked, solely dictates the sharpness of the blade providing the answer. Also, my mood sometimes comes into play. The following is a list of answers that have been given in response to that question. As always, these are all from a “hypothetical” bartender who may or may not exist. If you wish, you may call him Syd.

1. “I’m a shepherd.”

2. “I hit the mega millions a few years ago and this is just my hobby because I love people.”

3. “Raise my four perfect children and hang out with them and my trophy wife by our swimming pool which is on the deck attached to our 4,000 square foot waterfront home. But only after my Mercedes has a fresh coat of wax. Sometimes the sound of the landscapers gets a little annoying though. It takes them awhile to mow all 5 acres and groom all the flowers and shrubbery. Those are the days that I walk to the end of my 80-foot private pier and hop in the boat with the family. We always try to get back home in time to watch the sun set over the water from our gazebo, though.”

4. “I’m a clinical psychologist. I’m here doing an experiment for research purposes. I’m writing a paper for the American Journal of Psychology on human behavioral issues and the effects of alcohol. It’ll be the feature story in the October issue. You should check it out.”

5. “I’m a cult leader. I’m the only one permitted to leave the compound, so I do this to try and earn some extra cash to pay for our weapons supply as we ready for the day of reckoning.”

6. “I have a mobile colostomy bag cleaning service. Business has been kind of crappy lately and the van needs repairs so I do this for some extra money.”

7. “Freelance porn.”

8. “I sell bodily fluids on eBay.”

9. “I work in science lab. I have a government grant and I’m working on a method of converting farts to energy. I do this just so I can earn some extra money to buy food for my pet unicorn. It gets expensive.”

10. “Nothin.”

There have been many other answers to this question, but I try to keep them different and interesting for my own entertainment. I always answer with a completely straight face and stoic demeanor and receive a treasure trove of various reactions. There are still so many stories, and stupid questions to tell about so we’ll pick this up again later.

Happy birthday to my son who, much to my bittersweet chagrin, turned twenty-one this past week. In the interest of space, I’ll have to tell you about his early hours as a person of legal consumption age next week. If you’ve been following along, no, you didn’t misread anything from past articles. My oldest is now 21 and my youngest is 11 weeks. Anyone else you know conceive children in three different decades?

To my son: I love you and I’m proud of you.

To everyone else: Thanks for playing along friends.

Until next week,

Syd Nichols

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