THE TIP

(This note is from an afternoon shift at The Lark Tavern.)

The Lark Tavern, Albany NY

There was a big guy sitting at the bar, a “rough-around-the-edges and loud” type, but he was my only customer so I didn’t expect trouble.

He was just one of those guys who likes the sound of his own bark, which can be irritating when you ask a simple question.  I gave him a bottle of Budweiser and asked, “Would you like a glass?”

“Hey, why would I need a glass?” he said, “It already comes in one.”  He pointed to the glass bottle, then laughed at his own joke.  Don’t these people know how many times the bartender has heard that?  Ok . . . so he said it once, but then he continued.  “It already comes in a glass,” he repeated.

Another simple question a few minutes later:  I asked, “Would you like another beer?”

“Another beer?” he said, “Why . . . do I look like I need another beer?  You telling me I have a drinking problem?”

”Fine,” I said, “If you want anything, let me know.”

No matter what I said he was going to come back with something stupid.  Who cares, as long as he didn’t start trouble.  I let him sit for a few minutes until he called me over for a second beer.  After a while I looked down and he was gone.  There was some loose change next to his empty bottle. I wiped the small puddle, and tossed the change into the tip jar.

Ten or fifteen minutes later this same guy was back, sitting on the same stool.

“Where’s my beer?” he asked, clearly irritated.

”I thought you were gone,” I said.

”I’ll tell you when I leave,” he snapped, “Now where’s my beer?”

”I thought you were gone,” I said, “I thought you were gone, and your beer was empty.”

He glared at me.  Maybe he was one of those guys trying to get a free round.  They’ll leave a sip of beer or a couple of ice cubes in what had been a scotch and soda, disappear for ten minutes, then come back and insist that you picked up a full drink.

“The bottle was empty,” I told him again.

“OK, then where’s my money?”

“Look, I thought you were gone and figured the money was a tip . . . sorry,” I said.  I turned to get his change out of the tip jar.

“”When I want to leave you a tip, I’ll tell you,” he raised his voice.

I wasn’t going to argue.

“I told you I was sorry,” I said, and pulled some change from the tip jar.  I set it on the bar, about 90 cents.  I didn’t remember exactly what he’d left, but knew it was only loose change and couldn’t have been more.

“There’s your money,” I said, “Now, would you like a beer?”

“It’s not right,” he said, as I walked by a little later.  He was still talking about his misplaced change.  ”You should never pick up someone’s money unless they tell you it’s a tip.”

“You got your money,” I told him, “Enjoy your beer.”

“It’s not right,” he kept talking, “You should always leave the money on the bar!”

He wasn’t going to let it go.  A few minutes later, he was still lecturing me.  ”You should always leave the money on the bar,” he said loudly, “You should never pick up someone’s money.  You should leave it on the bar until they TELL you it’s a tip!”

“Look . . . ,” I stopped to face him.  “I said I was sorry . . . you got your money back. What more do you want?”

“What do you want?” I asked, “Do you want more money?”

I turned again to the tip jar and scooped up more loose change; a few quarters, a couple of dimes and a nickel, some pennies.  I slapped them on the bar in front of him.  “Is that enough?” I asked.

“Do you want more?” I reached for my back pocket, “Do you want what’s in my wallet?  How much do you want?”

I held the wallet in both hands as though about to take money out.

“You want a couple dollars?  You want five bucks?  How much do you want?”

I was trying to shut him up.  He sat silenced for the moment.  I went into the kitchen to say something to the owner’s daughter, Gail.

He must have sat fuming, because a minute later there was a loud crash.  I looked out from the kitchen, and saw him storm out the front door.  He’d taken his beer bottle and hurled it over the bar at the mirror.  The front door slammed behind him.

On the back bar, a couple of liquor bottles had been knocked off the shelves.  There was shattered glass from the beer bottle and spilt liquor everywhere, but the mirror was intact.  I went to the bay window and he was walking fast down the sidewalk, already half a block away.

“Should I go after him?” I asked Gail.  She hesitated, and I pointed out that the mirror was fine, no harm done.  I really didn’t feel like chasing him down the street.

Later I learned that he was one of the Burke boys, notorious trouble makers in the Washington Park Area. That was Jeremy Burke, one of six brothers – I would run into them several times during those years in Albany.

When I came to work the next afternoon, the daytime bartender Johnny La La had already heard about the guy with the beer bottle.  He took me aside, the life-time barman talking to the new kid.

“Next time, if you want someone to knock it off, just tell them,” Johnny said.  “Let them know that they’re welcome to stay and enjoy their drink, but please give it a rest.  If they won’t, ask them to leave.  But don’t intentionally embarrass them, even if they deserve it.”

Johnny La La was right.  I had made a classic, rookie mistake.  “How much to you want?  Do you want what’s in my wallet?”  I made a guy who’d been drinking feel foolish.

(Ed. Note:  A few months later, it was only because of another incident with Jeremy Burke that I met my girlfriend in Albany.)

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6 Responses to THE TIP

  1. Pingback: KRISTIN, Part I; How I met my girlfriend in Albany | Life on a Cocktail Napkin

  2. scribbler50 says:

    Wow!
    Yeah, Johnny was right but Jesus, man, this guy made himself look bad. And foolish. I think I would’ve just refused his second beer then hoped for the best. Said something like, “I think we have a communication problem here, I sure didn’t mean that the way you took it so maybe you should try another bar, Sir.” And then asked for Johnny’s backing to have the guy barred. That’s some scary shit, Mike, my blood was racing as I read it out of Bartender empathy! And not for nothin’, even though you were a rookie at the time I think you did a great job, you displayed the patience of Job before you blew. Fuck that guy.
    Good story!

  3. MikeQ says:

    “Rookie” barely covers what a newbie I was back then, Scribbler. He was a big guy and we were the only two people in the bar (the owner’s daughter was in the kitchen.) I actually got off lucky. A few months later that same guy shot his girlfriend in the head with a rifle when she wanted to break up with him. See the post. “Kristin, Part I.” Thanks for the comment. I look forward to your next post on BehindtheStick.

  4. scribbler50 says:

    I read the Kristin post, liked it very much, and that’s how I found this one. You really were lucky, Mike, to get off with just a thrown bottle. Damn!

  5. Freddy says:

    I’m a late newcomer to this blog. Sorry man. Just starting to thumb trough some of these war stories. But this post is close to my heart and pretty grand. It’s endemic of many an encounter I’ve had myself, unfortunately =( Guess it’s just a reality of what we have to deal with on occasion. Oh well. Well handled btw. I would have gotten loud and thrown the guy out after far earlier into the story. Guess my patience has worn thin after all these years. I’m always the closer for some reason (they let the girls go home early). As a result, I get the problem children like this guy.

  6. Mike Q says:

    Freddy: That was my first bar job in anything like a city. Before that I’d only worked a college joint in Cortland NY, so I was still feeling my way around a little. I’d never have that much patience now … but I think I was lucky I did then. Not long after the beer bottle incident, the same guy shot G. J.’s daytime bartender in the head, with a rifle. (That story is included in http://lifeonacocktailnapkin.com/kristin-part-i-how-i-met-my-girlfriend-in-albany/ ) Albany was a tough town. I’ve been enjoying your blog as well, Freddy.

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