FUBAR (and then a beautiful moment)

Sunday, 10/13/13, 12:18 A.M.

anigif_enhanced-buzz-3732-1380844943-9It’s never good to leave a bartender working alone on a slow night.  There’s too much opportunity to think.

You  keep glancing at the clock, again and again.  You might listen to one of your customers, or try to focus on the closing side work ahead — but let your attention waver for one second, and you’re back to thinking.

The news on the TV is all bad, again.  Politicians, like the puppets they really are, once more screw us over with their political ambitions and aloof positions.  And while all of America loses an estimated 24 billion dollars and the world economy is threatening to blow up–these political hacks are still getting a paycheck, even as they remain asleep at the wheel.

Fucked-Up-Beyond-All-Recognition.  FUBAR reigns, and seemingly always will.

I believe the term first originated in the military.  Soldiers with their lives on the line had to put up with the gross incompetence of their superiors–poor planning, low ammunition, and suicidal missions.  Book after book, movie after movie tells the same story.  In Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, some poor lieutenant is sent off to die with his men because his commanding general is having problems with his wife, who’s tired of his impotence.

Breaker Morant.  Full Metal Jacket.  It seems this is just the way things are.


And it’s certainly no different in the restaurant business–although the stakes, clearly, are so much higher in the military.  But even behind the bar or out on the floor, in a very small but eerily similar manner, the maddening clusterfuck rolls on.


Thursday, 10/17/13, 3:00 P.M.

Then this afternoon, I’m checking through the latest news, and come across this . . .

It seems a Boston-area waiter was slogging through his night when there was a quiet personal crisis at one of his tables.  Two women (possibly a mother and adult daughter) had received a cell call during their meal, and afterward they both started crying.

“I had no idea what happened,” the waiter posted on Reddit, “Until a single guy at the next table handed me this note with his bill.”

Copy of DiagnosedHuffington Post later contacted the waiter, who further clarified the story:

“The single guy who had been sitting next to them had been friendly to me all evening, making jokes and such. When he was finished I gave him his check, and inside the billfold was his credit card and the note that I took a picture of. I combined the 2 checks, and he paid for both. I waited until after he had left to tell them their check had been taken care of. The mother was overwhelmed with gratitude, as was I. It was a great evening.”

Some people will insist this is just another internet hoax, and skeptic that I am, I was curious why the note was crumbled. (The man who wrote the note wouldn’t have crumbled it–he would have put it flat with his credit card.  Was a hoaxster simply trying to make everything look authentic?)  But then maybe the waiter initially tossed the note into a wastebasket . . . later retrieving it for the photo.

In any event, it was a good story after this gloomy week.

(For the past month, I’ve haven’t done much beside work on that book I’ve been talking about for years.  Thanks for your patience . . . I think I’ve turned a corner, and hope to be back here posting regularly in a week or two.)

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Copy of blondEveryone knows there’s a lot of sex in the restaurant business.  It’s a promise that lures big crowds to the pick-up joints.  Even in a quieter place, anytime there’s drinking involved you’ll usually find at least some sexual undertones.

And everybody knows that restaurant and bar staffs are quick to cash in on the fun.  I can’t think of another legitimate business (except of course the movie industry) where sex is so much a part of the workplace.

These next two stories might not come as a surprise then, but I still think they deserve posting here . . . .

Sex and Sales People

Several years ago, on a break from bartending, I worked as a restaurant consultant.  I helped owners decide which cash register systems fit their operations, and then worked with them on implementing new inventory and analysis reports.

I’d always give each client a number of options, but I remember this one owner asking about a particular electronic brand that I never recommended.  “What about the Iron-Clad registers?” he asked, “I know someone who really likes them!”

Of course “Iron-Clad” wasn’t their real name, but in my opinion these registers meant too many headaches and problems — and they cost more than some of the much better brands.  I explained this to him, but he kept insisting that he wanted to meet with an Iron-Clad representative.

The saleswoman who came in was drop-dead gorgeous.  She was a fox.  Blond hair, a body to die for, and such a pretty, sexy smile.

And she was an outrageous flirt.

While pointing to the color brochures with one hand, with her other hand she was always touching the owner’s shoulder, or the back of his hand . . . and one point she even laid her hand on his leg as they sat next to each other in the booth.

She had such “touchy-feely” hands that if she’d been in a bar, you’d immediately have identified her as out of control.  She batted her eyelashes, and dropped thinly-veiled sexual innuendoes.

I remember she was wearing a wedding band on her left hand, although that might have been for public relations purposes.  In any case she made it quite clear that she was “attracted” to this owner, my client.  After the meeting, as I left the two of them, they were ordering another round of drinks.  They seemed ready to make a night of it.

It apparently worked.  That owner went with Iron-Clad, and he paid for it many, many times with register lock-ups, confusing reports, and things that just weren’t programmed right.

I’d run into “Iron-Clad” sales reps several times after that, and they were all the same — hot, flirtatious young women.  A few years later, “Iron-Clad” went out of business.  Maybe they should have put some money into refining their system, rather than simply hiring “hooker-type” sales ladies.

It was by far the worst computer register system I’d seen . . . but I guess that owner had a really good time while being sold.


A Waitress who knows her way around . . . .

Sales people aren’t the only ones plying sex to get what they want.  I’ve watched a few workers use the same sexual signals to manipulate their bosses.  Most of the time they don’t even have to follow through . . . just dangling the possibility was enough.

I remember this one restaurant where I was tending bar — there was a particular waitresses who probably shouldn’t have even had a job there.  Sure, she was smart, she had experience, and she certainly could have been proficient at handling her tables.  She could have given her customers great service, followed the rules, but she just didn’t feel like it . . . that would have required some effort.  And at this unnamed restaurant she’d figured a way to get around all that.

I have to admit, she was quite good-looking.  She had a stylish haircut, and a figure even those crappy uniforms couldn’t hide.  But beyond that, her most important asset was that she absolutely exuded sexuality when she was trying to get away with something.

It’s hard to describe . . . I’ve only met a few women who could manage what she did.  It was like heat from a car radiator, something you could actually feel.  It rolled over you when she had her motor running.  When she looked into your eyes, and flashed that smile, you could almost hear her thinking:  “You’re a man.  I’m a woman . . . do you know all the fun things we could do to make each other feel good?”

I’m serious, all of that was in her smile when she wanted something.

She order her drinks without ringing anything in, and then try to get away with it when you asked where the slip was.  “Oh, I must have forgotten,” she’d turn on that smile, “Can you make them anyway.  I’ll get to it later.”

The first time, I did give in, and then I was chasing her for half an hour trying to get the un-rung slip.  At the end she was looking through all the dupes on the spindle, claiming that she’d rung them all in, but the chit must have been lost.

On more than one night, she somehow lost entire rounds of drinks — or so she’d say.  She’d claim the drinks tipped over while she was carrying them to the tables.  The manager would just house them all, without checking anything, and then tell me to make them again.  I don’t think he was even getting anything from her.  Just the tantalizing sense that someday he might get lucky was apparently enough.

I remember the last night I worked there; she’d been really out of control during that shift, and I was a little pissed.  I was cleaning the bar when she walked up.

“Well, we’ll all miss you,” she said with a big smile.

The night was over, it was my last night, so I didn’t say anything negative.  It’s funny, maybe you consider someone your worst enemy at a certain job, but when you meet on the street after the two of you are no longer working together, it’s as though nothing ever happened.  Like the two of you had been best friends.

But on this last night it was more than that.  As this waitress and I talked for a minute, I felt such a warm, sexual vib coming from her.  She just smiled that smile, and with that look of promise in her eyes . . . I was surprised to find myself genuinely wishing her well.

She was really good at what she did.

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Me thinks he doth protest too much . . .

Me thinks he doth protest too much . . .

In wine, truth?  Well then, there are some people who probably shouldn’t drink — or at least they should learn when to drink, and when to stay sober.

Let me be clear, I know how it feels at the end of the night when you want to unwind.  The cold ones go down so easily after a long, hard-fought victory, or when you’re just out with friends and want to bust loose.  I have nothing against drinking in general, even when people get a little carried away . . . done that personally, more than a few times.

And I listen sympathetically when a customer has a few and wants to bend my ear; that’s part of the job, and I’m happy to do it.

But if someone has the world on their shoulders, or when things in their life are royally screwed-up . . . well, maybe they should refrain from drinking too much, at least in public.  It’s just too easy for the alcohol to loosen their stressed-out tongues, and turn them into slobbering fools.  Why not stay at home and drink alone, or drink with close friends; isn’t that what friends are for?

Which brings us to today’s story.  Normally I wouldn’t post something like this, but it was quite a few years ago, and the “customer/fool” statue of limitations has run out.

“I really liked this girl,” one customer was saying in the Harvard Square bar where I worked at the time.  (Girlfriend troubles — I knew the feeling, and didn’t mind listening.) “It looked like it was going somewhere,” he went on.

It seems he and a woman he’d been talking with a few weeks before had started a thing, and for a while it was apparently working out, although I thought I’d seen a couple of red warning flags.  When the two of them were together, he had all her attention, but as soon as he left for a minute, she immediately turned to any man sitting nearby.

When Greg (we’ll call him) was gone, she seemed to come to life.  She was more vivacious, and chatty, with that unmistakable “come-hither” smile.  It was as though she wasn’t really happy with Greg, and was just spending time with him until she found someone else, anyone else.

Once, with Greg in the men’s room, she started hitting on me “This isn’t good,” I thought, as I deflected her advances out of respect for Greg.  She leaned forward over the bar so that her cleavage showed, and I could feel her heat.  “This isn’t good at all,” I thought.

There had been warning signs, and now Greg was crying in his beer about it to me.  At this point I was still on his side, still properly sympathetic.  Then he said, “There was really nothing wrong with the relationship . . . she told me that.  The relationship was great, even she said so.”

This sounded a bit odd, but I didn’t think too much about it.  I’d probably served him too much — I knew he didn’t drive, and the cab stand he always used didn’t require crossing the street.  They were virtually parked right outside the bar.

“She said the relationship was fine,” Greg repeated, “Everything was good.”

“OK,” I thought, “You already said that . . . why not just stop now?”

“Everything was great, you know,” Greg continued, “I mean the sex was great, for both of us.”

“Uh-oh,” I thought, “Please don’t go there.”

“We had great sex, really great sex,” Greg continued.

Why do people need to repeat themselves when drinking?  Do they think by repeating things it sounds more true than if just said once?

“It wasn’t the sex,” Greg continued, “It really wasn’t the sex, even she said that . . . even she said she was totally satisfied.”

“You’re telling me more than you want to!” I thought.

“The sex was really great,” he kept on; he wouldn’t stop.  “Really good for both of us.”

“God, please stop!” I thought.

The more he went on, the more convinced I became that this had been the problem, at least in his mind.  He hadn’t felt quite up to the task.  Maybe he needed Viagra, or whatever . . . if sober he would have realized how all this sounded, and immediately shut up.

“We were both happy with the sex,” he said again.

Finally, I had to put an end to it.  It just was too embarrassing to listen anymore.

“I think you might want to call it a night, Greg,” I told him.  At this point, I wondered if I’d ever be able to look at him in the same way.  That had been just too much information, too much dirty laundry unintentionally aired.

He left, but half and hour later there was a call on the bar phone.  It was Greg.

“Sorry to bend your ear,” he said over the phone.  “But I was just so upset about the break-up.”

“S-OK,” I told him, “Don’t worry about it.”

“It was just that there was nothing wrong with the relationship,” he started in again, “If you know what I mean . . . the sex was . . . .”

“Greg,” I interrupted, “I really think you should let it go for tonight.”  He was home now, but calling his bartender at work.  “Tomorrow’s another day, Greg,” I told him.

Bad enough when you have to shut someone off, and try to make sure that they get home OK.  Tucking them into bed is a little beyond the call, I think.

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Copy of RollingRock_BottleI have to change the names and the exact location in this next post.  Let’s just say it happened in a very busy bar, in a small town where I was living at the time.  I worked at a pub right up the street from this bar, and it was always packed.

The owner (we’ll call him Norm) was down-home guy in his early fifties — a great guy, but something of a country rube.  All night he’d stand at the end of the bar, drinking bottle after bottle of Rolling Rock.  (Back then the Latrobe PA beer was pretty decent, before being bought out and watered-down by one of the corporate giants.)

Anyway, if I had a night off I’d usually end up at Norm’s Pub.  Lots of ice-cold beer, people elbow to elbow, and plenty of attractive women.  This joint was always a blast.

It looked as though Norm had himself a gold mine.  He was probably making a small fortune.  He’d built the place up from nothing, and now he’d just stand at the end of the bar enjoying the spoils.

After a year or two of success, however, Norm began slacking off a little.

The men’s room began to look (and smell) as though it hadn’t been cleaned in days.  One of the booths had a broken back.  Every now and then that back would give way, and suddenly the seat would drop out from under the occupants, and they’d spill their beers.  Most of them just laughed, sitting on a booth cushion that was now flat on the floor, but I thought. “Why doesn’t Norm fix it, for cryin-out-loud?”

Then the rug on the floor became worn in one particular spot.  What started as a tear quickly became good-sized circular hole — with the cement floor showing underneath, and the frayed, brown edges of the hole calling further attention to it.

And Norm stopped serving those great roast beef sandwiches that the bartenders use to make on a spanking-clean cutting board, using the silver metal slicing machine at the end.

The place was falling apart.

Business at Norm’s Pub began to seriously drop off.  It was no longer packed every night of the week.  There were no more advertisements for the place in the local newspaper.  But through this all, Norm continued to stand at the end of the bar, night after night, as though nothing was wrong.  It was like he was turning a blind eye to everything.

“Norm,” I said to him one afternoon, “That booth has been broken for five months.”

“I don’t want to be out of line,” I said, “But this place is getting pretty shabby.  And the crowd doesn’t seem to be coming in like it used to . . . . ”

“I’m a little surprised,” I said, “This was the best spot in town.  I’m a little surprised you’re not paying more attention to things.”

Norm had been drinking with me as he stood behind the bar; it was early afternoon and there was no one else in the place.  Now his bottle of beer paused half-way to his mouth, and he stood there looking at me.  He was thinking over what I’d just said.  I wondered if he was pissed that I’d brought it up.

Turns out he was simply deciding what he should, or shouldn’t say.

“When I started here,” he told me now, “I didn’t have enough money to open the place myself.”

“So I took on a partner from out of town . . . he put up the cash, I provided the expertise, all the work.”

“I built this place up from nothing,” Norm continued, “And I did it by myself.  He never worked one day in here.”

“How do you think that makes me feel?”

“Well, maybe now it’s time for a change,” he said as he set two more bottles of beer down in front of us.  “I can make this business rise, or fall.”

“Let’s say I want to buy my partner out,” he said, looking right at me.  ‘Why would I want the joint to be booming?  I could buy him out for a song . . . if we were losing money.”

Less than a year later, Norm was the sole owner of that bar.  And everything about the place — the daily advertisements in the newspaper, the rest rooms, the booths and the rug, and especially the overflowing cash register — it was all back to the way it was before.

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Copy of Airport-securityJohnny D’s has its share of outstanding alumni — people who have worked at the club, and then moved on.  One of our doormen worked weekend nights while attending law school.   He graduated and is now a Massachusetts State Trooper.  (Look for him to be Attorney General of MA one day.)  A bartender named Fan-Su also became a lawyer.

Bartender Anthony Michetti recently started his first “professional” job after earning his Master’s Degree in Environmental Engineering.  Michelle Cofrod was an accountant with a prestigious Boston firm while working here as a part-time waitress.  During the last presidential election, she was called to Colorado to help a major fund-raising group straighten out their books.

These are only a few of the many staffers at Johnny D’s who have moved on to such things as owning and running their own restaurants, or to high-level research in microbiology, or to careers in show business.

But I’m thinking today of another employee who left Johnny D’s for something different — and this employee’s new job was a bit of a surprise, considering that he’d been fired for stealing.

That’s right, he was fired for stealing.

This employee (we’ll call him Ben) wasn’t much of a worker anyway — by any stretch of the imagination.  He rarely showed up on time.  He never did much once he got here.  He was lazy.  He might have been the worst prep cook/expeditor we’ve ever had.

And he couldn’t be trusted.

The last straw came when the chef asked Ben to open his knack sack as he was trying to sneak out the kitchen door unnoticed.  Inside the bag, Ben had stashed two large plastic freezer bags filled with uncooked steak tips.  They were beneath a pile of his wrinkled T-shirts and socks.

So I was surprised to hear a couple of months later that Ben had found a new job rather quickly.  (Here it comes . . . . )

Ben is now an employee at Boston’s Logan International Airport.  He’s working for the TSA . . . the Transportation Security Agency.

Yup, Ben is now one of those uniformed security agents who check your bags before you’re allowed to board a flight.

Ben will search through your belongings for weapons, bombs, or illegal contraband.  Ben is keeping our country safe from terrorists, drug smugglers, and common criminals . . . any one of whom might slip a weak security agent some cash so they can slide by undetected.  Would Ben ever take such a bribe?

You can bet the farm on it.

Did the TSA do any background check at all???

Maybe this is why a recent review of the TSA found that incidents of agent misconduct were up more than 25% over the previous three years.

I’ve flown out of Logan airport twice since Ben began working for the TSA.  I didn’t happen to see him either time, but maybe one of these days I will.  And it will be tough not to say something like:  “I have no knives, guns, explosives or steak tips in my bags, Sir.”

TSA! . . . TSA! . . . TSA!

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