Stand Tall

July 20, 2010

Dearest Stephanie,

Now that’s a tall drink of water:

And so very pretty!

This is also a tall drink of water (less pretty though):

Here is pretty and tall:

Caro, 6'9"





Already over it

July 19, 2010

My dearest Stephanie,

You’ve perhaps noticed that though I’ve been bartending again for the past few months, I’ve yet to write about my experiences. It might be that I’m shell-shocked. It might be that during my first few weeks there, the regulars told me (many times more than once), “It’s like Cheers here. Someone should write a book about us!” Guffaw, guffaw.

So maybe I don’t want to satisfy them by committing them to paper even though I would have liked to reply, “Oh don’t worry. ‘Someone’ will. But you probably won’t like it.”

I’m sitting here at this pretty little café wanting to write about my experience.

I even woke up super early this morning with that precise intention. In two hours, I’ll be in the middle of stocking the bar—extra bottles of Absolut and Absolut Citron because I can easily go through two of those in the space of one “happy” (quotes to indicate irony) hour.

I am so not in the mood—not in the mood to go spend today in a bar (I hate working lunch-happy hour instead of happy hour-close by the way). Even though it looks like rain today.

So at least I won’t have to stand on tiptoe to look out the dining room window at the beautiful day I’m missing. I won’t have to think about how I could be sitting at some nice outdoor space somewhere writing, or I could be sitting by the pool working on my tan while reading something that nourishes my soul.

Actually, I think I understand what the problem is, the impediment to writing about these people and this job. It’s that the regulars’ behavior is so offensive that I can’t even find the humor in it, and when I can’t find the humor in something, that’s disturbing.

Sometimes when I drive to work, I listen to Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff” (“You know I pack a chain saw; I’ll skim your ass raw) and entertain violent fantasies like where I put a bunch of the regulars on a deserted island…and then blow up that island. Um, that’s pretty fucking sick.

I can occasionally find a grim kind of humor in my response to these people in an “I’m pleased with myself” kind of way.” E.g.: When I first started, the idiot regulars referred to me as being “on probation.” By the way, this just fills me with righteous indignation because everyone in the whole wide fucking world is on fucking probation with me, okay? These people are not so special and serving them not such a treat that anyone need feel as if any sort of acceptance from them is desirable. In fact, they are so grotesque that to be accepted by them would actually be the exact opposite of desirable, which is to say undesirable.

Where was I again? Oh, right. So last week, this freak says to me, “So Stella, is the ‘probationary period’ over with?” (chuckle chuckle).

“Oh, haha. Good one,” I replied with an aggressively fake smile plastered on my lips. Then I turned my back to him to adjust the bottles pointlessly. When I turned back a moment later, he said, “I just meant are we still on probation with you.”

“Mmm,” I grunted.

This is the same man who challenged me to some idiotic bar trick that he knew was impossible and told me to “bet your honor.”

“Um, I never bet my honor, but I’ll try your little game,” I said condescendingly.

After I tried and failed and he explained the futility of accomplishing the thing he’d asked me to do, I asked him, “So you told me to bet my honor knowing that I would fail to accomplish this thing?”

He thought this was hilarious. I thought he was a sociopath. Then he tried to convince me to enter into betting situations with other customers whereby we would both profit, and I walked away (as far as I could in such a tiny space). At which time he threatened to “break your knee caps” if I revealed the “secret” behind the game.

I’m embarrassed for these people, embarrassed that they are clichés of what their town is know for, and they either don’t know or don’t care. I’m embarrassed that I continue to work there even though I communicate in overt, explicit ways that their sexist, racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic discourse is unacceptable to me and must immediately cease because as soon as I leave, they go on about their business. So I’ve accomplished exactly nothing other than that I and my convictions and my faith in myself as a good person are all getting exponentially stronger.

Well, actually that’s kind of significant.

But, shit. I gotta get outta there.



‘Nuff Said

July 18, 2010

My dearest Stephanie,

Mmm hmmm…



Wildlife 101

June 7, 2010

Dear Stella,

You don’t know what it’s like to be stared at until you are stared at by one of these:

And one of these:

And one of these:

The first is a great horned owl, the second a barred owl, and the third, the amazingly seemingly pre-historic raptor.

I was stared at by each of these birds Saturday, at my Orientation at the Pennsylvania Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. In a lock-down stare with an owl or a raptor, even though it is in the cage and I am not, somehow it seems to win. That is one intense stare, man, made even more intense by the fact that the stare is incomprehensible. There is no projecting when it comes to a raptor; I can’t say, Oh look, he likes me, or He wants my attention, like we are apt to do with our dogs and cats, myself included. It just doesn’t fit. There is nothing about the stare of one of these wild creatures that lends itself to familiar meanings.

And that’s a good thing. When the animal becomes predictable, when it depends too much on humans for food or company, we have essentially taken away its ability to survive. If it’s released back into the wild, it won’t have a clue what to do. I heard stories, like the hawk that broke into the food supply because it didn’t know how to hunt, then broke its neck on the way out. And the crow I had the strange pleasure of meeting who had a penchant for “s” words—“swell” and “shit”—did you know that crows are super smart? We just never hear them speaking our language because they aren’t around us, aren’t supposed to be around us, so we don’t know what they can or cannot say, or do. We are used to domesticated parrots talking, but take my word for it, a speaking crow is a strange sight to behold, like a speaking alligator or lion.

I feel giddy with excitement and nervousness about my newest adventure. I’ve been here before, haven’t I? At the edge of a new knowledge, unsure if I can pull it off. But this time, instead of making mojitos and margaritas and negotiating the needs of a drunken crowd, I’ll be learning how to rehabilitate wild animals like the owls and the crow and the raptor. Which means I’ll be feeding them and treating them and sometimes, if necessary, ending their lives if their suffering is too great and they can’t be treated.

Will I have the stomach for working so closely with wounded animals? For seeing them hurt and hearing their cries?

Will I be able to have a steady hand in order to give an injection of medicine or clean an animal’s wound?

The orientation leader said, “You’ll see some things and it will be hard and you’ll wonder why it has to be so.”

Apparently, 90% of the injuries the wildlife sustains are from humans. Either they get hit by cars or they fly into cars or they are accidentally shot or they are tortured. One tiny creature was saved from a band of boys stoning it to death. Who are these people? Why does it have to be so? I am often overwhelmed by such knowledge—that there are people who stone baby animals, that as I write this oil is killing more animals than I can even imagine—and rendered paralyzed. I don’t want to be paralyzed. I want to do one small thing, at least.

As it was with bartending, I don’t have any idea what I can do and what I can take and where this might lead. But this is, for me, an era of trying and of doing. And of overcoming despair in favor of hope.


To Do List

June 5, 2010

Dear Stella,

I’ve got too many projects on my plate. My brain is crowded. My projects are stuck in a traffic jam. And other “too much, too little space” metaphors.

Here’s just a sampling of what’s on my to-do list:

1. Send first book out to agents

2. Finish preparing second book to send out

3. Finish unfinished around-the-house projects (ie. paint ceiling, put down the quarter-round in guest room, set up home office, build rear deck, etc.)

4. Tend to my relationship

5. Defy aging process

6. Mentally prepare for 2012

See? I’ve got lots to do! Better get on it!



May 22, 2010

Dear Stella,

I’ve got some funny habits. For example, before work, when I’m running around the house frantically gathering my shit (and it’s always a frantic endeavor no matter how many hours I’ve had to get ready), I say to myself, “Get it together, Hopkins, get it together.” And it helps! The shit comes together, I get out of the house, and maybe I’m just a bit less nervous.

My horoscope for the coming months tells me that though I will feel like I am in a prison, my “deprivation” could be the best thing for me if I use it to be productive.

How did my horoscope know that this is the first summer in a long time that I won’t be living in NYC? I’m already feeling it. I picture Manhattan, Brooklyn, and a little bit of Queens (sorry, Bronx and Staten Island, I don’t know you that well) bursting at the seams in their summery jubilation. Never mind that last summer, NYC kicked my butt—I’m a loyal friend, or a masochist.

It’s so quiet outside my window tonight. And this three story house, with its empty third floor, is beyond my spatial comprehension, much like a million dollars is beyond my mathematical comprehension—I don’t know what to do with the thought of it.

So, horoscope, I’ll take your word for it, because you I understand. Get it together, Hopkins, and do this thing. Turn this deprivation into a word-making, book-producing, check-list accomplishing miracle machine!


Dearest Stephanie,

I am really super mad!



This thing happened a while ago, and even though I realize I should let it go, that it’s not a reflection on me (except for maybe it is a little bit), I’m still very angry! See?


And I would like to vent. (Again. Tee hee.)

As I’ve mentioned to you, Asian-Fusion Two was sold, and a new restaurant opened in its place. So Boo and I went to check it out.  Wouldn’t you know it? All the douchebags who so vexed me when I bartended in that same little bar had reconvened.

They recognized and greeted me when I walked in, and you’d think my chilly “oh, hey” would have put them off. You’d think the way I stood as far away from them as possible would communicate to them, I’m not in any way thrilled to see you. Nor do I wish to engage in conversation with you. Apparently, it doesn’t pay to be passive-aggressive.

Because a short while later, I went to the bar to order some food, but because it was so busy, I had to stand there behind thedouchbags while I waited for the bartender (which I totally understand and am sympathetic to, by the way).

Douchebag #1 (turns to Douchbag #2): That woman behind you, she really wants you.

Me (in a loud, authoritative voice that simultaneously expresses shock, offendedness, and disgust): No, I really, emphatically do not.

Douchebag #2: Don’t say that!

Me: I have to say it. I don’t want there to be any confusion.

Douchebag #1 says something, which I can’t remember, and I tell him, “That’s really just so disrespectful.”

The weird thing is that I was kind of consumed with rage. Ha! My disproportionate reaction was almost funny, except that I was really, really mad! How many times do I have to say it, fucktards?

I am not your midlife crisis plaything!

I’m all, Really? You really think you can have this? Because you totally can’t!!! Even though my rational side tells me it has nothing to do with whether or not they actually believe I’m there for the taking. I think what really grosses me out is that they think I am in some way receptive to being co-opted in this kind of banter. Hello out there! I may not be!

I loved when you figured out why corporations love you—it’s your eagerness to please, you theorized. I loved this because it totally provided me insight into my own experience.

Middle-aged men, I think I’ve figured out, love me for the same reason corporations love you. They labor under the delusion that I’m eager to please. Well, for a long time, it wasn’t totally a delusion. I used to be that way, but then I started thinking about it, and I was like, what the fuck?

Clearly, there’s something in my appearance that cries out, “I am pliable and agreeable! I will attempt to meet your every need! I am so sweet, you will need to visit the dentist after spending some time speaking at me! And while we’re on the subject, please tell me your problems! I really, really want to hear them!”

At Starbucks, I’m the first person the middle-aged man looking for a seat will approach. Never mind that empty seats abound. He will inevitably come to my table, where I have engaged a spare chair to prop up my feet, and he will ask me, “Are you using this chair?”

Well, let’s see. My feet are on it, so I think it’s fairly obvious that, yes, I am using it.

But of course I will surrender the chair. I do not point out that there are lots of other empty chairs because I’m not enough of an asshole.


The most I can do is look annoyed and surly at being disturbed (even though I’ve already said it doesn’t pay to be passive-aggressive!), which takes the man by surprise pretty much every time so that he wordlessly removes the chair.

As a bartender, I obsess over the way people seem to single me out to take shit. I mean, it drives me crazy! The class of men who sit at the bar and look at me like the leopards at the zoo look at visitors on the other side of the chain-link fence? Aggravating!

“You look so vulnerable and consumable,” the leopards are thinking, and you know they’re thinking this. It’s all telegraphed in their intense stares, in the way they huddle together as if they’re plotting some sort of break out. “You’d just love to be our next meal. You know you do.”

Even when they’re gorging on the raw meat their trainers throw at them (or, in bar terms, sitting at the bar with their wives or girlfriends), they look over at you, blood dripping down their hairy chins. “We would like to devour you. Yum. Yum. You would be so much tastier than this, but alas, the chain-link fence…”

Sometimes, it’s hard for me to come up with the perfectly witty yet slightly cutting response because I’m so distracted by being skeeved out. For emergencies of this kind, I’ve collected a handful of essential, all-purpose phrases, which I will now share with you:


“I don’t know about that”

“Oh, now” or “Oh, you”

“Oh really?”

“Huh” (not to be confused with “Huh?”)

You’re wondering how I put it all together, aren’t you? You’re thinking, Stella, I don’t see how these will all work together. Will you show me?

Of course, love!

Scene: Your bar right around closing time.

Customer: I’m going to Other Bar.

You (having turned your back to do important things with your computer): Oh, really?

Customer (while looking directly at you): Who wants to go to Other Bar?

You (glancing at him over your shoulder): Haha

Customer: What time do you get off?

You (still attending to your oh-so-important computer): Oh, now.

Customer: Come to Other Bar with me.

You (punching away on your beloved computer): I don’t know about that!

Customer: You wanna come to Other Bar with me?

You (leaving the bar area to do important things somewhere else in the restaurant): Haha. No. Thanks though!

Customer slinks off.

I feel like I really accomplished something here. I feel like I’ve been really potentially useful to you, and that feels really satisfying, you know? Being helpful makes me smile! See?


I feel so much better now!