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"

La!

love,

Stella

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.

Love,

Stella

‘Nuff Said

July 18, 2010

My dearest Stephanie,

Mmm hmmm…

love,

Stella

Dearest Stephanie,

I am really super mad!

Again.

Still.

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.

Yet.

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:

“Haha”

“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!

Love,

Stella

My dearest Stephanie,

My morning routine begins with dropping off my little boy at school. Well, I guess technically, it begins with me getting out of bed, partaking in a series of complex grooming activities, getting my little boy’s clothes, breakfast, etc. But no one’s really interested in the minutiae, like whether I put in my contact lenses before or after I wash my face, right? (But if you are, I put them in after, obviously, since my hands are freshly washed. Duh.)

Anyway, after I drop him off, I head directly to Dunkin’ Donuts. I always order the same thing: a large coconut iced coffee and a chocolate frosted donut with sprinkles. I take out whatever book I’m reading for inspiration and read for approximately an hour before heading off to Starbucks (located about 1/2 a mile down the road). There, I order an iced venti green tea (unsweetened) and write for an indeterminate period of time (also known as: however long my muse sticks with me). But again, I’m getting off topic.

When my gorgeously fabulous little boy was a toddler, I’d take him to places like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts for a treat. It was super fun hanging out with him and watching his pudgy little fingers rip through a bagel or scone or whatever. He always made a huge mess, and I would carefully wipe up all the crumbs before leaving the establishment so that the next person who sat at the table we’d been sitting at would have a CLEAN spot to sit and enjoy some quiet time.

Because you know what? We’re not animals. I do not assume the good people employed at Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks are obligated to clean up after us. Yes, it’s their job to maintain the store, but if we make an inordinately large mess, why should they have to clean it up? I have hands, fingers, thumbs, access to napkins.I’m trying to teach the boy to treat himself and others and his environment (and The Environment) respectfully. What kind of lesson am I teaching him if upon making a huge mess, we saunter out leaving the minions to clean it up? I mean, what’s next? We expect them to follow us into the bathroom to wipe our asses?

When I said we’re not animals, I was thinking of my cat. She has a vomiting problem. What happens is that she scarfs down her food not realizing when she has reached capacity. She’ll take a few steps away from her bowl, throw up the meal (usually right into the grate through which the forced heat emanates), lick her lips, then casually stroll away with a look over her shoulder at me. It’s clear what I’m supposed to do. That’s cool. I get that she can’t clean up after herself, what with her not having thumbs and all, and I don’t mind doing it.

You know what I do mind? When I walk into Dunkin’ Donuts, and every table  looks like a muffin exploded on it. I don’t blame the employees, who are doing their best to keep the long lines moving quickly and can’t rush out to wipe down the tables every time some entitled jackass leaves a trail of crumbs (approximately every five minutes), Hansel and Gretel style. I blame the assholes who, like me, think it’s cute when their kids make a mess but who, unlike me, do not feel it necessary to clean up after themselves. I’m already annoyed with them because they drive enormous SUVs (I speak of the Tahoes, the Explorers, the Dennalis) that raise my gas prices and almost crash into me on a routine basis (because they can’t see my little station wagon, what with me being in a different stratosphere and all. Also, why does the government require special licenses for boats but not for cars large enough to sail across the ocean if only you could make them seaworthy? I ask you, why?!). Also? Those same assholes think it’s cute when their children run endless laps through the store while squealing at a glass-shattering pitch. Guess what, people? It’s not cute. It’s annoying. Think about it.

As a final note, when you’re in a public place, and you want to use the restroom, and it’s a one person restroom, here’s what you SHOULD NOT DO (forgive my shouting but really!): Do not employ a team of wild horses to attempt to pull open the bathroom door. First of all it’s jarring to the person inside, even if they have remembered to lock the door, and this could–let’s say just for the sake of argument–cause them to spray urine all over the bathroom in their fright, which again gives so much unnecessary work to employees charged with maintaining the restrooms. If the person inside the restroom has forgotten to lock the door, you may be treated to quite the unpleasant sight. I’ll skip the details.

Instead, why not try knocking? It’s simple, yet effective. If it’s too noisy to hear what’s going on, why not gently push the door handle down? If the bolt stays put, then you’ll know someone is inside. Again, simple, yet effective.

Forgive the rant, but really, I feel so strongly about these matters!

love,

Stella

Dear Stephanie,

My little boy went to Minnesota for the National Scholastic Chess Championships a few weeks ago. I don’t know why the tournament was held in Minnesota in particular. At any rate, I did not attend this tournament, so I was left home alone with the cat.

After I returned from the airport utterly spent from the rush hour traffic, I was reclining on my camel back cream toile sofa playing a relaxing computer game designed for 6 year olds. The cat, having tired herself out from a trip to the basement to visit “the facilities,” was resting on a pile of pillows in the vicinity of my feet like the little princess that she is. Though at her age, Dowager Empress might be a more appropriate moniker.

During a pause in the game, I was regarding the cat thoughtfully, trying to decide whether I should dress her up as Darth Vader or a Jedi Knight when, out of nowhere, I heard this incredibly loud noise—like really alarming, the kind of loud, grating noise that really settles into your consciousness and is totally cringe-inducing.

It was an enormous fly—the most enormous fly I have ever seen in my life. I kid you not. This creature had absolutely no business flying, seeing as it was approximately the size of Volkswagon beetle with wings (not to make you nostalgic or anything), a VW that had been divested of its muffler on purpose.

The cat and I stared at it in disbelief. She just sat there primly following it with her eyes, so I got up off my ass, rolled up a copy of Pottery Barn’s spring catalogue and attempted to swat it, but it somehow managed to elude me. The cat looked at me disdainfully, and I felt a little embarrassed. I mean, the fly was the size of a small European import car, and yet I failed to squash it with a 2-inch thick catalogue rolled up into a billy club.

“Why don’t you catch it then,” I demanded of the cat, attempting to deflect attention away from my ineptitude. She had by now shifted her position on the pillows by 180 degrees so as to avoid looking at me. She’s so discrete. At the sound of my voice, she looked over her shoulder at me, first yawned, then emitted a prolonged meow.

“Meow Mix? Really?” she meant to say. “Why don’t you fill my bowl with some stinky turkey giblets, bitch? Show me the giblets!”

“Because they are smelly!” I replied. “What are you complaining about anyway? The Meow Mix is good for your teeth.”

Then I tried to make amends by rubbing the side of her face just like she likes it, but she proceeded to immediately and vigorously clean the exact spot I touched. Then she moved on to her vagina.

I returned my attention to the import with wings. My attempt to murder it seemed to have aggravated it. It was whipping through the house at an alarming rate of speed getting louder and louder. It was really getting on my nerves. It would settle down for a few minutes then suddenly start up again.

At this time, I began to question the wisdom of murdering it. This is largely owing to its size. I imagined the squishy splat sound it would make and then all the guts oozing all over the place, and this both grossed me out and inspired in me fear of karmic retaliation. It can’t be good to kill something that big, right? It didn’t feel right. Besides, it couldn’t have a very long lifespan even at that size.

I tried to lure it into the kitchen so I could get it out the back door somehow, but it didn’t fall for my ploy, which further supported my theory that I shouldn’t attempt to kill it. The cat did not agree with me. Every time the winged VW passed her vicinity, she would look at me disapprovingly. Then again, she is more ruthless than I.

When I lived in the city, I once came home to find the cat sitting by the door. God knows how long she’d been waiting there. The moment I crossed the threshold, she began meowing persistently and lead me into the living room. Next to my favorite chair lay the empty carcass of a small grey mouse. My cute little fuzzy kitty cat—who had spent her lifetime indoors gazing out apartment windows, shamelessly begging for treats and sleeping curled up into a ball on my back—had placed the mouse’s innards in a tidy little pile next to its carcass. She looked up at me, and her eyes said, “I proffer this humble gift to you as thanks for all you do. You like?”

I was effusive with my praise. “Oh my, what a good little kitty cat you are!” I exclaimed as I scratched behind her ears and under her chin. She, meanwhile, rubbed herself against my leg repeatedly and meowed herself hoarse. “Thank you so much! This is so awesome! I totally couldn’t disembowel a mouse, let alone so neatly. Wow!”

I remember being particularly impressed that my cat could be that neat without thumbs. I have two thumbs and am nowhere near as organized as she is. I never saw another mouse in that apartment again.

Anyway, the cat clearly thought me a sissy for refusing to kill the fly, which buzzed about the house for the entire weekend. Just when I’d think maybe it had died off, it would come out of nowhere, do a few laps around my head, then disappear into the blinds. It drove me insane, and frankly, I felt a little resentful of my cat. Back in the day, she would leap up and catch moths, flies, whatever, in her mouth. Nothing survived for long in our apartments, except for us of course.

But then I remembered. She doesn’t have the stalking skills and abilities she once had. I forget because she looks so damn good for her age (like some other broads I know). She turned 17 this year. Her birthday was last week. What really matters here is that she’s still fabulous at snuggling.

Love,

Stella

Here we go…

April 22, 2010

Dear Stephanie,

So I got myself another bartending job. Let me begin by saying that if I were looking to tend bar at some cool little neighborhood hotspot, I would really need to live in close proximity to the kind of neighborhood that would actually have a cool hotspot.

My concern is that I don’t really think that I do. I live in an upscale suburban town surrounded by other upscale suburban towns whose differences are determined primarily by whoever is responsible for drawing the lines on maps. Very little distinguishes one town from the next.

Which is to say: I’m not bartending in my town anymore—I will have to take Interstate 95 to get there, and I’ll have to travel north during rush hour. But that might be one of the few significant differences. Other differences include: the restaurant serves American cuisine not Asian, and I’m working lunch through happy hour not dinner to close. Like my previous establishments, though, it’s a family-owned restaurant, and it doesn’t seem that they are terribly organized.

I did a couple of interviews at corporate outfits, and I don’t think it’s my thing. First of all, if the uniform requires specialty clothing not available at, say, Old Navy (i.e. all black or jeans and a black shirt), I’m out. My sense of personal autonomy is simply too fragile at this time to endure my body’s being attired in, for example, an American flag tie. Further, when management starts talking about putting exactly 3 rings of an onion, two cherry tomatoes, and three cumber slices at exactly 9, 3, and 6 o’clock respectively, my eyes glaze over, and I begin to fret that these people should do something meaningful with their lives—read a book, take a trip, volunteer somewhere rather than hover by the kitchen exit, pen poised over notepad to write me up for giving away an extra cherry tomato that costs .005 cents. Not to be judgmental or anything. I’m just concerned about the state of their emotional health.

The day before yesterday, I sent my resume to a restaurant that advertised on craigslist. The day before the day before yesterday, I wrote this resume and ran it past my friend Joe, who is a highly experienced and successful bartender.

“Stick to the basics,” he said when he read the line “So calm under pressure, the Buddah weeps with envy.”

I was disappointed, feeling that it reflected a lack of humor in the larger world. Plus I really liked how that sentences sounded, and I came up with it while walking on the treadmill.

“Why does everyone take themselves so seriously?” I asked him. “Doesn’t anyone appreciate a sense of fun in a prospective bartender?!”

“Don’t get me wrong. It’s a great line,” he said. “Really funny. (pause) Stick to the basics.”

So I did, and I got a call, and now I have concerns.

When the phone rang, I recognized the exchange as being from the town to which I’d sent the resume.

“I’m calling about the bartending job?” The Man on the other end asked. He sounded heavily sedated as he explained that he and his wife own the restaurant. He is the chef, and his wife manages the floor.

He asked me if I’d also be willing to be a server, and I said no, and he said, “oh well, that should work out.” Then he invited me to come in this morning, which I did.

The Wife, who looks to be a natural redhead, was outside cleaning the patio tables (white plastic) when I arrived, and she brought me to the bar. The décor is not what I would call beautiful—medium tone wood with some sort of formica inlay. Ahem. What I mean to communicate is that the décor does not cry out, “Fine dining!” A quick perusal of the menu, however, revealed that the prices do.

As we began conversing, I became confused about who was interviewing whom.

“Have you ever bartended before?” The Wife asked me. Just then The Man came out of the kitchen in his chef attire and stood quietly against the wall.

“Yes,” I said wondering if she had looked at my resume or what. I told her where I’d worked and for how long.

She didn’t ask about my food, wine, or beer knowledge, which was a good thing because God knows they didn’t train me very well at the last place. God forbid I should be asked the difference between a Pilsner and a Lager or which is drier—Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio. My cocktails have consistently received exemplary reviews from customers, though they didn’t ask about that either.

I asked her what kind of clientele they have, and she said, “mostly men.” Of course this was a red alert for me, as was her response to what kind of attire they require of bartenders.

“Casual. Jeans are fine with a buttoned down shirt,” she said before adding, “Nothing low cut. With the clientele, you won’t want to anyway.” Then she turned to the server, who was setting up the dining room while this conversation was taking place, for confirmation and the server rolled her eyes and nodded in agreement.

What the hell does that mean?

The Woman seemed primarily to be attempting to convince me that it would be a good gig, saying that I just had to take care of the bar area, the menu isn’t a big deal to memorize (and most of the regulars have their usual dishes or one of the specials anyway)—“When can you start?” the Man interrupted, but she ignored him, so I followed suit—the computer system is easy to use. She doubted I’d need more than a day of training and could just jump right in on Monday.

After she finished her spiel, she and her husband looked at me expectantly, even hopefully in a waiting-on-pins-and-needles kind of way. I was taken aback. It always concerns me if someone is too eager with me—to befriend me, to hire me, whatev.

“Well,” I said hesitantly. “I’d like to give it a try.” I said that because it seemed to be what they wanted to hear, which can’t be a good start for me since…pleaser alert!

So anyway, I go in for training tomorrow. I guess you could describe my mood as “Cautiously Pessimistic.”

Love,

Stella