Friday, March 28, 2008

Here Comes A Regular... Part 5

The first Beacon regular I met was James. He probably wouldn’t remember this. My friend Lindsay was in town and I took her to the Beacon on a Saturday night so we could have a few and play some darts. I don’t remember how James approached us. I think he might have been at the jukebox and wandered over to us by the darts. I just remember that we debated about Pulp Fiction (he played that “son of a preacher” song off the soundtrack), he loved the movie, Lindsay and I both hate it. Then he insinuated himself into our dart game. He was totally blasted, throwing darts at the board at an angle from his stool and he still beat Lindsay and me. We thought it was hilarious. James amused me a lot through my days at the Beacon, especially when he made me breakfast. But sometimes he would get so drunk that he couldn’t even talk and he was one of the regulars that Scott banned from running a tab.

Yeah, a select few people did run tabs. They’d come in and write bar a check monthly to pay it down, like you’d pay rent or a car loan.

I had another regular, Jeff, who would come in every day after work, sit in front of the Megatouch machine and drink the beer that was on special that day by the pitcher. He would literally blow through a couple pitchers by himself. He’d get red-faced and sometimes he would get plastered, but mostly he seemed fine and I just assumed that since it was watery domestic beer and he was a big guy… Eventually Dan saw me serving him a pitcher and told me that it was against the law to serve a pitcher to one person. “Oh, whoops. Scott didn’t tell me that.” There were a lot of legalities that I learned from Dan instead of Scott. Like if someone falls asleep at the bar or puts their head down, you’ve gotta kick them out.

A lot of my regulars came in and drank every day or almost every day. Some of them just had a couple beers. Some of them had several beers and shots over several hours. Some of them had a few stiff drinks in quick succession. Like Guillermo. He was a doctor from South America with a very pronounced limp. He’d come in and drink 3 or 4 vodka tonics in twenty minutes. I would just stand and talk to him the whole time because as soon as I put a drink in front of him, he’d swallow it down and be ready for another. He was a very sweet older guy. Then I didn’t see him for a week and Jme quickly found out why. Her family attended the same church as him and she saw his name in the bulletin; he’d passed away.

Sometimes people would disappear for a while and then come back, telling me, “I had to dry out. Don’t let me have more than a couple.” Or people would have health problems and switch to another beer. There was one very large guy with a lot of health problems that everyone called Moon. He’d come in and drink O’Douls. He was very self conscious about it and would bring a Cubs bottle cozy to put the beer in. Sue told me, “He used to be a huge drinker. Had to stop for his health, but he couldn’t leave the bar, that’s where all his friends are.”

So yeah, some of my regulars are alcoholics. There’s no doubt. But I’ve never judged them. It’s never really been a big deal as long as they behave when I cut them off. Pat had to help me get this guy Gary in a cab once. He was totally belligerent and I’m not sure what I would have done if Pat weren’t there. But Gary apologized very sweetly the next time, so we were cool. The only guy that really aggravated me was this dude Steve who was always drunk to the point that he was incomprehensible when he was trying to order and then he would get all pissed off when I wouldn’t serve him. Every time he’d come in, I’d inevitably turn him away or cut him off after one drink because he’d have his head down at the bar. One Saturday afternoon I came to work and he was standing on the corner outside the bar. “You open now?” he slurred as I approached to knock on the door for Maria to let me in.

“No.” I told him and he grumbled and swore, but continued to stand there. He’d obviously been drinking since the night before and hadn’t slept yet.

When Maria let me in, she told me, “He’s been standing there since 11.”

I said, “Well he’s in for a disappointment then because I’m not serving him.”

I opened to door and told him this. He called me some names, said it was bullshit and that he wasn’t coming back ever again. “Good,” I told him and returned inside telling Maria that I hoped he went to Circle Inn, the sleazier bar down the block that likely would still serve him and stayed there. I was sick of him ruining my Saturdays.

She offered to stay until we were sure he didn’t come back and for once I was grateful for her company.

Yeah that guy was a drunk. My regulars? Their habits paled in comparison. I worried from time to time and maybe if I were closer to them, it would bother me more. I’ve dealt with my fair share of alcoholism. While I was working at the Beacon, I broke up with my boyfriend of eight years because of his problem with alcohol. Just last year I stopped talking to one of my best friends because I could no longer deal with all of her drama, most of which stemmed from her getting drunk instead of, oh, I don’t know, going to therapy. When I was a younger I had two boyfriends who were drug addicts. I seem to attract that type. Maybe it’s because I sympathize and I try to help and I stand by people until they completely 100% burn me out. Maybe it’s because they sense that it is in my nature, too.

There is no doubt I have an addictive personality. When Lindsay and I were in college together we were drunk basically every day. My two years in Madison are lost in an alcoholic haze. I got my shit together when I started writing seriously and also watching my ex made drinking lose its appeal for a while.

However after he was out of my life and I was single, that’s when I started moving directly to the other side of the bar after shifts. And Sundays during football season, I was pretty tipsy when I worked. Some bars you can’t drink while you’re on the job, but having one or two at the Beacon was ok. When the Bears were playing, the guys that came in did a lot of shots and they wanted me to do them, too. I usually did because man, I hate football. I don’t understand it and I don’t want to. They tried to explain it to me on many occasions that winter and seriously, I guess deep down I am a total girly girl because they would be explain the downs and I started thinking about shoe shopping. So shots and the various forms of gambling that they did that didn’t involve knowing about football, just if the last digits of the score add up to your number, you win, that’s what got me through football season.

And I knew I was on a slippery slope. I knew I was about to cross the line between just having fun and having a problem. And I know a lot of bartenders who cross that line and bartenders and servers who also end up with coke problems because of the hours (fortunately I stayed away completely from that stuff, it wasn’t around in my bar). However I was drinking for the same reasons I did in high school and college: because I was bored. Once I met my current boyfriend, I wasn’t bored anymore and I went back to drinking in moderation.

But yeah, I can’t completely glamorize working in a bar and say that it’s all great people and fun times. There are serious issues lurking underneath. There’s a big elephant sitting in that bar with you and his name is addiction. But, for better or for worse, I channeled all of that into my writing too, after all those are my favorite kinds of characters, the ones that are running from their troubles.

Well, that’s it for today, and tomorrow I will end Beacon week with the things I miss and the things I don’t.

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