Monday, October 6, 2008

Bar Fight

Warning: this blog is kinda all over the place and I doubt it makes a coherent point because it's still so fresh, but I still had to share...

The night before last I had a dream that my brother got mugged at gun point. It freaked the hell out of me and when I woke up I wanted to talk about it, but I was in Michigan with my mom and I figured if I told her about it, it would just freak her out. No reason to get her worried over nothing. I went to the hotel gym and worked out and felt better. Strange tension tends to linger with me when I have dreams like that. Not that I think that exact thing is going to come true or anything, but it feels like a bad omen or something. But as the day went on, the tension dissipated. I indulged in my once yearly Starbucks latte (I avoid caffiene because of my insomnia, but when Pumpkin Spice coffee comes out, I have to have it once). Mom and I drove back to Chicago. We stopped at a farm and bought apples and pumpkins. I got home just in time for the White Sox game. The Sox won. The game ended literally the minute I had to go to work. I was hopeful that this Sunday night wouldn't be dead because people would be in the bar watching the game and people would stop by the bar after the game. In other words, I thought it would be a good night. I'd completely forgotten about potential bad omens.

It was dead but not bad at first. Three of my favorite regular customers were in there. We just talked music and baseball. A few people filtered in who'd been at the game. We talked more baseball and watched the Red Sox/Angels game. Scott's sister Kelly texted me saying she and some friends might come in. I told her, yes, please!!! I knew my regulars would be leaving soon and I would be bored and potentially have to deal with being alone with the weirdo customers like Creepy Al and Napkin Note Guy. About thirty minutes later I was wishing for those weirdos because while they may be a little off, I know they are harmless. Suddenly I was faced with unknown crazies and I had no idea what the hell they might do.

Crazy #1 came in as my second to last regular, Dave, was leaving. At first I thought Crazy #1 was just a slightly inebriated White Sox fan. He had a green Sox hat on and he was clearly excited about the game but then immediately apologized for being excited. I assumed he thought it was a Cubs bar (despite the decor making it quite clear that it's not), so I assured him that we were all Sox fans here. Then he started talking. For almost ten minutes. Without shutting up. Even when he asked me questions. And he also had this really irritating laugh. At first it reminded me of Woody Woodpecker. But the more he creeped me out, the more it reminded me of Heath Ledger's Joker laugh. I couldn't help but think, this man brings bad things. Bad things.

He babbled about his grandfather who'd been an orphan selling peanuts at Comiskey Park. He told me he'd grown up in La Grange, that he was 46, a liberal, blah blah blah. He asked me where I was from and what I did. I told him. A few minutes later he asked me again. He told me to talk so he could stop talking. I didn't know what to say and didn't really want to engage in a lengthy conversation and besides it was clear he was not listening, so I was unusually quiet and he kept talking anyway. At first I just stood back and observed. I theorized that he was manic depressive, off his meds, in a manic phase. Or he was on coke. Or both. I'm writing a character like this. I've been stuck and a horoscope which I'd just read told me not to give up on a project that I'd get new insight. Here was my new insight.

I got sick of observing quickly. I walked away when I realized that he'd keep talking without even noticing I wasn't listening. I got Pat his last beer, started talking baseball with him. Crazy #1 latched on to the conversation. Then he got into an argument with Pat who was definitely intoxicated himself at this point and when he is, he gets loud and argumentative, but never scary so I just let it go. They argued about how much of a difference having Ozzie Guillen as a manager made for the Sox. It got loud, I got irritated, but I knew Pat would leave soon and then I would tell Crazy that the bar was closing and send him on his way, only to reopen of course when Scott's sister got there.

I went into the kitchen to text Kelly to show up. I hear the front door open and rush to the end of the bar to meet my new sane customer. Turns out he is a co-worker of Kelly's, a bartender. He knows and understands my pain. So we start talking. Pat leaves. I decided to go with my "ignore them until they go away" approach that I usually use on Napkin Note Guy and Creepy Al wherein I simply talk to the normal sane customer, ignore the empty beer in front of the wacko customer until they leave out of frustration. I know this is a passive aggressive approach, but I am a girl who works at a bar alone. No bouncer. No owner. No other bartender. Just me. I don't want to get into shit with a drunk, particularly one I suspect has some other mental health issues. I have thrown unruly drunks out before, but there have always been more people in the bar when I did it. People like Pat who I know will have my back. He and another regular physically took someone out to a cab for me once. Or in another case, the other guy was a known quantity. He'd come in too drunk to be served regularly. I knew other bartenders had no qualms throwing him out and I knew he wouldn't be too resistant. When it's an unknown quantity like Crazy #1, I don't want confrontation.

It seemed like my plan might work, but then more customers came in: Paul, a guy I went to high school with, who I consider a friend. Kelly and two of her friends. But close on their heels is the person we will dub Crazy #2. He sits down next to Paul. Seeing that Paul is not pleased by being engaged with him, I invite Paul down to the other end of the bar to meet Kelly. Paul tells me I need to keep an eye on Crazy #2 because he seems to be messed up, probably on something, possibly grieving, and he's got a lot of expensive jewelry and shit on. Possibly he's a dealer or affiliated with other unsavory shit that I don't want in my bar. And I can't help but think of my dream with the gun... I'm highly uncomfortable. Paul and I agree that there is too much crazy in the bar. Things are unbalanced.

But Crazy #2 is being ignored so he seems inclined to go away, unfortunately before I realized he was a bit off, I opened a tab for him, so I have to stop him when he is about to leave and make him pay it. While I am running his card, he starts talking to Kelly and her friends and to Crazy #1. He's touching Kelly more than I feel is appropriate. Then he won't leave. Crazy #1 gets him outside. It looks like there might be an altercation between the two of them. We lock the door behind them, which would have solved all of my problems, but there is an issue : Kelly's friends are outside. Eventually when the Crazies get away from the door, I tell Kelly to get her friends and they can all go smoke in the beer garden. Katie, another bartender comes in at this point. Paul and I explain the situation to her. Crazy #2 leaves so thinkgs seem resolved. Paul goes out to the beer garden to smoke. Moments later he comes back to alert me that Crazy #2 is back.

"Shit what do I do? Lock the door again?" I ask.

Paul has bartended before, he's been in unfortunate situations. He says, "Somebody's gotta stand up to him and tell him to leave."

I know this somebody is me. So I go to the door before Crazy #2 enters. I cross my arms over my chest and summon all my inner strength, pretending I'm bigger than I am. "You can't come back in here. I've cut you off. You need to leave." I tell him firmly.

"I will, but you just need to understand my pain," he whines.

"I understand, but now I need you to get off of my doorstep and leave."

"No you don't understand..."

There is a back and forth, but he is backing down. All would have been fine except Crazy #1 has to try to intervene. "Let me talk to him."

I whirl around, furious that he is interfering when I have almost diffused the situation. "NO!" I roar. "You are not talking to him. He is leaving. I've cut him off and he has to go! If you don't like it, leave with him. If you want to talk to him, leave with him!"

Crazy #1 objects. Crazy #2 tries to push his way into the bar. I stand in his way. I continue to yell until Crazy #2 ambles off. Crazy #1 wanders back over to his beer muttering to himself about how I am completely unfair and off base. I tell him, "Listen, I work here and I am in charge and I handled things the way I needed to handle them. You can either sit down and be quiet and finish your beer or you can leave too."

He chooses option 1. I will realize in about 15 minutes I should not have given him an option. On TV or in the movies when there is a hostage situation or big heist, the cops will always say something like, "We don't negotiate with terrorists." Well, bartenders of the world, our stock line needs to be, "We don't negotiate with crazies."

I thought Crazy #1 had calmed down. I went back to talking to my normal sane customers. Paul gave me pointers about how to keep my emotions in check in such a situation (he suggested tightly crossing my arms over my body the whole time). I made small talk with Katie. Then I noticed there was trouble brewing at the end of the bar. Crazy #1 was arguing with Kelly.

I didn't know how it started but I found out later that Crazy #1 had continued mumbling, talking shit about how our generation didn't understand the sacrifices made by the rest of humanity and we were worthless and living off our parents. Kelly's friend Aaron was getting pissed by this and made a remark about how he was about to punch the guy. Kelly, knowing I didn't want to deal with more shit, decided to stand between the two of them to diffuse the situation. It didn't work.

When I approached, I head Kelly say something along the lines of "Knock if off or I'm gonna hit you." And then Crazy #1 said, "I don't care if you're a girl, I'll hit you."

Yeah. Not okay. On so many levels.

1. We've all heard the Pink song U + Ur Hand. Perhaps if you are a girl you have also lived that song. I know I have and that is exactly why as a women, I make a point to assure that women aren't fucked with in my bar. If I see a drunk guy hitting on a girl or being generally obnoxious, I check with the woman and see if they want me to send the guy on his merry way. I've only had to kick out one guy because of this at the Beacon since it is not the type of place where that kind of crap happens, but still. That is my general policy. Intimidate or harass a woman in any way and you are gone.

2. Kelly is not just any woman. Kelly is my friend. Nobody fucks with my friends in my bar.

3. Kelly is not just my friend. She is my boyfriend's sister. My boyfriend and I have been dating for almost three years. My boyfriend is "the one," which basically means his sister is my sister. And I've always wanted a sister and think Kelly makes a great sister, so you really really don't fuck with my sister in my bar.

So I run around to the other side of the bar and get in between Kelly and Crazy #1. Kelly doesn't want me there. She wants to fend for herself which I get, but I think she also got that it is my bar, I'm in charge, I have to handle it. I tell Crazy that he needs to go. He, of course, claims that it is not his fault, she started it. Then he goes into his crazy rant about my generation being worthless and the downfall of all humanity. He punctuates the rant with his crazy Heath Ledger Joker laugh. I am not dealing with this shit. "You are insulting me and my customers. You leave now or I call the cops," I shout over him.

He continues with his crazy babble and tries to assert that I shouldn't be making the rules. With my arms crossed over my chest per Paul, I back Crazy toward the door, repeating over and over, "This is my bar. I am in charge here. You leave or I call the cops."

Eventually after much verbal abuse and creepy laughter I get the guy out the door and lock it. I feel accomplished for about ten seconds. Then I see that Kelly's co-worker and her one guy friend are holding back her other guy friend. We will call him Backwards Baseball Hat Guy. That is what Paul would call him later when we were recounting the situation and it fits. I don't have many stereotypes in life, but I do have one for white guys who wear backwards baseball hats. They are the frat boy types. They remind me of beer pong and date rape and Limp Bizkit and the resurgence of stupid cock rock. They are dudes who get into fights in bars for no reason other than they love fighting. They love fighting and they love recounting their sexual conquests. And this guy was totally one of those guys. Later after things calmed down, he sat there talking about his bar fights and telling how he didn't just have one night stands, he didn't even close out his tab at the bar, he'd just take the girl home, fuck her, and then come back and finish drinking. I walked away when he was about to account his "best blowjob" story. Yeah. No. This not the type of person we usually have at the Beacon and I am damn proud of that. I intentionally avoid drinking at and would never ever work at the kind of bar that does cater to that type. Their mindless sexism irritates me as a woman and I'm irritated by them as a bartender because they are amateurs. They think they can can hold their liquor and they can't. They don't know how to tip and worst of all, they bring drama. Which is exactly what Backwards Baseball Hat Guy did.

He wanted to go out and kick Crazy's ass. Never mind that I said, "No, he's gone and that's all that matters." Never mind that Kelly said, "No, chill out. This is my sister's bar." (And I admittedly had a moment where I flashed out of the drama and got all giddy and was like cool, she thinks of me as a sister, too!) Never mind that his two more sober and a-million-times-cooler-in-my-book buddies were like, "No." Nope, he runs out the back door and there is a fight in the street in front of the bar.

We all rush outside. Kelly is screaming at me to get her phone and call a certain guy who is a local cop. Katie is screaming at me that she is going to call the cops. I run in, get Kelly's phone, tell Katie to hold on a second and call Kelly's friend. Voicemail. I tell Katie to go ahead and call the cops. I go outside to try to get Kelly inside because I don't want her to get hurt or get in trouble.

I don't recall exactly how the situation got diffused. When I ran back outside, two of Kelly's friends were restraining Crazy #1. Kelly was standing in front of him with her heels off. I had a flashback to my last almost bar fight. I was in LA. Some dudes were talking shit to a friend of mine. I was drunk and I took off my shoes threatening to beat their asses with them. It was ridiculous. The dudes ended up leaving. The guy I was defending that night ended up being a total asshole who, a year later would let some chick he was dating seriously beat up one of my best friends. Just another reminder that your drinking buddies are not always real friends.

But anyway. I think I told them that we were calling the cops. I think I yelled at Kelly to get inside. Her friends let the guy go. They all followed me inside. I grabbed the phone from Katie and told the cops that the situation had been resolved. The lady on the phone was really nice and said to call back if there were any further problems.

I didn't kick Backward Baseball Hat Guy out. Normally I would have, but since he was with Kelly... But I did call her today and told her not to bring that guy back. The other two guys are totally welcome because they were cool and worked really hard to actually calm the situation, but not him. Yeah, I would understand it if he wanted to kick Crazy's ass because he was drunkenly defending Kelly. I wanted to kick Crazy's ass for that and I was stone sober. But BBHG really just wanted a fight. This was proven by his numerous explanations to me that he was going to take the guy across the street so it wouldn't affect me. Um, yeah, maybe that works at the Madison Street bars he normally frequents where the police can't tell which bar the brawl spilled out off, but there aren't a bunch of other bars near the Beacon. It affects me because my bar is not that kind of bar. Also, why fight when you don't actually have to. Not that I bothered asking him that because he would have no idea what I meant.

I spent the rest of the night keyed up and shaking and replaying scenarios in my head. Considering the places where I fucked up. I should have thrown Crazy #1 out sooner. I just suck at being the bad guy. I don't like being an authority figure and no one takes me seriously as an authority figure because I'm female. These are two issues I'm going to have to struggle to get past. If my gut tells me not to give someone the benefit of the doubt, I have to trust my gut and just not serve them or ask them to leave as soon as I realize they could cause a problem. And I shouldn't hesitate to call the police. I hesitate because of my inner teenage punk girl who views the cops as more likely to harm than to protect. I think that somehow I will get into trouble, the bar will get into trouble, etc. Also I just suck at asking for help period. I want to handle situations on my own. I want to be strong. And you know what, I did handle those situations on my own and I did a good job. Both situations would have been much more minor if some stupid guy hadn't decided he needed to interfere. Like when Crazy #1 interfered with Crazy #2 or when Backwards Baseball Hat Guy decided he needed vigilante justice. Honestly I think that is what upset me the most about the night. I wasn't so much freaked that maybe someone could have had a weapon and things could have gotten uglier (even though that was constantly on my mind because of my dream and also because well, when I was getting crazy drunk and hanging out with crazy drunks in my late teens/early twenties we all were carrying knives or switchblades or something), more than anything I was pissed because people kept jumping in and making shit worse instead of letting me handle the situation.

Yeah, okay, so I say that and I act strong, but part of me still feels fucking weak. Crazy #1 showed up at the bar again about forty-five minutes before close. I told him to get the fuck out or I'd call the cops. He gave his little Joker laugh and said, "No you won't." I chased him out of the bar with him laughing and giving me the finger the whole way. I felt humiliated. Part of me wanted to grab him, knock his ass down and hold him there and tell someone else to call 911 just to get him arrested. But I know it wouldn't have done any good. Creepy Al was in there by that point and he kept telling me repeatedly, "Don't take it personally," explaining that Crazy had been kicked out of Circle Inn earlier as well. And I wasn't taking it personally that he was crazy. I wasn't thinking he'd singled me out. But I still hate feeling weak and humiliated. I really do.

Anyway, so that was my Sunday night. It was stressful to say the least. I know other bartenders have dealt with worse, but this was the worst shit I've been through thus far. But now I feel like I've been through some sort of rite of passage. It will make me a better bartender and as my friend Polly put it, it's all material. I'll take that situation, dial it up to 11 and make it part of the climax for my next novel.....

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