You remember I told you that I’d started working in a bar right? Well I did. My first shift was on Thursday past. It was dead but I think that they wanted me to come in on a quiet night at first. Show me the ropes and how they do things there. I told them that I’d worked in a bar before, but I hadn’t. They told me that they were going to train me to fix cocktails or something. I only knew how to make Vodka Lemonade. But that ain’t really a cocktail. I figured it couldn’t be that hard. They’d probably show me the works.
Anyway, I went in and they got me all hooked up with a uniform. A black shirt with ‘Phillies’ written on it. Showed me how to work the cash register. Showed me the stock room. Got me my papers all signed up. And put me behind the bar. Rex, he’s the bar manager, gave me a list of the cocktails, the ‘cheat sheet’ he called it. Think of them as your trainin’ wheels, he said to me. I smiled. He told me to start workin’ my way through all the drinks on the list. He showed me all the bottles, the measures and the glasses that each cocktail goes in. I was a bit taken aback by it all to tell the truth. I’m a Budweiser man, you know, so a Peach Crush and Sex on the Beach and all that other fancy shit just seemed a bit weird to me. I never understood why you’d want your booze to taste like fruit.
So I start making my way through the list of cocktails. One by one. Every now and again Rex would come and check on me, take a little sip and tell me it wasn’t right. I don’t know why. He’d always tell me that I needed more fruit juice or coke or somethin’. I just made them all liquor heavy cause that’s how I’d drink em. If I drank em anyway, that’s how I’d drink em. So there’s me, stood there behind this empty bar, staring at the cheat sheet and fixin’ enough booze to kill an injin.
The door opens on up suddenly. I didn’t hear it over the music, but I felt the cold air come on in and whip up behind the bar. The little umbrella in the Pina Colada started to spin round.
“Hello” I says, sorta nervous like. Him being my first customer and all.
“Hello” he says, sorta sad like. I watch him kinda plod on in. Door swingin’ closed behind him. This look like it been a long day for him, I remember thinking.
He walks on up and sits down in front of me at the bar. The stools was quite high so he was only a bit shorter than me. He was wearing this long, beige trench coat and one of them pork pie hats you see sometimes. He took off the hat first and sat it on the bar next to my cocktails. Then the jacket. He hung that across the little back rest on the stool next to him. He looked up at me and smiled. His face was all red from the cold. His nose had a little purple in it. He had those little burst veins on his cheeks that all connected together. His hair was doin’ that thing where it falls out from the front and starts to creep back up his head. The big bald patch on the top was shinin’ under the light from behind the bar.
“Who are them drinks for?” he says.
“Nobody,” I says, “This my first night and I’m learnin’ how to make the cocktails.”
He looks at them all. Weighin’ up the colors and the fruit I been puttin’ in them.
“Are they for sale?” he asks.
“You don’t want any of them. I ain’t got a clue what I’m doin’. Manager tells me they got too much booze in ‘em and that ma ratios all wrong.”
He looks back at the cocktails again. He has his eye on the red one. I think it was the Peach Crush or somethin’. Peach vodka or somethin’, some sour stuff and a splash of cranberry juice. His eyes look sorta weary. Tired like.
“Go ask your manager how much you can sell them drinks for son” he says after a minute.
I look at him again. I remember thinkin’ that he looks like a bourbon man or somethin’. But the customer is always right, as they say. I thought, if he wants them drinks, like them drinks right there on that bar that I threw together all blind, then he gonna get them drinks.
“Okay.” I says. I went through the back and asked Rex how much I can sell them drinks for. He says, them drinks you made. Like he didn’t believe that anybody would want them drinks. I says, yeah. He thinks about it for a second. Then says, half price. Then he says, maybe at that price he gonna drink ’em all. I remember thinkin’, I hope he don’t. Poor old boy would be on his back and I’d have to send him back to his family all shithoused. He get’s his ass shouted at and ain’t allowed out no more. That ain’t no way to run a business.
“Half-price” I say to him. His eyes light up.
“Good boy. Can’t let good booze like that go to waste!” he says, looking around to see if anyone was listenin’ to him. But he was the only person in the bar.
“Which one you wanna start with?” I asks him. Somethin’ told me he wasn’t gonna be drinkin’ just one.
“Which one got the most alcohol in it?” he asks. I look at them. And then at the cheat sheet. And then back to the drinks. I can smell the booze in his breath sorta creppin’ across the bar.
“That brown one at the end” I says.
“What is it?” he asks.
“I think it’s a Long Island Ice Tea.”
“Great! We’ll start with that. My brother lives in Long Island. Must be a sign!” He laughs. I smiled and slid the drink along to him.
“Four dollars please sir”
“Start a tab. I’ll be here for a while.”
So I make a note of four dollars on a piece of old receipt that was lying around. I look up at the bottles on the shelf behind the bar. We got a mirror behind the bottles. I see the old boy chug his Long Island Ice Tea in three big gulps and slap the glass back down on the bar. He pulls a smoke from his pocket and lights it up.
“Hey” he says. I turn around and smile. You have to smile for the customers. “Gimme that red one. That looks good. What is it?”
“Eh….”I say, lookin’ at the sheet again.
“Don’t matter. Just gimme it.” I slide it along to him.
“Four bucks please.” He points at the tab. I turn around and write it down. I see him drink that red drink in four gulps this time. He wipes his face with his sleeve and makes that ‘ahhh’ sound people make when they’re refreshed.
“You should slow down on them things,” I say. “They’s lethal! Enough booze in them things to take the paint off a battleship.”
“Nonsense!” He shouts, already startin’ to sound a bit sauced.
“I’m celebratin’!” I remember thinkin that he don’t look like he celebratin’. When you is celebratin’ something on your own that’s just called drinkin’.
“Whatchu celebratin’?” I asks him.
“My divorce!” he shouts out, throwin’ his hands up in the air. His top lip had gone really red from that red drink. Oh shoot, I remember thinkin’. This gonna be a weird night.