Monday, June 2, 2008

Ships Sink and Then What?

From now on, every Monday I am going to feature a story by my friend diesel. I will make a tab on the left to help you navigate to these entries easily. Here's the first one:


Ships Sink and Then What?
by diesel


Throughout the 90’s Deep Ellum was hot! Deep Ellum is an area of town that skirts Downtown Dallas. Elm Street, Main Street , Commerce Street and Canton Street from Malcolm X Blvd to the border of Downtown. This neighborhood was flooded with bars, restaurants, clothing stores, rehearsal studios, lofts and art galleries. This was Dallas ’ historical arts district.


This was THE place to be if you were in a band. This was where you went one night and drank till the wee hours of the morning then bragged to your jealous friends the next day about what a good time you had.


Deep Ellum is where bartenders knew they had to be if they wanted to make Real Money. There were more bars than anything. When a rock band played Reunion Arena or Starplex they’d pile into the limo with twenty naked women and end up at the Elm Street Bar.

I had been bartending for a few years in another part of town during Deep Ellum’s feast, on Greenville Ave , and heard all the stories about Ellum. I started bartending in the early 90’s on Greenville at a place called The Pound.


The Pound was a severe shit hole complete with a makeshift bar and empty coke baggies on the bathroom floor. The guys liked to fight there and the girls liked to watch each others’ teeth rot out. We served whiskey and beer. That’s all.


When I walked in the bathroom at the end of the night I had to wade through the dirty coke baggies and rusted needles to get to the pisser. The pool tables and heavy metal cluttered jukebox invited people in through a huge roll up garage door. The bay door is what we called it. That was the front door. And the only exit. I think it actually used to be a garage. This wasn’t the place for me and I knew it.

I was putting in my time here and grazing for greener pastures at the same time. I was searching for the big bucks. A bar I could be proud to say I worked. Not a greasy crack house like The Pound.


Greenville Ave was coming into its own at the time. More and more bars were springing up at a fast pace. Nice places but still dives in their own right.

After a couple of years at The Pound, I ended up scoring a bar gig a few doors down at The Harder Bar. It had only been open for six months or so. This was the place for me. Cleaner. More professional, like I knew things should be. Not as much coke and a lot more pussy, a LOT MORE.


The jukebox could cater to anyone and was one of the things we were known for. The owner was very pro, Greg Valentine was his name. He wanted bartenders to get there on time and set the bar up as if we were THE elite bar on the street and we were. He wanted to put me through a re-training course.

He said, “OK diesel you got the job. No offense to the guys down the street but we’re going to do things much different here. Can you handle making six to eight hundred a week?”


“Hell yeah!”


“Tomorrow night you’re going to be my shadow.”


I replied, “Sure. What does that mean?”


“That means I see a diamond in the ruff. I’m going to turn you into a real bartender. You’re a good kid.” He went on and on like he usually did, “You see, I can take a soft mold of clay and turn it into something great. Or I can take a rock and work it till my fingers bleed and get nothing. YOU’RE the soft mold of clay, my personal challenge.”


“Sure boss, does that mean I’m bartending tomorrow night?”


“Do you have a pour-spout stuck in your ear? No, tomorrow night you’re my shadow.

I didn’t know any of the bar lingo at the time so he might as well have been speaking Spanish. Shadows and clay and shit. What did I know? I was used to playing dodge the coke dealer at The Pound.


I showed up the next evening fifteen minutes early.


Greg was there to greet me and the place reeked of pot, “Good, you’re the first one here. I knew you were a good kid. This is the schedule. You’re on it for the next four weekends, four o’clock every shift. When I say four o’clock that means three forty five . Not five after or even one after. Just like today, fifteen minutes early. That’s one of the things you’re going to learn here.”


I replied, “Oh yeah, and what would that be?”


“That would be learning to manage your time.”


“Got it boss.”


“Good.”

He offered me a bong hit and I declined. The only thing I wanted was to learn to out-do any other bartender on the block so I could get a job in Deep Ellum. That was my only goal in life at the time. GET TO DEEP ELLUM. Get to the money. Get to the pussy. Get to the glory. Bartenders in Deep Ellum were rock stars. I was on my way.


He told me to stick to his side and watch him as he set up the bar-top and the back-bar. The back-bar is what you see behind the bartender. The shelves of premium bottles, the cash registers, the credit card machines and other bar stuff.


“Ok diesel this is where the drink mats go and this is where the glasses go, pints here, high-balls here and shot glasses here. The ice machine is over there. The ice scoop is mounted next to the machine and the ice bucket is next to the machine. Don’t ever leave the ice scoop in the ice machine because it’ll get buried. If that happens you’ll end up in there with the scoop. Now fill the ice wells up and stock all of the beer. When you stock the beer make sure the labels are facing out. It looks better that way. When you’re done with that I want you to cut lemons and limes. Don’t start cutting till I’m ready for you. There’s a certain way I like it done.”


“Sure Greg, anything else?”


“Yeah. You sure you don’t want a bong hit?”


“I’m sure. I tend to ramble when I’m high.”


“HA! That’s a good one. Another thing…”


“Yeah?”


“Don’t be a fucking smart ass.”


“Sorry dude. I’ll get to work on this stuff.”

I did everything he asked and was then ready to cut fruit, “Greg I’m ready to cut lemons and limes now. You wanna show how you want it done?”


“Yeah. First thing, cut the ends off but not into the pulp. There should be two white circles on each end. Like this.” He was showing me, “Then cut straight down from one white circle to the other. Like this. Now you have two halves with a white line going down the center of both halves. Cut a slit through each white line. That will allow you to hang the lemon or lime on the side of the glass later. Now cut each half into four wedges with a white line on the edge of every wedge. Like this. Now cut a hundred limes and fifty lemons just like that. If I grab a piece of fruit later in the night and it’s not right I’ll squeeze it into your eyes in front of all the customers. Got it?”


“Got it.”


I finished cutting the fruit and looked down at my fingers. They were pale white prunes. The acidic fruit had eaten away any remnants of my finger prints. Cutting fruit was the job of the bar back. I guess this is what I’d have to do to prove myself. As long as I ended up in Ellum.

The other two bartenders were busy doing prep work too and it was time for the preshift meeting.


Greg cried out, “Twenty minutes till we open guys! Gather round for the meeting!”


We all sat in bar stools next to each other and Greg stood behind the bar.


“Ok," he started, "we have a new employee as you can see. His name is diesel. He’s a good kid so help him out whenever he needs it. He’ll be my shadow tonight so you guys won’t have to bother with him tonight. He thinks he’s going to be a bartender in Deep Ellum one day so I’m going to train him myself. This is his shadow shift so he won’t get tipped out tonight. But after tonight he’ll get a full cut.”


“Um, excuse me Greg, did you just say I wasn’t going to get tipped out tonight?”


“Yes I did. Are you hard of hearing? This is the second time I’ve had to repeat myself.”


“No I’m not hard of hearing. I like to get paid for the work I do though.”


“And you will. Just not tonight. It’s your first night here. OK?


“Sure, ok.”


The other bartenders were snickering and I could see them out of the corner of my eye.

I didn’t understand the whole forfeiture of the first nights tip thing and I still don’t. I think it’s just a clever way to steal from the new guy or girl.


So that was it. We opened and the customers filed in. I stood next to Greg as he popped beers open, mostly exotic beers I’d never heard of. I was impressed by this. He ran around back there like a crazy person. He jumped and spun and laughed at the top of his pot filled lungs. We were well into the night when his boot camp style training method reared its ugly head.


He screamed at me, right at me, “Absolut!!!”


“What?!” The music was terribly loud.


“Absolut!!! Gimme the fucking ABSOLUT!!!”


I flung the cooler door open where his exotic beer was and searched frantically for anything that had an Absolut label on it. My head was spinning. I was crouched down with my head buried in the cooler hoping I would disappear from it all. The next thing I knew he rammed his knee right into my back as I crouched.


“BEHIND YOU,” he yelled.


“What?!”


“That’s what you say when you’re behind someone. BEHIND YOU!!!”


“OH OK!”


“Where the fuck is my Absolut?!”


“I don’t know. You tell me, then we’ll both know!”


He pushed me aside and grabbed a premium liquor bottle off the back shelf. It was a clear fat bottle with blue lettering and a big blue word…ABSOLUT. It was Absolut Vodka he wanted. My dumb ass was looking inside the beer cooler.


“You gotta get on the ball diesel!! You’ll never be a bartender in Deep Ellum if you don’t learn your liquors!!”


He poured a drink with the Absolut and handed it back to me without looking. I wasn’t looking either. He jammed it into my chest and let go of it. I barely caught it with both hands.

One of the bartenders, Jason, said, “Good catch rookie!!”


I fired back, “FUCK YOU!”


“What, I couldn’t hear,” he said.


“I said THANK YOU!”


He smiled and ran off. The other bartender was a chick named Gina. She never said a word to me all night.


I watched and avoided Greg as he spun like a tornado behind the bar leaving a scorched and smoky path in his wake. He yelled more at me and smiled that winning smile he had at the girls and they loved it. He really had a way with women. They all wanted to suck his cock right there in the middle of the bar. His wife, Crissy, hated the fact that he had it like that. He could snap his fingers and take two girls to the office and do whatever he wanted to them.


The night finally ended and the last customers left drunk and happy. The jukebox was turned off and it was finally quiet in there. Quiet but completely destroyed. The bar top was full of empty bottles and used glassware. The tables were in the same condition. Not one more glass or bottle could fit on any table. Used bottles and glasses jumbled every possible spot in the place. The area behind the bar was full of wet napkins and bent bottle caps and smushed lime wedges. The tip jars sat on the back-bar like trophies packed full of money.


Greg sat us all down and handed each of us a beer. Even the door guys and bouncers.


“Great night everyone. Finish your beer diesel and clean this place up.”


They took the tills and tip jars to the office to begin the check-out procedure. The door guys left and I sat alone and quiet at the bar finishing my beer. I looked around at the carnage wondering how I could ever clean this shit by myself. I took my time finishing the beer. The weird tasting exotic beer.


I wondered what Craig, I mean Greg, would say if he came out of the office and found the place un-clean. So I cleaned the shit out of the joint. I grabbed a huge trash can and swiped the tables clear with one swoop of my arm into the large plastic can. Now the bar top and tables were clear so I got several bar towels and dried everything off and swept the floor. It didn’t take too long without distractions. Maybe an hour.


They were still in the office counting the loot. I decided to get another beer and sit and wait. And wait. And wait.


They all emerged with smiles on their faces and pockets full of money. Well the chick had a purse full the guys had pockets full. But they all had the same shit-eating grin.


Greg came over to me, “Hey diesel, who’s your favorite Dallas Cowboy?”


“I don’t like football.”


“Well if you had to choose who would it be?”


“I don’t know, um, Michael Irvin?”


“Ok, cool.”


Then he peeled 88 dollars out of his roll and handed it to me. I guess Irvin’s number was 88 and that was one of Greg’s little tip-out games he liked to play with the new people. I played along because I thought I was working for free that night.


I said, “Thanks man, I almost decided not to come back.”


“I’ll always take care of you if you do a good job for me. Don’t ever steal from me and be here on time. The rest will fall into place. You did awesome tonight. How’s your back from when I rammed you with my knee?”


“A little sore. Nothing major. I’ll live.”


“Want a bong hit?”


“Sure.”


I think one of his bonding rituals was bonging out with bartenders or he just didn’t like smoking out alone. We bonged and bonged till we were cross-eyed. We smogged out till the cows came home. Then he accidentally dropped the expensive looking glass bong on the ground and it shattered into a million pieces.

“Oh shit,” I exclaimed.


“No sweat, I have a couple of pipes in my desk drawer. If they break we’ll use a Red Bull can.”


“Dude I think I’m done anyway. I’m taking off. See ya tomorrow.”


“Don’t be late.”


That was my first night at a real bar. I had a great mentor on my side and I was going to learn everything I possibly could from this guy. Then I would take the knowledge wherever else I ended up in the near future.


I forgot all about Deep Ellum. I juggled girlfriends like a circus clown. I had a fling with the bartender, Gina, for a while. I smoked pot by the bushel with Greg. I made thousands of dollars a year. I also discovered cocaine. Coke disgusted me when I worked at The Pound. Seeing the way it changed people there disgusted me. Sliding around on empty baggies in the bathroom there disgusted me. It seemed like a dirty drug. It seemed like it attracted the dregs of society. It wasn’t so bad in the cleaner and prettier atmosphere of the Harder Bar.


Two years later.


The first time I tried coke I was drunk after work one night. I could barely count my money. Then Greg’s wife Crissy walked into the office and offered it to me.


“I have some blow diesel. You shouldn’t let Greg see you like this. You’re a mess.”


“That shit’s disgusting. Get the hell out of here I’m counting money.”


“It’s only disgusting in a disgusting setting. And by the way I own this place too so I can do whatever I want. Don’t try to kick me out of the office anymore. I can fire you.”


“OK. FUCK! Give me some coke and leave me be.”

She dug out a generous portion onto the key that started her BMW and held it under my nose.

“Now snort it diesel.”


“OK.”


I snorted it up and some of it fell down on the front of my black shirt. She scolded me for wasting it but realized it was my first bump ever and vowed to show me the ropes as time went along.


There is nothing worse than a crazy girlfriend or wife thinking they own shit just because of the dude that really owns the place. This was Crissy’s attitude. Sometimes she’d come in with five or six friends and order round after round for everyone. I’d account for every drink on her tab and present it to her at the end of the night. The look on her face was priceless, every time.


“How many times do I have to tell you I own this shit hole and I can order as many drinks as I want? I own this place too.”


“No you don’t own anything Crissy, except for a shit-ass attitude. Pay your tab or I’ll show Greg. And don’t forget the tip.”


“You think you’re hot shit now because you’ve been bartending for a couple of years don’t you?”


“NO. Greg told me to charge you. Every Time. He told me you’d try this power trip game and I’m not going to play it with you. Now please pay your god damned tab.”


She paid it. And tipped. She was a real bitch. She had all her friends believing she owned the place outright and could do whatever she wanted. Sometimes those same friends would come in without her and try to walk a tab. I’d ask for a credit card or cash and they’d just stare at me like I was insane. Her girlfriends were worse than her guy-friends. The girls would hiss and spit at me when I asked them to pay up. The guys would just grin and throw money down on the bar and tell me they’d let her know about it.


I was becoming a sharp-lipped asshole.


I’d say, “I don’t give a fuck who you let know. Greg is my boss and HE told me to charge everyone including his bitch wife, his exact words, and you’re no different.”


“Really.”

“Yeah motherfucker, REALLY!!”


Then a girl chimed in, “You’re an asshole. Crisy’s gonna fire you for this shit!!”


“Crissy has to work here above me before she can fire me. Just leave.”


His wife was a fucking leach. She still, to this day, tells people she used to own The Harder Bar. She is the most delusional woman I’ve ever met AND she turned me on to coke, The Bitch.


Anyway, I had established myself at The Harder Bar for a couple of years and became manager. Offers to work at other bars came my way every week but I turned them all down. Those decisions would eventually prove to be my downfall.


Two more hazy years later.


A couple of more years went by, well they flew by. What I didn’t realize about Greg was that he was a self centered manipulator. He knew he had me by the balls and started treating me like shit when sales fell a little. He had target sales numbers I had to meet and they just weren’t there anymore. The bar had pretty much been left in my hands because he didn’t want to bartend anymore. He stayed away a lot.


Now I was in my fifth year with this place and I had worked my fucking ass off every day. The outside offers had long stopped. Greg hardly ever showed up anymore. He was going through a divorce with Crissy. It didn’t stop her from trying to show her ass in the bar though. Greg made it perfectly clear she was NOT to even so much as walk in there. That was fine with me because I couldn’t stand her anyway.


One Sunday afternoon I called Greg to report the weekend’s numbers.


The phone rang ten times, “Hello?”


“Hey it’s me I’ve got the numbers for you.”


“Ok. Well are going to tell me or should I guess?”


“Keep your pants on they’re printing. All right eight grand and some change for Friday and Saturday combined.”


“That’s pitiful! What’s this ‘and some change’ shit? Give me the full numbers!!”


“Eight thousand and three dollars. That’s not that bad bro. Let’s set up some promotions or something to make it up.”


“Promotions?......” He hung up.


After that phone call I decided to look for another job. The only problem was that all of the offers I had before were filled now. I was stuck. I would have to do some manipulating of my own now, and some ass kissing. I’m not a kiss ass so it was hard for me. The other bartenders saw me kissing ass and were losing respect for me too. I knew they were talking shit behind my back and that made me even more of an asshole to them. These guys were pretty new to this place, maybe a year or so. I had been there five.


One guys name was Tom. I always thought he was gay. He had lots of ladies but he acted like a fag. He was selling coke in the bar and that pissed me off too. Greg didn’t seem to care about anything anymore so I had to go with it. I shot plenty of snide remarks his way about being a gay coke head and shit like that. I was trying to run him off.


Another guy's name was Brian. He was one of those know-it-all motherfuckers. He was also selling pot to Greg, so HE wasn’t going anywhere either. He professed his never ending knowledge of the bar biz every chance he got. He was ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag. He was Tom’s most loyal customer too, the coke thing.


I got real nervous one night when the state comptroller came sniffing around asking questions. Apparently ol’ Greg wasn’t paying his taxes. When the comptroller asked for the manager the other two fuck-ups wasted no time pointing me out as the boss. That was the only time they acknowledged me as the boss.


That’s all I’ll say about those two.


OK, now I was beginning to understand why Greg was so uptight lately. The state was hot on his heels and he wasn’t doing anything with money he WAS making to pay them off. I had two decisions, get the fuck out now or go down with the ship.


I couldn’t very well quit my job unless I had another so I decided to hang in there and eventually the spark died and I went down with the ship. The state came in again the next weekend and took every dollar out of the registers. While they were doing that I was stuffing my pockets with the money in the tip jars. They were going to take the tip money next. I had it all stuffed in my pockets. Luckily I had changed in the singles for bigger bills just before they burst in.


They made us leave, everyone, and had their locksmith change the locks right there in front of us three bartenders. We went next door to another bar and ordered a beer. I don’t remember where the door guys went or when they went. I just knew they were gone.


Tom asked for some of the tip money, “We saw you take the cash.”


“What cash?”


“The cash in the tip jars. There must have been seven hundred dollars in there.”


Then Brian joined in, “Yeah, split it up with us.”


I played dumb, “Don’t know what you’re talking about. They took it.”


Tom said, “No you took it, now split it.”


“You know what? Fuck the both of you. You guys have been treating me like shit for a year. I hired both of you because of one sob story or another and you guys NEVER did anything I asked. And now you want some of the tip money from tonight. Brian, you hung out on the other side of the bar for two hours tonight. Tom, you leaned over the bar and talked to some ugly whore for two hours tonight. I did all the serving. I’M KEEPING THE MONEY!!!”


I left my beer sitting there and walked out. As I walked by The Harder Bar on my way to my car I flipped the comptroller off. I flipped the whole street off. I felt like the street had turned its back on me just like the two crappy bartenders I’d been working with.


I learned a valuable lesson that night. Don’t ever turn down a better offer. Get out at the first sign of trouble because if it comes down to you or them, they will fuck you right up your silly ass. Keep your feet moving and keep your eyes open.


Well I ended up in Deep Ellum all right. I ended up there at the tail end of the feast and the beginning of the famine. Deep Ellum was now where bartenders were going because they couldn’t get a better gig. My oh my how the tides change. I got my gig at The Elm St Bar but the rock stars were all gone now. The pussy was all gone now. The money was all gone now. I was just there, turning away the bums and selling dollar beer to punk rockers.

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