One of the questions I get most from people when I tell them I’m a bartender is “what do you do with all the drunk people?”
I’m not sure why there’s such a misconception about this. By and large, the clientele at the brewery where I work is a well-behaved bunch. They’re friendly, they treat me with respect, and they tip well.
But every now and again, there’s a guy who goes a little too hard on the double IPAs, and I’m forced to do what any bartender worth his salt would do.
I fuck with him mercilessly.
I know that sounds mean, but really, I don’t do it to be a jerk. More than anything, I’m bored, and I want a break from reciting the patter I have to repeat over and over. “I’m just living the dream,” I say to every customer who asks how I’m doing. “Every day a holiday, every meal a banquet.”
So when I get a customer who’s, let’s say, enjoying themselves a little more than the others, I like to spice things up.
Take the guy one Friday night who started early on celebrating his weekend.
He was already at the bar when I started my shift at 5:00, and based on the length of his tab, he’d been there for quite some time.
His eyes tracked me as I passed his seat, and when I said hello to him, he smiled, showing a chipped front tooth that looked like a fang.
“You look like mffergsh,” he said.
“I’m sorry?” I replied.
He repeated himself, but I still didn’t hear him. I couldn’t get that last word, either because of the loud music or his slurred speech, or both.
I never quite deciphered the word, even after I leaned over and put my ear inches from his mouth, but I got the gist he was commenting on what I was wearing, a plaid flannel shirt and beanie.
“Oh this?” I said. “It’s part of my costume. It’s the character I play. Hipster bartender.”
“Your character?” he asked, his eyes swimming in their sockets.
“Yeah, exactly. It’s for a role I’m researching. I’m an actor.”
“Really?” he said.
“What movies have you been in?”
“Well…” I tried to come up with an epic flick he’d definitely seen, but in that moment, nothing came to mind. For some reason, out of the countless movies in the world, the thousands I’ve seen in my lifetime, only one bubbled to the surface. “You ever see the movie Fargo?”
“Yes!” he said. “I love that movie!”
“There you go. I’m in Fargo.”
His mouth opened and he tried to conceal a smile. “No way,” he said, his jagged tooth there, in the middle of his face like a broken windowpane. “What part did you have?”
“You remember the guy in the woodchipper?”
I cocked my thumb into my chest. “That was me.”
“Dead serious.” I said.
We were getting busy so I left the guy to serve other customers, but a few minutes later, he called me back over. He handed me a coaster. “I have to tell my friends I met you,” he said. “Would you mind signing this for me?”
“Well, normally I don’t do this,” I said, “but I like you.” I took a pen out of my pocket. “It’s always nice to meet a fan.”
I wanted to make sure whomever he showed this coaster to could read it, so I half signed, half printed the name STEVE BUSCEMI and handed it back to him.
“Oh, thank you so much,” he said, examining the coaster. “I’m so excited.”
“You’re welcome,” I said. “What’s your name?”
He said something I couldn’t make out, but it didn’t matter. I stuck out my hand. “Great, I’m Steve. So nice to meet you.”
Of course, there are times when I miscalculate and the customer gets offended. It’s unfortunately something I’ve dealt with my entire life. I think I’m being funny; the rest of the world thinks I’m being a condescending prick.
This was the case a few months ago, when I started making jokes to a group of ex-Marines who visited the brewery to celebrate the anniversary of their beloved Corps.
Each time one of them would order a beer, I’d reply with a quote from the movie Full Metal Jacket. “That’s not a war face!” I said to one of them. “Let me see your war face!”
I thought Kubrick was something we could bond over, but they either hadn’t seen the movie or thought I was making fun of them. None of them would give me more than a curt nod or a tight-lipped frown each time I presented them with a beer and a line from the movie.
They were even less pleased when I told them it was last call.
“You’re kidding me, right?” said one guy, who had the words We The People tattooed across his throat. “It’s only 9:30.”
It’s not like I feared for my safety. But I did recognize these guys did not appreciate my drill sergeant impression, and I wanted to release the tension. I needed to find a way to get back into their good graces.
And then it came to me.
“Any of you guys know the Rifleman’s Creed?” I said as I delivered their final round of drinks.
The group perked up, curious how a bearded, nerdy looking bartender was aware of the ode to their rifles they were required to memorize in boot camp.
“I haven’t thought about that since basic,” one of the guys said.
“Do you know the Rifleman’s Creed?” Neck Tat said to me.
Now, I was never in the military, but my father was a Navy Seabee, and he loved to get creative when it came to disciplining his children. For whatever reason, one time after my brother and I got into a particularly heinous fight, Dad thought it would be fitting for us to memorize the Rifleman’s Creed. It had floated around in my head ever since, but had never been useful until this moment.
“This is my rifle,” I began. “There are many like it, but this one is mine.”
I recited the creed to its end, two of the guys joining in on the final line: “until there is no enemy, but peace.”
They cheered for me, the kind of cheer that happens when it’s last call and you’ve had just the right number of beers. And just like that, I was back in their good graces.
They all thanked me when their Uber arrived, and when Neck Tat death gripped my hand on his way out the door, he asked me my name.
“Steve,” I said. “My name is Steve.”