Prose poem about our work by Marina Lazzara.
"Are you waiting for me to tell you to sit down?'' The shades shadow lines against her forearm. Moon must be nearing fullness. "You're still standing?''
The man breathes deeply in, loudly out. His breath rises above and over the air between his soles and the barstool. He could take off at this second, take off back over the boats along the marina behind the restaurant. He could start flapping his arms with that breath and sail even further. But he doesn't. He stiffens. His eyes are tired and brown. He tells us about the dream: elms topped with copper hair like seahorses. In the background are mills. Puffed from a millstack are slow dancers bending ashy arms out of sooty silk veils. "They were beautiful,'' he confesses. "Their arms were open, aching.''
"You don't like that they seemed beautiful?'' I ask.
"No! Not the elms, the dancer's arms!''
"Oh!'' we sigh pretending to follow his story. He thinks we lose control so he turns from us, bends to tie a shoe, looks back so far his eyes cross.
"I have to go now,'' he says. "I'm late for work.'' His barnap wraps the last moist chill of the mug in indentations his fingersize, cradling the oblong glass, slobbery, slipping from its side.
When the window cleaner raises his arm to scrape the top layer of dust, his forearm rubs against the glass. In this bar, there are nothing but windows and men with beige suits holding on for dear life.
You pour and a voice comes from the bottle, impersonal and predictably sweet. "What can I get for you? What can I do?'' And you say to the voice, obviously you: "I don't think I want to hear this.'' There's a distant click of glasses. The voice says: "There will be a toast in your honor and tips for you and smiles through and through.'' And you say Yes and turn your back away because you want to sleep. The waves of a lisped voice reaches across to you: "I'm sure you've heard this all before.''
On mornings the rain came and stayed for four days, the kitchen floor filled up with food resin from the walk-in box where the drain would overflow and lose control. We'd place large mayonnaise buckets in various places where we thought the leaks were. It never worked. We spent more time pushing around buckets until our knees were stained from crouching down to scoop up slime. When the rain came, we knew one of us would, by the end of the night, owe the Reprimand Jar some quarters. Each check on the Reprimand Sheet was worth a quarter. It was created to keep us all on top of our employment duties: proper dress, proper conduct, proper use of time. At the end of a month, the money would go to a staff party, and the employee who paid out the most received a series of warnings eventually leading to his/her dismissal. This meant that every time someone got fired, we had a party. On days the rain comes, the bar fills up by noon. As the others prepare the buckets, I make extra Bloody Mary mix with handfuls of celery salt and thyme. Worcestershire separates to the jug's top layer and twirls into brown spirals before anyone even orders any.
By the end of the day, we throw buckets of water on the bar floor to loosen tomato juice from down under cracks. "Ship's in tomorrow, girls!'' The manager calls the staff the night before any ship is due to dock after months in the middle of an ocean. We know then not to wear short skirts unless we're desperate for money. Once, SC thought she'd fake them out and wore her husband's painting overalls, a spotted white jumpsuit with slabs of paint dripped unevenly down the front, baggy and stretched just above the back of her knees. It didn't work. The boys thought it was cute. Thought she was sexy, trying to relate to them somehow. She made $175 by midnight. Her shift starts at eight.
One part gin. One part a mixture of dark, light, and spiced rum. One part pineapple. One part soda water. A dash of creme de menthe. A dash of creme de cacao. Mix vigorously. Strain. Top with 151. Garnish with cherry and orange slice.
"Anything in a green bottle. I don't care what it is. Just anything in a green bottle. And nothing foreign. Got it straight. Nothing foreign.''
Mary likes her Bloodys spicy so her tongue and inner cheeks numb. Saves the thin red cocktail straw for trips to the bathroom. She ages rapidly. The lack of sleep and cigarettes are making marks around her face. Faint lines aim to create ovals that begin from her nostrils veering down over each side of her mouth. She's got secrets, she tells the others at the bar, then says once she slept with a woman in her youth as though she robbed a bank and threw the money in the bay. She goes to the bathroom every twenty minutes or so. Her drink dilutes, grows pink. She returns and orders another, fresh.
When the band's on break, they bring the bartenders to the walk- in and cut out three lines for each. They each share a few beers, then mark them as comps on the nightly inventory sheet. They check each other's noses as they return with six-packs to stock the cooler for the rest of the night. From there on, the clock moves.
The Last Call Bell was brass and two and half feet tall. It hung, always, above my left-side head, near the cash register and variously-flavored schnapps.
She's one of those people who pride themselves on their ability to make a decision and carry it out. This virtue, like most virtues, is ambiguity itself. People who believe that they are strong-willed and the masters of their destiny can only continue to believe this by becoming specialists in self-deception. Their decisions aren't really decisions. A real decision makes one humble, one knows that it is at the mercy of more things than can be named. Decisions are elaborate systems of illusion for her, designed to make here and the world appear to be what she and the world are not.
He was an old man who drank Stoli straight up, chilled, with a twist of lemon. He was born with only thumbs and small nubs of bone where the fingers were supposed to be; his hands were like tiny tree stumps. His lips were dry and cankered, his eyes blue and green with brown-tan outlines. His elephant ears which rubbed up against wrestling mats in his youth, now protruded in her peripheral view. He watches her mix his order. Watches her arm arch bottle over tumbler with ice as he stares at her as though sketching her portrait. She strains the chilled brew into a rocks glass and rubs a lemon rind around the lips before dropping it into the liquid. He rarely talks except to order, explain his ears, or tell how to mix the martini. Watching her hands and fingers master the tilt of the tumbler and the twist of the rind, he pays her with a fifty for four, leaving always the same tip: more with the ice, and less with the hands.
Sully says not to look for anything profound in my daily explorations through mixology. He reaches into his back pocket, pulls up a tiny rubber ball, and begins to squeeze it. "It's like money. You can't think about it too much. It can't control you, or it loses all power to benefit you.'' He asks me to smile as he stands to leave. I smile. He places a fifty beneath his barnap, smiles back, turns, then leaves.
"Always pay attention to the same sex customer when waiting on a couple. If you're a woman, talk with the woman, and a waiter should address the man. Never the give the partner reason for jealousy. Get her/him on your side so she/he persuades their partner to tip you nicely.''
"A nice tip is one which demonstrates to the waitperson that she/he has demonstrated to the customer(s) that their service satisfied their palates, their stomachs, and their overall idea of human interaction.''
Each time he sat at the bar, he asked when I would settle down. "Why hasn't a girl like you become hitched yet? When ya gonna settle down?'' And whenever he said that I saw the sediment at the bottom of a stagnant pond. Every time he asked, I had the feeling that he and his buddies were taking bets on me. They were like priests of a strange holy order, watching me to discover by means of gestures I made (which only they could read) whether or not I had a true vocation.
WORK NIGHTMARE #86: One night I dream the bottles are not just covered in dust, but full of black soot caused by the railroad workers from the night shift. I dream they each carry in their lung, and place it on the bar like a lover or drinking pal. They dust them off between sips. I'm confused. I don't know who to pay attention to this time. After a few rounds of bourbon and sevens and Coors Lites, they grow attractive. I take one home with me. His eyes are blue like creeks covered over by dry branches. He brings his lung, black and rough with calloused entrails. He places it on the night stand next to us. I don't come for him--instead vomit. It's what he wants me to do. He falls asleep. I patient the night for sunrise with wide eyes while the lung breathes mucused dreams in my right ear.
To hold small objects in the palm of the hand, glass, delicate objects, to break and listen. Sharp notes, angelic and high as if the greens of the leaves soar toward the sky in an effort for redness.
I drop glasses easily. They demand drinks so quickly I can't concentrate on the money flow, so I concentrate on the demand. My hips can't move to the music anymore. I just move automatically, until I rinse some glasses and hang them above my head in haste. They collide together, they shake then break over a row of heads. No one is hurt. $85 is taken from my pay for a case of glasses. My tips decrease for two weeks until the regulars realize I don't shatter glass on purpose.
Now it's time to move, I think, and I move. I'm being paid for this. They've raised me to crave such redundancy.
Such are my bodily needs: each thought goes into my clothes. My sixth pair of black pants are ironed, the white button down shirt cleansed of ketchup stains. Everything goes into my clothes although it isn't noticeable to others. I could be fired for not getting out that stain from the ninth white shirt in my wooden closet. They could fire me for not standing over my sink all day rubbing the stain from the cloth. They could fire me if they read my thoughts as my hands go up and down over the spot until only a faint outline of pale pink is visible up close. I have thoughts of pushing the clock forward, and I do, push the clock forward, but still last call rarely comes soon enough. They could fire me if they knew I was thinking off the job.
I'm too serious and not serious enough to take this seriousness seriously enough.
He doesn't like me, that new manager. Thinks I laugh too much.
Sully says you can't take them all so seriously. He reaches into his side pocket and brings up a sack of tobacco, rolls a cigarette, bites the end, and lights it. "It's like sex, ya know. You can't think about it too much, it can't be regulated, or it loses all power to dissolve your being into complete breakdown and orgasm.''
Mash cherry with sugar in rocks glass. Add ice. In separate tumbler, mix scotch and sweet vermouth. Shake. Drain contents over ice with cherry and sugar. Garnish with orange or lime and cherry with toothpick.
We are as the next person to leave us. A religion that allows us only sense enough to understand the last word in any conversation. Is there some glory in adapting the brain to a national idiocy: to replace the eyes with masks? To paint on smiles or expressions of interest? But when one isn't looking for glory in life can the face easily be splashed with cool water? (Too many questions, girl. Just smile. I am smiling, on the inside. Just drink your beer, man, and mind your own business. Can't you see I'm thinking?)
The color of my hair as I ring the black out to go white. Here I float along in moods behind bars, back there where my legs don't matter, where my arms perform mimical utterances of stifled thought. Where the smoke comforts corners. Where the mirrors behind me reflect no one but myself, and when I take second looks, I'm gone. It is landscape lacking here. Depth and the open security of nothingness, and everything's in front of me, constantly. But eyes themselves do something different. They ask for pleasing things inside the bottle, inside the habitual faces. They can't detect the life.
To the beauty of the drunk at my feet; to the cry of the cat at my feet as I walk on top of him. (What are we toasting to now? To anything, girl. Just keep toasting.) To shy and strong friends. To three more hours in a day. To the imagination. To the cry of the tires sound and the word we give to rubber, outside the valley where the Mack trucks strut from lane to lane. To the CB vocals adrift above the car roof out over the highway. Come in Big Buddy. Come in Big Buddy. Come in. 10-4. We need another language. I need a new job.