Sunday, September 04, 2005
Nothing Human is Inherently Alien to Me...
I tended bar yesterday. When I arrived, there was a new bartender who had just been hired. She was standing in the room where we have cocktail hour most of the time, and looking a bit bewildered. As it turned out, she was not going to be working with me but one of the bosses asked me to take her around and show her how to get set up.
We were setting stuff up back in the cocktail hour room (we actually set up two seperate areas, one for the cocktail hour, and one where the reception takes place..) when the other bartender that I was going to be working with walked in and plopped a bottle of Hennessy Cognac down on my bar and said, angrily, "This is for you. So. Basically we won't be making any fucking money tonight!"
For those of you who are not familiar with this reference, Hennessy is a Cognac that many black people enjoy. He was basically stating that our party would be primarily Afro-American, and he was inferring that black people don't tip well. While there are certain truisms that may be accurate regarding particular ethnic or cultural groups, I don't think that a comment like this was appropriate for a number of reasons. First off, it's a shitty thing to say, not knowing who these particular people are. Secondly, at least in the area where we live, many black folks simply don't have a lot of money to give away. Not all, and perhaps not a majority. I honestly don't know. But a lot of the black people that live in or near here are in a relatively low economic bracket, and simply don't have very much to begin with.
It may very well be that they are giving much more in comparison to what they have or what they earn than other people do... I don't know. They may be cheap. I don't know. They may be the most generous people on the face of the earth. I can't address it, because, once again... I just don't know. The point being that HE doesn't actually know, either. He was making a nasty comment, based upon a pre-judgement that isn't based on anything but his opinion. It may be true that in his experience, he has never made very much money when tending bar for a party of black people, but that doesn't mean that they are cheap, or stingy, or bad tippers... it could also mean that they simply don't tip automatically... maybe they only tip when the service is deserving of a tip in their minds... I don't know, and I don't pretend to know.
What I do know is that they are people, and that they have feelings, just like I do, and that they are celebrating a wedding, which is a happy time in their lives. They pay to have a staff that is going to go out of the way to make their party a success, and to make them feel welcome, and treat them with respect and courtesy.
I mulled his comment over for a few microseconds (it amazes me sometimes just how fast we can think things through in an incredibly short period of time). I decided that I wanted to be obtuse and force him to actually come out and say whatever it was that he was trying to say instead of hiding behind some obfuscated cryptic cowardly comment that he could disown if pressed.
Bear: "What do you mean? Why won't we make any money?"
Bigoted Bartender: "Well..... you know...."
Bear: "No. I don't. Aren't we allowed to accept tips for this party?"
Bigoted Bartender: "Yeah. I mean... It's a black wedding...."
Bigoted Bartender: "Well.... Um... they don't tip!"
Bear: "They!, Who the fuck is 'they'??"
Bigoted Bartender: ".... You know... blacks"
Bear: "Oh no! Not Blacks!! Quick! Hide the children! What the hell is wrong with you?? What do you have against black people, anyway?? Besides... Have you met all of them??
Bigoted Bartender: "I don't have anything against them.. they just don't tip. I'm here to make money.. that's all..."
Bear: "What makes you say that? How do you know its because they're black?? Maybe they just don't like the kind of service you give them... or maybe they can tell that you don't like them because they're black. People can sense when you fear them, hate them, or dislike them you know..."
Bigoted Bartender: (Affronted) "I don't have anything against black people!"
Bear: "Other than the fact that they are black and that they have the unmitigated gall to get married where you tend bar and don't throw money at you because you don't like them??"
Bigoted Bartender: "You won't make any money either!"
(NOTE: We split our tips at the end of the night. Whatever we make is split down the middle. If one bartender makes ten dollars and the other makes two... we both made six bucks apiece... this is how it works. Its a partnership.)
Bear: "Don't be so sure. If you treat people right and do your job well, they will give what they have to give."
Bigoted Bartender: "Alright, smartass... I'll bet we don't clear fifty dollars tonight!"
Bear: "I guess we'll just have to wait and see... won't we??"
Well. For whatever reason, I was in my zone... I hit it off immediately with the first customer that I served. My second customer, a woman, asked me if I had any apple juice. I did not. She asked what types of juice I did have, and I ran down the list, but added that if she was willing to try it, I make a 'kickin' fruit punch. She agreed to give it a try, and I went to work, making an ass-kicking drink for her to enjoy. Within seconds, I had three people asking me for some of that 'kickin-juice'. Before five minutes had past, people were asking the other bartender for 'kickin-juice', and he told them that they would have to get on my line, because it was my own concoction, and I was the only one who could make it. My line stretched back perhaps fifty people, and the tips piled higher and higher.
As the night wore on, I convinced more and more people to try new drinks that I made for them, joked and laughed with them, and connected with quite a few of the partiers.
As I usually do, I remembered what they were drinking, and often had their drink made when they got to the bar.
My bar had a line all night long, while his remained virtually empty.
Strangely, (or perhaps not so strangely, in retrospect) one of the owners came over and simply stood next to my bar, watching what I was doing. I asked him if he needed anything, and he asked me to make him a drink. He took a sip, told me it was 'fantastic' and shook his head, as though he was surprised by something. I told him so, and asked what was going on... and he told me that he thought I may have been over-pouring the drinks. I told him that I wasn't, and that he was welcome to stand there all night if he liked, and watch me work, because I was confident that if he did, he would feel compelled to pay me more money! I suspect that someone pitched a bitch that 'something fishy' must have been going on at my bar that would explain why I had such a line while the other bar had zilch.
At one point, one of the guests at the wedding, named Jay, asked me if he could take me to some bars that he and 'his people' (his words.. not mine) frequent. He explained that I would make a great deal of money, that everyone at the party loved me, loved my personality, and loved my body language... he said that I was the best bartender he had ever met, and that he was confident that I would be successful in the 'real world' (apparently, a catering hall bartender is a parody of a real bartender). I thanked him, but told him that I didn't want to be coming home at five in the morning... he asked me a few more times during the night, but finally let it go...
Many of the other guests made a point of telling me that they thought I was a fantastic bartender, and that I was doing an excellent job.
They also told me in more... solvent... terms that they thought I was doing a fine job.
It was a good night all around... and I was able to make my point to the other bartender. People are people. You cannot judge them by the way they spell their last name, the color of their skin, or how they dress. You cannot look into the heart of another person without first engaging them.
I was raised to believe that under the sky there is only one family, and that nothing human is inherently alien to me.
In order for me to consider someone alien, they must first demonstrate the will and ability to hurt others... either by thought, word, or deed.
We're all in this together, folks... nobody gets out of here alive. Everybody's story ends the same way....
In the meantime, I plan on living my life. In so doing, the less folks I hurt, and the less folks I allow others to hurt, the better.
There are enough shit things, obstacles, difficulties, and horrors to go around without us making more for one another.
I don't think that the vast majority of people are all that different than I am where it counts; I want to be safe, I want to be loved, I want my loved ones to be safe, and I want us to be treated with respect and courtesy. I like when others are kind and considerate of me, and of my friends and family. I appreciate it when others lend a helping hand. I appreciate harmony and beauty. In most cases, this is what everybody else wants.
It isn't really all that much to ask....