I may have had, in my 20-plus years of bartending had a few, OK, dozens, OK hundreds of customer complaints. One thin-skinned crybaby once turned me in for the way I said “Thank you.” Now, I am no Meryl Streep, but I do have a knack for giving new meaning to anything I’m saying either with tone, volume, or the inclusion of the “stink eye.” I am fairly convinced that the “Thank you” I delivered translated as the “F*ck you, Bitch!” that I intended. In a job where you dole out liquor you can easily be their best friend, but refuse them any further libations when you think they’ve had enough, and suddenly they become Satan’s ugly sister — a curse-spewing, head-spinning something straight out of The Exorcist. One would think that the drink you are prying from their death grip was their first boyfriend’s stuff. Jesus! I would rather wrestle a pork chop from a grizzly bear.
Not all complaints received about me, or my fellow bartenders, were completely unfounded. But most of the time we had the upper hand. We were generally dealing with complaints fueled by the very alcohol we served. Strike One. We were given the power to cut you off at our discretion. Strike Two. In most instances a good manager was backing us up. Strike Three, you were out! (And usually for 30 days.) The latter of the strikes worked in the bartender’s favor but could easily be upset by a mealy-mouthed manager who was happy to placate an angry patron, knowing that you would need his support. He could then easily make your life a living hell, and often did. I used to work with a certified asshole who loved nothing more than to dangle reprimands, suspensions, and firings over your head. A descendant of a Nazi Commandant, he screamed and yelled, threatening at every turn. His moods were as predictable as hurricane landings. I would have remained perpetually angry at him if I hadn’t felt so sorry for him.
An unattractive, emaciated, sad sack named Waylon, I had never seen, nor have I seen since, anyone who allowed themselves to be a punching bag at the whims of upper management. He was a whipping post who took verbal abuse as if he deserved it. He could withstand unfair, demoralizing and vicious berating on a nightly basis and still show up for work the next day. I secretly feared that one day he would show up in fatigues, shotgun in hand, and blow some people’s shit away. But, thankfully, he never did. If he balked it was outside the workplace. I hope he had an ear he could vent to. Still I wondered what would make him play Wylie Coyote, constantly blown up, hammered down, anvils landed squarely on his low-hung head. Lack of self-esteem seemed to barely scratch the surface.
Waylon was notorious for his love of young, small Hispanic boys. With his hiring abilities his well never ran dry as one after another swept floors, emptied trash and occasionally landed the coveted position of bar back, assisting the bartender by doing all the grunt work. He never disguised his lustful favoritism and partied publicly with his “boy toys” on and off the job. Despite the “no fraternization” clause we were all made to sign. Of course, it was worth the ink it took to sign. There are three rules that you will never see adhered to in any gay bar: no drinking, no drugs and no sex. This particular lover of the Latino “twinks” was no exception. With his skinny frame, receding hairline and sandpaper-scrubbed complexion, still his sexual exploits were legend. Most people would be embarrassed to have their bedroom, bathhouse, and back alley “sexploits” so public, but I think Waylon enjoyed the notoriety. He took a sense of pride in his own lascivious behavior, unable to take pride in much else.
Once I was serving drinks to a cute boy and his female friend when the case in point stopped by to say hello to the boy. When he walked away the boy turned to his companion. “I used to date Waylon,” he said, “but I got tired of putting my arm up his ass.” I spit half a shot of Jägermeister across the bar. Although somewhat disgusted by the stories, I was also intrigued. Waylon had a hold on boys that was difficult to explain. Beyond the ability to allow the underage ones to sneak into the “over 21’ bar, and despite the liquor he provided, they were loyal admirers who genuinely seemed to enjoy his company. Once in a rival club to ours, I saw him slap a young queen several times across the face, spit on him, and roughly thrust his tongue down an all-too-willing throat. Nevertheless, it was obvious he enjoyed the humiliation. I guess turnabout was fair play. Maybe this was the ability to “vent” I wondered about.
I took all of this into consideration when on multiple occasions he would use a complaining customer to throw me under the bus. He thrilled at the ability to write me a reprimand. They were always accompanied by a holier-than-thou tirade about proper customer service and how the customer was always right. I would agree with him, sign the paper, and head to my bar to piss off the next patron with a heartfelt “Thank you.”