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Mount Vernon
Working as a Bartender in Harm City

Jay was back to snorting dope and he was also having seizures and walking round the house with just his shirt on with poo smeared on the wall when I came home. I was really turned off on roommates and was working with Conner, a dude who offered my an efficiency, a pussy pad for my young ass and moved my stuff up there in his old Ford 150 pickup, into Mount Vernon, where I worked.

That killed my commute. Taking the bike through East Baltimore, which could be harrowing as you tried not to get mashed up in these rolling traffic jams and thread the needle, thinking about how bad ass it was going to be to survive this bicycle ride, that was behind me.

My father had worked down there as a maintenance man for these disgusting people and he warned me not to move there, that there was nothing good there, but it was a good deal. He was worried that with the corrupt maintenance men and all the drugs in the area I would get my stuff stolen. The first morning I went to breakfast I saw this gay guy walking along with a leash and he was walking his boyfriend, who was on all fours in the leather getup…

These were formerly opulent 19th century row homes which were warehousing section eight people. There was a tranny hooker henhouse across the street and a real hell-hole of a trap-house hotel. There was a whole lot of drugs. Lots of drugs. There were people climbing the fire escape to smoke crack.

I don’t know how many times I woke to tranny hookers and gay prostitutes having sex with their johns under the fire escape. I would drop handfuls of pennies on them, trickling down the fire escape. I would put this big-ass speaker in the window and blast carnival music and then put on this record called The Sounds of Nazi Germany, with Hitler speeches and marching SS troops, anything to block out the perversion below. In winter I would drop a pitcher full of water on them which would also help keep them from climbing the fire escape to get to me when it iced over. I would have shot them anyhow.

I had a hundred dollar police trade-in, Smith & Wesson, a copy of a Remington, pump,12-gauge shotgun and a Mini-14.

I was supporting myself as a bartender.

The Bartending Trade

The first thing you learn as a bartender is that it’s a psychological fact, that you are not important, that what you want is not important; you are an important cog in the machine but you are just a cog. When that machine is moving at a high speed it doesn’t matter if you are sick, having a shitty night, if somebody died. The more you can put those concerns out of your head the better off you are. You are there to help other people, many of whom that you either hate or will come to hate and some who you will come to care for. Sometimes the people you hate redeem themselves. A monkey can learn how to make a drink. The biggest component of the job is psychological. Most people really don’t even know what they want. If you are busy and you grab the wrong bottle half the time they don’t know the difference. If you are pouring mixed shots and you are in the range of the flavor profile they don’t know the difference.

That holds true for working class shot and beer bars and the places like I just worked at where people pay $12 for a drink.

The second thing you learn is you need to be quick—nobody wants to wait for their shit. You have to have systematic ways of doing things and essentially an OCD level of organization. You have to have all your bottles facing the same direction. I can go in five years after working at Brewers Art and look at that wall and tell you we used to not carry that and why is that bottle over there. I took pictures of where the liquor went so I didn’t have to think about it when I was busy.

Number three is backing your shit up. Always have as many accessory stuffs like napkins that you need if you serve food. The limes and lemons and garnishes you have to have stockpiled and never run out of anything ever. Whatever you can run out of, make sure you have a second and third set. You might have some dumbass busboy that knocks your fruit tray over. You don’t have time to cut more fruit in the middle of a busy night. You need to be able to wash that tray and put your backup fruit on it. Thinking ahead and being prepared to be under siege are key.

The fourth thing is you need to protect the people you work for with your actions and awareness. You have to understand that you have a responsibility, especially if you work for decent people. Just because some 19-year-old bitch rolls into your bar with no panties on and you want to bang her, you do not serve her. By the same token you don’t give your employer’s stuff away. You have to be security minded and there are times you have to get confrontational with people. You occasionally have to be an overt dick because lots of times drunk people don’t understand anything else. Once a month at least you have to be able to say, “Fuck you, get out,” have to be able to cut people off and be abrupt and abrasive.

Rule number five, don’t drink on the job. Everybody does it. I’ve done it. When you do do it you drink, Gran Mariner, Natty Boh and Pikesville [whiskey]. You’ll get free shift drinks from your employer, guys will buy you beers and shots. I was the only person that really drank Pikesville but you always drink Rumple Minzes, 100 proof peppermint schnapps, for the breath.

I lived and worked in Mount Vernon for two, two-and-a-half years.

I made a deal to pay my landlord a year’s worth of rent in cash. I was working two jobs. It was a handshake deal and he held the apartment for me—one big room with a bathroom and a shotgun kitchen—until I came back. I was going to send him more money if I would be longer. When I emailed him he said, “Hold off on it and wait until you get back.”

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