I realized it was already December the morning after getting fired from my job waiting tables at some trendy fondue/wine bar in the East Village. I had spent the majority of my good hours and days there for the preceding 10 weeks and I had begun to feel comfortable there. Perhaps a little too comfortable. My bosses let us get drunk after 10 p.m. and the service expected of us, though professional, was hardly that of fine dining. We just had to have some cursory knowledge of wines and cheeses on the menu—or, failing that, the ability to extrapolate an attractive narrative from very little experience or knowledge. Bullshitting has always been one of my more developed traits, and this, combined with my vest and tie, made a pretty compelling facade.
So it came as quite the surprise to hear that I was getting fired. I liken it much to getting dumped after having a number of good dates over the course of 10 weeks.
I felt pretty used and mistreated, overall. There was a period of several weeks that I worked up to 10 and even 11 consecutive 12-hour shifts just to keep their operation afloat, as they had opened a new location across the street and they only had two waiters. The other two had been recently fired for reasons that were never made quite clear, leaving me and one other guy to work until the crashing point. I developed my first sinus infection that put me out over $300 due to my not having health insurance, and I felt as though my bosses weren’t giving me any sort of recognition for my sacrifices.
And they weren’t. I had fancied the idea of being friends with my bosses, Alla and Ravi, but they weren’t the least bit interested in their employees—unless they were potential investors, like bartender Phil at Death & Co, Ravi’s other bar. They saw friendship as a potential pitfall. During my third week working for them they fired one of their Mexican cooks who had been with them for two years. An undocumented worker, he had a wife and two children back in the Bronx, and he hadn’t fucked up once until that week. I heard he got alcohol poisoning from liquor that Ravi drank with him and he couldn’t make it into work during the opening of the new location.
So they canned him. I realized at that point that there would be no friendship per se; they weren’t interested in the lives of anyone else. In fact, Ravi and Alla hardly seemed interested in each other, despite their living together and supposedly dating. The only interest in other living beings that they exhibited that I could tell, was for that of their two dogs, Honeybee and Cajun Queen.
I didn’t mind Alla so much. In fact, I kind of liked her. She was only 22, a Russian girl whose family immigrated to Coney Island when she was very young. Her accent was slight and she was very tall and pretty. She seldom smiled and around midnight she tended to be poring herself over the restaurant’s numbers while drinking Cabernet Franc. Her teeth always went purple and she smoked tons of Marlboro Lights. I enjoyed watching her sometimes, stewing in that way I’ve only know women of the Eastern Bloc to stew. It had its own charm, sad as it all was.
Her boyfriend, Ravi, was far less likable. He was head honcho, 10 years older, with the emotional maturity of a toddler. A guy who considers himself a friend of Ravi’s informed me that he regularly cheats on Alla and sleeps on the couch. Rumor has it that the only thing keeping them together, other than her 10 percent share in the restaurant, is their two dogs. I told myself I’d keep that in mind before getting a dog, cat or child with anyone.
Ravi, like Alla, myself and most others who work in the service industry, has a drinking problem. But he’s been at it for a while longer than Alla or I, so it’s at a more developed stage. He tends to black out quite a bit, slurring his words and drooling on himself. He’d always ask one of us to fetch him his signature drink, which was just cheap, sparkling white wine in a a red wine glass, with one ice cube. I didn’t know how he could do it—consume so much sugar, that is. Alcohol is one thing, but that much Champagne is like drinking a two liter bottle of Sprite every night. I imagine his hangovers are awful.
Ravi often boasted that he only had one friend, a paraplegic named Gretchen who lived out in LA. I think this is somewhat of an exaggeration, but when I really consider it, I couldn’t name anyone who would keep his company for too long if he didn’t own restaurants and bars.
He hung around with scenesters and leeches of various kinds, and it embittered him. I could see why he hated people so much; he chose to surround himself with East Villagers who view themselves as sophisticated and Bohemian. They’d always drop his name, here or there, to gain favor with waiters or bar tenders or the bouncer at the door of Death & Co. It was obnoxious, these people thinking they had rapport with a guy who inherently resents people. But that was his own fault; he was a bullshitter and it behooved him to make people think he liked them. He worked in hospitality, after all.
Whatever the case, I can’t say I care that he was disingenuous just to make money in the New York restaurant scene, or that he had issues with fidelity, or that he was a punk alcoholic. In fact, his alcoholism was one of the few things I actually liked about the guy—for only when he was drunk could he be engaging, warm and even sentimental. Once when he was totally loaded, his irises swimming aimlessly about the whites of his eyes, he told me that I would never be “just a waiter to [him].” No, I was “part of the family now.”
I guess even the Brady Bunch had their fair share of squabbles. Either way, the unfavorable character traits I mentioned about Ravi are just extras I now fall back on to distance myself from the situation. I can forgive people a number of sins so long as they’re at least, on some level, kind. But Ravi is an asshole. And Alla is a fool in over her head.
“Sorry, David, it’s just not working out,” said Alla.
I must have looked confused because she started giving me some reasons, including not washing the dishes well enough. It was bullshit and I still don’t entirely understand. Like what—not even a subtle warning? I’ve been sweating blood for you creeps and yet you just drop me like. . .just like that?
I was tired and pissed off. I needed both drink and sleep. I went off to a neighborhood bar where they know me and I told them the news. They filled my whiskey glass to the top, so that I had to hover above it like a hummingbird to drink it. Wow, I thought. Whoever invented whiskey deserves the Nobel Peace Prize—or to be sainted, at least. I drank and stewed and regained my bearings, trying my best to wrap my head around the situation. It had all happened so quickly—not just the last hour, but the last 10 weeks. I felt like I’d walked into a revolving door and came out 10 weeks older with only a little extra pocket change, a bunch of girls’ phone numbers that I’d never call, and a slew of melted-together memories, all a dark shade of red like the color of the lights in that fucking pretentious bourgeois pig of a restaurant.
That’s one of the problems with working in bars. You meet a lot of people and you hear a lot of stories and you see a lot of things, but after a while, they all just blend together, and the memories funnel downward toward some common baseline, which is that of meaninglessness. Journal entries start to all look the same. You stop seeing faces so much as you do customers. You measure your nights by dollars and cents.
So I guess they did me a favor. It would have felt a lot better if it had been on my terms though.
The next day was a Friday, and Tovah was sick. She stayed home from work. I slept very little for some reason. Even though I was exhausted and drunk, I only got four or five hours.
I could tell she was disappointed. She doesn’t do so well when I’m sad. And she liked it when we had expendable income, especially because I tend to treat her with it and throw it around like it’s nothing. I’m more of a ’till-the-money-runs-out sort of guy than a saver. I tend to act like I don’t plan on having much of a future, or at least one that requires money. Tovah is different though. She’s responsible, averse to risk, a lover of the tried and true. It’s possible that’s why we’ve managed to stay together for six years. We live vicariously through one another.
She worked from home and I started pacing back and forth. I wasn’t sure what to do next. I figured I’d just go back to Oregon for the holidays, unwind, think of something, then grab some different sort of job when I got back. My mind began reeling between grad school, writing internships, travel—or just saying ‘fuck it all’ and skipping town when the lease was up, hopping a freighter to New Orleans, changing my name and starting completely over again. The limitless options were mind boggling. Having so many choices can be discomforting at times.
My anxiety levels rising, I decided I’d have a drink or two. It was around noon.
“Sorry, Tink,” I said, “but I’m just really bummed out right now. I need to get drunk. I hope you understand.”
She nodded. Off I went to the Irish Rover.
I was the only one there, other than the bartender. She seemed more interested in her paperback than she did in my presence. I don’t blame her. I must have looked pathetic—alone in some dreary dive around noon on a cold Friday. I wanted to talk about the weather or something, but she didn’t. The big screen toward the back of the bar played, in silence, a History Channel production of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Shit, I thought. It’s fucking D Day. Figures.
I wandered on to the next place, The Quays, where I hoped some people would be, whether they wanted to talk to me or not. I just wanted to drink in the presence of others—to feel a sense of solitude without actually being alone. As I walked, I pondered why it is that hangovers feel so much worse when you’re unemployed. The gray shades of the street seemed to stretch on forever, off toward the disappearing point of Long Island, leaving an indiscernible blur between sidewalk and sky.
“Wot’s wrong, Love?” asked the bartender. She was dumpy and kind and Irish like the day is long—a fixture in that bar, something I can’t imagine ever being: permanent or even semi permanent in any given place.
“Got fired last night,” I said. “From a bar.”
She exhaled, exasperated. “Fohkit, Love—soh did dat udder gerl ohfferr dare.”
She popped open a bottle of Bud and said, “Dis one’s free, Love.”
The jukebox played horribly depressing songs about Christmas. The bar felt warm and silently understanding the way a funeral might. I said, “What next—’Fairytale of New York?’”
I nailed it. In came the words, the flute, the Irish melodies and the story of two lovers who got fucked sideways by the fallacy of love and The American Dream…two Irish immigrants in New York City, cold, broke, and not getting any younger. In the drunk tank, no less. And so-on.
And the patrons of that bar, all twice my age—each one of them knew all the words to that song. When the chorus came, we were ready with:
….And the bells were ringing out for Christmas Day
Outside, it began to snow. Depressed as I was, I still felt like I had found something I’d never lose. I thought, right now I’m living and one day I won’t be, but shit—I’ve found out why I do the things I do. You couldn’t tell from looking at me, but I’m ahead of the game.
David Larson is a co-writer at the heartbroke daily. Though originally from Eugene, OR, he has also lived in Madrid, Beirut, New York City and San Francisco. He was named after a cult leader who was later defrocked for “fraternizing” with women among the fellowship. A veritable talented loser, he’s currently studying to work as an Emergency Medical Technician in Berkely. He’s never kept a job for more than three months.