Cluckers

Of course it isn’t really the pennies that have him. It’s the tweak.

He, my good sirs, is a Clucker.

There are a lot of them around here. Cluck cluck. Cluck cluck. They’re especially active around the first of the month when the checks go out. But the middle of the month, the end… well they’re extra desperate, like Mr. Pennies. And like this other guy too. He’s too old to live with his mother. But he does; when he’s not homeless. And he always has a girlfriend, which comes in handy, especially when he is homeless and she gives him a place to stay a couple nights a week. Plus she does his laundry. Oh and she gives him a place to park his dick. That’s important.

But it’s the laundry that sets him apart from the HOMELESS homeless and the TWEAKER tweakers. He’s just always so fresh and so clean.

His white t-shirts are always so… white. And his Canadian tuxedo? Freshly pressed.

The first time he walks into the bar, ignores me and goes straight to the smoking porch, only to disappear minutes later without ordering a cheap beer or putting a dollar in the machines, I am curious. Maybe he was just looking for someone. The second time I realize he’s up to something weird but I’m too busy pouring drinks to spy on him. The third time the bar is completely empty and I get a private show on the security monitor.

There he is; outside, on the smoking porch. But he doesn’t light up. Instead, he goes for the ashtrays. He checks all three picnic tables. But there is no luck for him there, no refries with his name on the filter. I dumped them earlier. Too bad.

It’s only a temporary setback, of course. Those butts did not go far. In the corner, next to the fence, there are a pair of coffee cans. Old, rusted coffee cans where we dump the ash trays until they overflow to the point that someone gets sick enough of looking at them that they actually get emptied. Or they catch on fire. Whichever comes first.

In this case it’s the tweaker that makes the first round. He’s on those cans like nobody’s business. Refries and halvsies, he takes the best of the bunch from the first can and moves on to the second. When the second can disappoints he is back to the first can, desperate for any butts with even a few stray hairs of fresh red tobacco. When that’s not enough he scans the ground, moves chairs, brushes bushes aside. On the upside, the dropped cigarettes have more meat on them. On the downside, it’s been raining.

Advertisements

Pennies from Heaven

He’s got two video lottery tickets to cash. One for a penny. The other for three cents. We don’t carry pennies in our till and Charlie insists that we always round down, no matter how close it is. I give him a nickel anyway. He is already going on and on about how every penny counts anyway.

“What I don’t understand,” he says, “is how people can just walk by change on the street and not stop to pick it up.” He shakes his head in disgust. “Why would someone do that?”

Maybe they’re tired, I think. Or their back hurts.

“Why would someone just walk by, and leave a perfectly good penny lying on the sidewalk?”

Maybe because it’s a freaking penny!

“I just don’t understand.”

Obviously.

“Look, you’re not going to believe this,” he says as he digs into his pocket and pulls out a handful of pennies and a nickel or two. “I picked all of this up off of the ground! Can you believe people just left it there? People actually dropped this money and then just left it there! And other people walked by and saw it and left it there too! But not me. No,” he says, this time with a smile on his face as he shakes his head at three times speed of before. “Not me. I always pick it up.” You would think this guy must be old. At least 50, 60 right? Snow white hair, a button up shirt, tweed jacket with the elbow patches. Except he’s 29, 30 tops, in a wife beater, baggy pants and a Kangol hat left over from the mid-90s. It’s the type of outfit only a guy who thinks he is super cool would wear. He’s counting his pennies into stacks. “Look at all of this!”

“Wow,” I say blandly, without trying too hard to hide the sarcasm from my voice. “You’ve probably got like 35 cents there.”

“I know right! It’s crazy.” He pushes the piles of pennies across the bar. “Hey can I get a quarter?”

“Sorry. I can’t take pennies.”

“Really?”

“Yeah…”

“Well I guess I understand,” he says as he scoops the pennies back up. He blathers on about how a bunch of pennies could be embarrassing for some people. “Those fools can give their pennies to me. I’ll take them.” He’s going to the gas station next door after this, to count out his pennies for a pack of cigarettes.

I’m a Bartender, Not a Hooker, But Thanks

The guy in the spandex and cut off shorts, he’s back on my next day of work. And the next after that, in some kind of variation of the same outfit: black spandex and red cut off sweat shorts, then blue spandex pants and gray cut off sweat shorts. He’s got big wire frame glasses and slicked back hair that makes me think of pedophiles and televangelists. Not that the two are connected. Not that they’re not either. He doesn’t buy anything, just plays pool on the free tables. On my third day he actually comes up to the bar.

“Hey there Beautiful, what’s your name?”

What do you say to something like that? Hey Ugly my name’s Tina. What’s yours? “Uh, Tina.”

“I’m Arthur. Wow you sure are pretty.”

“Um, thanks.” I’m trying to walk away, but he won’t stop talking.

“Hey, can I get a water?”

“Sure, that’ll be a dollar.”

“A dollar for water? You’re joking right?”

I shake my head ‘no’. Did I mention Charlie doesn’t give anything away for free?

“C’mon Sweetie, it’s just water.”

Gross. Gross. Gross.

“It comes out of the tap for free.”

“Well there’s a tap in the bathroom. Help yourself.”

It only shuts him up temporarily. He’s back all too soon for a spit cup for his chew. “Hey say something in Chinese.”

“I’m Korean Dumbass.”

This place is a cornucopia of bad pick ups. In just a few nights I have been called Beautiful, Honey, Gorgeous, Pretty Lady, and Mamasita more than in the whole rest of my life. I have been asked out more times than I can count and proposed to twice. Of course none of that comes close to the straight up propositions.

“You have a boyfriend?”

“Yeah, of course.” I don’t really. He’s not looking so I switch my grandmother’s ring from my right to my left hand, then hold it up for him. “Husband, actually.”

He strokes his long orthodox beard. “Maybe, you know, you guys are running a little low on money, maybe I give you $300, you…” He winks and nods. I throw up in my mouth.

Dive Bar Fashion

People wear the weirdest shit here. And it goes way beyond guys in striped shirts over plaid shorts.

There’s a guy playing pool in spandex and cut off sweatpants. An old lady with chaps on over her jeans. Girls that forgot to take their old dingy gray/white bras off before they put the halter tops on. On a Friday night. When they are looking to get laid. C’mon girls, really? Are you rocking some granny panties with brown stains in the crotch too? Tonight, my personal favorite is a BIG woman with even BIGGER boobs, no bra and too short of a shirt. She is at one of the lottery machines in her electric wheelchair and every time she lifts an arm there it is. Her nipple.

It’s Sandy’s fault. She made me look. I probably wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. “Hey look over there.” She pointed.

And I looked just in time to see a worn oversized nub of a nipple poke out from under her shirt, followed by the never ending pink of her areola. At least most of her under boob was hidden by her knees. Still, now, it is all I see. Nipples, nipples, everywhere. It doesn’t help that she gives me a flashback just about every time I glance over at the lottery machines. And a personal show when she reaches up from her wheelchair to hand her ticket over the bar.

I can’t help it. I shudder in disgust, right in front of her.

So you would think that by the time I get back with her money she would have pulled her shirt down right? Nope. If anything it is hiked up even higher. Can’t she feel the breeze?

It stares at me while I count her winnings back to her. I try to block it out but even from the very bottom of my peripheral vision it takes over and becomes all that I can see! “Thank you,” she smiles as she reaches up for her cash and I swear it winks at me! Winks at me!

I don’t shudder this time, because she is smiling at me. So I realize she knows what she is doing. And she likes it! “Pervert,” I mutter as she rolls out of earshot.

When she comes back with another ticket she wants a Pepsi too. I ask her if she wants the cost taken out her ticket.

“What? I’m playing the machines! Its free!” She is mad. Her nipple is madder.

Not here. Charlie doesn’t let anything go for free. If I give it to her I’ll have to fork over the two dollars to pay for it myself.

Of course, it’s worth two dollars to get that big worn winking staring nub out of my face. Finally she starts to roll away, back to the machines. But then she takes a sip and comes back, “This isn’t diet!” she shrieks as she reaches up yet again to put the glass back on the bar.

“You didn’t say diet,” I say as I dump it out.

“It was implied,” the nipple answers for her.

Crackers

“All of your fried foods are back here,” Sandy says as she leads me to the dry storage room. The freezer she shows me reminds me of the girls that frequent this place: big, white, on its back. “Most of the time you have got to dig around for what you need. Charlie just throws stuff in here after he goes shopping so it is all kinds of disorganized.” She lifts the lid so that I can see bags of French fries and an assortment of battered or breaded foods (chicken, fish, pickles, cheese, etc.) then lets its drop with a slam. “Soups are over here.” She points at a shelf with cans of clam chowder and chicken noodle. “We just open it and throw it in the microwave.”

“What is with the crackers?” I ask. Next to the soup, a basket of saltine crackers, their wrappers labeled in a variety of different logos. “Are those from Wendy’s?”

Sandy laughs, “Yup. Charlie’s too cheap to buy crackers so he collects them instead.”

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Nope,” she smiles. “He used to try to get us to bring in crackers. If I mentioned that I went out to eat he’d be all ‘Hey did you get me any crackers?’ He always sounded like it was some kind of operation too, like a big drug deal or something. I finally convinced him that I don’t go out for soup all that often. He might try it on you though, I don’t know.”

This is one of those moments where I think: What the hell did I get myself into?

“Now he just gets crackers whenever he goes out, no matter what he is eating. Steak… can I have crackers with that? Pizza… can I have crackers with that?”

“And we give those to customers like that? With other restaurants’ logos on them?”

She nods and laughs and moves on to another shelf with more baskets. “He also asks for a lot of ketchup and mustard packets.”

McDonalds. Burger King. Carl’s Jr. “We give them McDonald’s ketchup?”

“They don’t know it.” She picks up a worn plastic bottle. The faded label reads Heinz 57. It is coming off in chunks and pieces from being touched by too many wet greasy hands. “When it’s slow we squeeze the packets into these.”

That ‘What the hell?’ moment, I don’t think it is going to be over any time soon.

My First Day at the Dive

She’s probably 55, maybe 60. Her brassy yellow dye job is topped with a crown of silver roots and what I can see of her skin is leathery from sun and cigarettes. Most of her face is buried in a hole at the edge of the sidewalk in front of the bar. She heaves into the hole but still manages to spray the sidewalk with chunks. I’ve got a bucket of hot water ready to rinse it off when she is done.

“My teeth!” she yells after one last spray. “My teeth! I lost my teeth.”

“You what?” I ask, trying not to laugh.

“I lost my teeth! Down there,” she points into the hole. “Do you see my teeth?”

So this is my new job. I’m looking down a hole for some drunk lady’s teeth. I see them too, a partial of white chompers in the gravel, along with chunks of vomit at the bottom of the hole.

“Do you see my teeth?”

“No,” I lie. I can already see what is coming and there is no way I am digging them out!

“Can you look again? I have to have my teeth!”

“I don’t see them. Maybe you should come back tomorrow when it’s light out and look for them. Now move so I can clean up your mess.”

She stumbles back a little but not enough and water and vomit splash back on her shoes. There is some guilty pleasure in the thought that the water is probably burying her teeth further in the gravel, and she will be digging for them in a pool of her own vomit stew in the morning.

It has been like this since I got here, with three different patrons already cut off. The manager, Sandy, is pointing them out to me when a girl who looks like she is twelve in her school girl bangs and pink glasses stumbles over to the bar. “I need a shot of Fireball. That guy over there said he’d pay for it.” She points in the general vicinity of the lottery machines where a group of five guys are drinking Bud Light in bottles and talking in Spanish.

“Yeah, no, you’re done,” Sandy says.

“What do you mean I am done?”

“Done. As in no more alcohol for you.”

“What? But it’s only like seven! And I’m not even drunk yet!”

“You’re wasted.” Drunk Girl tries to argue but Sandy turns to me instead and says, “No more for her either.” She is going to show me around the kitchen when she sees another drunk with a fresh full drink. “Shit, where the hell did he get that? I cut him off like an hour ago.” She folds her arms over her chest and smirks, “Well Newbie, you get to go take his drink.”

“What’s his name?” I ask as I go to follow him.

“You can just call him Mooch.”

“Mooch?”

“Yeah,” she laughs.

Mooch has a blond crew cut and a serious booty that waddles as he walks. His drink is easy enough to take. I just pick it up as he sets it down on a cocktail table. “Hey what are you doing? That’s my rum and Coke.”

“Sorry Mooch, you’re cut off.”

“Hey how do you know my name?” He frowns, his eyebrows overtaking his gray irises. “Someone just bought me that, you can’t take it!”

“Actually, I can. I have to. It’s my job,” I say as I turn and walk back to the bar to dump his drink.

He follows. “No it’s your job to pour my drinks, not take them away.” I ignore him and dump the drink into a yellowed five gallon bucket next to the dishwasher. “Well then do I get a refund?”

“A refund?” I laugh.

Sandy cracks up too, “Where do you think you are? McDonalds?”

“She took my drink!”

“The great thing about working in a bar,” Sandy says as she turns a deaf ear to Mooch, “Is that the customer is never right.”

How I Got Here

It was a Monday.  Of course.  And it was a meeting day.  Three hours in a conference room and the only thing that kept me awake were the hard plastic chairs and the thermostat set at sixty.  Supervisors droned on and on.  They enjoyed the spotlight of their captive audience as we shifted in our seats from one numb butt cheek to the other, I could tell by the gleam in their eyes.  All I could think about was the stack of work on my desk, the mess in my cubicle, the messages piling up on my voicemail and in my inbox.  It was all I could ever think about.  Even when I was at home, or the gym, or on vacation.

And when I got back to my desk, after that pointless meeting, before I could even look at the stacks and piles and to do lists and check any of my messages, the receptionist was at my side.  “There you are,” she said in a condescending, reproachful tone, “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.  You have a client waiting…”

Breathe.  It was all I could do to keep myself from jumping up on my desk and screaming.  Just breathe.  Hard.  And then I wrote my letter of resignation.  I didn’t turn it in yet, of course.  I had to find another job first.  I was done, I hated my job, I couldn’t stand it for another minute, I was probably going to choke out the next person to talk to me, but I wasn’t stupid.

So what does someone with a useless liberal arts degree do when they decide to leave their nine to five career?  Other boring office jobs aside, there was always retail.  Or fast food.  At that point even a job as a gas jockey sounded better than one more day in my current position.  But I didn’t just want a job I wouldn’t hate, I wanted one I would love!  I thought back on college, when I had the greatest job ever at a campus bar.  That was it!  I renewed my liquor license and trolled craigslist for “bar maid wanted” ads.

What I find isn’t exactly like I remembered, but it has to be better than my desk job.  The first, and last, bar that I walk into, resume in hand, is as dark as night compared to the sunlight outside.  All of the windows are boarded up so that no light can get in and nothing can be seen from outside.  Beer ads cover the walls, most of them showcase chicks in bikinis.  Some have the year printed on them.  2012.  2009.  I even spot one from 2004.  It is faded and yellowed from when smoking was allowed in bars.  The whole place smells like stale beer mixed with something rotten and almost dead.  As my heels scrape against the indoor/outdoor carpet I almost trip on a dull piece of duct tape that has peeled up from where it holds a split in the fibers together.  Classy.  The owner is behind the bar.  He wears a plain white undershirt as his only top.  Various grease and sweat stains are visible under the bar lights.  The thin cotton stretches over his belly, which in turn folds over his belt.  He gawks at me from the moment I walk in, his gaze rests steadily on my cleavage as I make the trek from the door, past three pool tables and some seating, to the bar.  He smiles wide, his eyes scrunched into small blue slits, his missing front tooth exposed, like he has never seen a pretty girl before. 

And landing the job is as easy as that.  The only resume I need are my partially exposed tits.  I’m pretty sure the Human Resources Department will breathe a collective sigh of relief when I turn in my two week notice.  I have never been able to keep my mouth quiet about injustice around the office, or anything that pisses me off really.  They will be glad to see me go and the feeling is mutual.

It probably seems crazy; leaving a secure nine to five with benefits for a minimum wage night job that, looking at the place, probably won’t bring much in tips and doesn’t even have health insurance, let alone a 401k.  But I have to do it.  I have to or I am going to be one of those people on the news who opens fire in the lobby or climbs the roof with a sniper rifle just after taking off all of their clothes and running through the executive offices with “kiss it” written on their ass .