A Different Planet for Bartenders

Alan Catlin



Maybe I shouldn't have answered, what must have felt like an innocent question to my fellow passenger on the bus.

It was really none of her business anyway what I was listening to in the first place.

That's why you bring headphones, a walkman and your cassettes in the first place: so you zone out inside your own particular space and let the human condition do its worst all around you on its own.

But there was something in the dull glint in her eye, something between grinning idiot and world class bore that made me do it.

Besides it was almost time to flip over the tape anyway and the answer was sure to get a reaction

"The recorded poems of Sylvia Plath. There's something in how her inflection changes from preppie prima donna on the verge of a great academic career that no one else will ever touch, to tormented soul, lost in a wilderness of bad dreams, that speaks to me where I live. The closer she gets to sticking her head in the oven, while her husband, the laureate Ted, is away, screwing some other neurotic co-ed, who would do the same oven thing to him years later, only this time with her unborn child inside, instead of them sleeping in the next room while mommy sucked on the gas."

It wasn't exactly the kind of response she had in mind.

I guess.

Too bad, while she was changing seats she missed all the fun going on outside.


UFO Babies                  
I must have been                                   spending too much time                 standing on line in                 supermarkets reading the                 headlines of                                                   certain tabloids. When
I saw them abusing second                  hand clothes and used furniture                 I recognized
them immediately as an                 extended family of UFO                               babies. I fervently hoped the                   younger generation would                 prevail;
it would be worth paying
to watch them try to stuff
a sofa the size of The Colossus                  of Rhodes into a taxi.
Outside, we see them waiting                   for a bus that no one actually                 sees come. I said, "They've                   been beamed back up to their                 space ship. It's too bad they                 couldn't stay longer. At least,                 they're happy now, back with                 Elvis on the UFO. We should                   be able to read about them
in just a few weeks. They were                the stuff legends are made of                 and headlines in The World                 Weekly News."



I know bartenders aren't supposed to be educated.                                                                                         They're supposed to know everything but not to be educated, it's one of those essential contradictions you get used to after awhile.

Sometimes you can even have fun with it but usually in subtle ways not many other people appreciate.

Not that it really matters.                                                                                                                                         Still, sometimes you have to involve other people in the game of life you are playing with a stacked deck.

Like the subtle joy of a thing well done only you can appreciate, there are refinements in this life, some involving an even more subtle form of cheating, that can be rewarding in ways it                                              is almost impossible to explain.

                       It helps if you are in charge of the                                                                                                                                Rules and The Game.


Betting on Existential          Dread I have money on this      guy not making
it into the bar.
Betting is something
I resist but this is
a special occasion.
We could see him        wandering around
a Western Avenue
in his mind trying
to figure out the problem of  how to press the
latch of our door down and actually open
the door. That's when
the wallets come out
and the odds get set:
if he figures out
the door, the odds are             10-1 he can't understand .       the concept of pull                when                                           he gets
to the inner door.                  Some heavy money
lay on the bar once
he gets inside the corridor      and starts pushing on the      pull
sign for all he is
worth. It gets to be
an existential dread bet          and we double it
once he gives up pushing       and turns to grapple with        the latch handle
to go outside again.
We watch him struggling          to figure
out the riddle of two incomprehensible locked passageways in his mind.            I hope he isn't        claustrophobic, it is
a small corridor and
the clearly printed signs            of how to get in and out obviously offer no clues.            It is probably cruel          watching this mortal        struggle and not          intervening but I am        winning a pile
of money letting it go on. Actually, it happens                  all the time.


The Open Door Policy
             Of course, if you leave the door propped open, as you should do summer evenings to let                                 out the carcinogenic clouds of cigarette smoke the prehistoric smoke eaters do nothing to                                                                                                    dispel.                                                                                                              The whole idea of an open door policy is to do business with as large a general clientele                                                                                                   as possible.

          That's what it's all about.
          Doing Business
          but some people's idea of doing business varies greatly from other people's.
          And some of the people that pass for clientele can only be described as what the dogs                                         of

hell dragged in on their way home to the banks of the River Styx


She came in
& wanted me
to call 911-                      something about                           her roommate                     spitting up blood                     around the corner                         at 187 Quail                               kitty corner from                           the block God                     forgot. That                               house has been                     haunted for twenty                      years, at least,
I sd., can't call                      anyway, phone in                      use, which was
true but I could have            done something                      about it.
She had no teeth,
I sd., afterwards,
I don't trust people                      with no teeth                     especially from
187 Quail.
JD told me later                      there were squad                       cars galore there
& enough                      emergency vehicles                      to start
& finish a war. What                    they wheeled out                      was probably dead &                     she would claim, it                       was all
my fault.



I have them the same as other people do, except mine have been altered a bit by perceptions.

And a lifelong habit of observing the divina comedia from a specialized vantage point.

Have come to see the whole dim process of human interaction as a kind of living movie you have to alter the dialogue and shift scenes of in your mind as the situation develop.

Sometimes this produced a particular kind of psycho drama.                                                                                But it sure does liven things up when you are on the verge of a complete kind of stark raving mad state of boredom                                                                                                                                                                                      or your sensibilities have becomes so jaded and over-sensitized that just about any weird thrill outside of the ordinary days and nights of random weirdness can provide, and you'll do anything to press the magic buttons to make it happen.


A Double Vodka Martian I'd seen her around quite
a bit before. She was
a washed out mouse colored blonde you might see in              a peep show on 42nd St.      strung out on drugs getting a piece of whatever the winos   and the perverts stuck in the pay for view slot outside her booth. She came up
to me and gave this look     which was supposed to be suggestive and sd.
"I've had my eye on you
for awhile, I'll give you
a blow job in exchange
for a double Vodka Martini." "I'd rather give you the
five bucks and have you go somewhere else."
"Are you serious?"
"Would I lie to you?"            "You're the first bartender I know, who's ever turned          me down."
"It may come as a surprise        to you but all bartenders    aren't total crap heads."        "Not the ones I've met."              I was amazed, watching          her chug the double        Martian, I'd never seen    anyone do that before and    live.                                  "Thanks, sweetie." She          said, "I'll see you around."          I hope that didn't mean
I was going to have to      identify the body.



After awhile, you feel as if you can write a whole series of in-depth monologues of the lost souls of the human condition acting their outpatient roles in the largest spontaneous school of drama yet.

That all the soliloquies you've heard and make up on the spot, are just something buried in Ophelia's waterlogged brain                                                                                                                                                                    dead and buried as last week's heliotrope bouquet:                                                                                                  Rue is for the heart
          White roses are for the beloved
          Nettles are for the skin                                                                                                                                                   or third base if you were a Yankee fan in the late 70's and early 80's.
          That was the kind of observation that made you the kind of evil presence people made the                      sign of the cross behind your back as if they thought you couldn't see them doing it in the strategically placed backbar mirrors and weren't altering the chemistry of the alcohol they were about to drink in ways that would be less than pleasant.

Never piss off someone who is going to make something you are about to put inside your body is about the only rule to live by I would call absolute.


 Guns and Roses
 She sd. "This dude,
 he was like crazy,                       all he did the whole time             I knew him was smoke       weed, drink
 Jack right out of the             bottle and break things.         And like maybe if I was           nice to him he'd maybe           lay off breaking things             and not punch my face           but forget it if the
 baby would commence             to crying, all hell would       break loose. Talk about       crazy. He couldn't             handle noise unless it             had something to do with       Guns and Roses. He had         one tattooed
 on his chest right
 above his heart, you                 know the logo of the               band. The only reason             we're not together                     now is he's doing time               for murder."



Usually, I don't bother to dispel the notion that bartenders all live up to the standard deviations people expect of them:
          that we are all lying, cheating, thieving, carnal animals, who live only to get drunk,                                       play cards, bet the horses and get laid with anything female old enough to grant permission.

In fact, cultivating that image has many advantages that can be used to your advantage when all the normal rules of communication and interaction break down.

It is the breaking of the mold that makes all the days and months and years perceived as                            being a human scumbag with the rote intelligence of a bag of warm manure, worthwhile


A Different Planet for Bartenders

 I guess it was assumed                 I was supposed to be                 an inexhaustible                 source of useless           information. A noise         finished on the                 infernal machine and               he asked me:                       "What was that, how               many minutes is it&               who was the artist?"               "First of all, "I sd.
 "If you were referring                 to the noise, I have                     a blocking mechanism           that blots that out.           Secondly, I like
 Mozart and that wasn't
 by him. Lastly,
 if we're going to do trivia,       let's do
 something interesting like         how many symphonies did   Haydn write?
 or what do the initials
 of famous writer's
 stand for? I'll go
 first Thomas Sterns is
 the T.S. in Eliot, though         some modern readers and   critics may disagree but         that won't change his           given name." The look
 he gave me suggested
 I wasn't the type of           bartender he was used to.       He might even think
 I was that legendary         bartender he'd heard about,   the bartender from
 another planet.


Alan Catlin has been publishing since the '70s. His many books include the recently released American Odyssey from Future Cycle Press. He worked in the service industry, at his unchosen profession, for thirty four years. He could have been an English teacher but a normal person would have done that. He is from Planet Earth.