No one had ever written about it before, from what I could tell, about the proverbial Fall From Grace With God that is falling into the job of tending bar. There wasn't much exciting to write about, mild antics, an off-running of humor coming from serious people who knew they could now not leave the seriousness of their lives and jobs, having been schooled to know not to take their eyes off the ball, alcohol-filled gatherings spilling out onto a night, a crowd coming late for some fun. Reason enough why bartenders avert their eyes from what's in front of them, looking off to duties on the sides or down into coolers, if not turning their backs to the drinking crowd getting toasty to polish a bottle, why mirrors are put in bars. I can only think of Dostoevsky, who wrote a fine book about his years in a Siberian penal colony. And I think of him and his habit of how he liked the quiet of night to write, despised electric lights, wrote by candlelight, rolled cigarettes that he was not allowed to smoke as he thought out what he wanted to put down, sketching on his margins drawings that show he was no slouch as an artist. The calmness and quiet brought by the night to the city of St. Petersburg did him well and let him do the work that he, being noble and educated and self-disciplined, thought he was put on earth to do.
It seemed to me the main thing were not the particulars, that of individuals and behavior, of the rituals of relaxing, unwinding, dating, simple dining and conversation, but the constant tension that went on in my own head, probably for the most part with dignified secrecy, as I wondered what I was doing with my life and what I should be doing. This is the modern selfishness or Narcissism, but also a part of the process of dealing with that very scary thing of how we must make a living and be part of a profession, so that we don't end up homeless and starving, one thing going bad after another such that we find our books and our guitar and our clothes and other impedimenta out in the street, as there is never really any back-up in life that we do not make for ourselves. And this involves whatever we might scrape together for ourselves by way of pension or real estate and retirement plans, and I, pushing fifty, found myself, while not completely unhappy with the stimulation and company and human touch of my job amongst regular people, with little reason to feel comfortable, and knowing that, in fact, it might all end tomorrow.
Plan B, of course. But what is that? What does that mean for me, when theoretically I am a writer, one who grew up so steeped in liberal arts as to, like old Fyodor, find purpose in doing such? There's always grad school, but when you close a restaurant four nights a week after hustling over a fairly large territory of service and have many friends and acquaintances to talk to and taste wine with, I found, or find, myself with very little energy left over to even think about such things as graduate school and library science, an MFA in poetry, and even teaching prep school would require such a massive shift as to lead me to not know where to begin. Writing, like serving wine and talking to people, was a duty, a cross between noble savage and noblesse oblige, and the reason people rightly get starry eyed when talking about the nobility of wild animals such as the cheetah or the domesticated feline or the dog, creatures just as smart as you and I but without the wordy parts, such at we, the human creature, rightly despise those who do not take up words and public chatter without a great humility and a sadness that such is necessary.
(Which is why I find myself disliking from what I've seen on television tonight not so much Newt Gingrich himself but his enabled habit of talking about things the rest of us have difficulty understanding, a kind of plotting, calculated, as I suppose we all must be when we realize, selfishly, the things at stake. I'll take Lincoln any day, to Gingrich's Steven Douglas. And the news people, many of them, reveal their distraction as they fill our spaces as if reality now were endless filled aisles full of cheap bargains at Home Depot or Lowes, the same cheaply manufactured door knob that will last a while, with little aesthetic value, stamped out, no work of art. The news filling us up with stuff and emotions we do not need... the delivery of the trite. And no one seems to be able to state simply that putting people out of work and depriving the poor day by day is spiritually wrong.)
In the daylight of a day off, rising past two, it feels like a deep hole I cannot get out of, week after week, flying by me. But then, if I got out of the whole, what would the alternative be? Did I fall into this pit, this miserable routine of drinking wine alone at night, then waking late, out of thinking too much about the spiritual aspect of humanity? Such that I would then become a prodigal son? How could I have ended up so, quietly doing my job reasonably well, graciously even, without great complaint, but finding myself haunted by some misery I cannot put a finger on, involving how I am not a great provider. Where did I become troubled, veering off the path, I ask, scratching my head as I drink green tea, bits of dreams remembered. A day off and the clock is already ticking, and I have little idea of what to do with myself but go for a walk outdoors, down in the woods, before going grocery shopping, by bike or on foot. Years go by and I get no where; that's what we all say to each other in the restaurant business.
And yet, the community a neighborhood bar can offer, is of spiritual service, filling a gap, with some compassion, bringing people together, letting them speak their minds, and I have not much channeled this into personal profit, but rather what I take to be some form of good deed, even as I'm sure there is skepticism about all that, often my own. It does cost money to go to divinity school, I don't believe in celibacy, and the rewards for such paths might not be any greater than those of my present toils.
That's the problem with the world, it's worldliness, as the Pope makes light of recently on a visit to Assisi. And the problem personally, is that some brains are less inclined toward that worldliness, more toward love and faith and a peculiar sense of human struggle. If you aren't trained to of a particular faith, but amenable to religious thought in general, if you're not a knee-jerk believer in accepted tales, I guess you end up reaching out for such things. First, you love people, even as they are caught in worldliness, and a greater unselfish spiritual love comes forward. How do you recognize that within? How do you bring such a general faith along?
Inclined toward writing, inclined to explore a way of making a living out of it, I wish that I did care to inventory the worldliness of the world. But I never feel inclined to do that without boredom setting in. It is by some faith that we must look elsewhere to solve our real problems, even as such a thing might seem irresponsible. (This is the problem of a lot of education today.) For one must love things out of spirit, not practicality, not by a marketplace. At least then you'll find answers to questions, know that we all suffer and need love and need to give it. Then maybe I might see, better, happier, that it was a lack of worldly intention that I fell in to the crowd and the bars, not that I would or will ever be a Francis amongst lepers, a Mother Theresa.
The world's problems are depressing and confusing, too much for shrewder more clever people who like comfort. And the core of a bartender's task, to me anyway, is not the pleasure that leads to misery, but to the spiritual presence that is clean and free of selfish motive and the stuff that clogs the mind. Then, I think, you come to understand your acts, put them into a form that has some shape, gather then into some overall sense, and that would reinforce you as you must go on.