Friday, June 30, 2017

In his mind, this what the gallant old barman who regarded his job as a thing worthy of the great maestros of all forms of work, craft and art, sought to write down a little bit of his adventures:

For which we should take with a sense of humor, as what is seen might not be actual reality, nor the full story, but some causes for musings as are found below, not to be taken with great seriousness in an overly serious world, and after all the restaurant is also about entertainment not just the food and the service.

Tuesday night at The Dying Gaul upstairs the thermostat near the opening of the bar is reading a steady 85 degrees.  The busboy, who is married to the assistant manager/server--the boss is taking his family vacation in France--has arrived late and done very little to help me set up the bar and its low tables to be ready for service.  Rarely is he on time.  I don't blame him.  He has young kids, and a long way to drive.  This evening he arrives as we sit down eating our meager staff meal of chicken joints and rice, coming in sighing off the road, which is not easy.   He manages to do is bring me ice and bread.  Good thing I set up the tables the night before.  Another server, a good worker who gets it, will arrive, at some point, but at that point his arrival will be of no help to my setting up.  It's already busy downstairs when he arrives, and I'm already busy, but he is drawn downstairs.  It is not an easy night.  And it is not so fun without the respite of proper air conditioning.  "We should have had another server on tonight," my friend tells me as we hump it.

Wednesday night there are not many reservations.  A jazz trio will be playing up at the bar.  The sleepy eyed server has come up and help me put a few touches for set up, but, still the busboy is late again, and offers cursory help up at the bar.  And then, when the door opens, it is evident, guess what, I will be working it myself.   The assistant manager is doing a double, but when I venture downstairs for a few finishing touches odds and ends to my organization, neither she nor her husband are anywhere to be seen.  I'd like to run across the street to grab some beer in this heat for later, but sleepy-eyes has taken up his familiar habitual stance of standing staring into his smart phone.  There is no one seated yet downstairs.  I have an elderly woman to entertain;  she's lovely, talking about the various happy hour deals at French restaurants.  Anyone coming in right at five thirty just when the door opens is inevitably irritating;  you've barely had time to eat, brush, floss, tie your tie, and get out a sheet of paper to write down the reservations.

And pretty soon a lovely person who meets her husband, a former ambassador and man of note, regal, handsome, an author, older than she, has arrived, and I'm happy to see her.   We smile at each other, long acquainted, a good repartee, people who bring out my sense of humor and the joy of waiting on people.  "How are you, Ted," she asks.  Oh, I'm good, I say.  "But there are a few Hispanics I'd like to strangle at the moment," I add, quietly.  And she responds, "Uh oh.   That's not very politic," she says, something like that, with a supportive tone, as if a teacher shaking a finger at her favorite pupil.  Sleepy eyes comes up the stairs bearing the grilled seafood salad for the elegant older lady with whom I've established a neighborly relationship already, and, knowing what my friends want, put two champagne flutes into the cooler because they are hot to the touch, not as bad as yesterday, bringing her a bottle of Badoit with two glasses and soon the ambassador, an author, arrives.  His happy place, his wife and I joke.  And I am wondering if my friend has heard my quip about a desire to strangle a few particular members of the Hispanic race.  He doesn't let on, or didn't hear.  He's gone back down the stairs, oblivious.  I will be alone all night, while the other three, wife, busser, server, will have their little social hour in Spanish.  I picture them eating snails behind the bar from the bubbling metal dish and then splitting a salmon entree while the last few customers finish up, as I have often seen, sometimes when told that Sleepy Eyes is needed downstairs so the other server can go home already.

Okay, I have people now.  I'm in the mode of entertaining already.  The musicians who will be coming are fantastic.  I show Amb. XYZ an album from Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers explaining who will be playing the horn tonight.  His lady has told me earlier that the hamster has passed away, just in time for the daughter's going off to camp, when I ask her how the cats are.  The older woman tells me about the places of her career with IBM.  Back at Amb. XYZ's table, as they are wrapping up, remembering the last time I saw him, I turn to him quietly, speaking into the back of my hand and leaning over to him, "how'd it go with the Russians?", and his wife laughs and says, "oh, don't even bring that up," (something like that), and he says, "oh, very well," in a sort of purring voice, "they've invited me to visit."  And she's like, oh... no way.   It's good to keep the strain of conversation going, or at least acknowledged, from the previous visit, be it a week or a month ago.

One musician arrives, and I propose he eat his dinner early rather than late.  He's coming from DC courthouse job.  A DC music legend, Tillary plays the horn and sings, and when the bass player arrives, he talks of how as a kid Louis Armstrong blew his mind.  When Table 57 asks for the check, I express my thanks to the wife for helping me avoid an international incident.  He leaves me a healthy tip, which covers a happy hour champagne.  It's a good relationship, gracious.

The nights before I've worked hard.  And long.  Sunday, entertained a party of three, a guy's 50th birthday, and I bring out a guitar at the end and we all jam into the end of the night.  They spend more than two hundred on wine, share a sip of the 2003 Chateaux Margaux with me, order well, even as I run my ass off, the bar full, ladies to entertain, run run run.  Hugo the busser I'm sharing tonight with the downstairs notes my busting my ass, from one end to the other, chop chop chop, comments, 'three servers downstairs, one standing around doing nothing.'  The bar is jovial, people to chat with, regulars.  It's a long evening.  When the birthday guy table was delighted when I brought up a guitar case, toward the end, the explain a bit of their music to me, where they are from, Charlottesville.  "You'll have to play us a song."  No, I need a glass of wine first, I say.  "Shane MacGowan school."  "Play A Pair of Brown Eyes for us."  Sure, but I need a drink first.  I'm rattled by the night, responding to everything, bending around like The Matrix, while the cows downstairs graze slowly on their grass, contended they are doing the job well enough.

And I play just that song for them, though without enough time to really study the chord change, simple enough, but not bad from a cold start.  I get the words right. They sing along with the chorus.   And then they play, original songs, from what I can tell, harmonizing, the three of them, birthday guy, wife, brother in law.

Monday night, too.  Busy.  Jazz night is already difficult, lots of moving parts, and help is help, but never quite as engaged as you want them to be all night.  The singer is lovely, and singing in perfect pitch.

At the end of the night I bring out the guitar again, and the woman who sings gives me a singing lesson, forcing me to sing, critiquing, determining I'm a tenor.  Slightly embarrassing as the downstairs servers come up to watch and pour themselves a glass or two.  Finally they leave, happy, not having to do the last tedious minutiae of closing, restocking for your own good reacher than do it tomorrow and no one else is going to lift a finger to help you out.  They won't have to wait for the dishwasher, nor close the lights off, punch in the security code after pulling the bike upstairs by the door.  When they go the conversation with the singer lady opens up a bit.  She's really cool.  "You're very good looking.  You do your job very well, making people feel comfortable..." She says.  I shrug.  "You don't take a compliment well," she tells me.  She tells me to play through songs, confidently, less self-questioning, less stopping to reconsider.  "You have it, you know you have it," she tells me, and I find a ray of light here in this place.  After a great chat, I walk the jazz singer lady to her car across the street.   Another forty five minutes, a bite to eat, the checkout report and the money counting, a last round of restocking maybe and I'll finally be done.

Tuesday night, busy, and the assistant manager helps with a little food running.

She takes credit for Wednesday night for a full shift, the tips for the downstairs a total of $85 combined for both servers after tipping out the busboy.  She leaves around 8PM.  I'm there 'til 1PM at least,  cleaning up, by myself.  Tips from her dayshift, $14.  Her average tips today, $56.50, will bring down the point, the amount each of us will bring in for the number of shifts we work.  She could have claimed half a shift.  Or, she could have gone home at seven.  Perhaps there is missing information;  I've been kept busy all night from the get go.  Around 10:30 I get the usual "can I go?" from the busser.  Yeah, sure, go.  They've run food for me.  Sleepy Eyes told the night's specials to one or two tables, but from what they made downstairs, obviously they coasted.  It could have been worse, in this uncertain unpredictable business.  But I hope they were sincere about entertaining as I have been with faces familiar and those new.  The busser is leaving a good bulk of the side work for the night undone, but his buddy Sleepy eyes, will be on tomorrow night, not me.  They'll hang out talking about the soccer.  Sleepy eyes pulls things like staring into his phone in the middle of service, like going to eat in the corner to have a nice little snack, both of which with his back completely turned from his tables, leaving me to deal, even when it's busy, or, another trick, disappearing into the bathroom.  Things a professional in the business would not approve of, such as not being able to show up on time.

Ah, but you cannot blame anyone, not a single one of them, even as the great maestro toils away.  He is just being pessimistic and grumpy as he writes down such things, such would be grievances.   And in a better mood, he realizes the compensation Frenchy allows for the assistant manager might warrant the necessity for her deserving as much credit as anyone for her shifts that go toward her share of the tip pool.  And Sleepy Eyes, he does, basically, a good job;  we all have our foibles, and the great maestro neighborhood barman, Hamlet of Quixote, or some form of quiet producer of quietly American literature, such as it is, has his too which allow him to slip through the jaws of a night shift and all its events.  Indeed, if he suffers such monsters as will come out of the woods at him, as these monsters might really be unnecessary but seemingly happy to fuck with him on an almost daily basis, such habits of humanity, well, that is what a princely knight errant must face, at least until he gets some noble back-up as if from the good knight Sir Lancelot du Lac.    But yes, onward will he grumble on about things at The Old Dying Gaul, because that too seems to be part of the landscape.

I'll go home and think of music.  I will go home and dream of playing and getting better at music.  The guitar and learning to sing, this is how I deal.

Really, the first day off, all I do is sleep the day away.  Get up at 8pm.  Thus is the nature of my marathon.  Even the next day, rest, after a doctor's appointment to check on things, and all the grocery shopping I could manage in the muggy heat of DC summer.    My therapist has suggested a sleep-aid, not habit forming, and the doctor approves.

The money is better downstairs, so we are stuck with this tip pool system, number of shifts multiplied by the average tips per shift once all tips are pooled together and then divided by the total number of shifts servers including myself have worked.  As a barman I get a modest hourly of $7.50.  Since our bosses have opened a sister bistrot up the street, business has been less.  I tried working a bar shift up there, but it was miserable, poorly laid out, service bar all night.

I find it an isolating job, even as intensely social as it is.  I guess that happens with jobs, each in its own way.  Going out to socialize for me is always a mixed bag.  Better to stay in almost, cook, clean, organize.  Food is important.

Writing, I've come to think, has been an unproductive pursuit.   Leading me to be not much more than a laborer.   Wine, yes, we can talk about wine, and we can talk to people and make them comfortable, in our own way, as good as any, but where does it lead?  How to get out of it?  What to do?

The singer is right.  I do not take a compliment well.

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