Entering this past summer, I found myself at something of a crossroads in a life already punctuated with irrelevant and completely unmarketable summer jobs such as “Jeepers Party Pro” and “Goldie the Dancing Safety Fish.” I had already secured a summer internship at a local radio station, but I needed some occupation that would actually earn me a few bucks. The job I sought combined a complete lack of effort with obscene profitability, while at the same time retaining an element of relentless amusement. The job Pops envisioned was a job. Any damn job. And fast.
Thus, I spent the better part of my summer at Circuit City, as an ‘entertainment specialist’ in the television department, dragging into work each day with feeble hopes that a 51″ TV would either fall – inexplicably and perhaps magically – into the back of my Jeep or onto my head. Inevitably the mundane routine drove me away, and I found myself wandering the streets in pursuit of a more endearing job – a search that would end with a position as barback at the inimitable Paradise Alley.
During my first night at the bar, however, I remained subscribed to the Circuit City ideal of staying constantly busy and spent a feverish evening dashing about the bar collecting bottles and carrying ice. Meanwhile, I cast away gregarious gals and shots of Jack to check if I should perhaps be hand-scrubbing a urinal somewhere. After we had closed the bartenders pulled me aside to inform me, with grave faces, that I had failed at the charges they had bestowed upon me. My job, they reminded me, was not to inquire about the ice bins every three minutes. Rather, my job was to enjoy myself. To foster an excited atmosphere in the bar, and to exemplify the good spirits we sought in our patrons. Simply put, my position entailed slowing down, have some drinks, and talking to girls. The rest, I was assured, would be taken care of. Moments later, after having retrieved my floorborne jaw, I called Mom on the ride home to share my excitement toward my job’s responsibilities. Curiously, her enthusiasm failed to reach the level of mine, and somewhere amidst her tears, I think she muttered something about another internship or some other “real” job. We were, it seemed, at odds.
And yet, I see my fledgling position at the bar as being on an entirely different level than anything that’s bulleted my resume thus far. As the late sportswriter Al McGuire once commented, “I think everybody should go to college and get a degree and then spend six months as a bartender . . . then they’d really be educated.” It’s a mantra that I immediately adopted, mostly to justify my future with a psych major.
In the few months I’ve worked at the bar, however, my parents have come around. They’re still a bit skeptical of the late hours I work, particularly mid-week, and aren’t especially enthused with the proliferation of breasts and booze in which I immerse myself, all in the name of the job. But at the same time, they’ve come to recognize the intangible aspects of working at a place like a bar and the value therein. At least, they bought that argument.
After all, during any downtime at Circuit City, you’re expected to run through the motions of tidying and straightening unless, in a rare stroke of unparalleled fortune, a special task presents itself, such as assembling a TV stand or some wild endeavor akin to that. Feigning complete manual ineptitude quickly becomes an art – a talent which once allowed me, hunched over an ocean of parts in the projection TV section, to spend over 3 hours assembling a single-shelf stand while watching a high-definition Blue Oyster Cult concert. Had a Shakira concert been on TV – in 65″ high-definition glory, at that – I daresay I would’ve made changing remote batteries a 6-hour project.
At the bar you want to run through the motions – hell, you run through them like a Cheetah ablaze. When the proverbial motions involve relentless flirting, spastic dancing and the occasional imbibing of drinks that may or may not be alcoholic, depending on whether or not Mom’s reading – well, those are some pretty agreeable motions. I don’t know how well-received an impromptu Cripwalk would’ve been had I thrown one down in the audio section of Circuit City, yet such nonsense is encouraged and usually accompanied by additional shots at the bar.
From Circuit City, some people leave happy. From the bar, most people don’t realize they’re leaving, but are happy as hell nonetheless. At the bar, you’ll find gaggles of girls clinging to the bar, insisting that you invent them a shot. The composition of said shot is irrelevant – mix up some milk and Jagermeister, title it a “gangrene octopus” shot and the masses of misses will love it. At Circuit City, inventing the product on the spot generally didn’t go over very well. At Circuit City, I had to engage, compel and often coerce if not drug the customer into buying a product they may or may not have actually wanted. At the bar, the product sells itself, and the customer even leaves something extra for the trouble I endured placing their drink on the bar.
You see an interesting side of people at the bar – people from classes, from the library, revealing a side you wouldn’t see otherwise – a real side previously covered by books and stress. I don’t know how many 21st birthdays I’ve celebrated, downing shots with complete strangers as though we were lifelong friends. You can learn a lot from the customers – the regulars, the skeezy old men who are probably just lonely, the anxious college kids who just need a release. With a dance floor full of strangers and couples you paired up over fifty-cent well drinks and the closeness that is fostered just by serving someone a drink and a smile, the lessons that can be learned from the bar are near limitless.
Providing, of course, that I can remember them.
Janowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.