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The Barmaid Blog™: Life for a 30-something Manhattan Barmaid

It's Like a 21st Century "Cheers." But Pinker.

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January 7th, 2010

June 9, 2009
Jenny stares through the darkness at the ceiling. She isn't looking at me, I can tell, even though my head is on her chest, because she hasn't really been able to look at me now for a few days. "I feel like I've already lost you, you just haven't left yet," she says in a flattened tone that scares me. I don't really understand what she means, but I know enough to know that she believes it.

"You're going to get better," I tell her for the eleventh time today, and the fortieth time this week. But I'm certain this time she heard me. This time it'll make a difference. This time everything will be fixed and healed. This time we can get back to normal.

"Maybe I will," she replies. "I just don't see how we come out of this in a relationship. And right now, all I see is tunnel. I don't see any light, I can only see tunnel."

I lift my head toward hers, and she still doesn't look at me. "Listen to me," I say, "I'm here, aren't I?" Please let this talk-down be the last. Please, Lord, let it work this time.

And then she starts crying again, a wracking, sobbing cry that absolutely breaks my heart, the more so because I'm still convinced it's my fault. She turns away from me and curls into a fetal position, and all I can do is put a hand on her arm, stroke it gently, take a deep breath, forget my own pain, forget the questions of why, what I did this time, what I can do to stop this, what I can do to stop it from happening again, why all this has happened, why I said the things I did a few weeks ago, why, how, what... shove all that down, and wait.

January 4th, 2010

The four guys in the corner wearing red and white break out in shouts and applause, and I don't have to turn around and look at the television to know something has happened that I won't like, but I do anyway. Sure enough, Cornell has taken a 3-2 lead against my beloved Wildcats, and I heave a sigh. One of the Cornell guys comes up to the bar shortly thereafter to order another pitcher, and points at the New Hampshire hockey jersey I'm wearing. To his credit, instead of needling me about the current score, he asks, "Hey, is that a game-worn?"

I smile. "No, just your basic campus store replica. A boyfriend gave it to me for my birthday one year when it coincided with a playoff game. What about yours? Are those real puck marks?"

"Yup, it was [Player]'s away sweater for a season," he says proudly, where [Player] is a name I can't remember even five minutes later. I will remember while writing this later, though, that it doesn't sound familiar to me from the last really important UNH-Cornell match-up in 2003, and this guy looks like a kid, so I assume it's more recent.

"Very cool," I say, handing him his pitcher and taking his cash.

"Hey, chin up," he adds as he starts to turn back to his friends. "Your boys have tied it up twice already today, this has been a great game!"

A great game if you like watching your team get outshot two-to-one on their own ice, I think to myself as I count the cash, do the math, and make a note: if this group is at all representative, Cornell boys seem to be good tippers. For some reason, New Hampshire is dominating Hockey East this year, but we can't seem to get the job done outside the conference. That's certainly no way to set up a national championship season, something I've been pining after for a very long time. I stand and watch ESPN-U for a minute, as Cornell continues their cycling-and-possession demonstration and clinic, free of charge to their opponents.

Someone taps me on the shoulder. "Hey, Gretzky," says Lisa, "heads up. We have some customers who don't give a shit about a high school hockey game, get it in gear." I'm not used to being talked to like that, but this isn't the Bar, it's the Pub, and I'm low barmaid on the totem pole around here. I'm tempted to tell her snidely that it's college, something she wouldn't be familiar with, but that was probably her point - and I honestly don't want to piss her off, I need this job. I turn away, smile, and start to take an order, and my customer is still in between "Hefe" and "weizen" when the Big Red boys start cheering and high-fiving again.

Next time Game-Worn comes up for another pitcher, we've pulled our goalie during a power play for a 6-on-4, and we're putting a lot of pressure on, but so far to no avail. "Hey," I ask while I'm drawing their communal Sam Adams, "how did you guys end up here, anyway? Not that I would ever complain about you giving us business, but isn't there a Cornell bar or something anywhere in the city?"

"Yeah," he says, "on the Upper East Side. But usually an e-mail goes out beforehand, and this time we didn't see one. I live closer to the Pub anyway, and pardon my French, but it's really fucking cold out. We honestly had no idea one of the bartenders was a UNH alum. You've been a good sport letting us hang out."

"Listen, this next pitcher is on me," I tell him as I hand it over. "I don't care what color you're wearing, college hockey fans are few and far between enough - you're welcome here anytime."

He thanks me, tips me heavily, and goes back to his friends just in time to see his team put the nail in the coffin with an empty-netter. They start cheering and high-fiving again, and I go back to working my Sunday shift and trying not to get beer all over my jersey. It seems like the Yankees win a World Series every few weeks or so, why can't New Hampshire manage to win a Frozen Four?

December 21st, 2009

September 6, 2009
"Debra," says Victor, "it's absolutely not personal, and I hope you understand that." He's sitting on the desk in the back room, with Lanie behind the desk in the chair.

"Not personal? Victor, you're basically putting me out on the street, and unless I'm misunderstanding something, it's because I cost too much." I try to keep as calm as possible, remembering some of the lessons I learned about my relationship with supervisors a couple of years ago.

Lanie jumps in. "That's not exactly fair, Debra. With business down overall, we just don't feel like we need a manager on duty every weeknight. Pat has seniority, so if we're going to keep only one of you, it really has to be her."

"Well, I'd be happy to go back to being a barmaid. I'm not too proud to take that step backwards if that's what you're worried about. And I have good relationships with all the girls."

"We know you do, but the problem is, we've replaced you a couple of times over, and they're making less than you were when you moved up. So even if we got rid of one of them..."

"You'd still be spending more money on me," I finish for her, and she nods.

"Listen, we won't contest your unemployment claim," Victor says, handing me an envelope that contains two weeks' severance pay, something I'll be assured later by a lawyer friend that they weren't in the least bit obligated to give me.

Lanie adds, "And you're an incredibly capable woman, we know you'll find another job."

"With business down overall?" I ask, and Lanie winces a little. "Sorry. Okay. Can I have a letter of reference, at least?"

"Debra, of course," she says. "In fact, why don't you write it? Just say what you'd want us to say, and we'll sign it."

I laugh, pondering all the possibilities. It's not until I'm on my way home that it really starts to set in - six years of my life. Six years of dedication to a job is supposed to be a good thing, employers are supposed to value and honor that.

Oh, God, what am I going to tell Jenny? She's only just barely recovered from what happened this summer, this kind of bad news could set her back. I'm so exhausted from it all... and I can only imagine how she feels.

I have two weeks' pay in my hands, some money in the bank, and unemployment insurance on the way in a few weeks. If I get another job in the next month or two, I'll be just fine, and there's no reason she has to know I lost this one until I actually start the next one. I'll just find some place to hang out on the nights I would've been working. I'll even get some writing done for a change. This is absolutely the right thing to do.

It'll be much better this way.

December 18th, 2009

Debra 2.0

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Dara finally comes down to the Pub on Wednesday night, for the first time since I started working here a few months ago, and parks herself at the bar for a chat. We spend a little while catching up - on her wedding plans with Dennis, my Dad and how he's been dating the doctor who treated me in the ER a few years ago, and photos of Jessica's toddler Noah (who's just turned a year old!). We studiously avoid any mention of what happened between Jenny and me, partly because we discussed it to death while it was happening. Truth be told, I'm still considering whether even to blog about it, and we've covered that meta-topic enough, too.

Jake, the tall, blonde bartender who trained me when I started here, wanders down the bar from where he's been serving a bunch of college kids on a break from studying for finals. I introduce him to Dara. "Congratulations, when's the big day?" he asks with a smile as he shakes her hand.

"It's in September. How did you -- " She looks down at her other hand, where her engagement ring is revealed only by a bump in the half-finger of a convertible glove-mitten.

Jake spreads his arms wide. "Dara, I'm a single male bartender in Manhattan. It's my job to divine the relationship status of every woman who drinks in here, if I'm able to do it."

"That's impressive," Dara says. "And if I'd been single, or you thought so, what would you have done?"

Jake shrugs and winks. "We'll never know, will we? Anyway, welcome to the Pub, I hope we see you here often." He returns to the other end of the bar, where patrons await, and Dara watches him as he goes. When she looks back at me, I'm grinning.

"What? I'm allowed to look," she laughs. "In a way I'm kind of glad men are allowed to serve drinks here. I mean, some of the girls you worked with at the Bar were fun, but how about some eye-candy equal time, huh?"

"Vince and Diego the barbacks weren't enough for you?" I pull another Sierra Nevada Pale Ale from the tap for her, and she takes off her glove-esque things.

Dara shrugs. "Vince was taken almost as soon as I knew him, and, well, Diego was a devoted father. I think I might've just known them too well to look at them that way." She pauses to take a drink. "You know, I just thought of something."

"What's that?"

"Your new job at a new place, being single in a new apartment, starting up the blog again, even your father dating - it's kind of like one of those TV shows or movies that reboots. You know, like the new 'Star Trek' movie this past summer. Or that sitcom with Christina Applegate where at first she was a waitress at her father's bar, and then suddenly you were supposed to believe she'd been working in a doctor's office the whole time? They start down a completely new path, with new characters and new situations that never would've happened the first time around, and it's like the first time around never existed."

I think about it for a minute, nodding. "There's only one problem with your analogy."

"What, you don't get to hang out with Zachary Quinto?"

"No - the stuff that happened the first time around really happened, and I don't get to pretend it didn't." I excuse myself briefly to take some orders from a group of men that's just arrived, and I see Dara looking at her hand and fingering her engagement ring.

December 15th, 2009

...but for Broader Shoulders

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My father lights the Shamos, and after he uses it to light the one other candle in the menorah, we quietly say the two standard Hannukah blessings followed by the Shehechianu, which is only spoken on the first night. We exhange gifts - a beautiful pendant with aquamarines for me, a necktie for him - and long, warm hugs. Then we sit down at his dining room table, which is conspicuously set for two instead of three - or four.

"Where's the good doctor?" I ask as I spoon out some applesauce and sour cream for my potato pancakes.

Dad smiles. "She's with her father tonight, too. We'll have our own candle-lighting tomorrow, though without the latkes this time. Two nights in a row of deep-fried foods isn't allowed when you're dating a physician, I'm afraid."

"It's not allowed two nights in a row when your tips depend on maintaining a girlish figure, either. Which is why I'm having as much as possible tonight." Dad laughs, and we eat in silence for a few minutes.

"Have you heard at all from Jenny?" I take a deep breath, and Dad apologizes.

"That's okay, Dad. No, not since before Thanksgiving. And I wouldn't be surprised if she never speaks to me again."

"I'm sorry," Dad says for the second time. "And how's the new place working out?"

"Not bad. I like Emily well enough, for as much as I ever see her. I haven't figured out how to get her cat to stop scratching at my door in the morning, though."

"You know, you were welcome to stay here as long as you wanted after..." He stops there.

"It's okay to say it out loud, Dad. After Jenny threw me out. That is what happened. And I know that, but honestly, waiting an hour and a half after closing for the first train of the morning got pretty old pretty fast." I manage to add a smile.

"How is it you're not working tonight? I thought Fridays were great tip nights."

"They are, but I've only been at the Pub for a few months, so I don't have the seniority I used to at the Bar. And I probably would've asked for the night off anyway, or at least for a later shift - I wouldn't have missed your latkes for the world, you haven't made them in five or six years."

"Yeah, I probably won't do it for five or six more, after the mess I made."

"Oh, for heaven's sake, Dad, I'll clean it up - it's the least I can do." I take another few pancakes, despite starting to feel full. It's once a year, I remind myself.

My father wipes some applesauce off his moustache, and takes a long swig of his wine. The silence fills the space between us, and I can practically feel him reading my mind, until the tears start forming in my eyes.

"Debra, what happened to Jenny isn't your fault. It just doesn't work that way, no matter what you think you did or said wrong."

I move some pieces of browned potato around my plate. "Daddy, I lost the woman I love, and it wasn't because of anything she did or said wrong. So tell me, when is it going to start feeling like it wasn't my fault?"

"I don't know, honey. I don't know."

January 2nd, 2009

Barmaid Blog reader Eric sent me this e-mail a short while ago:
Are you okay? I was only a little bit worried like everyone else when you didn't post for a while, but then The Smoking Gun released their most recent collection of interesting mug shots today, and this one made my chin drop:



I know you're not the only attractive, twenty-something brunette ever to attend the University of New Hampshire and be a fan of their hockey program, but seriously, what are the odds? Anyway, I hope the story about you having no time to blog because you're supporting Jenny wasn't just a smoke-screen for a three-to-five stretch on Riker's.

Thank you, Eric - that e-mail and that photo were good for my first laugh-out-loud moment of the new year! I can see why you would be concerned, but honest to God, it's not me. I'm still at large.

December 23rd, 2008

Here's the Thing

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Let me explain.

No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

A few days before Thanksgiving, Todd gave his notice to Lanie and Victor. He announced that he was moving to Oregon, where he's going to work for a friend of his who owns a winery in the Willamette Valley.

The next day, Lanie offered me a job as The Bar's junior manager. I asked for some time to think about it. Although it's a step up in the world, the pay isn't that much better, there are more serious responsibilities, and I wouldn't really be doing the part of the job I love the most, which is interacting with customers for hours at a time.

The day after that, Jenny's law firm laid her off.

I accepted the job. I'm now a manager instead of a barmaid, or even a senior barmaid. Pat is still above me in the pecking order of managers, so I've suddenly gone back to having lower priority for picking my work days and hours. Luckily, that doesn't matter much since Jenny doesn't have to keep regular work hours for the moment, but it will matter when she gets back on her feet. She was upset for a while, but now she's starting to look at it more as an opportunity for her, and a loss for her firm. Her pet phrase these days is "Fuck 'em." Unfortunately there's not much out there right now - law firms are hemorrhaging associates, the entertainment business is slowing down, and we're just not sure what she's going to be able to find in her field.

So my life has changed over the last few weeks even more than I thought it would. Jenny got a decent severance package, but I'm the only one bringing in an actual income right now, and there's still a mortgage to pay. So just for the holiday season, I signed up with a catering company that does a ton of events all over New York City, especially this time of year, and I've been tending bar at their parties when I have time between manager shifts at The Bar. I've worked the last fifteen days in a row without a break. It's left me very little time or energy for blogging, or much else for that matter. In fact I'm heading out to tend bar for a corporate holiday party in just a few minutes, which is why I don't have time to tell you much more than I already have.

But I miss you, and I miss this. And I really don't want to have to give it up.

Jenny and I wish you all a Happy Hannukah, a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and whatever other name you call this (usually) joyous time of year. Be good to each other.

November 15th, 2008

The Bar of Love

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It's about half past seven on a Saturday in early November. I've been on since four, and I'm still not used to the fact that it's already starting to get dark by that time of the afternoon now that Daylight Saving Time is over. It makes me feel like it's later than it really is, so even though I'm a night owl, I keep checking my watch to see how far off midnight still is. It's also been raining off and on all day, and people have been tracking water in, soaking the mats we've taken to laying out on wet days since Bill took a header that put him in the hospital.

When Lanie and Victor told us at a staff meeting a couple of months ago that we'd be putting down mats on rainy days, Todd asked if that wasn't risky. He said he understood that we should make it safer, but by making our entryway less dangerous, weren't we admitting that it was dangerous in the first place, so that anybody who might have gotten hurt before (and he studiously avoided mentioning Bill by name at this point, even though he was also at the meeting) could use it as proof that we were careless in a lawsuit? Before they could respond, Diego piped up, "No, you can't use correcting a danger after an accident as evidence of the danger in court. If you could, people would have motivation not to correct dangers." The room was quiet for a moment as everyone looked at him kind of funny, then he added, "What? Someone has got to listen to Jack when he gets going about his job."

I smile remembering that comment, and glance over at Diego as he works at keeping the bottle cooler full. Simone's mixing some white russians, Bill is at the door, Lou Reed is on the jukebox, and it's a good, decently-tipping crowd with no troublemakers (at least not yet). I take an order for a bunch of interesting international beers from four guys who look like they're down for some serious beer research. As I'm collecting their tips, I see Redhead, the WingWoman, walking up to the bar with a guy in tow.

She looks great, as usual, and she winks at me as they approach. It's not hard to figure out what the wink means; Don't let on you know me, definitely don't let on I'm dating a former client, and I'll make sure your tips are lovely as usual. So I put on a big smile and take their order - merlot for her, and Sam Adams for him. Her client looks like a decent guy, and before long, Redhead is introducing him to a pretty blonde.

The truth is that I haven't seen her in a few months, so I don't know for sure she's still dating Danny, but they sure looked like a couple very much in love when they were in here one night this summer. In fact, he seemed like a different person altogether - more confident, better dressed, and I swear, maybe even a little taller. But the best part was that Redhead could not stop grinning the entire time. They'd been together five or six months already, and she was still floating. I was already in the middle of planning my move-in with Jenny, but I was still a little jealous of the difference they were obviously making in each other's lives.

"Hey, Debra," says Simone, "I forgot, who's coming on at eight?"

"Pretty sure it's Jocelyn, but you can go check the schedule in the back room if you want to take a minute."

"No, that's okay." She begins to turn, then stops. "Hey, Debra," she starts again, "when's the last time you took a closing shift?"

"Um... I would have to check, but I think it's probably been a couple of weeks. Why?"

"Actually, if you check, I think you'll find it's been a couple of months."

"Really? Well, I guess I prefer it that way now that I'm living with Jenny. She sometimes works late, but for the most part she has much more conventional work hours. If I get home at 4:30 and her alarm goes off at seven, it's no good for anybody."

"Okay, but that means that the rest of us have to work all the closing shifts. And sometimes we'd like to have a little variety and flexibility in our schedules, too."

I shrug. "So complain to the Senior Bartender about scheduling."

She blinks, and opens her mouth for a few seconds. "Debra, that's you."

"I know!" I grin, trying to be playful about it, but she doesn't buy it.

"No, I mean I already am complaining to the Senior Bartender, and the problem is the Senior Bartender. We're all friends, I was hoping you'd just be cool about this - none of us wants to talk to Pat or Todd, and I'm sure you don't want us to talk to Pat or Todd."

"None of us? You guys have been talking to each other about this?"

Simone sighs. "Of course we have."

I bite my lip, and start to feel a little like Chandler in an early season of "Friends" when he gets promoted, and all his old friends at the company stop hanging out with him. I even wonder for a moment if the other barmaids do impressions of me for each other, and then I put it out of my head.

"You're right, Simone, I'll talk to Jenny, and we'll figure something out. It's not fair to the rest of you."

Simone nods and backs up a little, visibly relieved. "Thanks, Debra. Hey, how's it been living with Jenny, anyway?"

"Great," I smile. "You know, I should really have everyone over for some kind of housewarming party. I mean, she's lived there for a while, and she owns the place, but the whole Brooklyn thing is new to me - and not everybody has even met her yet."

"Well, you know I have - I claim responsibility for the whole thing," Simone winks.

"What whole thing?" asks Jocelyn, as she comes around the bar to check in.

"Jenny and me," I tell her.

"Oh, yeah - I forget sometimes, I'm not the only girl who ended up with someone because of working here. Plus, it's not just the girls, Vince met Jill here, too. We really ought to put that in our help wanted ads when we have openings: 'Work at The Bar: good customers, good tips, and a one in three chance of falling in love.'"

I laugh, but Simone doesn't even smile; she just goes back to the other end of the bar and starts taking orders again. As I also dive back into serving customers, I realize she's never really talked about guys. They hit on her just as much as any of us, but she's just as good as any of us at shrugging them off. I wonder what she's looking for - and whether she's got much of a chance of finding it while she's modeling for porn. And then I wonder if I can figure out a way to return the favor somehow.

November 8th, 2008

Wednesday night there's a surreal, almost buoyant atmosphere at The Bar. Yvonne and I are slinging drinks at a good clip, and people are in a celebratory mood. But it seems as if every time I turn around, I hear another customer say something like, "I'm still not sure I believe it," or "I keep expecting to wake up and discover I dreamed it!"

They're speaking, of course, of Barack Obama winning yesterday's election as President of the United States, a fairly decisive victory as these things go, at least compared to the last couple of elections. New York went for Obama 62% to 37%, so I suppose you could say we're a pretty blue state - and most people in New York City, especially, are pretty happy with the results.

A guy wearing a "Yes We Can" t-shirt and drinking Sam Adams flags me down. "Excuse me, miss - is there such a drink as an Obama? Has anyone invented one yet?"

I laugh. "Not that I know of, though I'm sure someone's done it. Actually, now that I think of it, I remember hearing about an 'Obamartini' that someone whipped up somewhere, but I have no idea what was in it."

"Well, if I ordered an Obama, and just trusted you to mix something good, what would you put in it?"

"Seriously?" He nods and grins widely, putting his fate in my hands. "Let me think about it for a minute."

Yvonne passes behind me carrying a couple of glasses of white wine, and when she comes back my way, I stop her. "What would you put in a drink called an Obama?"

Without blinking, she says, "I don't know, but I'd probably start with a Blue Hawaii," and then keeps moving.

Of course, I think, and I grab a hurricane glass, then mix a Blue Hawaii over ice... rum, vodka, Curaçao, pineapple juice, and sour mix. I'm reaching for the orange slice and maraschino cherry, when I have an idea. I fill a pint glass with Coke from the fountain, then I hold a spoon over the Blue Hawaii and pour a little Coke onto the top. It doesn't layer terribly well - it mixes in more than a little - but despite the bright blue it's mixing with, it has the desired effect, adding a slightly chocolaty color to the top of the drink. Then, I finally add the orange and cherry.

"Here you go, my friend - I'm a little bit ashamed of myself, but this is my best shot at a drink named 'Obama' - a Brown Hawaii." Yes We Can laughs, then tells his friends, and suddenly I'm making Brown Hawaiis for the whole group. Once they taste their drinks, I get the sense they're not biggest fans of fruity cocktails, but they get into the spirit anyway.

Around midnight, I'm getting ready to cash out and leave Yvonne in charge, and Vince is washing glasses right behind me, when Yvonne taps me on the shoulder. "It just now occurred to me, you probably could have done a variation on the Bahama Mama, too - the Obama Mama. Maybe just use dark rum instead of light?"

"Sure, let's keep that in mind for Inauguration," I say, trying to count my tips in front of Yvonne and Vince without, y'know, counting my tips in front of Yvonne and Vince.

"Hey, you know who I feel bad for?" Yvonne says. "The second African-American president. Especially if Barack Obama is anywhere near as good as people seem to think he's going to be. How do you ever live up to that?"

We think about that for a moment, then Vince says, "I don't know, I think Michelle's probably up to the task." We laugh, and I head for the door.

When I get home around 12:30 in the morning, the living room lights are on, and Puppy is lying on the floor outside the closed bedroom door. He looks up at me expectantly and whines a little. Before I can open the door, I hear crying. I take a deep breath, and go on in. Jenny is lying on the bed sobbing, with used tissues all over the floor. I sit down next to her, run my hand along her arm, and say, "Baby, what's the matter?" She sits up and grabs me, and sobs harder, so I squeeze and hold her tight.

After a couple of minutes, she finally calms down enough to speak. "Prop 8 passed," she says, and immediately starts weeping again. Prop 8 - California's ballot referendum to make same-sex marriage illegal again, reversing their state supreme court's decision of earlier this year - was too close to call last night during live election returns, so the results must have come in tonight.

I'm speechless. I'm upset, I'm offended, and I'm angry, but I'm not moved to tears, and my next thought is to wonder if Jenny will take it personally that I'm not. I take another deep breath, and think about what it really means to love someone. I can't ever know what it's like to be inside her head, or inside her heart, so I can't really understand what she feels anymore than she understands what I feel. I'm simply left to wonder.

So instead, I try to stop wondering, and I focus on just holding her instead.

November 2nd, 2008

Meta-Blogging (Part II)

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As long-time readers might recall, I use Technorati to track the Barmaid Blog's supposed popularity, based on how many people have added the blog as a "favorite," how many other blogs link to mine, and other mysterious metrics. I've found some really wonderful blog posts pointing to me that way, and I've even played a prank on some other bloggers as a result.

Today's interesting surprise? A travel blogger known as The Happy Hotelier (a.k.a. Guido J. van den Elshout) used Technorati data to compile a list of the 300 most popular travel blogs. As it turns out, food & beverage blogs are included in that category on the basis of being a part of the service industry, so I qualified for that list - and based on the numbers, Hotelier placed me at #69 on the list.

Among other things, I'm pleased to have whatever little additional attention that list and Guido's link to me will attract to my blog (after all, Guido's blog itself is "only" ranked at #65). Notwithstanding the sporadic nature of my posting of late, I really do love blogging about my job and my life, and every morsel of a hint that I still have a decent-sized audience is more motivation for me to sit down and write.

But more importantly, if I may be ever so slightly immature for a moment:

I'm #69, baby!!

*ahem* Thank you very much.

November 1st, 2008

Boston, Mass, 0-2-1-3-4

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"Smith!!" I hear someone yell, and I turn to see a four-seater table against the wall overflowing with nine people, seven men and two women. That's unusual enough for a relatively non-busy Wednesday, but they're also all staring at each other, and nobody's drinking. After a few seconds, though, one of them - the same one, from the sound of his voice - yells "Schwartz!" at one of the women, who immediately turns to her right and yells "Bifigliano!" at another guy. The other guy yells "Schwartz!" and suddenly, people are throwing up their hands and groaning. The last Schwartzer shakes his head and takes a long pull from his beer, and one of his friends claps him on the back. After he's recovered for a moment, he yells "Zoom!" at someone else entirely, who turns to his left and yells "Zoom!" as well. A "Schwartz" follows.

I watch the nonsense words fly around and the beers get quaffed for a few minutes, trying to divine some kind of pattern or set of rules, and ending up completely mystified. "Hey, Cindy," I say to my fellow barmaid, "do you have any idea what game they're playing?"

"I think it's called 'Zoom'," she says as she mixes a couple of dirty martinis.

"What are the rules?"

She smiles. "You're asking the only non-drinker in the room the rules of a drinking game? Actually, the few times I saw it played in college, I got the distinct impression that if you've never played before, you're not supposed to know the rules, you're supposed to figure them out while you play."

"And while you get drunk?"

"That's the point of a drinking game, isn't it?"

"I suppose. And I guess it's not that much weirder than drinking every time a United States Senator says 'maverick' or 'fundamental' during a presidential debate." Cindy nods, and I head down to the other end of the bar to take some more orders.

Cindy wanders down to my end a little while later, as the game rages on. "Y'know, I could swear there were more names in the game when I was in college. I've only heard four, and I thought there were six."

"What were the others?" I pour myself a couple of fingers of Balvenie.

She crinkles her nose. "That's a good question. I think one of them sounded Russian. Stravinsky? Sikorsky? Something like that. But I don't remember the other."

"And what was that name supposed to make you do or say?"

"Um - drink, eventually, I guess." Cindy shrugs, and I grin.

A few minutes later, after an apparently incorrect "Zoom," someone at the Zoom table yells "And the flag is up!" and everyone cheers.

Cindy and I look at each other in confusion. Finally, she says to me, "Joe the Plumber?" I laugh and take a drink from my Scotch.

October 29th, 2008

I always notice men.

I don't mean I'm always chasing after men, or constantly reduced to drooling every time a decent looking man walks by. In fact, after five years of tending bar, it's really the opposite - at this point I'm conditioned against noticing them much. I just mean that men have no season. It's just as likely that I'll notice a man in a really flattering suit in the spring as it is in the dead of winter, and there's no grand theme tying together what I notice about men.

It's different for women.

There's a moment in New York City in the early spring when the sleeves get shorter, the sweatpants on running paths turn into shorts, midriffs and lower backs start exposing themselves, and all seems right with the world again because it's almost as if the women of New York have blossomed. I don't even think it's so much that I enjoy the skin showing as that I enjoy the confidence the women are demonstrating by showing that skin - the sentiment they're conveying, the idea that the beginning of warm weather brings with it a reawakening of physical awareness, a renaissance of sensuality. The beginning of a tan. The promise of an open-toed shoe.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way. In fact I've heard men talk about it before, even just in offhand comments like, "I love the warm weather!" when a pretty girl walks by in something more revealing than she could've gotten away with a few weeks earlier. And although women by and large aren't as attuned to visual stimulation as men are where arousal is concerned, I sincerely doubt I'm the only woman who feels this way, either.

But there's also a moment in New York City in the mid-autumn when there's another kind of shift. It's definitely more subtle, and I think I might be the only one it affects. It happens during the transition from windbreakers to woolen outerwear, and it's when the baby blue comes out. Baby blue sweaters, baby blue scarves, and finally baby blue knit hats. And although this part isn't universal, it's usually on blonde women with blue eyes. And it's glorious.

I can't explain it, and I won't even try. But when I see an attractive blonde and/or blue-eyed woman with a baby blue winter accessory, I start to melt a little. I even know she's probably wearing baby blue intentionally to bring out her eyes, or to contrast perfectly with her hair, and it doesn't matter, because it works. It instantly makes her a little more attractive than she would have been otherwise, and I start thinking about curling up with her in front of a warm fire and losing myself in her eyes and in her soft, fuzzy, baby blue cloth.

I didn't say it made sense.

A woman comes into The Bar tonight, a Thursday night in mid-October that's a little chillier than the last few nights, who's wearing the official first baby blue scarf of the season for me. She's got it wrapped around her neck above the collar of her black coat, and underneath her long, blonde hair, so when she pulls off the coat, her hair crests and then cascades around her shoulders, and I shiver a little. Jocelyn is mixing a Windex and a Fuzzy Navel for a couple of tourists, so I jockey around her and watch Baby Blue's trajectory in order to intercept her at the bar.

"Hi, what can I get you?" I ask as she sits down, still wearing the scarf. Her eyes aren't blue - they're green - but it still works.

"Oh, thanks, but I'm meeting someone, and I should probably wait." She's got just the slightest hint of a southern accent.

"You sure? First one's on me." She smiles and relents, ordering a SoCo and lime. "Blind date?" I ask as I serve her, and she nods, but that's all the chance we have to talk before the guy arrives and introduces himself, then asks what she's drinking.

"I'll have the same," he says to me, and I go to pour another one. He tips me well enough for both of them, and I take good care of them for the hour and a half and three more rounds that they're there.

I glance over every now and then as their rapport slowly develops from friendly to animated to almost intimate. Blind Date leans in at one point and runs his hand through Baby Blue's hair, then down to her scarf, which he lifts up toward his face and rubs gently on his cheek. She loves it. I try to imagine how soft it must be. The pit of my stomach does a little swivel, and I check my watch for the time. I'm done at midnight tonight, with Jocelyn staying the rest of the way. I send a quick text: "Wait up 4 me."

My cab gets me home in record time, but it still seems like forever. I burst through the door, drop my keys on the table, walk right past Puppy where he's sleeping in his basket, and find Jenny with her head in the refrigerator, making a shopping list. I shut the fridge door, push her back toward the counter, and hold her there with my arms around her and a long, deep kiss.

When I finally break it off, I whisper, "Honey, I'm home."

She looks at me, smiling but bewildered. "What's gotten into you tonight?"

"Does it matter?" I say, the fingers of one hand starting to play with the small of her back and the other firmly grabbing her ass, and she whimpers just a little.

"No," she says, and pulls me down onto the linoleum.

September 25th, 2008

Moving (Part II)

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Grand Marnier
It's 4:30 in the morning on Sunday, and I'm in the back of a cab. I don't like to spend hard-earned tips on cabs home at the end of the night, but since I moved to Brooklyn to shack up with my girlfriend, I no longer live even remotely within walking distance of The Bar... and at this hour the subways run way too infrequently. Jenny and I have decided it's worth the expense - and already it's weird to think about someone else participating in my financial decisions.

The problem is, we're already in Brooklyn Heights, the cabbie can't find my street, and I don't know how to get him there from wherever we are now. It's where I live, but it still doesn't feel like my neighborhood yet. Just as I start to panic that I'll have to call Jenny and wake her just to get home, we round a corner and I recognize a few landmarks. I start digging wads of singles out of my purse, and then find my keys.

Only, when I get there, my key won't work in the door to Jenny's building. Our building, I mean. I can't get the key to turn. Maybe it's not the right one, I think; I've only lived here three weeks, I'm tired, it's dark... I fumble for the key I'm pretty sure is for the door to the apartment, and that doesn't work either, so I go back to the first one. This time it works, and I heave a relieved sigh that turns quickly into a deep, exhausted yawn. The Bar was insanely crowded tonight, and my feet are killing me - I just want to lie down and see how quickly I can fall asleep, and how long I can stay that way.

When I finally get inside the apartment, the lights are off. After I close the door, I hear the light tap of Puppy's paws crossing the hardwood floor to greet me, but the next sound I hear is a growl, a low growl that gives me chills.

"Puppy?" I ask softly. "It's me." In response comes a loud bark that startles me so much that I yelp a little bit. I dive for the light switch, and by the time I can see, instead of a black lab puppy, I see a german shepherd lunging headlong at me, its teeth bared. I scream and try to raise my arms to protect myself, but it's too late, the beast knocks me down, where I hit my head on the floor, and the dog starts biting at me.

"NO!!" I yell - the dog is gone, the room dark again, and a comforter twisted around me. My eyes burn.

"Hey," says a soft voice from behind me, followed by her arms wrapping themselves around me and squeezing. I feel my racing heart begin to calm down, and I let myself sink into Jenny as she pulls me closer, our skin hot against each other, my tears finally starting to flow. "It's okay," she mumbles into my neck. "You're home."

August 24th, 2008

"Hey, honey, can you guys make a Benton's Old Fashioned?" asks the bedheaded hipster who looks too skinny to support life.

It's a relatively slow moment for a Friday night, so I take a second to appraise him and his friend. Of the nine thoughts that cross my mind in that moment, including the obnoxious juxtaposition of "honey" with "guys," I settle on replying, "I make a great Old Fashioned, but I have to admit I don't know what a Benton's is, and I don't get stumped very often."

"So you're in need of a good stumping?" That's from Bedhead's buddy, a bespectacled dude with a big shrub of curly hair like he's auditioning for the lead in "Knocked Up 2: Electric Boogalo."

I raise my eyebrows. "And you're just the guys to give it to me?"

Bedhead says, "We had it on the Lower East Side a few weeks ago at this place called PDT, but we couldn't get in tonight."

"Dude, PDT's in the East Village," says Jewfro.

"I thought it was Alphabet City?"

"Yeah, Alphabet City is part of the East Village. The Lower East Side is below Houston."

"I thought that was NoLiTa and SoHo."

I smack my hand on the bar a few times. "Guys, do you need me for this conversation?"

"Sorry," says Jewfro.

"I've got news for you - the entire East Village is part of what used to be called the Lower East Side. Nobody ever called it the East Village until the sixties, and that was just so nobody would confuse the artists and hippies with the Hasids and Russians." I enjoy schooling people who claim to be New Yorkers, and I've only been living in the city for six years. "Now, what's in a Benton's Old Fashioned?"

Bedhead smiles. "Bacon."

"Seriously?"

"We wouldn't kid about bacon," he assures me.

"So it's an Old Fashioned... what, with a strip of bacon?"

"No," says Jewfro, suddenly animated. "It's an Old Fashioned with bacon-infused bourbon. And maple syrup."

"Instead of sugar?"

They look at each other. "I guess," says Bedhead.

"And everything else is the same? Bitters, orange slice? Cherry on request?" Jewfro grins, and I refrain from rolling my eyes.

"As far as we know."

"Well, I've got maple syrup around here somewhere, but I know I don't have any bacon-infused bourbon, much less know what bacon-infused bourbon is, so I really can't make this for you. We don't have any bacon, period - we just don't keep it lying around. But it sounds... it sounds interesting. What can I get you instead?"

"Just a regular Old Fashioned, I guess," says Bedhead.

Jewfro adds, "Sea Breeze for me." And then, after Bedhead turns to look at him, "What?"

I mix their drinks, making a note to look up PDT at some point, maybe even swing by and try the Benton's. That's one advantage of being fairly casual about my Judaism - I get to eat a lot of bacon if I want to.

I wake up on Saturday, and I open the curtains. It's a beautiful day, and I immediately start itching to get outside. I find Jenny in the living room reading a brief, a bowl with a spoon and a little bit of milk sitting on the coffee table, and a box of Froot Loops next to it. I unceremoniously sit myself in her lap. "I've been dreaming about bacon. Can we go to the Happy Days for breakfast?"

"Breakfast?" she smiles, brushing one of the last remaining bits of blonde hair out of my eyes. "It's almost 12:30 in the afternoon. And I thought you were going home after work last night so you could finish packing."

"I was lonely. So where are we on the diner?"

"You're like a little girl sometimes, you know that?"

"Am not, and I'm going to hold my breath until you stop saying so."

Jenny laughs and kisses me. I'm suddenly very conscious of my morning breath, so I climb off her lap and start clearing her dishes. "I'll go put my jeans on."

"More's the pity," she says, going back to her brief.

Forty-five minutes later, Jenny's nibbling on a spanakopita while I dig into pancakes, a couple of eggs over-easy, and several strips of bacon, extra crispy. Other than sex and maybe being high, I swear I don't know any better sensation than the taste of bacon, and I have to smile at those guys from last night. I don't know what compelled them to try finding it at The Bar, nine neighborhoods and an entire universe away from Alphabet City, but I can understand their quest.

August 18th, 2008

Murphy Was Here

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Fish
"I've got some good news and some bad news," Vince tells me, returning from the back room. "Which do you want first?"

"The bad news," I cringe.

"We're all out of Tanqueray, Bombay, Beefeater's, and Gordon's. They just plain didn't bring any this week."

"How could they not bring any gin?! We serve fourteen billion martinis a month here! This bar is single-handedly keeping the juniper berry off the endangered species list!"

"Well, I told you it was bad news."

"What's the good news?"

"It's not my fault?" he shrugs, and I fight the urge to take a swing at him. "Todd totally shit the bed on this one. You want me to bring up the last case of Barton's?"

I cringe again. People are serious about the brand of gin they drink, and we're going to be spending all night basically asking our customers if they mind Mad Dog 20/20 when they've ordered Opus One. "I guess you'd better." It's still early, maybe it won't be crowded for a Friday night. He saunters off, tipping his non-existent cap to Cindy as she makes her way behind the bar to check in.

The next thing I hear is an enormous crash-boom, as if a Mack truck has plowed through the building across the street. What I see when I turn and look through The Bar's front picture window is a tsunami, or at least what I figure a tsunami would look like if it came barreling up a Manhattan cross-street. The sky was a funny shade of green on my way over here an hour ago, but I managed to get here before the storm actually started. Now there's a curtain of water coming down over the city. "I heard there are tornado warnings in effect," Cindy says. "I've never seen a tornado, and I'm pretty sure I don't want to."

"I'm sure it's nothing," I smile. Then I tell her about the gin situation, and no, I assure her, I'm really not kidding.

"So we're going to be serving flat ginger ale whenever someone orders Dom Perignon?" She draws herself a pint of Diet Coke from the fountain gun.

"Basically, yes, but we'll be asking permission first."

"They're going to love us, Debra."

"Nobody's going to be here tonight, Cindy - look at it outside!"

As if on cue, the door slams open and a large group of people pours in, absolutely soaked and dripping everywhere. There are probably twenty of them. One of them, a big, round guy with a baby face, exclaims, "Hey, they're not busy, this is great!" Half of them take up residence on stools at the bar, while the others grab tables along the wall or just mill about. Either way, Cindy and I spend the next five minutes solid hustling drinks and praying nobody wants anything with gin in it, and it's barely five-thirty.

The crowd has thickened by six o'clock, when Bill usually shows up to start working the door. There's no accounting for it; people just don't go out to drink when the weather is this shitty, but something about Friday afternoon and getting caught off-guard by the suddenness of the storm has driven them to our door tonight. And wouldn't you know it, we have to start explaining that there's no gin in the house that we'd serve to anyone we care about, and the customers aren't thrilled. Even if they didn't feel perfectly free to express it verbally (which they do), it shows in their tips, and I silently remind myself to whack Todd on the knees with a baseball bat. How do you suddenly forget about gin?!

As I'm mixing what I'm sure will be a horrendously noxious Barton's dirty martini, I hear another crash. This time when I turn around, Vince is rushing toward the door, where Bill has apparently fallen down. "Oh, man - didn't anybody think to mop up these fucking puddles?! OW," he shouts from where he lies, prostrate. Vince checks him out for a minute, then flashes me his "Call 911" signal.

"Shit," I say to Cindy as she passes behind me with a couple more pitchers of beer for Baby Face and his friends, and I dial quickly. While we're waiting for the EMTs to show up, I go to the back room to find Todd, and I tell him what's happened. "You've got to work the door, Todd - Cindy and I are already having trouble keeping up, we can't be checking IDs on a Friday night.

"What? I have no idea how to work that new card-reader thingy, and I don't have a New York state security license! I can't work the door!" He looks even more panicked than I feel, which I have to admit is comforting.

"Well, you have to do something. Give Vince the door, do his barbacking." He starts to open his mouth to say something - probably that it's beneath him to be hauling kegs and dirty glasses around at this stage of his career - but he thinks better of it, and we head out to the front.

"Debra, call Diego, and get him in here. Tell him we need his help."

"Can't do that, boss, Diego took his daughter to Mexico to visit family."

"Fuck. When does Jocelyn get here?"

"Eight."

"She'd better," he grumbles, then moves off to talk to Vince and check on Bill. A few minutes later, a couple of damp paramedics roll Bill into a neck and back brace, then load him onto a gurney and take him away. Vince takes up post at the door, and Todd starts collecting glasses, mumbling to himself the entire time.

We make it through the next couple of hours relatively okay, but as the rain lightens up, the crowd actually thickens, and it starts to look more like a normal Friday night crowd, including couples stopping in for a drink before a nice dinner out, Yankees fans still exercising faith that the season might not yet be lost, and the "TGIF" office crowd cutting loose while they wait for Metro-North delays to clear up. Plus, unfortunately, a good portion of the crowd that's usually in the Hamptons by this time seems to have decided to wait until Saturday morning to drive out due to the awful weather.

I breathe a sigh of relief when Jocelyn gets there right on time, and joins us in the fray. As soon as she has a moment to pause, I watch her fix herself a large, strong Bacardi & Coke, and she keeps herself going on that for a while. Todd seems to be doing okay at his barbacking duties, even taking some pleasure in creating the tallest possible stacks of glasses as he collects the dirties. Miraculously, he hasn't broken anything.

"Debra?" yells Cindy from the POS terminal a little after 9:30. "There's something wrong here!" I finish serving the certainly disgusting Barton's & tonic I've just been mixing, and head over. "Listen, I know math isn't my strong suit, but I keep trying to input three Sam Adams, and it keeps telling me I'm supposed to charge a hundred eighty dollars. Watch." I watch, and she's right. Just what we needed.

"I'll reboot it, it should be fine," I say, and then I do. "It'll be up in a couple of minutes. In the meantime, is he paying cash?" She nods. "Just give him change out of your tips and keep track of what needs to go on the register later." I go to tell Jocelyn, and she shakes her head and drains the rest of her rum & Coke. Sure enough, she pours herself another, and I smile.

A short time later, Todd stops behind the bar for a minute to let us know that Bill called Vince's cell phone from the hospital. They're pretty sure he didn't break anything, and he can move everything, but his back hurts enough that they're keeping him overnight. It's a relief, and it lightens our moods a bit. That is, until Cindy tells me her stomach is starting to hurt and she's feeling dizzy.

"You can't be serious. Cindy, don't crap out on me now!"

"I'm not serious - I mean, I'm not crapping out! I just feel... I don't know, wobbly."

I would be more skeptical, except for two things; Cindy has never blown off work, and I've had a bad spell or two myself over the last five years. "Okay, do you want to go lie down for a few minutes and see if it goes away?"

"What the fuck?" Jocelyn shouts from behind Cindy. "What is this, Diet Coke?!" She's holding a pint glass that she clearly thought was her rum & Coke, and... shit. How did I not see that coming?

"Cindy, you drank Jocelyn's rum & Coke."

"I did? It was a little extra bitey, but I thought it was just, y'know, a must have been, well, new syrup cannister or some whatever."

"Shit, Cindy."

Jocelyn closes the few yards still between us. "Hey, Debra, relax! It's no big deal - I'm not pissed, I'll just mix myself another."

"No, you don't get it, Jocelyn - Cindy doesn't drink."

"Shit, really?"

Cindy laughs. "This is what it's like to be drunk? I'm beginning to see why people drinkle - I mean I'm beginning to - oh, fuck." And that's when she leans forward and throws up onto our high-tech rubber anti-fatigue barmat with the holes to allow for spillage.

Jocelyn and I just manage to get our feet out of the way in time. Jocelyn grabs hold of Cindy and tries to steady her, and I sigh. "Jocelyn, get her to the back room and lie her down on the couch - on her side - with the garbage can near her head. And tell Todd he's got a mop-up job to do back here."

"Oh, he's really not going to be happy about that," she says as she walks Cindy away.

"I don't give a flying fuck," I say to nobody in particular. We're down two bodies, he needs to pitch in like everyone else. For the few minutes before Jocelyn returns, I manage to take almost all the drink orders that come up. Naturally that includes the first Tom Collins I've had to serve in a few months, and no, the gentleman ordering it is not at all thrilled that he has to drink it with Barton's instead of Beefeater. It's drowned in sour mix anyway, pal, I think to myself, so what difference is it really going to make? He tips me a dollar on the three drinks he ordered for his group, and I bite my tongue.

Jocelyn gets back, and reports that Cindy is more upset about letting us down than she is about being sick. Something tells me she won't feel the same way in the morning. I take a deep breath, and we dive back in, just hoping to get through the next few hours.

Somehow, we do pretty well. Things start lightening up around two in the morning, when I should have been leaving anyway. Cindy has long since taken herself home, though, so I'm sticking around until I really feel like it's safe to leave Jocelyn on her own. It's still Friday night, and you just never know.

Sure enough, at 2:30 a small group comes in dressed as if they've been in a club downtown, though God knows what they'd be doing up here after that. They sashay up to the bar, pick out a few stools, and ask me for three martinis - vodka martinis, please. The night's almost over. I grin, and prepare their drinks happily. When I ring them up, the POS terminal tells me to charge them thirty thousand dollars. I laugh out loud, and shake my head.

August 11th, 2008

A Stand-Up Guy

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Fox
Barmaid Blog reader Luke writes, saying:
I'm a long-time reader of your blog, and I have a bar etiquette question and figured you'd be the perfect person to ask. I'm a stand-up comedian who performs in a lot of bars, and when those places don't pay in cash, the comedians are often comped drinks. My question is about tipping. I know etiquette calls for a dollar-per-drink tip in normal cases, but is that the same when the drinks are free? And what if the host or another comic is paying for everybody? Should you tip anyway or will the payer do that when he gets the bill? I tip a dollar a drink regardless, but any clarification on what we're supposed to do would be a big help.
Thanks for your note, Luke... the truth is that I don't know the actual answer to your question. We don't have stand-up at The Bar, or any other kind of live performers, really - unless you count promo girls like the ones Coors sends over on a regular basis, who are definitely entertainers of a sort..

But you're absolutely right that etiquette demands you tip for your drinks even when they're free; the bartenders are still working just as hard to serve them to you, so they deserve the tips. That's if the house is buying.

If someone else is paying for everyone, though - like a fellow comic - you can probably assume he's also tipping, and you're not obligated to add your own tip just because you're the one doing the drinking. It's no different in that way from any other situation where one member of a group is buying drinks for the others. If he's not tipping, it's really not your responsibility to make up for it, but someone should say something to him.

No matter what, though, if you wanted to leave a tip on top of whatever he is or isn't tipping, nobody's going to stop you. Just make sure you don't make it seem like you're leaving a tip to make up for him being cheap - he may be offended and never again buy you another drink!

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August 10th, 2008

Moving

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Booze Belt
"This is the room you'd be getting - it was great for me because it's the furthest from the bathroom, so I could sleep through my roommates' showers, since I work nights."

The woman looks around the room for a moment, frowning a bit - at my mess, I assume. I'm not sure why that should matter, since I'll be taking it all with me when I leave at the end of the month (or at least whatever I don't throw away or give away - either way, it'll be gone).

"So tell me, why are you moving out? Is there something I should know about the other two ladies living here?"

"Oh, no," I reply, "it's nothing like that. They're not my best friends, but I've been here a few years, and they've been great roommates." Great enough that I'm doing the first round of weed-outs for them, since neither of them has time during the day to show the place. Only the ones who 1) express interest after I show them the place, and 2) don't give off any "Whatever you do, don't share an apartment with me!!" vibes will meet Cassie and Jill. "I'm just moving in with someone."

"Congratulations," she says limply, the first time since I started telling people I was moving in with Jenny that the congratulator didn't actually sound pleased for me, and then she walks back out to the living room. "Is this thing staying?" she gestures at the big, black leather sectional.

"We hadn't really decided that yet, quite honestly. We can't remember who paid for it, so we're trying to figure it out." I can't tell either from the way she asked the question or from her reaction to my answer whether she'd rather it stay or go, and this fits in pretty well with my general impression of her from the moment she walked through the door - someone who hasn't lived with roommates in a long time. "So, why are you moving, if you don't mind my asking?"

A heavy sigh. "Well, it's just so stupid. When I got married, I had no idea that New York makes you separate for a year before you can get a no-fault divorce. So I find myself having to be somewhere for a year before I'll really have any idea what I can afford to do on my own a year from now. That's why a one-year lease is so ideal. Though it almost makes you wonder if the landlords and the family courts are in cahoots with each other."

After she's gone, I start another pot of coffee brewing to help the place smell nice. As I'm checking my watch to see when the next candidate is supposed to arrive, my phone vibrates, and it's Jenny.

"Sweetie, you have a package from Amazon, can I open it?"

"Sure. What are you doing home?"

Tearing sounds come from another borough. "The dog-walker couldn't... grr! These stupid packages... couldn't make it today, and I was in court in Brooklyn this morning anyway, so I'm just taking a break to walk Puppy."

"Honey, I would've done that, you should've called me."

"No, that's okay, I know you have to show the apartment. Who's, um, 'BriliantDonkey'?"

I smile. "One of my earliest readers. He's got a blog of his own, it's a good read, he's in my blogroll. What did he send me?"

"'Waiter Rant,' by The Waiter. That's the guy whose book signing we missed last week, right?"

"Oh, that's so nice of him! Yeah, and Waiter was also one of my inspirations for starting my own blog. I was so excited for him when I found out he was getting a book deal."

"Speaking of which, those people who want you to move your blog to their website, are they going to let you keep your blogroll and your wishlist?"

"That's what they said."

"You know, I could still look at the contract they sent you if you want me to."

"Jenny, we've been over this."

"I'm an attorney."

"Yes."

"I'm an intellectual property attorney."

"Yes."

"You don't want me to have a look at the contract someone's tentatively offered you to move your blog to a site where you'd get paid for blogging?"

"No."

"Maybe I forgot to mention I'm an intellectual property attorney."

"Look, Jenny, I've got it covered. You can't do it pro bono because I'm your girlfriend, your firm doesn't let you do outside work, and I can't pay what your firm would charge me, because I would get paid a percentage of ad revenue, which might end up being five bucks a month. You know I have someone looking at it."

She sighs. "I know. I just worry about you. I was so upset at all those jackasses who called you an idiot the very first time you expressed the slightest political thought." Yeah, well, it wasn't exactly the most well-reasoned or in-depth explanation of my thoughts on the matter, either, I think to myself, followed close behind by, And I'm sure as hell not going to do it again.

"And I love that you worry about me. It's part of why I'm moving in with you in a few weeks."

"I can't wait, Debra. It still feels like it's so far away."

The direct phone from the doorman downstairs rings, and after asking Jenny to hold on, I tell him to send the next prospect up. "It's almost here, baby. I've gotta go."

I take a long look at the Comfy Couch, and wonder, for the twelfth time this week, if this is too much change all at once. Am I going to lose some of my identity or independence in a live-in relationship where my girlfriend owns the apartment, even if I'm helping with the mortgage? Am I going to lose some of my faithful readers if I move my blog somewhere I'll essentially get paid to write? If New York makes same-sex marriage legal, will Jenny want us to get married? Will I feel pressure to write more often on the new site? Is that necessarily a bad thing?

The doorbell rings, and I put on a new smile.

August 3rd, 2008

Training Day (Part III)

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Wildcats
It's been a few weeks since Maya quit, but Pat and Todd have had much more difficulty than usual filling her spot. There's a thousand young women out there in New York City hoping to get a good bartending job, but the timing was bad. Out of the dozens of applicants we'd "kept on file" since the last time we had an opening, many had found other jobs, some were no longer reachable with their old contact info, and at least one responded enthusiastically but never showed up for her interview. We've all been busy picking up the slack by working extra shifts, and although that's really nice for our bank accounts, it's tiring and frustrating. And as the senior barmaid around here, I have to take the extra shifts nobody else can - which has been frustrating for Jenny, especially as we get closer to the day I'm going to move in with her.

Finally, after I begged them to take it seriously, they placed an honest-to-goodness ad. Out of the new dozens of applicants, they hired Yvonne, one of the many bright-eyed and bushy-tailed girls who come to New York from the midwest to go to college, see the ads in their college papers for bartending school, and spend money on one of those entertaining, but largely useless, classes. So at least she'd know how to mix a few basic drinks, but we still had to train her on The Bar's systems - inventory, tabs, registers, timekeeping, security, local popular drinks, when to punish a patron for ruining a tape-delayed Yankee game, and all the little things that go along with them. Or more to the point, I had to train her on these things. And I'm training her tonight.

It might be easier if it weren't a busy Thursday night. Thursdays are busy in general, but as I've mentioned before, they're busier in the summer when people are more prone to take Fridays off. She's taking instruction well, but that's only when I have the opportunity to give it. It's a good thing I had a chance to train her on our POS terminals early, because we've had to let her go ahead and take orders without all her training yet - really, we haven't had a choice. Cindy was trying to handle it all herself for a while, but it wasn't working without either Yvonne or me helping, and no matter which of us was going to help, training would have to take a backseat.

Yvonne is doing okay for the moment, though, with no major glitches. But at one point I notice her lingering at one end of the bar, in what appears to be a fairly intense conversation with a couple of young guys in suits. When I make my way down there, I hear her say, "All he does is make pretty speeches - he has no experience!" I look at the patrons and notice an Obama button on one of their lapels, and realize we hadn't quite reached the "No politics with patrons" rule yet.

"Hey, Yvonne, could you help out Cindy at the other end for a bit?" She smiles, says a polite goodbye to the Obama Boys, and heads down the other way.

I find time to mention the politics thing only a short while later, but it's after two in the morning before we have another chance to talk at length, and I fill her in on the rest of the rules she'll need to know to survive as a barmaid at the Bar. "I'm sorry about before, Debra - you don't think I upset them, do you?"

"How'd they tip?"

"Not bad, but nothing special."

I shrug. "Well, there's no telling, really. But the thing is, we don't have the rule just to keep you from losing a dollar here and there - it's also to keep us from losing customers permanently. Some people take politics very seriously - that and religion. You just don't bring them up unless the customer brings it up first, and even then you should try to avoid it."

"Okay, boss, what's next?"

"Well, first of all, I'm not the boss, that's Pat and Todd. Second, that's pretty much it. You've got all the tools you need." We wave goodbye as Cindy checks out for the night, and we settle in for whatever the last couple of hours will bring us.

"In that case," she says as she picks up the several dollar bills one of her customers has left her, "do you mind if I ask you where you stand on all this?"

Laughing, I pour us each a finger of Macallan, and we toast to her first night. "You mean the election?"

"Yeah. I mean, I'm just not buying this guy. I was a serious Hillary Clinton supporter, but now I feel like I have to vote for McCain. I may be gritting my teeth when I do it, but I feel like it's what I have to do." She sips the Scotch, and coughs a little. "Damn," she smiles.

"Well, the truth is that I try not to talk about politics with coworkers, either."

"Aw, that's no fair! I told you," she pouts.

"Okay, just this once, since you shared with me." I take a deep breath. "About a month ago, I was exactly where you are now. But I was really dreading the idea of casting a vote for McCain. So I started doing research on the web, and I was even more confused afterward than I'd been before." Another sip of Scotch. "So I was ready to give up, but just for shits and giggles, I Googled the phrase 'reasons not to vote for John McCain' in the hopes that Google would magically provide an answer."

"And did it?"

"Yeah. A blog called 'Reasons Not to Vote for McCain.' I was so excited I even added it to my blogroll."

"You have a blog?"

"Yeah, I'll tell you about it another time, though."

"Okay... so how do you know this anti-McCain thing isn't just an Obama staffer in a back room or something?"

"Honestly, I don't. But he claims to be a former Republican who just switched to Democrat because he thinks McCain would be another four years of the Bush disaster. He tracks down a lot of reliable information about McCain and compiles it for his blog, and it's stuff I wouldn't have known about otherwise."

"It sounds like you're already sold."

I shrug. "November is a long way off."

Yvonne and I chat for the rest of our shift about college, boys, the Bar, and other relatively inconsequential things. When I get to Jenny's place, I crawl into bed with her and manage not to wake her up. I fall asleep fairly quickly listening to her breathe, and I dream that she and I are standing together at the front of a beautiful ballroom, with Barack Obama performing our wedding ceremony.

July 10th, 2008

Wish for the Moon in Hand

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Yankees
"No, that's not what I'm saying, the date didn't go badly," Jack tries to clarify, after he takes another sip of Balvenie. "Heather and I had a fantastic time. We talked for hours, we had a wonderful meal and split a bottle of wine, we had dessert, and I walked her to her subway. And, there was a goodnight --" He stops for a second and looks up at us, his expectant audience of four: Mario on his side of the bar, and Jocelyn, Diego, and me on the other. "Sorry, I'm still trying to be a gentleman about this. There was a goodnight kiss. There was a very amazing goodnight kiss. I kissed her goodnight. I kissed her goodnight, and she definitely kissed me back."

"So what's the problem?" asks Mario.

"So this is how it went the last time, too. We had a wonderful time, she thinks I'm awesome, everything went right, including the part where I find the courage I don't usually have and we kiss and there's supposed to be fireworks. And she's still not interested."

"Wait," says Jocelyn, "I don't understand. She kissed you goodnight on two separate dates, and she says she's not interested?"

Jack shrugs. "Yeah, and they weren't brief kisses, either. She even apologized for it later, like she was leading me on or something."

"Well, she is!" Jocelyn huffs.

"I don't know," I pipe in. "What if she's not sure, and she's using the kisses as a gauge? It wouldn't be the first time I've heard of a woman doing that."

"Me, too," says Mario, "but how big does her sample size need to be before it's statistically significant?"

Jack puts up his hands. "Plus, can we just consider for a moment what it says about me that a woman could be on the fence, then making out with me clinches it for her the other way??"

"Oh, Jack," I say, taking his hand for a moment, "that's not what I meant."

"So you've known this girl for how long, a month or two?" Mario asks.

Jack clears his throat. "Twelve years."

I kind of knew that already, but the four of us all look at each other. Mario adds, "Hey, I know they say you shouldn't rush things, Jack, but seriously --"

"Ha ha," Jack says as he puts his head in one hand and shakes it. "She was married for most of that time. In fact I think she was already dating him when I met her."

"They're divorced now?" I ask. He nods. "You weren't... y'know, waiting all this time for that to happen, were you?"

"What?! God, no. I mean, I had a little crush on her back in college, but as soon as the semester was over I put her out of my head, and I didn't even think about her for eleven years. As soon as we reconnected a few months ago, though, that was it, I was toast. I've never felt like this before." Diego pats him on the shoulder.

I raise an eyebrow. "Never?"

Jack laughs. "Yes, Debra, never. You were a little crush, too - a misunderstanding. I moved on." I'm mostly relieved, though my ego can't help feel a little twinge of disappointment at being so easily dismissed. But it was a couple of years ago already and he's a friend, and what's more, I'm pretty sure he's right. "This is different, though. It's hard to explain, but I can't give up on her and I don't think I should. She's told me very clearly how she feels, and yet I'm utterly convinced that something's going to change her mind." He takes a deep breath. "Problem is, up until recently, I guess I thought a really fantastic kiss might be the something that would change her mind. Now I need something else."

"That's hardcore, man," Mario shakes his head.

"Are you sure she's not just stringing you along to stroke her ego? I mean, maybe divorce was hard on her and she needs the affirmation."

"At this point, Jocelyn, I'm not sure of anything. But I don't think she's cruel enough to do that. At least not consciously. Besides - get this - when we talk about how I feel, she tries to convince me I shouldn't feel that way. She actually sits there and lists her faults."

"And that doesn't work?" asks Diego.

Jack tilts his head back toward the ceiling. "I find it incredibly sexy and endearing."

"Jack, buddy," says Mario, "you need to get away from her, and fast. You're obsessing, and she's just making it worse by indulging you. As long as you keep going after her, you'll never get over it, and you'll never be able to see the right woman when she does come along."

Jocelyn nods. "I agree, you're just setting yourself up to get hurt again and again. Plus, no offense, but at a certain point if you keep coming back for more it's just going to be creepy."

Jack looks at me, and I shrug. "I hate to say it, but I think they're right. If she doesn't feel the same way about you, I don't think this is what you think it is." Then Jack and the rest of us look at Diego for consensus.

"Let me ask you a question, my friend," he says. "She seeing other people that she is interested in?"

"Well, yeah. We talk openly about the other people we're dating - whatever else is going on, we've become close friends."

"And how does that make you feel about the other guy?"

"I don't know... disappointed that it's not me, and annoyed when I hear he's not treating her right."

"You want to get rid of him, keep her to yourself?"

"What? No! Listen, I just want to make her happy. If someone else can do that, I'll still be very disappointed that it's not me, but that's all I want, is for her to be happy."

Diego nods for what seems like close to a minute, then he takes out his wallet and slaps it open on the bar. "You see this lady?" Jack looks at the photo, and nods. "That's my wife," Diego continues. "She's gone, she died giving birth to our daughter, I think you know that. We were married for three years, and I knew her for two years before that." He closes the wallet and slides it back into place in his jeans, and we all wait to hear what's next, but he just stands there, until Jack speaks up.

"She was beautiful, Diego."

"I know it."

"So --"

"You think you can make this Heather girl happy?"

"Yeah, I think so. No, I know it. If she gave me the chance, yes, I know I could make her happy."

Diego leans forward and places his hand on the side of Jack's face, a gesture that surprises all of us. "Then if you want to try, you go start trying, and you don't stop trying until she tells you to stop herself. And you don't let anybody ever tell you it's a waste of time." He turns and walks quickly to the back room. I start after him, but Jocelyn grabs my arm - and she's right, I need to let him go.

Jack sighs, and reaches toward me with his now-empty glass. "If I'm going to go tilt at windmills, Debra, I'm going to need some more Scotch."

July 9th, 2008

Fireworks

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Brunette
It's America's 232nd birthday, and Jenny and I are out in the Hamptons for the long weekend, staying with her cousin Roger and his wife Kate at their house. It's a large, modern house, nothing like the rental I shared with Bria and her friends a couple of years ago, so although a half dozen of Roger and Kate's friends are also there for the weekend, it doesn't feel crowded. And luckily, they all seem like decent people.

We're all celebrating the holiday in what has become the traditional method of acknowledging our nation's hard-won freedoms - overindulging. By the time it's dark enough for the local fireworks display to start, the ten of us have killed a score of burgers, an assortment of cold salads, about a peach pie and a half, and an entire case of wine. We still manage to stumble from their deck onto the beach to watch the show. It's pretty muggy, but my sundress blows around a little in the breeze coming off the water - and I try to remember through the wine whether it's the Atlantic Ocean or the Long Island Sound or some random Bay I should know the name of but don't, and I fail completely.

I start to ask, "Jenny --" but she's already in the middle of pulling me closer, and I continue to feel the breeze as she kisses me. We wrap our arms around each other, and for a minute I forget about the crowd on the beach - not just the eight other people from our house, but the hundreds of people from the other houses on the beach and all the other houses that aren't right on the beach. I only forget for a minute, because a minute is all it takes for a couple of guys nearby to start hooting and catcalling. We don't stop, though... and to my amusement, Jenny slides a hand up the back of my leg under my skirt to my ass, which gets even more of a reaction. I start laughing, and we break the embrace. Jenny actually gives a playful little wave to the boys nearby who were watching us, but then we stroll away, back a little closer to her cousins' deck.

"You're cruel," I say to her, forgetting what I was going to ask her.

"To them or to you?" she asks.

"Yes," I grin.

She shrugs. "That's nothing, baby." And then the show begins with a colorful bang, seemingly almost right above our heads. We hold hands and watch, with the requisite oohs and ahhs. The display is lovely, though nothing really compares with Macy's annual show over the East River. I certainly don't regret being here, though - we've been here less than a day, and Roger and Kate are already treating me like family. Even after the other guests started to arrive, they were inquisitive about my impending move to Jenny's apartment, what I do, where I'm from, what my family is like... and their hospitality has been second-to-none. We definitely got the best bedroom (other than theirs, of course), and although that may only be because we got there first, I'm looking forward to waking up in the queen-size bed curled up with Jenny.

The show is over after about fifteen minutes, and we wander back inside to the living room, where we've been promised a movie. We find Roger tinkering with the sound system he's got hooked up to a huge, widescreen television. One couple mock-yawns, waves, and heads off to bed, but the rest of us gather to watch. Jenny and I curl up together on a loveseat, and I pull a light blanket off the back of it to wrap around us. Jenny puts her arms around me, and I nestle in. Roger finally gets the connections right, and fires up "Speed" - a movie I've somehow managed never to see up until now.

It's entertaining enough for a goofy thriller with the most emotionally stunted actor in history playing the lead, but I'm also glad we're still drinking, because that helps make it more entertaining. Then, right around the time Keanu Reeves is getting a medal for shooting Jeff Daniels, I feel one of Jenny's hands slide down my tummy under the blanket, down onto my thigh, and - after a brief pause - up under my dress, where she starts lightly stroking me through my panties. I remember her "that's nothing, baby" comment of earlier, and I smile for a second, but I gently squirm away, turn my head slightly, and whisper, "Not here." I take a sip of my wine and a deep breath, and settle back into her arms.

Not long afterward, when the first bus explodes, I'm surprised to feel Jenny's hand move down to my thigh and up underneath my dress again. She's been pleasantly stroking the surface of my panties again for a couple of minutes, and I'm getting ready to reach for her hand and move it away myself, when I feel her move the panties to one side, stick her hand underneath, and start stroking me directly. I'm so dumbfounded that I literally can't think of anything to do except hold my breath, and then I give that up when I realize I won't be able to do it for long. I still want her to stop because there are six other people in the room, including members of her family whom I'm hoping will continue to welcome me as part of that family. But as the shock starts to wear off, the excitement steps in, and I also don't want her to stop. I slug back my remaining half glass of wine in the hopes it'll make me less nervous. I feel myself start to get wet, and I start to wonder if anyone will notice a difference in my breathing.

I somehow manage to follow what little plot there is. Jenny uses a slow, steady pace and occasionally pauses for a few minutes, so while it's incredibly pleasurable, I know it's not going to make me come. That helps keep me on the "don't stop" side of the fence, but it has its own problems. She keeps this up for what feels like an hour, which is such delicious agony I can't stand it. Soon all I'm doing is praying for the movie to end so that I have a better excuse for dragging her upstairs to that big, beautiful bed than "Excuse me, everybody, Jenny and I desperately need to go fuck."

But just as the LAPD figures out that the highway they're driving on hasn't yet been completed, I feel Jenny change her mind. She increases her pace, and then a couple of her fingers find their way into darkness, and then she adds her thumb to the mix and finds what she's known all along was there, just waiting for her to pay some attention to it. My whole body seems on fire, and I start to panic. I'm... demonstrative when I come. I'm loud. I have a tendency to thrash. I don't want to know what these six people are going to think of me after I have an orgasm right in front of them, but I absolutely do not want her to stop. Somehow between the wine and the wetness and the crazy and the panic and the surround-sound and the trust and the love and the desperation to explode and the torn between wanting nobody to know and wanting everybody to see, I decide not to decide, I place my fate in my girlfriend's hands, I let go...

Sandra Bullock floors the accelerator as the bus approaches the gap in the elevated highway trying to work up enough speed to jump it and Jenny works her thumb on me with tiny little motions and I can't stay still I start shaking and she plunges into me and everybody on the bus braces for impact and God help me I bolt upright on the loveseat with her still inside of me and the bus sails over the gap and she does this grabbing thing she knows I love in the middle of coming and I keep on coming and I cry out and the bus lands on the other side and keeps on going.

...and even though I'm still staring at the screen, I know everyone in the room is looking at me. Roger lets out a little laugh, and says, "Hey, Debra, it's okay - they made it." A few other people chuckle, and everyone's attention goes back to the television. I turn and look at Jenny, shocked and absolutely certain that my face is fire engine red, no idea what to say, but she just looks so pleased with herself that I forgive her instantly.

I lean in closer and whisper in her ear, "I'm not sure how, but I'm going to get you back for that." Then I turn back to the movie, curl back up under the blanket - still shaking - and feel Jenny wrap her arms around me again.

A few minutes later, she leans down and whispers in my ear, "I'm counting on it," then kisses me on the cheek.

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