While enduring the financial and temporal strain of university I supported myself through bartending – a trade that can be highly lucrative in North America (where people have the good manners to tip the waitstaff). I was unbelievably lucky to land a job at a music hall: I was able to staff an amazing number of incredible gigs I would have paid to see: Autechre, LCD Soundsystem, Jurassic Five, The Jim Rose Circus Sideshow, Blackalicious, Goldfrapp (when she still rocked), Gwar (for the sheer spectacle), and the Foo Fighters (I’m not even a fan, but I never saw a band drive the crowd so utterly mad) rank high up in my memories.
Even when I had to work an endless number of punk, metal and crap indie nights, or sat through empty rooms, it was still so much more fun than working your standard bar: every night was different.
Not only did it pay the bills much better than writing does today, five years on, it left me with a plethora of tales that I still find myself telling with pleasing regularity. Especially the one about the gay leather sex nights. That’s a real fan favourite. Funny thing was that it wasn’t even my idea to write this piece – my co-editors insisted on it.
So, in the spirit of nostaglia, here are the bartender diaries, published in 2005 in my student newspaper, revisited.
Diaries of a student barmaid
February 24, 2005
Possibly the smartest thing I have done wasn’t dropping twenty grand on an Honours B.Sc. – it was bartending at a nightclub to pay for it. I’m a self-respecting, independent woman, but I’m not above smearing on thick eyeliner and hiking on a push-up bra three nights a week if it gets me the funds to educate myself without having to rely on daddy or hubby. If slack-jawed alcoholics want to entertain the notion that tipping me a toonie might get them a screw in the bathroom at the end of the night, that’s fine by me.
But even more valuable than the cash I earn that prevents me from falling into a Kraft Dinner-ridden, debt-filled existence, are the stories I have to tell. Having spent the vast majority of my weekends for the past few years behind the bar instead of in front of it (or under it), I’ve seen some pretty fucked up things.
It wasn’t me, it was the one-armed raver. I left the club at two in the morning after a rave. A Happy Hardcore rave, to be exact, which are only populated by obese candy kids from upstate New York wrapped in spandex. Sitting on the sidewalk outside was a very high, very young, very fragile-looking girl. She was from Scarborough (of course), and couldn’t get home until the subway opened, but was too scared to go back inside and face the flashing lights. I decided to do my good deed for the day: I bought her a coffee, which kept her from falling asleep (Ecstasy breaks down your spinal fluid if you sleep, apparently). After a while she wanted to find her boyfriend. I asked what he looked like. “Well, he’s wearing a red shirt and a red hat,” she said. “Oh, and he has one arm. And one leg.” I thought she was just high, but there in the middle of the dance pit was a one-armed, one-legged raver. Turns out he was an E-tard when he was sixteen and decided to climb a Hydroelectric pole. Moral of the story: if you raise your kids in Scarborough they might end up so bored they’ll electrocute themselves.
A punk spat a tooth on my bar. I can’t remember which punk band was playing – we put on so many hardcore acts, they’re all interchangeable to me. As a zoology student, I’ve come to appreciate these shows for the unique opportunity they afford to observe human biology. Legions of D-cupped, 12-year-old skanks in early puberty, poster children for the bovine growth hormone. Drunk teenage boys competing for their attentions like baboons in rutting season. And best of all, watching natural selection in action as 200 intellectually-depleted teenagers kick the shit out of each other in a circle pit. I’ll always remember the tooth a bloody-nosed kid spat on my bar. Watching these putzes nail each other in the balls with steel-toed boots always leaves me content in the knowledge that some of the lesser members of my species will not be able to contribute their genes to the next generation.
That’s right, Mr. Slave! About once every two months, 900 gay guys in assless chaps descend on our club for a Leather Ball. Sounds intimidating, but I feel more comfortable working these shows than any other. Where else can a girl wear a leather mini-skirt and hooker boots and instead of being asked “How much?” be greeted with “Oh my gawd I love your hair! And look at those boots!” Like punk shows, leather balls are educational. I would never have learned that the human sphincter is capable of stretching to the diameter of a honeydew melon, or that with a little lube a man can get his arm up past the elbow inside another man’s rectum.
This guy set his afro on fire. New Year’s Eve, 2002. Before I served even one drink, a guy with a giant ‘fro stumbled over the bar, obviously having pre-drank. “Kinigeddadrink?” he slurred, the Jew-Fro wavering far too close to the candelabra. “Christ no,” I told him, moving the candles away. “Come back when you’re sober.” Somebody else asked for a beer in coherent English, so I turned around to grab it. “C’mon, pleezIjus’wannadrink!” I heard behind me, followed by a loud gasp. I turned around to see the smiling dimwit, his ‘fro aflame, gigantic tongues of fire shooting up into the air. I screamed and tried, ineffectively, to spray him with the soda gun. The rest of the crowd poured their beers over him. He loudly protested, having not realized that his head was on fire. I didn’t see him for the rest of the night, though he left half his hair in soggy clumps on my bar.
Who’s your daddy? Probably the most horrifying experience I’ve had was the Maxim Coors Light Girl Toronto contest. Thirty scantily-clad, borderline retarded women, and hundreds of hooting, drunk, certifiably retarded men drooling. There was even a spelling bee. “Jessica,” asked the host, “Can you spell ’spaghetti?’” She paused, obviously in a panic. Fortunately, she knew how to think on her feet. “S…E…X!” she replied, to a deafening chorus of “Aww YEAH!” from the audience. However, the most memorable moment came at the end, when they announced the winner. As soon as the host proclaimed “Starla” the Maxim Toronto Girl, a middle-aged man with grey hair, glasses, and khakis jumped on to my bar, beer in hand, and started dancing and cheering. As I called security to get him the fuck down, I wondered who he could be. Her sugar daddy? Oops, no, my mistake – he was her actual father. He ran to the stage and embraced his daughter, who was only wearing a transparent bra and thong, revealing her hairless, razor-scarred crotch (which no doubt reminded him of the blessed day she was born).
Tory Party. Every year we host a party for the provincial Conservatives. Man, you ain’t neva seen people gettin’ down ’til you seen 900 Tories do the White Man Shuffle. Oh yeah, mmm. Let’s get fiscally responsible, baby. Thankfully it wasn’t open bar, or else as a taxpayer I’d have been really pissed off. I’d like to tell you about what happened after Mike n’ Ernie parked themselves at the shot bar, but libel concerns keep my lips sealed. Let’s just say it was memorable.
Working the VIP room. During Canadian Music Week, top executives for a worldwide record label descended on the VIP room. I dressed up, put on my best smile, and got ready to kiss executive ass. I dreamed of making enough money to buy my books the next term with one night’s earnings. I smiled, I chirped, I chatted with the Euro-American trash, serving drink after drink. And what did the coked-up suits bestow on me? Fif. Teen. Dollars. Trickle-down economics, my ass.
Tobacco company twats and film industry twats can also be just as cheap. The other night a television executive blatantly stared at my breasts, said “You’re a stoke fox, you know that? Heh heh, all riiiiiiight,” paid for six drinks without leaving me a dime, and then sat down with his wife and six-year-old son.
I tell you, suits will order two dozen difficult-to-make cocktails without leaving me a tip, while the average Joe who works in a factory will always, always leave a dollar for every beer I uncap. The only time a suit will tip you is when they think they might get something in return. Only once was I impressed by an exec’s generosity, when a cigarette representative left me a 50 after seeing that none of his co-workers had tipped all night. I must say though, I don’t doubt that the next morning he woke up and thought, “I gave that chick a 50 and I didn’t even get a blow job?”
Note: Every word is true. In fact, I’ve got even worse stories that I hesitate to commit to ink, electronic or otherwise.