“What was I doing there?” I thought as I stood there shivering, in front of the nightclub with a pocket full of cash, a maglight and I’ll admit, a slightly bad attitude.
When you bartend for some reason or another you are always getting roped into doing things that are decidedly not-bartending. Ask any bartender and they will tell you about taking in the restaurant nightly cash, going to the bar’s bank for change, picking up tables to wait on, helping the band load in or, as in this particular case, working the front door of a live music club on Halloween.
“Jeff, I need you to cover the front door,” was all my boss said before heading home for some emergency that seemed to involve his 20 years younger girlfriend (who was dressed up as a hooker), a bottle of Stoli vodka and that sniffling guy who always seemed to be hanging around.
That meant I wasn’t going to be making any tips and I was also going to be charged with checking the I.D.’s of people wearing costumes, a losing proposition at best. It was several hours before the first band was going start. The front door was propped open and the variously attired roadie crews for two different bands were hanging around and
loading equipment in.
I stood out front cursing my fate while the first band, dressed as superheroes took the stage for their sound check. Just as the guitarist strummed his first chord, a faint whiff of hot chocolate swept past my frigid nostrils. I looked across the street at the little pool parlor/coffee shop. It was as if my name was being whispered by the chuff-chuffing of the cappuccino machine steamer.
Jefffffffff. Jeffffffff, it whispered seductively with each foamed drink.
Band No. 2, dressed as mobsters, with scantily clad gun molls in tow, were just beginning to wheel their equipment in.
The lead singer of band No. 1 strutted on stage. Flipping back his long red cape he grabbed the mic phallically.
“Is this thing on?” he said to the nearly empty room. His fellow superheroes burst out laughing as if it was the most original utterance ever made by man (it isn’t, almost every new band in the world doing sound check makes the same joke), but by then I was already halfway across the street.
The first band didn’t start for two hours and officially we didn’t open for another hour. The only people in the building were the other bartender, some groupies dressed as characters out of the old west, the bands and the sound engineer. I was only going to be gone for five minutes at the most, I thought. What could possibly happen in an
unopened bar in five minutes during a sound check?
“Jeff,” said the barista with cat whiskers and a long tail within two minutes of taking my order. See, I thought. No big deal, I was only gone for four minutes, max. Crossing the street, I dodged the cars while balancing my delicious hot chocolate, in one hand.
The notion occurred to me even before I could fully comprehend its significance. The roadies for band No. 2 seemed to be wheeling their equipment out of the club, not in.
“That’s odd,” I remembered thinking peripherally just before entering the front door clutching my warm beverage.
Inside it was like the climactic final scene out of the original Casino Royale James Bond Spoof of the early 1960’s.
Over there an Indian chief was punching a foreign legionnaire. Two flapper girls were wrestling with a cowboy near the speakers and people were running this way and that like the crowd out of every disaster movie ever made. All we need was some zippy 60’s music and Woody Allen.
I grabbed Superman as he raced by.
“What is going on?” I asked.
“The sound guy just punched the lead guitar player in the face,” he said before disengaging to join the rest of the Justice League.
I looked around struggling to remember what the sound engineer was dressed as. Wolfman? Zombie? Oh yes, a Hillbilly.
Frantically I searched around the edge of the scrum for my Hillbilly. Finally I found him calmly rolling up microphone cords by the edge of the stage.
“What the hell is going on?”
“I punched the guitar player,” he said matter of factly, rolling up the cords neatly. I struggled to understand. I tossed out possible explanations.
“Was he damaging the equipment? Did he try to steal something? He must have swung first?” are all things that I posited.
“Nope,” he said.
“Well then, what happened?” I said putting my undrunken hot chocolate down on a small stage speaker.
“Well we were both at a party last month and he called this girl I know a name so I punched him.”
I could not believe my ears.
“You are so fired,” I said gravely overstepping my authority.
Eventually with the help of the other bartender, I managed to round up the band members. Several rounds of free drinks and a couple of free pizzas managed to salve their bruised egos. I also managed to locate another sound engineer and convince him to come in (for double wages) and the show went on without another hitch.
After that I never did work the front door again. Oddly my boss never did ask what happened to the sound engineer.
As a residual effect it also seems that I have lost both my excitement for Halloween night and my taste for hot chocolate.
On the plus side I have a greater appreciation of what can happen in five minutes.
Jeff Burkhart is an author, a regular contributor to National Geographic Assignment and an award winning bartender at a local restaurant. Contact him at www.jeffburkhart.net