It's 9:21, Friday night. The band is set to launch into the first song of their first set. Technically, they were supposed to start 21 minutes ago, but the clever bastards are taking full advantage of a loophole they've discovered in their agreement. That loophole is the fact that I, the head bartender and de facto person in charge here, don't really give a particular shit if they ever play a chord.
Not caring doesn't mean not benefiting, however. Fact is, I probably benefit more from these guys playing than anyone (unless what we're paying them is how they're able to afford their own apartments, in which case their parents are the primary beneficiaries of tonight's performance). Because from their opening downbeat, extreme volume fills this dinky college bar like a fire hose would fill a shot glass. Instantly. Utterly. Inappropriately. And this ridiculous, assaultive sound reduces my interaction with customers to a delicious minimum.
Now, communications are strictly business, drink orders only — concise and shouted, like the transmissions of a radioman pinned down in a firefight. That means there will be no bitching about classes or work or lovelessness. No confessions. No sports blather. No sincere and meaningless vows or new leaf turning-overs. And I realize for the 63rd consecutive Friday that people really aren't so bad if you don't have to listen to them.
Iris, having completed another circuit of the floor and table customers, calls her drink order to me from the waitress station. Mostly, people order beers, GTs, 7/7s. But since the Key Club is a "tropical" bar specializing in "tropical" drinks, there's a steady demand for those, too. (Especially, I suspect, among the "I'm-out-of-refills-on-my-roofies-prescription" set.) The most popular is the Headhunter, an overpriced concoction of three bottom-shelf liquors, two second-rate, syrupy liqueurs and three fruit juices. These ingredients are then frozen (i.e., blended to an icy slush in a powerful Hamilton Beach). The Headhunter's Slurpy-like quality means drinking them too fast can result in an "ice cream headache." Their too-generous mix of cheap spirits plus refined and natural sugars means no matter what speed you drink them at, come tomorrow morning, you would gladly drain and drink the blood of your family pet if you thought that it could somehow neutralize, however briefly, the several cubic inches of earnest pain you used to know as your head.
At about midnight, my boss, the owner, Judd, stops by to see how things are going. Judd books all the acts here and for him it's all science, no art. Sundays through Tuesdays — deadly, slow nights — he books softer, folkier acts, acoustic solos or duets, people willing to perform for "the door" (i.e., the few bucks in cover charges collected at the door) and the opportunity to reach and connect and communicate with five of their friends, a table of off-duty nurses, an adulterous couple who's sure no one they know will see them here and Jack, my alcoholic regular whose interest in the music might actually increase if he were to go ahead and have one of his blackouts. On Wednesdays, to lure the desperate party morons who call Wednesday "Humpday," he takes things up an energy notch with non-threatening trios — think Hootie and Two Blowfish — that do lots of covers and will play for the door plus a couple free drinks and a minimal cash supplement. Thursday through Saturday, he springs for established, rockin', amply amplified quar-, quin- and sextets, trusting, hoping, betting they have the loyal and thirsty following that will justify his outlay. Tonight, he appears satisfied with what he sees, crowd/thirst-wise. Then again, in my experience, bosses are generally satisfied with the things they do themselves. It's we employees who supply them with their many disappointments.
Tips at the Key Club are less than spectacular. I attribute this to the clientele being so young. So unwise and unworldly. Iris has suggested it might have something to do with my attitude, my persona. And Iris doesn't even know I spit in some of the drinks.
At 2:10 a.m., the band unplugs and I give last call. Over the next 20 minutes — closing's at 2:30 — I expect the customers who are blind drunk will pair up with the customers who are seeing double and somehow synthesize into creatures of single vision who can then responsibly pilot their cars wherever. And if that scenario seems a little too optimistic, well, that's just who I am. ©