The largest music festival in the world is held in Milwaukee and provides 11 days of music and beer to hundreds of people. Summerfest closes at midnight, and soon after, the bar streets of the city become a sloppy mess of people who would be drinking water if they had any good judgment left inside they alcohol soaked brains. Here all normal etiquette is lost. I should know. I bartend.
Bartending to this kind of crowd is intense. No one has patience to wait for drinks, many people spill their cocktails, and few people remember to close out their credit cards when the night ends.
The first Saturday night of Summerfest, I worked a double shift. I was bartending on the patio bar while Damian and Brett manned the inside. As usual, the night exploded around 12:30 with the post-Summerfest crowd. We had a dj, excellent lights, a large patio, and cases of cold beer. Our bar was packed.
Though my bar was a mini-bar, I ran in circles all night. I couldn’t even enjoy watching the wasted crowd pulsing with the beats because I was so busy mixing, pouring, opening bottles, and sweating.
The bar back, James, checked on me a few times and brought me change for big bills and more cases of Miller Lite, but he got so busy inside the bar that he couldn’t help me and I had to make due. I sold out almost every product I had.
Time flew though, and suddenly it was 2:00. Last call. James ushered out the drunks in packs, and I surveyed the patio. It was filled with broken glass and puke piles.
I carried my register into the bar to lock it in the office and to grab a beer for myself. James trotted up to me and held out his hands, offering to carry the register, but I shook my head. “Do you need help with anything, or anything?” He asked.
I stopped walking, took one look into his eyes, saw how shiny they were and noticed a familiar red tint. I started laughing. “You’re drunk!”
“A little bit, maybe,” he said smiling.
I dropped off the register in the office, went back to the main bar and grabbed a bottle of beer; my first of the night. Damian grabbed a bottle of whiskey and poured the two of us each a shot as I sipped my High Life. “Don’t let Brett see…” he whispered. We discretely took our shots and walked our separate ways. I could hear Brett talking louder than normal, and I knew he was sloshed too. I grabbed a broom and headed for the patio, leaving Damian to deal with our drunken coworkers.
As I swept, and swept and swept, I heard yelling start up from inside the bar.
It sounded like Brett. I also heard breaking glass. I thought at first it was empty bottles being thrown into garbage cans, but the breaking continued and I started to doubt my theory. More breaking, and yelling. I began to wonder if they were fighting. I sipped my beer and swept the patio, trying to ignore a sense of dread that was growing inside me.
Brett was already known to be a bit of a ridiculous drunk in the past. Now he had a 6 month old at home and was the sole financial provider for his son and his girlfriend. All week long he worked fulltime as a cook. On Saturday nights he bartended. The bartending shift sort of doubled as his one night out. But as I listened to the shattering and yelling, I began to think of this night as Brett’s last night as my coworker.
I slipped in the side door. I walked up to Damian and quietly asked, “Is everything okay?”
He grinned and replied, “Sometimes, when it’s just us guys working on the weekends… we have man-night and break things.” I stared at Damian. I shook my head and walked back towards the patio.
James ran up to me before I walked out. “You’re not gonna tell, are you?”
I shook my head.
I walked back outside holding my crusty broom to continue clean-up duty. As soon as I stepped outside,I paused. I’d just worked a 14 hour day and was having my first beer. Without thinking about it too much, I walked back in and said to the guys, “Okay, I won’t tell as long as I can break something too.”
The boys began cheering.
“Okay,” Damian said, “What we do is find a glass we don’t use often, and throw it against the wall.” He handed me a champagne flute.
“No. No way. I thought you were breaking empty beer bottles. We run out of glassware all the time, I’m not breaking it.” As I talked, Brett walked up, grabbed the glass from Damian’s hand and flung it against the opposite wall, staring at me as though to prove a point. “See, that’s just stupid,” I said.
Damian grabbed my bottle out of my hand, polished off the end of the beer inside it and handed it back, empty. “Okay, this is heavier than a normal glass so throw it hard,” he said.
The boys all stopped their work to watch me. I swung, hesitated, and started over. Again I swung it and let go. It shattered against the wall with a satisfying crash. My blood raced hot through my body and I blushed a little. Then the hollering began.
“MAN NIIIIIGHT!” Brett shouted. Damian and James echoed.
“MAN NIIIIGHT,” I chimed in. “MAN NIIIIGHT” they all repeated over and over. The testosterone was thick in the air. “MAN NIIIIGHT” Brett hollered, unbuttoning his shirt and opening it up, exposing his bony white chest.
“MAN NIIIIGHT,” James yelled out, pulling his shirt off, which was a lot of exhibitionism for him. Damian joined in too, pulling off his shirt as well, and yelling from behind the bar.
And just for a moment, one of my X chromosomes disappeared. I wanted to be topless like the boys. “MAN NIIIIGHT,” I shouted, pulling down my tank top and shifting my masculine shoulders from side to side… My bare breasts swayed and the boys stopped yelling. They all turned to stare.
So maybe I hadn’t lost all of my femininity. The boys were laughing, pleased. All the drunk assholes we’d dealt with all night didn’t matter anymore. That we would be awake and cleaning until the sun began to rise wasn’t a big deal. They’d let me in on their secret, and for just a short while, I was a part of man night.
(written in 2009)