When I was a teenager in high school, I found my peers at a nearby all-boys school to be far more fascinating that my own male classmates. So when my friend Pat asked me to be his date to their winter formal, I jumped at the chance.
Pat and his best friend Dan had gone to the same grade school as my best friend Lauren. So naturally, Dan asked Lauren to be his date. It seemed like the perfect double date, except that I didn’t like Dan.
Every bartender and server is familiar with the regulars that frequent their place of employment. As my first job was in an inexpensive Italian restaurant, many of my regulars were elderly. My customers came in for the six dollar lasagna because it came with soup or salad and a complimentary glass of Carlo Rossi.
Breakfast was even cheaper than dinner. And that meant that the majority of my morning customers had been retired for years and were stuck in their ways when it came to food. One lady grew quickly angry when she ordered a Denver omelet (not on the menu) and I didn’t know the ingredients. She marched in the kitchen to instruct the cook. Another old couple came in frequently, and after they ate, they’d count their change out exactly 15 percent of their bill. Their tip never added up to a dollar and often included pennies.
Though I was familiar with the old fuddy duddies and tolerated them with a smile, young customers and generous customers were a breath of fresh air.
As soon as I met Jim I liked him. He was a kind man; clean cut, with his shirt tucked and his hair parted. His order was always simple, he left behind no mess or extra food, and he tipped fair. But still, there was always something about him that was just off…
As soon as my parents removed my midnight curfew, I began staying out until 5 a.m on the weekends. Less than a month into my new found freedom, I woke up one morning to find the want ads in front of my bedroom door with various studio apartments circled in highlighter.
“We can’t live like this,” my mom told me.
And so, I began to hunt for my first apartment.
After about a dozen roommates had come and gone through my life, I was ready to live alone. I found a reasonably priced one- bedroom apartment that was just a short walk from Lake Michigan, as well as from the bars and restaurants along Brady Street. I signed the necessary papers, paid my first month’s rent and security deposit, and waited for the first of the month to arrive.
When I excitedly told my then-boyfriend about my new home, he asked me, “Isn’t that right by that abortion clinic?”
The only building in my new neighborhood that had caught my eye was Body Ritual; a tattoo shop that was across the street from my apartment building. I hadn’t seen any abortion clinic. But sure enough, thirty feet from my front door was an abortion clinic.
I was helping my friend move into my apartment when he approached us. Though homeless people could be found all around Milwaukee, it was rare to see them in residential neighborhoods. Yet here he was, walking up to us, wearing a baseball cap that had seen better days and holding a pencil case.
“’Scuse me, ladies,” he shouted.
Colleen and I paused on the sidewalk in front of my house.
The man trotted up to us shaking his pencil case a little. “I’m homeless, you know, and hungry. I was wondering if you could give me anything.” Again he shook his pencil case.
I started working at an Albanian-owned restaurant when I was 18. Besides learning random Albanian words for fun, I had to be taught how to waitress. I had to figure out how to properly write a pizza order, how to perfectly time the delivery of appetizers and entrees, and also, after 11 years of being a vegetarian, I had to start learning things about meat.
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.