The Definition of Insanity

The First Essential Scary Truth







Like millions of Americans, I am currently under-employed.  The supposition that I should feel lucky to have some sort of job in these tough economic times keeps running through my mind.


“Any port in a storm,” my friend Roddy O’Hare councils and he’s right.


With 6.1% of my fellow citizens looking for work, it is a daunting task to find any sort of gainful employment.  Fortunately, I work in a profession that is nearly recession proof – bartending.  Even better, the rarified air I breathe is that of a fine dining New York barman.  My job is to be food and wine geek while simultaneously be a ball buster, social director and marriage counselor; all the while, trying to remember that my main ethos is to that of a legal drug dealer. 


My trip to the semi/unemployed rolls began in April when my left shoulder finally fell apart.  I injured it while wrestling competitively at 16.  My orthopedist told me the injury, misdiagnosed as a rotator cuff tear, would probably degenerate over time.  I’m sorry to report he was correct.  Even when I could barely raise my arm over my head, most of March and April, I told myself that any real man would forget about the pain and discomfort after the second beer.  And if it really got to be annoying, that meant it was time for a little whiskey – Jim Beam Black on the rocks.  So after 23 years of machismo neglect, I took the plunge and had the shoulder fixed.  (It was bicep’s tendon tendonitis instead of a rotator cuff issue, more annoying than actually problematic.)  When I returned to work, two weeks later, I found a job that had no more heart i.e. the customers had found their ways to new joints and my partner in crime Tomas was in the midst of a move to New Orleans.  The tagging on the wall was large and clear; it was time to find a new home.


Less than three weeks later, I found myself working part time at a new West Village restaurant with a celebrity chef and the bar run by a wine director friend.  This was the exact kind of milleu I was used to and had worked in many years.  It was my kind of joint with a funky gravitas, good food and wine.  The only thing it was missing was more than two shifts for me.  Tough economic times, what can you do?  Put the word out, check Craig’s List many times a day and pound the pavement, trying to find anyone who is looking to hire a seasoned New York bartender was where my thinking took me.   The mistake I made was saying out loud ‘how much worse can it get?’  That was Friday.  3am Monday morning, I got a call from my good friend Susan Crain Bakos.  Various media outlets were now reporting that Lehman Brothers was going to declare bankruptcy at the start of the business day.   I knew it then: finding more shifts had just gotten far more difficult.  It was Zola’s Codicle to Murphy’s Law: Murphy was an optimist.


Years ago, I left working the Irish boozers and Sport’s bars of New York for the more seemingly more dignified world of fine dining.  The hours were shorter and it seemed a good way to not only maximize my profits but to stay away from the trappings of the saloon business: easy access to booze, drugs and the inevitable urge to continually be in the hook-up culture.  I wanted to be a serious bartender and writer and get out of the Guyland ethos that surrounded me constantly.  Little did I know what lay ahead: celebrity chefs with drug, alcohol and prostitute issues, sommeliers doing shots of chardonnay during service to stay on top of the four bottle buzz, easier access to better quality booze and being fed rich gourmet food on a daily basis.  Seemingly overnight, I put on thirty pounds and felt the whiskey in my sinuses most mornings.  If one could fall into the cracks of the service industry in small neighborhood bars, it was only worse on the high end.  I had to remember the cardinal rules of moderation and good behavior.  However, if you paid attention and ignored all the shenanigans of your co-workers, there was quite an education to be had in wine, food, pairings and the hospitality industry in general.  It was those very concepts I was counting on to push me above the rest of the pack and help me get some more shifts before the bottom truly fell out of the economy.


I decided to open my search to anyone in any style establishment: boozer, saloon, fine dining, whatever so long as they needed a bartender.  Within two days, I had seven interviews and had yet to put the word out that I was looking for more work.  “Fabulous,” I thought.  “Where are all those tough rooms they keep talking about?”  That was nearly ten days ago.  Since then, I have had maybe four formal interviews and have bounced in and out of so many different style joints I am beginning to marvel at how many different themes and styles there are in the bar/saloon/restaurant business.  If there is a way to make a buck and keep people satiated and drunk, it can be found in New York City.  I talk to a manager or the wine director or head bartender and they seem impressed by the places I have worked and the people I have served with.  After we chat about what they need or are looking for, we part ways on good terms.  The line I have been left with 85% of the time goes like this: “Your resume speaks for itself.  We will definitely be calling you.”


Thus far, the phone has been quiet.  Is it me?  Do I give bad interview?  I have gone back and some of those that gave notice decided to stay, some have not been replaced and some gigs have gone to others who may or may not have been as qualified as I.  “It’s the times,” one manager told me.  “You’re too good to find nothing.  Keep at it.”


He is right of course.  However, there is something gnawing at me, right in the pit of my stomach.  It’s a definition my gal pal Jessica is fond of using; it’s her definition of insanity.  For Jessica, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.


If she is right, then I am worried I might start laughing at the next manager who tells me my resume speaks for itself, grab a bottle of cheap vodka and walk out the door to the Bowery and all points Malcolm Lowery.  A man totally disconnected from reality, living at night, gabbing about booze, telling stories and spouting whatever else comes to mind at the moment, all the while entertaining, hoping for some cash. 



Oh yeah, good point.



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