Albie Redux

The Best Of The Zola System

Has it been 5 years already?

“What did he do this time?” I responded to the GM’s question: “Have you heard about Albie?”

Booze and drugs are hazards of restaurant/bar industry so it wouldn’t be all that unusual if he’d been found asleep with his pants down on a restroom floor or boarded a plane bound for Omaha , where he knows no one, while blacked out on OC and booze.

“They found him dead yesterday.”

I felt like a schmuck. Then I was just shocked. Albie was a huge man, 6’3″ and300 pounds . Was it his heart?

“They don’t know. His girlfriend found him on the bed when she got home.”

I didn’t know the man that well. He was a server and I am a bartender so I was my usual bastard self to him when he came to me with a question I ‘d heard a million times. Yes that Pinot is still on the menu and yes it has been there for a while and why the fuck are you asking me if the damn bottle of tonic is fresh. Bring up a new one. Like me, he was in the business a long time, a real pro.

Everyone on staff was shocked, but nobody seemed to know the guy very well because he’d only been with us a few months. We did what restaurant and bar people do a time like this: We started a drive to raise money to give to his people. Our GM pledged to match any amount we came up with.

The Beverage Manager Manager and I were put in charge of collecting the cash. (Who else but the bartenders would you trust?) We raised $1,500.00. Even Gary, a server known as a cheap fuck, pitched in. (A little West Side Street Hustler who might have been trying to get over on unsuspecting tourists with various Shell games back in ’82, Gary is a server in a well known Manhattan restaurant today..) Some of the other servers admire him for how he can rip a penny from the hand of a starving man. He came up to the bar as he was leaving on Friday, pulled out a $20 and gave it to me in a shaking hand. I was touched.

With Ed, a floor manager, I went to the funeral home in Washington Heights to deliver the money we’d raised to the girlfriend. Our biggest fear was that we would be alone in the room with Albie’s girlfriend and an open casket – and we’d have to stay until the joint closed. I was worried I’d miss my shift that night – ah, that Midwestern work ethic. All the funeral homes I’ve ever seen were beige brick and brown carpeting. This one was like all the others. I suppose the idea is to keep the bereaved calm.

Fortunately for us, there were over 30 people in the room when we got there, so westayed for the half an hour to the hour we had planned. What we learned about Albie gave me another jolt. He’d owned bars and was a male model in the early “80’s. How did he get lost in the service industry? When his girlfriend found him on the bed, left arm up, right arm across his chest, he lay beside an empty bottle of Absolut and the parents Death Certificates.

I can’t help but wonder about myself: no real girlfriend, freelancing articles and trying to sell novels, working my shifts with people who come and go. Will I end up like this?

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