Qualified? – Part 2

Sunset Lounge

Qualified? – Part 2

Continued from last week’s Qualified? – Part 1

Boathouse

The mirror-ball effect of the suns rays reflecting off of the choppy ocean hypnotized me as I stared through the window from inside the Boathouse. I had only been here for minutes, but my trance could easily have been for hours as time stood still for me, just as it probably had for the thousands of people who sat in this chair before. The experience was truly captivating.

“She’s Irish,” Rick, the surfer, jolted me out of my ocean-drawn trance from two seats away. I turned to meet his broad grin as he continued, indicating the bartender with a nod of his head. “Rita… She’s Irish. You probably noticed her accent. And she’s the best damn bartender you’ll ever meet!” I smiled back and nodded my best polite nod, then took a sip of my beer. He stood up out of his chair, grabbed his drink and moved himself to the seat next to mine, all more or less in one fluid motion, which to me confirmed that he was indeed a surfer. “I’m Rick,” he said, holding his glass up and in my direction.

“I’m Jim,” I replied, but didn’t think to raise to return the gesture. Rick tapped his glass to mine, finished what was inside it, then raised it toward Rita to indicate that he wished for another. He then turned his smile back to me.

“Hello, Jim! You’re a friend of Patti’s?” I nodded, which compelled him to raise his eyebrows over his perpetual smile. Rita returned with his drink, which he grabbed as though it were a birthday present. “Screwdriver,” he said, gesturing to the drink with a tilt of his head, “Good for your health.” He took a quick sip, then continued, “Patti’s alright. She’s not quite like Ben, but she’s alright.”

“Who’s Ben?” I asked, to which he grew even more animated.

“Ben was Patti’s father!” he boasted as if he was speaking of his own family, “and a wonderful, amazing guy. He owned this place, made the Boathouse what it is today! God, I miss him!”

And now I knew who God’s best friend was – according to the sign behind the bar.

“Ben passed away a few months ago, and then Patti took over,” Rick continued, “and it’s alright, you know, because we still have the sun, we still have the ocean, and we still have this place.” He paused, looking out toward the sunlit sea. We both lifted our drinks and took a sip, almost in unison, before he spoke again. “I’m a film maker,” he said, snapping back from wistful reflection to his previously gregarious manner, “I make movies. Documentaries, really. Travel documentaries. I travel all over the world and make movies about the places I go. Fiji, the Philippines, all over the world.” He pulled out his wallet and produced a business card, which he put on the bar in between me and my beer for me to read.

“Reel World Films,” I read aloud. The card had a film reel that unraveled around the words and his name. “I like the play on words.”

“Isn’t that great?” he lit up in delight, “R-E-E-L, like film reel, instead of R-E-A-L, like ‘real’!” Rita was not far away and caught my attention as she smirked and rolled her eyes. She had clearly heard Rick tell this one before.

I started to chuckle, but didn’t want to come across as rude, so I turned my head away. I saw that a few more people had entered the bar, and I sensed that the restaurant was getting busier as well. The older couple was still sitting at the end of the bar staring at the sea. I wondered if they came here often; if this was a regular occasion for them. They didn’t come across as tourists; it just felt like they were at home here, home in each other’s company with peaceful view to enjoy together. It must be wonderful, I thought, to have someone to sit with, say nothing to, and just appreciate the company and the scenery.

“Hey stranger!” Once again my trance was broken, but this time by a different voice. I turned around to see Patti standing behind me. She was about forty years old, darkly tanned with deep chestnut brown, almost black hair. At about five-foot, two inches, she was not particularly imposing, but still stood tall and proud, wearing black jeans and a black jacket with colorful Native American embroidery, all beneath a black Australian cowboy hat drawn down almost to her eyes. “Welcome to Santa Monica!”

Rick artfully spun his chair around to greet her as well, to which she commented that he was her best customer – a label he wore with honor.

Turning her attention back toward me, she asked if I had been waiting long, which of course I had not. “Follow me,” she said as she turned toward the restaurant area, “I have some people here that I want you to meet.” I left the remnants of my beer at the bar and grabbed my briefcase as she led me to the upper, darker dining room and we approached a table where two other people were already seated. They began to rise from their seats when she stopped them.

“Jim Harris,” she said, indicating me, “I want you to meet my friends Buzz Gammel and Jim Bishop.”

We all exchanged hello’s, and nice-to-meet-you’s as Patti and I sat down. Before the conversation continued with our getting to know one another, though, Patti directed a question to me. “So, how did your job interview go?” The rest of the table understandably wasn’t up to speed on my schedule leading up to our recent meeting, so she clarified. “Jim just moved here from Colorado and is looking for a job,” which seemed to clear things up, then she continued, “I know his parents really well, he’s like family to me!” It was nice to hear, although in my own mind I was counting the few times that we had actually ever even talked. “And so…,” she prodded again, “how did it go? Did you get the job?”

“I was overqualified,” I answered.

“Overqualified?” She was stunned. “Wow! I would hate to be in the job market these days! I’m sorry, Jimbo.”

“Jimbo,” I thought to myself, “So that’s how she’s going to handle this two-Jim’s situation.”

“But I have an idea for you,” she continued, and it seemed to draw the entire table’s attention. “You should learn how to tend bar.” The idea seemed to go over well with the rest of the table, but I wasn’t so sure. Before I could even get a word in, she pressed on. “Now, I know very well that you don’t want to work in a restaurant. You made that very clear back at your parents’ house when we talked about it you working here, and frankly I don’t really have a position here for you. But I do think you should consider tending bar somewhere. It’s a good gig and would free up a lot of time for you to do your acting and writing thing.”

I could see her point, and the thought of settling for a telemarketing job seemed a lot less intriguing than working in a bar.

“I’ll tell you what,” she said, “I have this really great bartender coming in to work tonight – should be here any minute – and I think you should spend some time behind the bar with him tonight. You know, learn the ropes. He’s probably the best bartender I’ve ever seen, so you can’t go wrong! And then you can go apply for a bartending job anywhere you want. Put on our resume that you worked for me for six months. I’ll back you up!”

The proposition sounded better and better with every sentence. “Okay!” I said, and I must have come across as pretty exuberant, for I swear the whole table cheered along with me.

“So it’s settled, as soon as Bill gets here,” she hesitated as she looked to the far side of the restaurant area, “Oh, it looks like he’s here now! Anyway, his name is Bill, and as soon as he gets settled in I’ll tell him what’s up, introduce you, and then you’re good to go!”

“Great!” I said, and soon the conversation turned to the others at the table. Buzz, I learned, was godfather to Patti’s five-year-old son, Joe Ben, a cute kid whom I saw a few times at my father’s veterinary clinic. Jim was one of Patti’s longtime friends, and he had an infectious, positive energy about him. . Both, actually, were great company and, along with Patti, carried the night with their memories and laughter. I was happy to sit quietly and let the conversations be about someone other than me.

About a half-hour later Patti led me to the bar to meet Bill, the bartender. She informed him of her plans and asked if he would mind teaching me for about an hour, and he was fine with it. And so I stepped behind the bar, a new student in a new field of study.

Bill was big, solid guy, about my height but with a lot more physique, and he had this great, raspy voice that screamed of authority. He would have made a great football coach, I thought upon meeting him. Respect seemed to naturally fall his way. He was from Connecticut, and it didn’t take long for me to notice a slight accent in his speech. He spoke so fast that it took my full attention just to keep up with what he was saying!

“So,” he started, “You ever tend bar before?”

I told him that I poured beers at parties in college, but that was about the limit of my experience.

“No biggie,” he said, “You drink cocktails, though, right?” I began to answer, but he quickly continued. “Perfect! So you’ve got some idea of what’s in them! Now, first things first: There are two secrets to this job. Number one: Make the first drink for your customer the way you like it – good and strong. After that, lighten up on the booze. The customer will never notice. Number two: Treat the customer like you would want to be treated. Even if they’re chumpy, if you treat them like you honestly like them, you’ll get better tips than if you treat them like chumps. Make sense?”

“Got it,” I affirmed.

“Good! Now, the bottles all have pour spouts, see these things?” He pointed to a black plastic spout on the mouth of the bottle, then demonstrated as he spoke. “Basically, if you turn the bottle upside down and count to six: one, two, three, four, five, six, you get a perfect shot. See?” He showed me a perfectly poured shot glass full of bourbon. “And  the soda gun is calibrated to match this pace, so if you’re filling a bucket, one of these glasses here,” he held up a standard-type glass, “all you have to do is set up the glass on the spill tray, fill it with ice – always to the top with ice, very important! Then you grab your bottle and soda gun and start filling. Here, count: one, two, three, four, five, six. Done!” He poured a perfect gin and tonic. “Add a lime for garnish, and you’re finished!”

I marveled at this, but not for long as his speed-lecture instantly resumed.

“Most drinks are pretty simple. Gin & tonics, rum & cokes, I don’t have to explain those to you, right?”

“No.”

“We only have draft beer. Bud and Bud Light. Pretty simple. We should bring in some bottled beer, but I haven’t won that battle yet. Wine list needs help too. We do have Dom Perignon, but we only keep two bottles cold at a time, so if somebody really wants to be flashy here they can only do it for so long, know what I mean?”

I nodded.

“Oh, and the prices are all listed here next to the register.” He pulled up a cheat sheet, and then shoved it back down into place as he continued. “Margaritas are simple – tequila, triple sec, sweet & sour and lime juice. Just ask if they want it on the rocks for frozen. Frozen means blended. Also ask if they want salt. A Cadillac Margarita has Cuervo and Grand Marnier. Some people like the Grand Marnier on the side. Let them ask for it. Some others – Mai Tais, Hurricanes, stuff like that, I’ll write down for you. Whatever you do, don’t go to the store and buy one of these.” He reached behind the cash register and pulled out a small red book, Mr. Boston’s Official Bartender’s Guide. “Worthless, complicated, and a waste of time.”

I tried to get a better look at the book, but he shoved it behind the register, forcefully.

“Believe me, most customers really want to keep it simple. And if they want something complicated, just ask them what’s in it. They shouldn’t mind, and if they do, screw ‘em. If they really know what they’re ordering they’ll tell you how to make it like they want it. Sometimes you’ll get a chumpy guy who’s just trying to show off. Let him be a chump and then take his business somewhere else. We don’t want guys like that here anyway. This place is for fun, not showing off. Just be nice, be cool, and let the customer know you’re trying to make them happy.”

It was a long, full, very educational speech, and I swear he got it all out in less than thirty seconds. “Let’s go to work!” were his concluding words. For the next hour or so we poured drink after drink.

The bar began to fill up for the transition from Friday afternoon into Friday night, and I noticed that the older couple had left. A younger crowd settled in, some who were clearly regulars and some who could easily be identified as first-timers – the maze dictated by the furniture creating puzzled look on those particular faces. Bill talked and laughed with every customer, whether or not he already knew them. Patty was right about him; he seemed born for this profession. He allowed me to make most of the drinks, and was a patient tutor. His rapport with the wait staff – two waitresses seemed perfect as well. He made sure all orders were prepared quickly and properly, and was quick to alert anyone who fell behind. His gruff voice shot through the night’s din when he couldn’t read the writing on a ticket – “What the hell is this? Hieroglyphics?!” This, of course, prompted laughter from those patrons within earshot. I laughed too, and I immediately admired and respected him.

The entertainment that night was a pair of women musicians who called themselves “Two Girls”. Though their name lacked originality, their sound was interesting and unique. They sang mostly covers of popular music, but they gave each song their own twist, their voices harmonizing in a most hypnotic way that made the song sound as if it were theirs. Once in a while Lynn, the keyboardist, would take the stage alone to sing one of her original tunes.

Rick, still sitting in the chair he occupied when talking to me earlier, clearly had feelings for Lynn. His expression changed with every verse, as though he were living the song through her voice. Bill informed me that Rick and Lynn dated, but he didn’t know how serious things were between them.

Patti checked in every once in a while, talking in private with Bill for an extended time and then to some regular customers before returning to her guests in the upper dining room. Eventually she returned to the bar and called both Bill and me over toward the cash register. “How’s it going?” she asked, and I replied that it was going well.

“He’s doing great. Quick learner,” Bill added.

“Great!” Patti smiled, beaming. “Can I steal him away for dinner now?”

Bill gestured in affirmation and told me “Good job!” I thanked him, and he began to offer me part of his tips. Patti stopped him. “No Bill, I told you this wouldn’t cut into your night.”

“He did all the work,” he protested.

I told them both I wouldn’t accept it anyway. Patti had him mix me a margarita as compensation, and we retired back to her table in the dining room. “Ready to eat?” she asked me, and I answered that I was starving. We returned to the dark dining room and Patti and I sat in my seat, across from Patti. I noticed that everyone had a paper placemat in front of them, but for some reason mine was missing.

“You liked it back there, didn’t you?” Patti observed. I smiled, and she pulled another placemat out from under her own and said, “Good! Because this is the last time that I’m ever going to offer you a job.” She flipped the placemat over to reveal a hand-drawn grid with a schedule of shifts written upon it.

I was speechless as she went on to elaborate.

“I really have enough people here now,” she confessed, “but I wanted to create some room for you. I can give you one bartending shift – on Tuesday nights, which are pretty slow and a good starting point for you – and four shifts at the door. Not like a bouncer or anything, but as a host. What do you think?”

“Do you really think he’s qualified?” joked Jim Bishop. We all got a good laugh out of that.

“I’ll take it!” I said.

“Great!” Patti smiled. “You’re going to need more training, though, so I’ll need for you to come in tomorrow night and learn from Bill again.”

Who was I to argue? I finally found a job, and it looked like it was going to be a great one!

Official business aside, we turned our attention toward dinner and, again, conversation that no longer focused on me. I later drove back to my uncle’s home in Newport Beach, excited to return to the Santa Monica Pier – not a dilapidated old pile of wood, but a fun and interesting little community that I could become a part of.

Next week: New Kid in a New Home

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