Monday, January 23, 2012

WordPress is Home

In case anyone is looking for Raskin's Rhetoric, I've moved my blog to Wordpress. The link is

Thanks to blogspot for getting me started.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Notes From Behind The Bar: Douche Bags, Zombies and Regrets

If he was the lead in a Saturday Night Live sketch, Loren Michaels would say tone it down. He was over six feet tall with broad shoulders. He was sporting a frosted-tipped buzz cut, tattoos covering his bulging arms and a cross the size Jesus of Nazareth carried up Golgotha.  His snap-buttoned shorts-sleeved shirt was open to mid-chest and it was covered in rhinestones. The jeans had matching stones forming a fleur-de-lis on his back pocket and his boots were reserved for linemen. In a word, he was a joke.
He and his cronies had rented the main VIP section of Keys On Main for Saturday night and they became some sort of homo-erotic mess. He was with a dozen other guys that dressed as if the thirteen of them raided an Affliction mall store. The women with them looked like damaged goods with shirts stretched over fake boobs, too much make-up and half a scoop of brains. It was a mess of people with too much money and time spent in tanning beds, gyms and in front of the television. I probably could have counted on one hand the amount of books read by the entire group that didn’t have “Twilight” in the title. They couldn’t identify a state capital but they knew when the H&M store opened. They were blissfully ignorant. All they cared about was drinking the world’s shittiest champagne and grinding on each other.
I mock them because they annoy me. I make fun of them because my life at 37 is waiting for a group of them to open their bottles of champagne and give them approving fist-bumps as I take their money. I’ve cultivated some sort of vacate stare when taking their orders so that I can blind myself from the atrocities of their lives. They have diluted their existences to some sort of amalgamation of reality TV and self-deception that I secretly admire. It must be an amazing moment to look in the mirror at any given point in the day and think without a shred of irony that “you are the shit.” They have surrendered fashion for form and don’t seem to be slowing down. They are the antitheist of the Occupy Movement and they aren’t going home to escape the cold at their parent’s house—they’re multiplying. They value consumption over community and they are the absolute worst to pour drinks for.
We have all cultivated a look. How we dress and act is not an accident. It is result of the amount of years you’ve been alive and all of the influences upon your life. I am the product of books, pop culture, music, sports and movies that I have consumed through the years. And so are you.  If I had to describe my style, I would summarize it as REI meets IFA. Because I favor form over fashion as well as being chubby and liking plaid, dressing as if I was a roadie for Pearl Jam has served me well through the years. Moreover, I never get judging eyes because I have cargo shorts and a cowboy shirt on. My BMI might put me in an early grave but at least it allows me to live in comfort most of the time. Throw a beaten baseball cap on and I am ready to hit the streets. I own a handful of suits for formal occasions but I have been lucky for most of my adult life to be able to dress in casual clothes and still make a living. The aforementioned swarms of D-bags don’t have the luxury of dressing in less than five minutes. By the time they’ve finished working on their hair, I have finished my second Highball and I am already halfway to the bar.
In the end, what do I care? It’s not like I am going to be hanging out with this posse of tools socially. I am merely the instrument in their weekend of depravity. I think what bothers me about this new homo Douchebagous is that they are not going away. It seems like every weekend the droves of homo D. are increasing in both numbers and intensity. Scary stuff. It’s bad enough that I have to pour drinks for these tool bags but I am also a fellow citizen with these people in my beloved Salt Lake City. If I thought for one moment these people voted, I’d be packing my family up and moving to Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Speaking of zombie-like behavior, has anyone been watching The Walking Dead? We have been on a cable TV hiatus for the summer and recently went back to our slave-master Comcast. Do I regret it? Not for one minute. I was able to catch up with AMC’s zombie apocalypse series and I am absolutely riveted. I think ever since I saw George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead, I have been hooked on undead films. I think what draws me to zombie movies is the question of how would I react if for some reason the world went into some sort of apocalypse. As a chubby guy, I automatically assume I would be in the first wave of the infected but it is still exciting to think of how you would act if the world went to Hell in a handbag. It is a very intriguing idea. What I like about The Walking Dead is that it is told through normal folks and not steroid-addled super-soldiers.
With that said, I have noticed with frequent regularity kids and adults in Salt Lake dressing up as zombies and walking through the streets. During the summer, I was working a rare Sunday evening at Keys On Main when Salt Lake hosted a zombie walk. There were over 2,200 people dressed up as pieces of society crumbling and they came streaming down Main Street in their bloody best. We were open because there was a Sunday concert at Gallivan Center but before the rush of the concert goers we saw the pack of self-imposed undead. They were awesome. Costumed in fake blood and shreds of clothing, they limped down Main Street with gasps and shreds of clothing. It would have been amazing if for the fact that the general manager of the club, Brandon Isenhour, hadn’t cleaned the windows before the zombie walk. They streaked bloody hands left spotches that left the Keys staff in stiches as they passed by.
I brought up The Walking Dead and the zombie walk for one reason: what are the legal ramifications for beating the snot out of somebody dressed as a zombie as they pretend to bite you? The one thing that I take from all the zombie movies is that those who don’t react are quickly converted into the undead. If you see a zombie and don’t smash their brain in, you are assured to be converted into one of them instantaneously. I brought this up because earlier this year, I had to kick some guy out of the bar that was threatening to bite me. It was during St. Patrick’s Day and he somehow slipped though the bar. He was severely mentally handicapped and confined to a wheelchair. The St. Patrick’s Day party was a zoo at Keys On Main—we were completely understaffed, we didn’t have enough Jameson and the Guinness was pouring way too slow. In the thick of the fight, this guy in the wheelchair had gotten into the bar and was making his way from table to table finishing off any drink he could get his hands on. We were so busy that we never noticed the guy. It wasn’t until somebody complained about him that I got involved.
You always have to be sensitive to people with disabilities and, initially, I thought he was just some poor soul that never got a fair shake. We often forget that just because somebody is disabled that they can still be an asshole.  I went over to him to ask what the problem was and he had a very difficult time speaking. Imagine Christy Brown from My Left Foot but with a twelve pack of beer in him. I told him in the loud bar that he is not allowed to drink other people’s drinks and that he needed to go. He resisted and I tried to wheel him out the door. Even though he was confined to a wheelchair, he had that crazy monkey strength. He was kicking and pulling at me and trying to grab my face to bite it. Now, I have broken up a lot of bar fights and been involved in more than a couple physical altercations (the vast majority of which leaving me worse for wear) but I have never been in a fight with a guy in a wheelchair and never did I think that I would be losing. It took every ounce of strength I had to drag his chair out of the bar with him swinging wildly trying to bite me. After I finally got him out, I kept thinking it would be my luck to become Patient X, the first infected zombie in the fall of humanity. Needless to say, the gentleman has been 86ed.
On a completely unrelated note, I had my very first professional massage this week. Want to know the difference between a masseuse and a massage therapist? Massage therapists go to school to learn the physical nature of the body and how to address pressure points to alleviate stress and pain from the body. Masseuses rub your body and give a blow job for an extra $25. I made the mistake of calling my massage therapist a masseuse at the wrong moment. She was doing some sort of Josef Mengele maneuver with her elbow in the small of my back when I called her a masseuse. In one moment, my world became a universe of stars as my head in the padded donut-hole pinpricked with the type of pain reserved for gunshot victims or guests host of “Jackass.” She gave me a look that said, “Do I look like I work in a Ukrainian massage parlor or give handies for some sort of Korean child-trafficker?” I quickly apologized as she huffed and got back to work on my back. How are Swedes such pussies when it comes to Nazis and Nazis when it comes to massage tables? The idea of a “happy ending” was the furthest thing from my mind as she dug her elbow into my back like a Steven Seagal movie. I have never had a professional massage before and I am still trying to figure out if I liked it. When I got home and took a shower, I saw that my back was covered in the beginning of welts and bruises reminiscent of a caning or a stop in Helga’s House of Bondage. I think the next time I strip down to the buff and let some loose cannon Swede go to work on my body, I am going to take a muscle relaxer and drink a couple of beers. I would probably get the results I wanted with a baker’s dozen PBRs. The end result of the sports massage is a couple of shoulder blades that are bruised to Hell and twice as sore as I was when I walked in. I never had felt my age until I tried to roll out of bed and limp to the bathroom to throw up after a massage.
Starting your mid-life crisis at 37 years old is never good. Starting it poor is even worse. Not poverty-level poor or deficient in family and friends or even experiences but the kind of poor that doesn’t allow me to buy a sports car or take a year off to write the great American novel. I figure with my lifestyle, body-type and being predisposed for accidents (remember me getting hit by a car, getting cellulitis or watching the Cardinals win the World Series?), I figure I’ll make it to 74 before a massive heart attack takes me. Besides, who wants to get old? Granted I wouldn’t be leaving behind a good looking corpse today but the last thing I need is a Taft-sized coffin in thirty years.
I think my mid-life crisis is a combination of a lost opportunities and time. Time is inevitable. It is always moving and we’re getting older every moment. I think the hindsight of lost opportunities is what depresses people. I am lucky. I only have two regrets in my life: one, I wish I played high school football. I think two-a-day practices would have been good for me and participating in a major team sport would have created a lot of memories. Second, I wish I joined the military right after college. I spent four years spinning my wheels after college, I might have well of joined the Navy and sailed the world during that time. I often get asked if I regret selling The Woodshed and I say never every single time. The experience of running my own club in Utah was exhilarating but exhausting. I tip my hat to anyone who can make a go of it in Salt Lake.
I think I remember when I decided to sell the bar. It was the fact that I couldn’t pay my bills or go into legal trouble with the state. Those things could always be out maneuvered. It was the fact that I developed a bar that was dependent upon live music to draw people into the club. Musicians are the worst people on the planet (sorry Keys On Main piano players but I think even you guys would agree that you are a bit demanding) and trying to run a business off the dependability of musicians is a poor business decision.  Trying to run your business off of people who support live music is just a dumb business decision.
My favorite story from The Woodshed relating to musicians and patrons happened in September 2007. As the baseball post-season was shaping up, I hosted a DJ at the club for a Friday night. It was one of those great nights at The Woodshed were everything miraculously came together with little work. It was pulling teeth to get the entertainment into the club, stocking the bar with enough products to sell, ramping up the staff for a busy night and finally getting people to show up. I probably didn’t say it at the time but thanks to Matt Jones for putting the evening together. It might not have been one of his shows but he definitely set up enough successful nights with insufficient thanks. As the room got progressively busier and more and more people showed up, the large windows in the front of the club became covered in condensation. Between the sweat of the people dancing and the coldness of the early autumn evening, the windows became completely translucent.
The San Diego Padres were in a dog fight to make it to the post-season. In fact they had a play-in game against the Milwaukee Brewers to make it to the play-offs. It didn’t work out for them and they were denied when Tony Gwynn Jr. hit the go ahead run for the Brewers. Devastating. There was a customer in the bar who was a huge San Francisco Giants fan and he wrote a large SF on the front of the windows. The condensation held the SF for all to see but I was too busy to go wipe it down. The night eventually ended and we started setting up for the next night’s show. Tired, I didn’t even consider washing the windows before leaving for the evening.
On Saturday night, we were hosting some sort of vegan/punk/hardcore show. Not my cup of tea but it usually drew pretty well. Here’s a secret about Vegans: if they had enough iron in their blood, they would be the scariest people on the planet. For people that don’t eat animals, they certainly drink enough PBR, smoke enough cigarettes and cover their bodies with enough tattoos. I could make the argument that it is healthier to eat a McRib every now and then than spending hours in a tattoo parlors puffing butts and drinking cheap beer but it would fall on deaf bolted ears. Once again, the club was packed but this crowd was a little more intense than the night before. The show was in full swing, the room was packed and I was slinging drinks. Around 11 o’clock, this diminutive hipster woman came up to me and demanded to speak to me in private. Fearing the worse, we went out front. She demanded an explanation on what was on the window. I looked at her confused and asked what did she mean? She emphatically pointed at the large center window in the front of the club and told me she has never been more offended in her entire life and what kind of club was I running. I was dumbfounded. I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. I asked the people in front of the club to step aside and I knew instantly what the problem was.
There was a swastika on the front window.
Somehow, the SF from the night before had been converted into the symbol of the Third Reich. For the first time in my life, I yelped. I darted into the bar, hopped on the stage to the anger of the band playing and frantically wiped the distorted SF away. If there was ever a moment where I knew I wasn’t cut out to run my own club, this was one. Forget all of the legal and tax problems I had for three years—inadvertently advertising my bar as a skinhead club might have been the final straw. So if you wonder if I regret selling The Woodshed, the answer in an empathic no. As much as I complain about pouring drinks for douche bags and their dates, there is no way I wouldn’t have been found hanging by my belt if I had to continuously deal with trivial things like tax commissions and swastikas. Instead of looking backwards, I am always looking towards the future and trying to avoid wasting time and opportunities. I figure we’re all going to have some sort of Albert Brooks Defending Your Life moment when we die and I don’t want to get sent back to Earth in the body of some sort of Affliction shirt wearing idiot.
Ben Raskin works at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin or follow his Tumblr feed. Become a fan of Behind The Bar on Facebook.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lessons Learned From Roadhouse and Cocktail

Before opening The Woodshed, I used to joke to myself that the only employee handbook I would ever have would be two DVDs. One would be a copy of the 1988 classic, Cocktail, starring Tom Cruise, Bryan Brown and Elisabeth Shue. The other would be the stunning 1989 masterpiece, Roadhouse, with Patrick Swayze, Sam Elliott and blah, blah, blah. I figured between these two movies, there isn’t any topic relevant to running a club that wasn’t addressed in one form or another. Clearly, Cocktail would provide the necessary insight to the in’s and out’s of pouring the best drinks and how to fall in love with spoiled trust fund midgets in Jamaica (for the record, Elisabeth Shue is 4’5”—read her IMDB page). Roadhouse would give all the necessary information for how to eject somebody from the bar and deal with petty despots running small towns. I knew that in opening The Woodshed in Salt Lake City I was going to be splitting time between throwing roundhouse kicks and stealing the hearts of fallen debutants.
Imagine my disappointment when I found out that the most important thing you need to run a business is a good Excel spreadsheet and solid financials. Man… I was bummed when I found out that doing Tai Chi and smoking a couple of packs of Marlboros wasn’t the best way to run a bar. You’d think making outrageously heavily poured drinks while reciting barroom poetry would be the key to a successful saloon but I was really off the mark. I am starting to think that the reason why I had to sell my bar was the fact that I was taking my business management cues from a Tom Cruise movie from over two decades ago. Jesus! What was I thinking? I would have been better served if I glimpsed at Wall Street or I don’t know, hired an accountant.
Of course I’m making a joke. I could have had Cocktail or Roadhouse on a loop and I never would have been able to learn enough not to run the bar into the ground. It seemed more like an academic exercise thinking about these two movies being the basis of the most disturbing employee handbook ever written. Can you imagine what the sexual harassment part of that book would look like? It would be roundhouse kicking and skinny-dipping intense.
I worked this Wednesday night and it was slow. It was the kind of slow that makes you walk the building wondering what you’re going to steal to make the night less of a disaster. My first instinct was to take one of the pianos but I realized I’d be cutting my nose to spite my face. In fact, my boss might actually go looking for one of the baby grand piano. I settled on a club sandwich and some time in front of the television. The aforementioned Roadhouse was on AMC and I got comfortable. I had to split time between pouring a draft beer for the random straggler and making time with my sandwich. Roadhouse is absolutely the best movie about bouncers in small, shit-kicking towns who fall in love with medical doctors all the while practicing Tai Chi and keeping the local town bullies at bay. I know Terms of Endearment has key information regarding door work but for my money, I prefer Roadhouse.
I must have seen Roadhouse 53 times. It’s not that it’s a good movie or that the story holds up or the characters are believable or there’s any shred of realism in the film. I like Roadhouse because it’s Jeff Healy intense and there’s a lot of nudity. There. I said it. I think I just summarized why Roadhouse made $30 million dollars when it had 25 cents worth of story. Anyway, there I was last night, eating a sandwich, drinking a club soda and watching pre-cancer Patrick Swayze’s character, Dalton, dispense wisdom from his NYU philosophy degree. I am so tired of the diploma mill known as NYU providing such nuggets of wisdom as: “All you have to do is follow three simple rules. One, never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected. Two, take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it's absolutely necessary. And three, be nice.” It’s the kind of knowledge that can only be found in a dozen fortune cookies. I’ve recently learned that Dalton went to NYU because he couldn’t get into the University of Nevada Reno. NYU was his safety school. Don’t believe me? Seriously, look it up on
Anyway, as I was watching the movie for the 54 time in twenty years, I noticed something that I have never seen before. Those of you that haven’t seen Roadhouse, SPOILER ALERT: I am going to give away a couple of crucial plot points that might make the movie unwatchable. Moreover, what is wrong with you? I am sure the movie is streaming on Netflix right now. If you’re in financial distress, I’ll be happy to loan you my copy providing you leave a deposit. Nonetheless, I saw something that I have never seen before. Halfway thought the movie, Dalton was at the back of the Double Deuce receiving the liquor order when a truck full of town thugs intercepted him. The bad boys told the delivery driver to hit the bricks or there would be trouble. Dalton tells the driver to take five as he got ready to settle the thug’s hash. The driver had a handcart loaded up with four boxes of liquor that he put down. In 21 years, I never looked at the labels on the box. Imagine my surprise when I saw that the driver was wheeling in three boxes of Tia Marie and a case of Drambuie.
For those who didn’t learn to drink by invading their grandparent’s liquor cabinet allow me to let you in on a secret. Tia Marie is a coffee liquor. It is a cheap knock-off of Kahlua. Drambuie is a Scotch liqueur that has two purposes: to mix with Scotch for a Rusty Nail or getting teenage girls drunk. I think I found out why the Double Deuce was in such financial straits—they were basing their drink menus off of cocktails reserved for 70 year old widows or post-pubescent women. Of course they had to hire Dalton to be a cooler! The entire bar was loaded on overly sweetened cocktails while listening to a blind bluesman. I actually owe the writers of Roadhouse an apology for wondering why there were so many ultra-violent bar fights every night. If on any given night at Keys On Main the bar was filled with patrons loaded on coffee liqueur and Drambuie, I think we’d be doing more than moping the floor at the end of the night—we’d be sweeping up teeth.
It’s funny when you finally have perspective on a situation and can make the right decision. If I was approached by the owner of the Double Deuce to turn his club around, I think the first thing I would suggest to him would be cut your Tia Marie order in half and focus more on beer specials. Hillbilly types seem to enjoy beer and it is less likely to get their blood boiling then if they have been drinking carafes of Scotch liqueur all night. I bet you cut your pool cue violence down to an acceptable level by the end of the first night by simply switching from Mind Erasers to Coors Light. Frankly, I get way too bad of a headache after my fourth White Russian and there is no way I would want to listen to Jeff Healy with a belly full of cream-based cocktails.
I am sorry to report that Tom Cruise knows as much about running a bar as he does about slam poetry. I really want to love Cocktail but the movie is so chockfull of clichés and stereotypes that I am more likely to believe him as a fighter pilot or a Christian than as a bartender. Can you imagine if you visited me at Keys On Main and I made you suffer through 14 stances of poetry before I poured your gin and tonic? You’d take your business down the street even if I was quoting T.S. Elliot’s “Wasteland.” Cruise’s character in Cocktail is such abominations that he’d be lucky to barback for me much less work the service well. The cocktail waitresses at Keys On Main would eat him alive if he tried that cutesy malarkey of spinning backwater wisdom instead of pouring the God damn drinks.
I hope they reboot the Cocktail franchise and cast a Justin Bieber-type actor to play Brian Flanagan. I’d like to play Bryan Brown’s character, Doug Coughlin, and fire him after the first night. As I drank my shifties doing the money and paperwork, I would pontificate what sort of back alley fellacio Flanagan had to perform to make enough money to make rent. Look, I am no angel and bartending is a hard job. Justin Bieber doesn’t have the chops to gun sling and I don’t see how a song can make everything right. If that was the case, every bartender in America would be a Muppet. And the last time I checked, most bartenders might be furry, soft and have a hand inside of them but they are not Canadian. I am tired of illegal immigrants like Bieber coming into this country and taking all of the good jobs.
Well, I think we learned a lot about movies and pouring drinks. I think my take away as I am getting ready to go to bed is that Heaven is richer and we are poorer with Patrick Swayze dead. Sam Elliot has the best voice in the world. Tom Cruise doesn’t know his way around a back bar and Justin Bieber should be deported. I don’t know if writing a column at 3:30 in the morning after a couple of hard ciders and 1000mg of ibuprofen is a good idea but I do know that I am glad I sold The Woodshed. Bartending and writing for a living is a Hell of a lot more fun than running a bar. My hat is off to anyone that can make a go at it and I am not in the business of interfering with those that are trying to beat the odds and run a successful business. In the end, my only advice is that there is no situation a roundhouse kick can’t make better.
Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin or follow his Tumblr feed. Become a fan of Behind The Bar on Facebook.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dia De Muerte: Notes From Halloween

Hope you had a good Halloween.
I did. For the first time since we’ve moved into the house, I was home on the 31st of October and was able to hand out candy with Erin. We spent Monday night carving pumpkins, eating BBQ, drinking whiskey, watching the new Pearl Jam documentary, PJ20, and handing out mini-candies to the neighborhood kids. Pretty good was to spend an evening. It was fun having kids knock on the door and threaten tricks if we did not provide treats. It’s a goofy social contract: with their parents looking on from the street, kids promised not to do serious property damage to our home if we give them candy. The Mafia calls this protection. I call it being a good neighbor. Every time I answered the door with a hollowed-up out Jack-O-Lantern filled with Reese’s, I could help but think that every parent in Sugarhouse should be sending me a thank you card. If it wasn’t for childless couples in their mid-thirties, their children’s Halloween would blow.
I didn’t wear a costume on Monday. My contribution for Halloween was putting down my Highball when I answered the door. Besides, after the fiasco I went through this last weekend, I didn’t feel like getting into character again. I am a fan of dressing up once a year for Halloween. Too often in college, I would wear a costume for a party and find that outfit making it into the regular rotation of suits I would wear throughout the year. I once made the mistake of wearing a tunic from a convenience store one year in college and I think I just threw it away last week. For the record, dressing up like a 7-11 employee was both my best and most racist costume I have ever worn. Nowadays, I figure the best costumes are the ones you can only wear on Halloween. If your costume doesn’t draw the attention of law enforcement outside of October, you probably didn’t put enough effort into it for the Halloween party.
My Incredible Hulk costume was a hit. At least my mother thought so. For work, the staff at Keys On Main were encouraged to dress as superheroes. I was initially disappointed that I had to wear a themed costume with everybody else. I have been cultivating a clown costume for the last five years that looks like it was hand-delivered from a white panel van driven by John Wayne Gacy but in the spirit of the evening, I elected to follow suit and dress up as a superhero. I was a veracious reader of comics as a kid. I loved the Marvel banner. I collected closets full of X-Men, Punisher and Daredevil comics. It was easy to fall into the comic universe and escape into Stan Lee’s universe growing up in Las Vegas. When it’s 110 degrees outside, who wouldn’t want to stay in an air conditioned house and read about mutants, vigilantes and blind lawyers? My favorite was Daredevil. I liked him because he could hold down a job and kick the stuffing out of any of NYC’s criminal underbelly. With 10 years of reading comics, you would have thought it would have been a cinch to pick my costume. It would have been if I wasn’t the size of a beer refrigerator in the garage. Given my girth, I was relegated to two choices: The Hulk or Ben Grimm’s the Thing. We talk a lot about prejudice with people of color, gender or sexuality but why does it seem that any time a guy is caring around a couple of extra pounds, he has to be some sort of bulky freak? Where’s the Al Sharpton for chubby guys? Given the pressure I was under from my co-workers, I picked Bruce Banner’s alter ego.
In terms of putting the costume together, it was a piece of cake. I found a pair of salmon colored shorts wore my Red Wing work boots and used an old dress-shirt. I went to Wal-Mart and bought a 55-gallon drum of green grease paint. The only real struggle I had been going to Pip’s Costume Store in Sugarhouse and buying a bright green wig. I was going for a Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk and needed a wig to pull the outfit together. I waited until the eleventh hour and went to Pip’s to find a sea of adolescences simultaneously loitering and shoplifting. I am not a big fan of crowds. It’s not agoraphobia but rather a general distain for people not moving with purpose. The store was packed with kids literally spinning in circles. I was able to push myself though the crowd and find the right wig. I got into a serpentine line to cash out and waited as the future of America texted and spit in the face of both decency and commerce. Instead of trying to get a wig to put my costume together, I probably should have hit a pull-up bar and put down the nachos for a week to get into character. Lou Ferrigno would probably cry if he saw how I disgraced his beloved Hulk.
I covered my amble body with globs and globs of green paint. It took forever. Imagine painting a barn with a tube of toothpaste. The club had a decent night but it certainly wasn’t our busiest Saturday night. I think we were competing with too many house parties. Nonetheless, it was fun seeing all of the costumes and watching people enjoy their Halloween. We were able to get out of there at a decent hour and I was able to take a Silkwood shower when I got home. I brought a couple of beers into the shower and scrubbed my body until the bottom of the tub looked like a crime scene. You never know how good it is to be clean until you’ve been smeared with body paint for seven hours. It’s the equivalent of going on a cross-country bus trip in terms of how gross you feel. No matter what I am doing for Halloween next year, I made a personal promise to myself that I would not be dipping my body in paint. Leave that to the guys with washboard abs.
Speaking of fitness, I am back to boxing. Three months ago, my boxing gym, Fight 4 Your Life, closed when the owner, Tom McClelland, moved to New York City. I was bummed. I had become really disenfranchised with going to 24 Hour Fitness. Felt too often at 24 that people were there to look at themselves in the mirror and to hook up. The music was always too loud, too many beefcakes grunting and never enough instruction. I stumbled into Fight 4 Your Life and immediately found a home. It smelt like work. Tucked in a warehouse, it was raw space with the ring in the center of the room, heavy bags lining the walls and weights stacked into a corner. The classes were an hour long with 30 minutes of cardio followed with a half-hour of boxing instruction. Even in the height of my rugby playing days, I never received a workout like the one I got from Tom’s classes. I learned to skip rope, wrap my wrists, throw a combination and learned the value of a push-up. Had he not closed his doors, my Hulk costume might not have been such an embarrassment. I enjoyed the classes because you pushed yourself for 60 horrible minutes and left feeling like you’ve really accomplished something. I lost a bit of weight but mostly felt like I was getting into shape for the first time in a long time.
When he closed his gym, I checked out fitness-wise. I started double-downing on my portions, drinking like I was on shore-leave and not really doing much of anything. I went to a variety of other gyms in town trying to find something similar to Fight 4 Your Life but I really didn’t feel like joining a Muay Thai gym. Sure, I liked kung-fu movies growing up but I didn’t much feel like buying a gi and bowing to a sensei. I don’t know if it was the jingoism talking but I’d rather look like John Goodman than join a karate dojo. Just not my style.
That’s why I was excited when my friend, Heath Haraki, took a big chance and opened up his own boxing club in Salt Lake. Located 75 West Bower Street (2225 South), Heath was able to get most of Tom’s equipment and re-open the gym. He is calling it Lake City Fitness and it is fantastic. Minus the ring, Heath was able to recreate Fight 4 Your Life and the best part is that Heath will be the trainer. He was teaching a lot of the classes towards the end of the old gym and Heath does a great job. His classes are really organized, fast and compact. That’s the polite way of describing it. Heath is a ruthless slave master who runs you ragged with an assortment of medieval exercises that should be reserved for Navy SEALs or Demi Moore. It is still broken in to two parts with the first half cardio and second boxing but the reality is after the first 30 minutes, I’m ready to take a shame cry in my truck with a bucket of chicken. Nonetheless, I totally support Heath’s new club and I am encouraging anybody interested in getting into shape to check him out. At $65 a month, you’ll avoid all of the tool-bags from 24 Hour Fitness and get a ridiculously good workout. My goal for the next two months? Lose enough weight to see my knee caps and I think Heath is the man to help me. Send him an e-mail at if you have any questions.
And now a word about a word. Last week at the end of the shift, I was sitting around with a skeleton crew of the staff and we were talking about second jobs. One of the cocktails said the best second job one could get was a “retarded phone answering” job. I don’t know if it was the hour of the night or the fact that I am exhausted from hearing the word “retard” thrown around loosely but I said that that word offended me. It is funny calling somebody out for their language considering I have a self-imposed Tourette syndrome. I swear a lot and I have a pretty sacrilegious sense of humor. I like offensive language and I love profanity. A lot. I think this column is one of the few places that I don’t use curse words. I do this mostly out of the fact that bad words look particularly ugly on the page. In the real world, however, I love using potty language. I usually tune out when somebodies starts talking to me and doesn’t drop an F-bomb within the first ten seconds. Moreover, I like racy jokes. I justify this by honestly believing that everybody is equal. I think I do a pretty good job of looking at the world through Martin Luther King Jr. glasses. Behind the bar, I treat everyone equal until they do something that demands that I treat them elsewise. Like Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, there is no racial bigotry here. Everyone is equally worthless or special depending upon what kind of mood I am in. I know that in the gay community, guys call each other the F-word and African Americans use the N-word amongst themselves. I disagree with that but unless it directly impacts me, I choose to let them keep it amongst themselves. Perpetuating a hurtful term in a group is their decision; I would just rather not hear it.
“Retard” or “retarded,” on the other hand, is just hurtful. It isn’t limited to a race or creed, so people use it freely without consideration for what it means. It doesn’t have the impact of the F-bomb, C-word, T-word or the rest of the alphabet soup of slurs and therefore doesn’t get corrected very often. For me, the word conjures an image of a poor kid with Down syndrome who never really had a chance. The hard R of the word makes it sound harsh and I can’t stop thinking how harmful the word is when people really listen to it. Retard means to make slow but most people use it as a synonyms for slow, stupid or dumb. Outside of talking about fire retardant material, I usually can’t see much use of the word. I guess I could come up with one scenario to use the word: You’re drink service will be retarded if you choose to use the word retard around me. It’s funny what offends us. I think it is usually the tone which people use while saying something offensive. Cool guys versus creepy guys get different ropes to hang themselves with creepy guys getting very little. Something said by Chris Rock will always sound better than the guy checking you out at Harmon’s although I can’t imagine Harmon’s hiring any loud mouth, uppity cashiers. I don’t think I can change the world but I am offering fair warning: drop using the R-word around me. I have enough phlegm in me at any time for you to regret ordering a drink from me.
Halloween is a year away and I am finally getting the last of the hard to reach dye off of my body. I hope that I can go back to the simple pleasures of wearing a terrifying clown suit next year. Maybe I’ll give the Hulk another shot but the bowls of undistributed candy won’t make that any easier. Who knows, maybe I can go as a sexy Hulk next year.
Ben Raskin can be found bartending at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin or his Tumblr feed. Become a fan of Behind The Bar on Facebook.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Trick Or Treat: The Four Rules of Halloween Costumes

When my only two customers are middle-aged white guys in golf shirts drinking Johnny Walker Black on the rocks, she was definitely a ray of sunshine. It was a slow at the club last week. I could offer a handful of theories why it wasn’t busier but it just came down to the fact that nobody came in. It happens. Not every night is Marti Gras and you need the bad weeks to appreciate the good ones. Notwithstanding not making any money, it’s fun working slow nights. I get to talk with guests without having to yell over the pianos and sometimes I can make as much money shooting the bull than running drinks for a full club. My two guests were paunchy out-of-town businessmen who were more interested in pile-driving cocktails than talking to me, so I spent the majority of my evening keeping their glasses filled with Scotch and reading my book. The evening was a bust and I was watching time go backward waiting for last call. I figured the night was going to be completely unremarkable until she walked in.
She was about five and a half feet tall but the four inches of black stiletto heels made her seem taller. She wore a mini-skirt that had as much fabric as a cocktail napkin and a form-fitting blouse that was open to her navel. Her short bob haircut was dyed platinum blonde and she had a series of decorative skin piercings along the top of her spine. The most remarkable thing about her was she had perfectly straight and white teeth. A younger, most immature and hornier Ben Raskin would have easily fallen victim to her charm immediately. By all accounts, she was sexy and completely aware that every eye was on her in the bar.
I never got her name but if I found out it was Cinnamon, Jade or Sierra I wouldn’t have been surprised. She looked like she would have been completely comfortable with a stripper pole in her hand and that she has never heard the word “No” before. She was on the arm of a tool bag of a guy in bedazzled jeans and a T-shirt stretched over tight muscles. While her escort disappeared into the bathroom, she approached one of the business guys at the bar and told him to buy her a drink. Sweet Lord, she sounded just like Jennifer Tilly. Her voice was in a register reserved only for dogs to hear. I asked her what she wanted and she said the strongest drink in the bar. No problem. I poured her a shot of Wild Turkey 101 and added it to the corporate credit card. She warned everyone that she could drink everyone in the bar under the table and we should be careful. Sounded like a wager. Thank God, Johnny Electric walked in shortly afterwards to answer the challenge.
I don’t mind hustlers and the businessmen didn’t care about buying her drinks. They were too busy looking down her shirt to care how much she ordered and frankly, I was bored. Her boyfriend was fussing on his cell phone and probably needed a reprieve from her for a few moments. She was telling the guys the finer points of growing up in Payson Utah and I couldn’t help but think one thing: she was the daughter of a LDS bishop. Nobody dresses like that unless they get not enough or way too many hugs from their father. I sincerely hope my judgment about her is wrong and she is busy at Huntsman Cancer Institute curing baby cancer or dolphin AIDS but I am certain she isn’t. More than likely, she was some girl from a shit-kicking small town taking advantage of being young and beautiful. Oh, did I forget to mention that she was completely annoying.
Everything that came out her mouth reeked of an insanity that only self-centered people can get away with. Having never been told to shut up and get back to work, she was free to act as if the world owed her a favor because she was dealt a great genetic hand. I would have put up with her because she was keeping the guys entertained but when she told me to “Chop, chop” with her drink, I told her to hit the bricks. You’re allowed to be a hussy in my bar providing you remember who’s in charge. I made it abundantly clear she wasn’t welcome here anymore. I shushed her away like I was scaring off a raccoon with a broom from a garbage can. She protested but eventually left. At least a raccoon has the self-respect to know when it’s not wanted.
The take away from this woman visiting the bar was that she was wearing a costume. There is no way that was her normal uniform. She put more effort into that ensemble than I have in my previous 37 outfits. Halloween was a week away and yet she was dressed for a costume party anyway. The fact that she looked like she just slid off of a lap dance convinced me she considered her outfit to be appropriate for the evening. Maybe if we were busier but considering it was a ghost town, she really could have benefited with a sweater. I couldn’t help but think that if I ever saw my girlfriend in that outfit, one of two things has occurred: she just got hired at Golden Trails or she is leaving me.
So, with Halloween this weekend, I want to lay out my guidelines for a successful Halloween costume. Too often people make the mistake of my stripper friend and dress willy-nilly for the ghoulish parties they’ll be attending. It is not enough to dress up as a sexy fill-in-the-blank when bobbing for apples and carving pumpkins. You’re not in junior high anymore. You need to have a solid costume and here are the rules to make sure your Frankenstein are a Mary Shelley not a Mel Brooks.
Be Easily Recognized. There is nothing worse than getting to the party in your costume and have everyone come up to you and ask, “So, what are you supposed to be?” What does this mean? It means the average person needs to be able to identify your costume even if they have two cups of jungle juice in them. It takes very little imagination to cut out a couple of eyeholes in your bed spread but at least everyone knows you are supposed to be a ghost. Five years ago, it seems like every fifth costume was a variation of Captain Jack Sparrow. Lame? Yes. Easily identifiable? Absolutely. Dressing up like Austin Powers or a witch doesn’t crack the sound barrier in creativity but at least everyone knows who you are. Taking a bunch of shag carpet pieces and wrapping your body is a great costume if you are trying to be my grandmother’s basement floor but if you’re supposed to be Chewbacca, better wear a name tag.
It was great when we were kids and could go to a Safeway and buy an all-in-one suit that told the world that you are Spiderman or Wonder Woman but as adults, we need to burn a few calories to get a decent costume. The only thing worse than the guy who refuses to dress up for the Halloween party is the numb-nuts who throws on a latex goblin mask and tries to pass off as a costume. There is nothing wrong with raiding your closet and put together a cowboy outfit at the last minute but putting on a three-piece suit and telling people you’re a serial killer is stupid. I don’t care if serial killers look just like us but if you know you’re attending a costume party make sure you put something together. I have always favored wearing a clown suit. Clowns can be spotted across the room and it is usually the scariest thing in the room.
Be Able To Drink Without A Straw. The real reason those latex mask are a horrible costume is because it is damn near impossible to get booze into your mouth without a crazy straw. What’s the point of spending $12 on a mask if you have to keep raising your costume onto your head like a welder’s mask? I will not speak for the rest of you but isn’t the point of going to a Halloween party is to get absolutely blotto, binge eat on candied apples and pass out before you hand out all of the Halloween candy? Any successful costume requires, scratch, demands that you are able to get liquids into your body without some complicated mechanism. The aforementioned Jack Sparrow costume is a dud but there is nothing stopping the wearer from downing a mug of grog while dancing to The Monster Mash. Also, you can’t wear some weird glove or have too many props prohibiting you from shot-gunning cans of beer or Jell-O shots. Fellows, there are going to be a lot of feisty ladies dressed up as a sexy flight attendant and you’ll won’t be making any mile-high clubs if you’re hauling around a bunch of swords. When putting together your outfit make sure you can both carry booze and easily get it into your mouth.
Be Able To Take A Leak. I wish I could speak for the ladies on this point but for the guys, you need to be able to go to the head and not have to make it a complete production. Imagine if you will, you’re at the party, knocking back cocktails and beers and you’ve reached the point where you need to break the seal. If you have to ask a friend to go with you to the bathroom, you have definitely picked the wrong costume. My clown costume is great because I am easily recognizable and I can drink a baker’s dozen worth of brews. However, when it’s time to take a leak, I look like the child molesting clown that I am with my suit around my ankles at the urinal. I imagine for women, this is something that they have been dealing with their entire life and have the forethought to wear something that doesn’t involve a team of production assistants to get them in and out of. I have always thought that the best costume would be dressing up like the Boris Karloff’s Mummy. It definitely fulfills the first two rules of costumes but I would imagine it would be easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than to take a squirt in that outfit. The Mummy might be Rubik’s Cube of costumes. With that said, unless you plan on wearing a pair of Depends or get a catheter, make sure you can use the restroom.
Be Able To Take A Cab. This is a new rule developed by my friend, Aron Murray, and I have quickly adopted it to the Halloween costume rules. We were discussing the first three rules of any successful costume and Aron added that function definitely needs to be a part of the costume. We were talking about the great costumes we’ve seen in the past and the one that I always liked was a guy dressed up as Death. He was about nine feet tall with huge flowing robes. He was wearing painter stilts under his suit and had to duck under door jams to move around. It was an awesome costume but there was no way he was hopping in a Yellow Cab at the end of the night. Huge, bulky suits might look great but you don’t want to be bumping into everybody the entire night. You’ll be spilling everyone’s drinks and generally be considered a nuisance for the entire night. Chances are you’ll be breaking one of the first three rules if you can’t take a cab. I can’t imagine standing eye-to-groin with somebody in a bathroom. Seems unsavory.
Per usual, I will be behind the bar on Halloween. I throw Halloween up there with New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day for the gross amount of rookie drinkers out there. It is a really tough night to work and it doesn’t help that I will be dressed as the Incredible Hulk for the evening. I won’t have the tools of the trade that I usually need to do my job. Compounded with the fact that everybody shows up to the club with seven drinks in them, it usually makes for a perfect storm for a rough night. When I wear a shirt and tie behind the bar, people treat me serious and tip appropriately. When I look like a green minstrel show, I don’t expect to people to listen to me or that I’ll make a lot of money. I like the fact that my costume is The Hulk because if I ever get behind slinging drinks, I can just roar out, “Hulk mad! Hulk smash!” This mentality probably won’t work very well if I have to layer a drink or shake a Martini. Having my entire body painted green will be cool at the end of the night when I am taking a Silkwood shower at home drinking a beer (shower beers are the best) but I am nervous about leaving a bunch of costume make-up on customer’s drinks. One of the drawbacks to this line of work is that I miss Halloween parties at friends’ houses and that stinks. In the end, it’s just part of the job. Most people will be hosting parties this weekend but Halloween actually falls on Monday so I will be able to dress up and hopefully scare the crap out of any kids trick-or-treating at my house.
We try to hand out good treats on Halloween. Because there are so few kids in our neighborhood, I try to double-down on the candies—no sense in keeping a ton of candies in a bowl throughout November. I love handing out the treats to kids. If I have to hand out a trick, I’ll probably have to find that girl from Payson.
Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin or follow his Tumblr feed. Become a fan of the Behind The Bar page on Facebook. Send all e-mail questions to

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Lions, Clowns and Friars

I am a die-hard Detroit Lions fan.
Actually, that’s not true. I have been a fan of the Lions since August when I finished reading George Plimpton’s Paper Lion (Lyons Press, 1966). I have never been a big football fan. I didn’t play in high school and I never really caught the football fanaticism in college. Fantasy football seems equally complicated and nerdy. I guess I would be a bigger fan if there was a sports book in town but considering how things are going with the congressional redistricting I don’t think Herbert and company will be letting us lay parley cards in the near future. I decided after 37 years, I was going to follow the NFL religiously and to do that, I would need a team. In considering my options, I realize that I was going to be limited at best with what team to support. I immediately discarded the Denver because there is a metric-ton of Bronco fans in Utah. You can’t throw a rock in town without hitting somebody in an orange and blue jersey. I am certain Bronco fans in Colorado are decent, tax-paying citizens with families that love them: here in Utah, they seem a little meth-y, under-educated and dirty. Imagine raccoons with Kyle Orton jerseys on. After that soul-searching, I settled on Detroit on the strength of Plimpton’s book. In addition, I liked how Axel Foley looked in a Lion’s letterman jacket, the fact that my father was born in Detroit and I wanted something in common with Kid Rock and Eminem.
Imagine my shock when I came home on Sunday to find out that my beloved Lions took their first loss of the season against the 49ers. To say I was devastated would be an understatement. Actually, to say that would just be factually incorrect. I haven’t watched a game all year. I was flying back to SLC on Sunday from a homecoming weekend in Reno and didn’t even look at the scores until Monday. I am sure Detroit will circle the wagons and beat the snot out of Atlanta next week but I probably won’t be watching. Not having time, interest or cable will make it hard to be a die-hard Detroit Lions fan.
I did get to see a football game this last weekend at homecoming. I went back to my alma mater to watch the student athletes of the University of Nevada beat New Mexico State like a redheaded stepchild (49-7). An aside: does the DCFS have any statistics on the amount of child abuse amongst redheaded stepchildren? I was going to compare UNR beating of the Lobos to a rented mule but I don’t know where to get a rented mule. Do they even rent mules anymore? As a public service, if you have a redheaded stepchild, stop beating the kid. Nonetheless, going back to Mackay Stadium and watching the festivities was fantastic. I graduated from Nevada in 1996 and haven’t really been back in 15 years. It’s funny how some of your memories get altered with time. Reno remained as dumpy as ever but UNR looked amazing. They built a dozen new buildings and the campus would give even the U of U a run for its money. When I went to school there, I honestly thought I was attending a cow college on the strength of its agriculture and mining departments. It didn’t help that Downtown Reno was two blocks from the student union and the Circus Circus clown loomed over the quad. I loved every minute of my college experience but the amenities were thin when I went to school there. In walking around campus, I couldn’t help but think the value of my degree skyrocketed.
Speaking of Circus Circus, is there a more disturbing themed casino in the world? Fear of clown is called coulrophobia (Coulro- is derived from Greek for ‘stilt-walker’). Fortunately, I don’t have a fear of clowns but I do have a fear of bed bugs and salmonella and my hotel room was chockfull of both. If I ran a hunter’s light over the bed spread I slept on it would have made a German bukkake film set look a NASA clean room. There was a mistake in the room reservation, so I was left with a smoking room in an antiquated hotel. If there anything worse than spending 48 hours on the 22nd floor of a dangerously filthy Reno hotel room where multiple Denver Bronco fans were conceived? I could have seen past all of the dried human dander and fluid in the room if I could have simply cracked the window. Unfortunately, at 22 floors above Downtown Reno, there was no way Circus Circus management would risk littering Virginia Avenue with coulrophobic hotel guests. Every piece of art in the building had a dusting of John Wayne Gacy. Apparently, the clown theme works. The hotel was booked to capacity and the carnival midway was packed with runty kids trying to win cheap Chinese made stuffed animals.
The upside to being at Circus Circus was they had a sports book and I was able to check the lines for the World Series. I am not particularly excited about this year’s series. Unlike football which I could take or leave, I love baseball. For my entire life, I have been a San Diego Padres fan. I love the Pads! If I could have three wishes, I would wish for a never-ending hoagie sandwich, a catch with Tony Gwynn and a lunch date with Tony Gwynn to eat said sandwich. Chances are Tony would wish for my third wish too. When Gwynn went to the Hall of Fame, my girlfriend never saw a picture of Tony. I talked about him incessantly my entire life, so when she saw him for the first time she commented two things: “Oh, he’s black and he’s fat.” Thanks, Hon. I like the fact that the greatest contact hitter since Ty Cobb looked like he just polished off a plate of carne asada. It gave me confidence as a fat kid growing up in Las Vegas that one day if I ate not just my vitamins but everything else in sight that I could retire with a career batting average of .338, 3,141 hits and be a first ballot hall of famer. With Indiana Jones, Tony Gwynn has been my boyhood hero and it was awesome growing up with a team where I knew number 19 would be out in right field and batting second.
The real love of the Padres came from my Grandpa Tom. Tom Devlin was a lifetime baseball fan that passed his love of the game to me. He had season tickets to the Padres, first at Jack Murphy Stadium (it was never Qualcomm to me) and then at Petco Park. His seats were four rows above the visitor’s dugout along the third-base side. There was no better place to watch a game. From our vantage point, you got to see the mechanics of the pitcher deliver the ball to the plate. You could see, hear and smell everything. My grandfather was very generous with taking me to games and letting me talk throughout the entire time. He was always good for a Coke and a hot dog at every game. As memories go, getting to sit next to your grandfather at a professional baseball for almost 30 years ranks pretty high. We rarely made it through an entire game.  I’ll never forget as a kid leaving during the eighth inning to beat the traffic and drive back to El Cajon. Sitting in the front seat of his truck, I relished listening to the game being called as the dashboard lights illuminated his face as Grandpa slightly smiled or frowned depending on how the Padres were doing.
With that said, this year’s World Series stars the Texas Rangers against the St. Louis Cardinals. I think the majority of America (outside of those in Texas and Missouri) were rooting for a Brewers/Tigers series and I am no exception. The Cardinals have had San Diego’s number for years and who likes Texas? How can any Democrat root for the Rangers considering that George W. used to be an owner? I am not looking forward to looking at Bush’s dumb mug for every Texas home game as he clumsily throws peanuts into his mouth. God help us if he gets to throw out a first pitch. The problem is that I like Texas’ manager, Ron Washington. African Americans are painfully underrepresented in head coaching positions in all sports. Wash’s skin color has nothing to do with the success he has had in managing back-to-back American League Champions. The guy is a real talent and true gentleman. While at Oakland in the 2000s, he was instrumental in making Billy Beane’s Moneyball work in coaching Scott Haddeberg to play first base. Remember how much I love the Padres? I have a soft-spot for the A’s—Grandpa Tom played for Connie Mack’s AAA team before WWII. I think Wash is an aggressive manager and that makes for good baseball. The problem is that he works for Texas and I can’t support a league that doesn’t make the pitcher swing a bat. Thank God the NL won the All-Star game or we would be watching designated hitters factoring excessively into the series. The Cardinals are managed by Tony La Russa and he is a salty SOB. He looks like Pete Rose on a bad day and knows how to win. I got to meet La Russa at a baseball card convention once. My take-away from meeting him was that he smelt like Aqua Velvet and anger. If I played for him, I would be terrified of him renting a mule to take his anger out on me.
Nonetheless, I don’t think the Cardinals pitching staff have what it takes to beat the Rangers. I am picking Texas in six.
I’ll be bartending my first shift tonight since getting back from Reno. I did work last night but I didn’t get behind the bar. I managed the club for last night’s karaoke show because my friend and co-worker, Brandon Isenhour and his partner, Jennifer, had a baby yesterday. Jackson Keys Isenhour was born at 6:33am weighing in at seven pounds and six ounces. Mother and son are doing great. It’s funny getting to that age when your friends are or becoming parents. Brandon already has had practice with his son, Dalton, and if he and Jennifer raise Jackson half as well as Dalton, they are certain to have a wonderful son. I am assuming the middle name has a connection to Brandon and Jennifer meeting at Keys On Main. I think it will be a fitting reminder of when they met and the beginning of their family. It’s a good thing they didn’t meet at a Burger King, however, Jackson’s middle name could have been Whopper.
Working the door last night, I marvel how door guys can do their job. It takes real discipline to not open-hand slap every third person coming through the door. The night started with a real curious experience. A couple came in with their infant son in one of those three-wheeled strollers. I told them very apologetically that I can’t let the baby in. They threw their hands into air with a dramatic flair reserved only for stage actors or karaoke enthusiasts. The husband started this Walter Sobchak routine of it’s not like I am going to let the baby sing karaoke or he was going to buy the baby a beer. He just wanted to come in and sing with his family. I appreciated his situation but I was bond by law not to let somebody without ID into the club. It’s not just the law but it’s bad for business to prop an infant on the bar while Mom and Dad do a duet of “Summer Loving.” I would imagine rearing a kid could drive anyone to drink but next time, hire a babysitter. If I had a kid, I would hate for one of his or her first memories to be Papa belting out “Don’t Stop Believin’” with a Miller Lite in his hand.
Last thought: Utah is redistricting the congressional seats in an insidious fashion. With the 2010 census, we picked up an additional seat and the state legislature is gerrymandering the state to guarantee being a Democrat is tantamount to a mermaid or unicorn. I get that to the victors go the spoils but how the legislature pulled some honest-to-God eleventh hour vote is ridiculous. You know why it smells fishy how they voted along party lines around midnight on Monday? Because it smells like a week-old fish hidden under a passenger seat! It reminds me of the guy who doesn’t smoke in front of his wife because she’ll be mad he is smoking again. It’s not against the law for him to smoke but the fact that he goes and hides behind the garage to puff a butt makes it seem wrong. Utah Republicans have to know what they are doing is ethically wrong because they are passing this law behind the garage. The fact that we couldn’t have a week of debate for citizens to raise concerns with how the state is being divided isn’t against the law but it definitely suggests that they are terrified of getting caught smoking again. Contact Governor Herbert and tell him to veto this law. Utah will always be a red state but it doesn’t have to be a bully. A little more open government never hurt anyone except those afraid to look their fellow citizens in the eye. I disagree with how the state is run but I have never been ashamed of it until last Monday. Republicans, be a man and light that Pall Mall in front of your wife. You’ll get your districts providing we get our two-bits in.
Go Lions!
Ben Raskin can be found bartending at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin or follow his Tumblr feed. Become a fan of Behind The Bar on Facebook. Any e-mailed questions can be sent to

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Number Game

I am four deep at the bar. My shirt is soaked through with sweat, beer, cocktails and people’s spit yelling at me to get them a drink. We’re running dangerously low on glassware and I am almost out of ice. The mound of fruit cut for garnish is quickly disappearing either in drinks or people’s greedy hands. I am having a hard time seeing the swarming crowd in front of me because my glasses have so much filth on them you’d think I was watching a porno from the 70s. The floor is a swamp with broken glass, trash, melting ice and plastic cups. The neatly choreographed dance between my barback and other bartender has fallen apart as we frequently crash into each other.  I am darting between the beer taps, my well and the register cash-n-carrying for the umpteenth time the same guy ordering a beer and shot. I have two thoughts going through my head. One, is this the first time these people have ever stepped foot in a bar and two, why didn’t I go to law school?
The crowd is rowdy and wearing U of U gear getting ready for Saturday’s game against Arizona State. Over the noise of the dueling piano show, it’s a deafening roar of people demanding JagerBombs, Long Islands, bottles of beer and cocktails. In reality, what they’re really yelling for is my attention. I am the gatekeeper to their booze and they are pissed the bar is filled to capacity. We could have had ten more bartenders and it wouldn’t have changed a thing. The only way to take care of this group of vandals was with a fire hose filled with AMFs.
I casually look at my watch and let out a quiet sigh. It’s only 10:30? It’s two and a half more hours until last call and I don’t see the swarm of people slowing down anytime soon. On the upside, my tip bucket has finally reached the point where the cash is flowing over the side and the signed credit card slips are piling up along the left side of the register. It’s going to be a great night providing we can somehow keep up this pace until 1 o’clock.
It is organized chaos. It’s not like going to a Jazz game where they have a serpentine line for beer. Guests push to the bar and fight for our attention. To remedy this I am big fan of playing the Number Game. The Number Game is when I assign numbers to people in what order who I am going to serve them. It’s like going to the butcher shop and taking a little paper number. Now serving #12: what are you drinking? When customers take a deep breath and pull their head out of their ass, it works like a charm. The problem is that most people don’t have enough KY to get their head in a position for me to take a drink order. Instead of a molecule of discipline, people just scream like Barbara Crampton for Coors Light. The lack of order makes every night really challenging. It doesn’t have to be that way but it is and the day that I start wishing for people to act rationally at the bar is the day I dust off that LSAT score.
In all honesty, all I want to do is to get everybody drunk and take as much of their money as possible. I am in the business of getting people sloshed and business is good. To think for one moment that I am not trying to move as fast as possible to get your drinks is both insulting and idiotic. You might not be the problem but your fellow customers sure are. Every time someone cash-n-carries for a single draft of beer, I am being put into the weeds simply because it takes way too much time to ring up one drink. And I love how people think that they are doing me a favor when they casually tell me go and cash out like they’re some sort of Caesar giving the order to slay a gladiator. It always makes me smirk in disbelief that some sort of 23 year old hussy thinks she is queen of the castle when she tells me cash her out after her single shot of vodka. Two things, Sweetheart: one, drinking straight vodka at a bar means you are a whore and two, find somebody with cash to buy it for you. Waving me away with the back of your hand is more dismissive then pistol whipping me.
And when did people’s club clothing become a cross between urban camouflage and a circus clown? I long to live in a world where everybody dresses like Don Draper or at least are applying for a job with him. I hate to sound like Old Man Raskin but when did having a fly fishing lure woven into your hair with shotgun applied make-up constitute fashion? How am I supposed to take anything you say seriously when you look like you came back from the future with a bolt through your ear and a T-shirt that is covered in chain link and a pit bull? I like the fact that on the weekends I know what I am going to be wearing: something black over black jeans. It must be terribly distressing to look into a closet filled with high school musical costumes and trying to find the right ensemble for a night of clubbing. I think it goes without saying that the nicer your dress shirt is the faster I am going to be taking your drink order. The guy in the sports coat with a date in a skirt is going to be served before the guy with a shirt that reads: “Five Dollar Foot Long.”
My favorite guests on Friday were these two couples. The guys were carbon copies of each other with swollen biceps squeezed into Affliction shirts (I wish I was joking) with harlots sporting fake boobs squeezed into even tighter tube tops. The alpha dog greeted me with a punishing fist bump that should be reserved for heads of state or Ray Lewis. They ordered three JagerBombs and a shot of vodka. I poured the drinks and put them down in front of them in quick order. As the alpha dog’s girlfriend paid for them with a credit card, Rich Wyman, one of the piano players, started playing Buckcherry’s “Crazy Bitch.” The bar erupts in a euphoric eruption as I put the girl’s card and receipt in front of her. As I was doing this, she seductively dances to the song with her friend and slides her tube top down showing me and everybody else in the 801 area code her humongous fake tits. What did I do? The same thing you would have done. I looked. As she danced for a six Mississippi, she pulls her top up and snaps at me, “You getting an eyeful, Dick?” Now, bartending does have its advantages over other professions: free drinks, cash money and the chance to meet some interesting people. But when did I become the Peepin’ Tom when you flash a bar with over 600 people in it? I guess I don’t have to tell you she was the one who ordered the shot of vodka.
In the thick of the fight, I was able to find a pace that could keep up with the demand. It’s a precarious dance to keep things moving when you are completely overwhelmed with the amount of customers we get at Keys On Main. The job demands that you think on your feet and problem solve on the fly. I was doing well until I hit a big hick-up. Her last name was Green and she drank a Mexican Quinceañera of tequila. She ordered a baker’s dozen worth of shots for her and her friends. When she finally closed out (she was one of the good ones who actually started a tab), she left my bar only to return 15 minutes later to close out. I told her that she already closed out. She told me no and I said yes. Instead of looking through her possessions to see if she had her receipt, she told me that I was a liar and a bad bartender. Well, she was half-right. Even though there was a wall of customers screaming for drinks, I stopped everything, leaned over the bar and said in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, “I am way too busy to lie about closing out your credit card, Green. You need to check your purse, your pockets and your bra for your credit card. I closed you out and I need you to shove off.” Tequila brings out the demon in people and she was no exception. She said repeatedly that she didn’t have her card until she fumbled through her bra only to find her Visa. Instead of apologizing to me, she flipped me off. I would have been mad at her except I figured her Saturday would be one long day of an icepack on her head followed by dry-heaving into a toilet.
I probably looked like a whirling dervish behind the bar. Spinning from customer to customer, I put Green in the rearview mirror and moved forward. Fortunately, most of the drinks are your basic orders: bottles of Miller Lite, gin and tonics or kamikazes. I am very dramatic when I am going to take a customer’s order to make sure that there is no confusion whose turn it is. I point with my entire arm and bark, “What are you havin’?” Hopefully they have a general idea and if not, they at least can give me an idea of what they would want. If you find yourself in my bar on a busy night, avoid asking what is my favorite thing to make. I’ll just pop open a bottle of Bud Light. I would stay clear of asking me what I would drink because you’re going to get a shot of Jameson and a bottle of Pacifico. Don’t try and tell me about a summer vacation to the Florida Keys or about the time your Aunt Dee was making mojitos with cucumber and dill. Avoid complaining about Utah’s liquor laws because I will tell you I won’t argue or agree about the parameters I need to follow to keep the bar legal. And at all costs, don’t ask what we have on tap. Some 6’7” guy on Friday actually asked me what we have on tap when his face was less than six inches from the taps. When I go to a new bar, I take a beat and check out my surroundings. Beer taps have this interesting thing called a label on them usually describing them to a tee. You need to be elastic when you’re in a busy club. They might not have what you want but I am certain there is something in the neighborhood of what you can drink to make the night less than a complete disaster.
Now a word about tipping. I am going to let you in on to a very, very dirty secret. You don’t have to tip. You also don’t have to go to the bar. Tipping is as much a part of the bar experience as risking driving home drunk. You’re going to do both. My general rule for tipping is that I throw down a buck per drink. Even though I make my living by gratuities, I don’t expect more than a $1 a drink. It’s fair and it usually works out to 20%. The old cliché of not having money to tip but money to drink doesn’t pass mustard with me. There are repercussions if you choice not to tip. For starters, don’t think for one moment that me and every other bartender worth their mettle doesn’t keep some tipping scorecard in their head when dealing with a busy crowd. If you don’t want to tip then start a tab. At least with a tab, you can wait until the end of the night to stiff me. When you are cash-n-carrying and I can judge your level of commitment to me getting you loaded. And under no circumstance tip anything less than a dollar. Tipping 50 cents on a drink does nothing unless you’re going to leave me a time machine so I can go back to the 1950s to buy a cup of coffee. Coins are an appropriate tip when they are Sacagaweas but keep the pocketful of nickels and pennies for a barista. I don’t need them. And under no circumstance ever give me a verbal tip and your business card when signing your check. A verbal tip is something along the lines of “that was the best service I have ever had.” Verbal tips only count when they come with an Andrew Jackson. You can’t put gas in your truck or groceries in the fridge with a verbal tip. Multi-level marketing hucksters are the kings and queens of verbal tips. I guess when you’ve based all of your financial decisions around a pyramid scheme you forget what it’s like to work for a living.
My friend Blake Perez told me that I am not a good writer but that I am just lucky enough to work at a club that provides a lot fodder for great stories. I think he is right on both counts. Writing is hard but bartending is even harder. I am usually a physical wreck come Sunday. The hours are long and the window to make money is short. We are only busy for four hours a night and that’s when the dueling piano show is on. No show, no dough. I think with all of the bars closed in Salt Lake City, Keys On Main has become the last large club in the Valley. People want to come to our bar because it is a very cool place. It’s classy, the entertainment is top-shelf and the drinks are reasonably priced. It’s a good place to throw a drunk on and hit on people of the opposite sex. I think what Blake was talking about is the 10% douche bag count at the club. Much like my column, the 10% idiot count takes up 90% of my energies when I am bartending. Nobody wants to read a story about a respectable group of young men enjoying shots and tipping appropriately. If that was the case, I might as well rename the column, Behind The LDS Curtain: Tales of Boring Things with Boring People. The vast majority of my guests are super easy to deal with and usually a joy to take care of. Is it my fault that the people I constantly bring up wear Affliction gear and hang out with hoochies?
Four deep at the bar is how I want to spend every one of my nights and so do you. When I am four deep at the bar, you know that you are in the right club and you have a chance to have a great night. I don’t know what you’re looking for but I think you’re going to have a better chance of finding it with me than any other bar in Salt Lake City. Yes, we are not Las Vegas but we’re the closest thing to it in Utah. But don’t think for one moment how you act in my bar is not how you’re supposed to act any other busy club. Know what you want, pay for it, tip and shove off. Let’s keep the bar four deep not six.
Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin or follow his Tumblr feed. Become a fan of Behind The Bar on Facebook.