In my thirties, whenever I’d go to a party or otherwise meet new people, inevitably the subject of what I did for a living came up. So often when I revealed I was a lawyer, I’d end up hearing someone’s legal problems. Of course, I’d make the salutary joke: “Okay, I’ll listen (tapping at my imaginary wrist watch), but I’ll have to charge you.” Ha ha (sigh).
The dreaded question, “What do you do for a living?” became a drag, so I started answering, “I’m a bartender.” It came to me on the spot once, and then it stuck. Everyone who asked me what I did, I answered, “bartender.” Then the conversation moved on to something else. Rarely did anyone want to hear more, and I was fine with that.
I once had aspirations to be a bartender. I was 19 and working at a Mexican restaurant as a hostess, training to be a waitress. I was promised a shot at bar tending when I became of age and had enough experience waiting. Until I got “laid off.” My manager, a middle aged man (could have been 30 from my young perspective of what middle age was back then), and I butt heads on this one point. He hinted at first, but after I didn’t bite, then insisted that I wear make up; he thought I needed a less hippy, more sexy look as greeter and server, especially when I worked the bar.
Ten or more years later, one early morning when I found myself watching the sun rise outside the window of my 12th floor law office after pulling an all-nighter to meet deadline, I closed my gravelly eyes before heading home to change clothes. Heaven forbid I should be seen with the same suit from the day before. In the soothing warmth of closed lids bordering on seconds of sleep, I flashed on a flicker of fantasy: I’m giving up this hellish grind and going to bar tending school.
That thought–that I could always be what I pretended to be–gave me solace. Still does. When I grow up, I still want to be a fifty-something year old bartender. Is it too late?
Every day is a climb to a troubled peak
ever in sight, never in reach.
It hovers nearly above my height
and follows my journey just in half sight,
a hand’s distance to grasp with miles to go,
luring my feet on though ascension is slow
to illusory destination and a doomed flight.