Once upon a time in America

This blog originally appeared on a different site, 10/11/16

I have a story to tell you. A lifetime ago it seems, I was a bartender in a New York downtown watering hole.

It really was (and still is) the kind of place where everybody knows your name, a place where a famous actor would be sitting next to a carpenter, both of them munching on a burger and supping a pint.

I waitressed there for a few years, left to bartend in Brooklyn, worked in P. J. Clarke’s on the east side, but this downtown bar was my home from home in New York City. It was where my friends worked, where I loved to hang out, and so when I was invited to go back and tend bar there, I jumped at the chance. Back where I belonged.

I had tons of New York experience by then. I knew the ins and outs of how to handle any complaints, difficult customers and I had skin as thick as a rhino. I could handle the famous, the not-so famous and the infamous. Or so I thought.

Downtown on the west side was being heavily gentrified then, new apartment buildings appearing overnight, new faces all the time, new conversations. But the bar, one of the oldest in Manhattan, stayed stuck in its ways, eclectic, ramshackle and friendly.

The construction workers would flood in at lunchtime, hungry and thirsty, a little rowdy and loud sometimes but manageable with a bit of cheek and sass.

Until this one guy. He was loud. Loud and stupid. Arrogant too, with no reason to be so. Kept trying to flirt with me and the waitresses, all of whom were well used to the quick scoot away. Keep busy.

I was nice but firm with him, asking him if he could please keep it down, people were having lunch and he would agree, sure doll, no problem. Anything for you. His aggression towards being told what to do by a woman was palpable.

His visits were short, though, he had to get back to work. So 40 minutes or so and he was gone, and we would just sigh in relief when he was done. Peace again. Thinly veiled air of aggression gone.

That is until he and his crew were leaving that job and moving to another. Pockets bulging with cash, they came and settled in for the day. They started drinking and from the get-go, I knew it wouldn’t end well. Within an hour, it was the song requests — “turn it up sweetheart!” The lewd remarks — “what I wouldn’t do to that ass of yours, honey!” His crew were trying to get him to shut up, but it was futile. I cut him off and then it kicked off.

Eyes bulging, red in the face, spit forming at his mouth, I was called every shade of c*nt you can imagine. He threatened to vault the bar and teach me the lesson I needed, yeah, that was it.

I knew and you do, too, exactly what he meant by that. His own friends and a few others finally hustled him out before I called the cops, him yelling he was coming back for me, just wait and see. When I least expected it.

I’m not embarrassed to tell you I was shaking. Shaking with fear and anger, shaking with the realisation that he could. I went to the bathroom, wiped away a few hot tears and went back to prepare for happy hour, wishing the next few hours away in a flurry of activity. I walked to the subway that night with my senses on full alert.

Nothing scares me more than angry white men. Nothing scares me more than their sense of entitlement, their arrogance, and nothing I see in the political climate in the UK and the US is doing anything to diminish that fear.

Brexit and the new president elect in the US have unleashed and emboldened their sense of self and heaven help you if you’re a woman, a minority, LGBT or differently abled.

Their contempt for you has been newly legitimised and I’m so fearful for my children for whom I thought this world would be different.

The prick who terrified me? Never saw him again, the spineless tosser. But I would bet my bottom dollar I know who he voted for this past Tuesday.


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