“Do you ever feel like life is just a movie?” Whiskey Sour, business pants. July, 10:15 p.m., Friday.”
This is a note I wrote to myself. It’s my handwriting, my spiral blue notepad, so I know it’s me. I can even picture the guy, but I don’t know why I wanted to remember what he said. As far as lines go, this one isn’t very original. It’s like something your college roommate might say, the one who owns a Himalayan salt lamp.
The man had a spray tan, capped teeth. He’d recently broken up with someone and was now in this restaurant bar, where my friend Arda and I served people like him weekend nights year-round, including all major holidays.
Arda’s Turkish. In this restaurant, pretty much all of us are, even though we advertise vaguely as a place of “fine Mediterranean dining” and have pictures of olive trees and the Acropolis on the walls. In the kitchen, the men who slam blood-red slabs of meat against a butcher block are unmistakably Turkish: from Urfa, from Van, from no-fly zones near the Syrian border. There are soft-waisted women back there too, and together they roll out baklava dough with long wooden pins, their round belly aprons dusted with flour.
In the front of the house, the vibe is different. Here, Arda and I serve our American customers with our American smiles, and we only talk Turkish under our breaths, when we’re sure no one can hear. We talk shit, mostly: a snarky running commentary that helps us bear the race back and forth, the pulling of pints, the running of cards, the serving of that man with the thick pink neck who tries to grab my hand over the counter every single time.
I like tending bar. I’m a waitress too, but I take home more money pouring drinks. Plus, I get better stories out of it, like this one time I served Chelsea Clinton a beverage. She was on a date. Her bodyguard sat, alone and alert on a stool closest to the door, a listening device looped around the curl of his ear. He ordered a diet Coke, extra ice, no straw.
The Quran didn’t even ban alcohol, I tell him — not in the beginning it didn’t, not in the first verses revealed.
The work here suits me. By nature, I’m more of a listener than a talker, so I don’t say much to my customers. I pay attention, collect details and fragments: a line here, a spray tan there. I write in my blue spiral notebook hoping to thread these things together someday, maybe spin them into stories once I figure out how.
Arda thinks it’s weird I’m a bartender because I don’t drink. He assumes I don’t drink because I grew up in Saudi Arabia. When he sees a picture of me in high school, wearing a burka, he starts calling me “Haji” as a joke.
“You think we’re all going to Hell, don’t you? All us sinners?” he says, but I don’t think that. The Quran didn’t even ban alcohol, I tell him — not in the beginning it didn’t, not in the first verses revealed. Just don’t show up at the mosque drunk, the Prophet said. Just don’t do the things that make you come undone.