IT WASN’T a big crowd, but it wasn’t the busy part of the evening yet either. And it wasn’t a particularly festive crowd, milling around quietly in their oddly monochromatic attire. Winter certainly put its damper on fun.
“Hey Jeff, can you please get that guy in the brown hat a seat?” asked the manager in passing, obviously busy with some other task. I often liken bartending to running a half marathon with someone barking orders at you the whole time. Being a restaurant manager is similar, except that in a bartender’s case, more orders means more money and in a manager’s case all it means is more gray hair.
At any rate, the manager was gone long before I had the chance to tell him that the man in the brown hat had already asked me the same thing. In fact he had also asked the other bartender the same thing, the bar-back, the cocktail waitress, the hostess, the other manager, the food runner and everyone else even remotely associated with the restaurant. In fact, he had even mentioned it to some of the other people waiting.
I know, because each of them had repeated it to me. And I answered each of them the same way: “All of the seats are taken. When someone gets up, I’ll let him know.”
“They are refusing to seat me,” said the man in the brown hat to another man, dressed in black, who had actually been waiting longer.
“I don’t know why they are doing this,” Mr. Brown Hat told someone else, who neither asked nor cared.
I call it playing the victim. Life sort of happens to some people. Everything they do is a reaction to some perceived slight. They are convinced that they are always being victimized; the girl at the coffee shop is ignoring them, the mechanic did something to their car, the mailman’s losing their mail, the butcher gave them the small cut of meat, all on purpose. It’s always something, and it’s always being “done” to them. It must be exhausting going through life like that. I know it’s exhausting from the other side.
“Sir, it should just be a minute.”
“You sat that person first,” he said, jabbing his finger at a person farther down the bar.
“You mean the pregnant lady?”
“She was here before you, and even if she wasn’t …” I said, letting the obvious dangle.
“They won’t seat me,” he said to a woman in a beautiful sequined black jacket.
When a seat did become available, the man in the brown hat pushed his way directly into it. Thank goodness there were no small children or widows in the way.
“That’s better,” he said, sitting down.
Trust me, it was not a sentiment everyone around him shared.
“Can I get something to drink?” Mr. Brown Hat asked in that accusatory manner that often accompanies victim behavior.
“I don’t know why they won’t serve me,” he tried to tell the seated gentleman in the black suit just as I was in the process of doing just such.
Don’t let the facts get in the way of your story, I always say.
“Nobody can truly believe how bad a day I’ve had,” he said to anyone who would listen, which at this point was no one.
In the bar business, being at a customer’s beck and call can have its drawbacks.
Mr. Brown Hat continued unabated by the subdued response of the small crowd.
People playing the victim need an audience, but not necessarily an attentive audience.
“What’s with all the black?” he asked a young lady in an uncharacteristic moment of awareness.
“Some of us were at my younger brother’s funeral,” she said, gesturing at the room. “He was killed in a car accident.”
Mr. Brown Hat didn’t know what to say.
But what was there to say? When one spends all his time playing the victim, encountering someone who has suffered real victimization can be uncomfortable, especially if the real victim isn’t making a big deal out of it.
“Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears,” wrote Marcus Aurelius in his “Meditations.” But then again Aurelius never worked in the bar business.