“My brother used to work here,” said the man I had never seen before. I was busy making five very different martinis at the time, so I think the sum total of my response was “oh.”
After delivering those five variants I returned to that never seen before man. There was something vaguely familiar about his features.
“What’s your brother’s name?” I asked.
He took a second to respond, like he was weighing his answer carefully.
“Art,” he said.
I remembered Art. And I didn’t remember him fondly. In fact, Art still owes me money. He had shown up at our restaurant looking for work, and as it turned out we were then looking for workers. Unfortunately, there had been a disconnect on what the word “work” meant.
In the bartending world there are professional people and there are not so professional people. Some folks are making drinks as a means to an end, and some people are doing it just to get by. Others enjoy the interactive creativity and still others hate every single minute of it. Bartending is not a suitable environment for everybody. And not everybody suits the environment.
The first inclination of a problem was on his first night. He ordered a bunch of Togo food for somebody who he then claimed had “disappeared.” Conveniently this happened right before Art got off his shift.
“We can’t let this go to waste,” he said taking the big bag of food with him and handing it to a twitchy looking friend who met him at the door expectantly.
The second indication was when he solicited a ride from the couple on a first date sitting at the bar.
“Can I catch a ride with you two?” he asked unabashedly.
The look of shock on the couple’s faces indicated that two things would happen. 1) He was not going to get a ride, and 2) We were never going to see that couple again.
“Just relax, man,” he told me when I told him never to do that again.
One night he begged me to go and get a drink with him, ostensibly so he could learn more about our bar. It turned out, that it was just a way for him to get a free ride, and a free drink, seeing how he disappeared immediately after both had been procured.
Another night he was closing, which meant that he divvied up the tips at the end of the evening. The next day my tips were missing. It took five days to get the tip money from that night.
“Just relax, man,” he said. “What’s the big deal? You’ll get your money.”
The big deal was that there was absolutely no reason for me to have to wait for that money at all. He had no right to take it out of the building for any reason.
Art had problems focusing, and his math was always off, and once he even nodded off in the liquor room. It soon became clear that he had a substance abuse problem. Not the kind that speeds you up, but rather, the kind that slows you down.
The thing about substance abusers is that they always think they are getting away with it. That nobody knows. They think they are killing it. The fact is that they are only killing themselves.
Art was fired the night before my vacation. Instead of going home early, I had to stay late. Meaning that my next day grueling 16-hour trip was done on 4 hours sleep. My right eye burst a blood vessel because of the stress, which became something that I had to explain to every single person I met for the entirety of my vacation. To say I was angry would be a gross understatement.
When I returned from that vacation there was a Linked In request from Art on my computer. A request I quickly deleted. He reached out to me on a few other occasions and I never responded.
Now, years later here was Art’s brother sitting in front of me.
“Art’s best friend worked here,” said that brother.
“Really?” I said, trying to imagine. “Who was that?” I asked.
I had been angry at Art for many years. Angry for all the trouble he had caused. I am not angry at him anymore. Art overdosed. So today I am just sad. Sad for Art’s family, and sad about Art himself. I’m sad that he didn’t get help. I’m sad that he wasted his life on drugs. And I’m sad that the person he called his “best friend” barely knew him at all.
Substance abuse is no joke, certainly not for those who die, and most certainly not for those who live. Nor for the ones left in the wake of either.