On a recent Monday afternoon downtown, I was walking up Garfield Place, getting reading to turn the corner on Vine Street. For the first time in several Mondays, I had time on my hands.
I was heading to Madonna’s on Seventh Street to have a few drinks and to see Laura, my bartender.
A voice from behind me called my name — someone I know who drinks at the same bar. He gave me the news: Laura didn’t work at there anymore. She was asked by the owner that morning to turn in her keys.
I knew a little bit and had heard rumors about some of the bar politics going on at Madonna’s. The whole episode seemed to me like it involved players with a high school-like mentality.
There was a lot of “he said, she said” stuff blowing in the air, but Laura had no desire to stoop to that level. She had too many loyal customers and was too good at her job to be bothered with it.
Feeling bewildered, I walked to Madonna’s anyway thinking that perhaps this other customer had his wires crossed. He didn’t.
Ginger, back from maternity leave, was bartending instead of Laura. There were only a handful of customers. Ginger quickly got me my drink.
It was good to see her. I tried to make happy talk about her new daughter, but my words were forced. My mind was on my bartender. It was sinking into my head that the high school bullies had won.
Ginger eventually asked if there was anything new going on at the bar. Dead silence filled the room.
“How come nobody’s talking about it?” I asked.
Ginger knew what I was referring to.
“Laura decided it was just time to move on,” she said.
“That’s bullshit,” I replied loudly.
“She was sweet and kind and professional to her customers and, because of that, she got thrown under the bus by this other bartender who couldn’t handle the fact that Laura’s better liked than she is.”
Please know I have this terrible habit of speaking my mind.
My words didn’t help the tomb-like atmosphere at Madonna’s. I finished my drink and left.
Later, sitting at a different bar, Amber poured me another drink. She’s nice and attentive to her customers, but she’s not my bartender.
I think that bartenders are like therapists for some people. You say things you wouldn’t normally tell anybody else. That was my case with Laura.
Over the three plus years I’ve known her she’s seen just about every side of me. She listened to my ramblings and babblings beyond when she probably could stand it.
Sitting there that afternoon, self-adsorbed “Laura memories” filled my head.
One afternoon last year, she and customers at Madonna’s raised their glasses in a toast to my twin brother on the anniversary of his death. On a stormy afternoon a couple summers ago, I helped Laura remove a drunk and obnoxious young woman from the bar. On my last birthday, she bought my drinks.
She once held my hand after I’d found out a dear friend had passed away. On that sad afternoon, Laura, my bartender, saw me cry.
I wasn’t always the greatest of customers.
In the fall of last year, depression — that big dark cloud — was taking me over. I tried to ignore it. As I pretended everything was fine, my attitude and exchanges with my bartender were often angry and unpleasant.
I had changed. Laura never did.
Throughout my dark period, she remained friendly, professional and supportive. I always got that “happy hour” smile. I was always made to feel welcome.
Sadness came over me as I thought of my history with Laura. Because of childish bar politics, she was now gone from Madonna’s.
I wondered if she knew that I’m getting therapy and medication for my depression. Did she know I was getting better?
It occurred to me that maybe I’d never see her again. Would I ever get the chance to say how much I appreciated her patience?
Suddenly the door to to the bar opened, and Laura walked in with some regulars from Madonna’s who are loyal to the same bartender I am. She waved at me and smiled.
On that afternoon, we talked. I thanked her for being the kind of person she is. I became a little emotional when I thanked her for being so nice to me when I knew I damn well didn’t deserve it.
Bar politics shouldn’t win out over customers who want and appreciate a good bartender. Bar politics shouldn’t be more important than customers being greeted with a friendly smile when they walk through the door to spend their money. Most importantly, bar politics shouldn’t get a hard-working single mother with two young children fired.
I’ve seen Laura again since that Monday afternoon. She’s doing fine and says she’ll be bartending again soon.
Wherever she decides to go, her loyal customers will follow. We’ll pick up where we left off and forget about the high school drama at Madonna’s.
I’m more than ready. It’ll be great to get my bartender back.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org