I have always prided myself on the fact that I can handle difficult people. I have friends with qualities other people would find distasteful — they're egotists, depressives, cheapskates, Republicans, and plain ol' assholes. But there is one quality that I cannot abide — passivity. Being passive is different from being boring, which I can usually do something with (i.e., apply alcohol). No, passivity is that lack of energy or life force that resides in certain people. Passive people have no effect on the world and seem, in turn, unaffected by everything around them. They also have zero sense of humor and nothing to say about that fact.
I don't ask for much, but you gotta have a freakin' personality to ride wit' me. If I get stuck talking to apathetic people, I nod and smile politely, but I always have the same things going through my head. First, I hear my mantra, "Oh God oh God oh God kill me now ... ," but there's also the faint background noise of air being slowly leaked out of a balloon. That is the sound of my soul being sucked out of my body. These folks take a part of me away that I can never get back.
I met a lot of these flatliner types when I taught in Japan — Americans who were freaks and couldn't handle the pressure of relating over here. So they went to another country, found a meek wife who didn't really want to have a conversation with them and couldn't understand what they were saying anyway, and lived passively ever after.
So, dear reader, if you were to pick the worst possible career for one of these lifeless people, what would it be? That's right, a bartender! Yep, I had my soul sucked last week, right here in San Francisco.
My friend Shannon and I went to the Ambassador, a swanky joint on Geary that opened in January. It's a ritzy place, with high ceilings and a gaggle of fat, ornate chandeliers blooming down from the ceiling. High-backed padded leather booths line the perimeter, and the bar itself is long and marbled, with a gigantic wall of booze behind it. Très chic.
A rather wan cocktail waitress in all black was plodding about, so we decided to sit at the bar. She had a vial of something around her neck — never a good sign. The barstools were super-comfy and the drink menu looked pretty good. The bartender on duty was a clean-cut young buck of good breeding. Lately, places like this have sprung up around the city — Bourbon & Branch, Rye, etc. — and they deliver cool atmosphere alongside the understanding that mixing drinks is an art, and that a bartender should also be a good conversationalist. Shannon and I were excited to see what this guy could do.
He came over and greeted us, hands on the bar and ready to serve. One drink on the menu featured "pummeled" lime. Shannon and I laughed at this. I jokingly said to the barkeep, "Would it be possible to have my lime muddled instead of pummeled?"
He stared at me blankly.
"That was a joke," I offered, in sympathy. He nodded back. I couldn't read where he was coming from. Oh dear, I thought. We have a flatliner.
"What do you recommend?" asked Shannon, trying to defuse the potential soul-sucking. He said that a lot of people liked the Bellinitini. Well, shit, a lot of people like America's Got Talent, too, but that don't mean I'm gonna watch it. We wanted to know what he thought; what was in his curio cabinet of joy. Something, anything.
"Have you invented any drinks?" I asked. Many good bartenders in the city whip up new cocktail ideas. Surely the Ambassador was such a place.
"No," he said flatly, adjusting his plaid tie.
"Come on," said Shannon playfully. "You mean to tell me that when you are lying in bed at night, you don't create invisible combinations out of thin air?"
"No," he said. "When I lie in bed at night, I have nothing in my head. At all."
Huh. This sort of hung there in front of us like a stale fart.
He wandered off, and Shannon and I did what we do best, which was attempt to entertain ourselves. Finally, another employee, hearing our boisterous back 'n' forth, joined in with laughs and some good stories of his own. He was the manager, as it turned out, and he also works at another great bar, the Double Dutch in the Mission. Why couldn't this guy be our bartender?
Periodically, the entire staff — all three of them — would disappear into the back. Something was up. Just what they were up to was a mystery, but the vibe in the joint was so weird that it was anyone's guess.
Mr. Personality came back. We were feeling peckish, and the food menu looked pretty interesting. I had one question, however. The menu offered something called "Ambassador 'fries.'" Being an English major, I figured that meant that they weren't actually fries, but something close. I asked the bartender what the Ambassador "fries" were. This miffed him a bit. "Uhhh," he replied, leaning over to look at the menu. "French fries?" There was a slight "Duhhh"-ness to his response, as if we were the stupid ones. God, I hated this guy.
He wandered off again, returning a few times and not noticing that our glasses were empty, even though we were the only ones at the bar save for a friend of his at the other end, whom he had sat with and talked to nonstop.
"I've got it!" said Shannon. "This really isn't a bar, it's a nest of vampires!" Wow. Suddenly, it all made sense. The vial around the waitress' neck, the undead personality, the charismatic manager-slash-Count, the fact that none of the mirrors on the walls were at eye level, the soul-sucking ...
Once we saw the place through new eyes, it started to hold a certain charm. The lamer the bartender got, the better our fantasy. You see, they obviously keep the guy on a low diet of rat blood so that he will remain their slave. His lack of personality was due to his slowed response from malnutrition. He didn't know what an Ambassador fry was because he doesn't eat food. He hasn't invented his own drink because he only drinks blood.
"Later, Bram Stoker," said Shannon with a wave and a giggle on our way out. The bartender smiled boringly and waved. He didn't even catch the reference.