Notes From Behind The Bar: Douche Bags, Zombies and Regrets

If he was the lead in a Saturday Night Live sketch, Loren Michaels would say tone it down. He was over six feet tall with broad shoulders. He was sporting a frosted-tipped buzz cut, tattoos covering his bulging arms and a cross the size Jesus of Nazareth carried up Golgotha.  His snap-buttoned shorts-sleeved shirt was open to mid-chest and it was covered in rhinestones. The jeans had matching stones forming a fleur-de-lis on his back pocket and his boots were reserved for linemen. In a word, he was a joke.

He and his cronies had rented the main VIP section of Keys On Main for Saturday night and they became some sort of homo-erotic mess. He was with a dozen other guys that dressed as if the thirteen of them raided an Affliction mall store. The women with them looked like damaged goods with shirts stretched over fake boobs, too much make-up and half a scoop of brains. It was a mess of people with too much money and time spent in tanning beds, gyms and in front of the television. I probably could have counted on one hand the amount of books read by the entire group that didn’t have “Twilight” in the title. They couldn’t identify a state capital but they knew when the H&M store opened. They were blissfully ignorant. All they cared about was drinking the world’s shittiest champagne and grinding on each other.

I mock them because they annoy me. I make fun of them because my life at 37 is waiting for a group of them to open their bottles of champagne and give them approving fist-bumps as I take their money. I’ve cultivated some sort of vacate stare when taking their orders so that I can blind myself from the atrocities of their lives. They have diluted their existences to some sort of amalgamation of reality TV and self-deception that I secretly admire. It must be an amazing moment to look in the mirror at any given point in the day and think without a shred of irony that “you are the shit.” They have surrendered fashion for form and don’t seem to be slowing down. They are the antitheist of the Occupy Movement and they aren’t going home to escape the cold at their parent’s house—they’re multiplying. They value consumption over community and they are the absolute worst to pour drinks for.

We have all cultivated a look. How we dress and act is not an accident. It is result of the amount of years you’ve been alive and all of the influences upon your life. I am the product of books, pop culture, music, sports and movies that I have consumed through the years. And so are you.  If I had to describe my style, I would summarize it as REI meets IFA. Because I favor form over fashion as well as being chubby and liking plaid, dressing as if I was a roadie for Pearl Jam has served me well through the years. Moreover, I never get judging eyes because I have cargo shorts and a cowboy shirt on. My BMI might put me in an early grave but at least it allows me to live in comfort most of the time. Throw a beaten baseball cap on and I am ready to hit the streets. I own a handful of suits for formal occasions but I have been lucky for most of my adult life to be able to dress in casual clothes and still make a living. The aforementioned swarms of D-bags don’t have the luxury of dressing in less than five minutes. By the time they’ve finished working on their hair, I have finished my second Highball and I am already halfway to the bar.

In the end, what do I care? It’s not like I am going to be hanging out with this posse of tools socially. I am merely the instrument in their weekend of depravity. I think what bothers me about this new homo Douchebagous is that they are not going away. It seems like every weekend the droves of homo D. are increasing in both numbers and intensity. Scary stuff. It’s bad enough that I have to pour drinks for these tool bags but I am also a fellow citizen with these people in my beloved Salt Lake City. If I thought for one moment these people voted, I’d be packing my family up and moving to Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Speaking of zombie-like behavior, has anyone been watching The Walking Dead? We have been on a cable TV hiatus for the summer and recently went back to our slave-master Comcast. Do I regret it? Not for one minute. I was able to catch up with AMC’s zombie apocalypse series and I am absolutely riveted. I think ever since I saw George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead, I have been hooked on undead films. I think what draws me to zombie movies is the question of how would I react if for some reason the world went into some sort of apocalypse. As a chubby guy, I automatically assume I would be in the first wave of the infected but it is still exciting to think of how you would act if the world went to Hell in a handbag. It is a very intriguing idea. What I like about The Walking Dead is that it is told through normal folks and not steroid-addled super-soldiers.

With that said, I have noticed with frequent regularity kids and adults in Salt Lake dressing up as zombies and walking through the streets. During the summer, I was working a rare Sunday evening at Keys On Main when Salt Lake hosted a zombie walk. There were over 2,200 people dressed up as pieces of society crumbling and they came streaming down Main Street in their bloody best. We were open because there was a Sunday concert at Gallivan Center but before the rush of the concert goers we saw the pack of self-imposed undead. They were awesome. Costumed in fake blood and shreds of clothing, they limped down Main Street with gasps and shreds of clothing. It would have been amazing if for the fact that the general manager of the club, Brandon Isenhour, hadn’t cleaned the windows before the zombie walk. They streaked bloody hands left spotches that left the Keys staff in stiches as they passed by.

I brought up The Walking Dead and the zombie walk for one reason: what are the legal ramifications for beating the snot out of somebody dressed as a zombie as they pretend to bite you? The one thing that I take from all the zombie movies is that those who don’t react are quickly converted into the undead. If you see a zombie and don’t smash their brain in, you are assured to be converted into one of them instantaneously. I brought this up because earlier this year, I had to kick some guy out of the bar that was threatening to bite me. It was during St. Patrick’s Day and he somehow slipped though the bar. He was severely mentally handicapped and confined to a wheelchair. The St. Patrick’s Day party was a zoo at Keys On Main—we were completely understaffed, we didn’t have enough Jameson and the Guinness was pouring way too slow. In the thick of the fight, this guy in the wheelchair had gotten into the bar and was making his way from table to table finishing off any drink he could get his hands on. We were so busy that we never noticed the guy. It wasn’t until somebody complained about him that I got involved.

You always have to be sensitive to people with disabilities and, initially, I thought he was just some poor soul that never got a fair shake. We often forget that just because somebody is disabled that they can still be an asshole.  I went over to him to ask what the problem was and he had a very difficult time speaking. Imagine Christy Brown from My Left Foot but with a twelve pack of beer in him. I told him in the loud bar that he is not allowed to drink other people’s drinks and that he needed to go. He resisted and I tried to wheel him out the door. Even though he was confined to a wheelchair, he had that crazy monkey strength. He was kicking and pulling at me and trying to grab my face to bite it. Now, I have broken up a lot of bar fights and been involved in more than a couple physical altercations (the vast majority of which leaving me worse for wear) but I have never been in a fight with a guy in a wheelchair and never did I think that I would be losing. It took every ounce of strength I had to drag his chair out of the bar with him swinging wildly trying to bite me. After I finally got him out, I kept thinking it would be my luck to become Patient X, the first infected zombie in the fall of humanity. Needless to say, the gentleman has been 86ed.

On a completely unrelated note, I had my very first professional massage this week. Want to know the difference between a masseuse and a massage therapist? Massage therapists go to school to learn the physical nature of the body and how to address pressure points to alleviate stress and pain from the body. Masseuses rub your body and give a blow job for an extra $25. I made the mistake of calling my massage therapist a masseuse at the wrong moment. She was doing some sort of Josef Mengele maneuver with her elbow in the small of my back when I called her a masseuse. In one moment, my world became a universe of stars as my head in the padded donut-hole pinpricked with the type of pain reserved for gunshot victims or guests host of “Jackass.” She gave me a look that said, “Do I look like I work in a Ukrainian massage parlor or give handies for some sort of Korean child-trafficker?” I quickly apologized as she huffed and got back to work on my back. How are Swedes such pussies when it comes to Nazis and Nazis when it comes to massage tables? The idea of a “happy ending” was the furthest thing from my mind as she dug her elbow into my back like a Steven Seagal movie. I have never had a professional massage before and I am still trying to figure out if I liked it. When I got home and took a shower, I saw that my back was covered in the beginning of welts and bruises reminiscent of a caning or a stop in Helga’s House of Bondage. I think the next time I strip down to the buff and let some loose cannon Swede go to work on my body, I am going to take a muscle relaxer and drink a couple of beers. I would probably get the results I wanted with a baker’s dozen PBRs. The end result of the sports massage is a couple of shoulder blades that are bruised to Hell and twice as sore as I was when I walked in. I never had felt my age until I tried to roll out of bed and limp to the bathroom to throw up after a massage.

Starting your mid-life crisis at 37 years old is never good. Starting it poor is even worse. Not poverty-level poor or deficient in family and friends or even experiences but the kind of poor that doesn’t allow me to buy a sports car or take a year off to write the great American novel. I figure with my lifestyle, body-type and being predisposed for accidents (remember me getting hit by a car, getting cellulitis or watching the Cardinals win the World Series?), I figure I’ll make it to 74 before a massive heart attack takes me. Besides, who wants to get old? Granted I wouldn’t be leaving behind a good looking corpse today but the last thing I need is a Taft-sized coffin in thirty years.

I think my mid-life crisis is a combination of a lost opportunities and time. Time is inevitable. It is always moving and we’re getting older every moment. I think the hindsight of lost opportunities is what depresses people. I am lucky. I only have two regrets in my life: one, I wish I played high school football. I think two-a-day practices would have been good for me and participating in a major team sport would have created a lot of memories. Second, I wish I joined the military right after college. I spent four years spinning my wheels after college, I might have well of joined the Navy and sailed the world during that time. I often get asked if I regret selling The Woodshed and I say never every single time. The experience of running my own club in Utah was exhilarating but exhausting. I tip my hat to anyone who can make a go of it in Salt Lake.

I think I remember when I decided to sell the bar. It was the fact that I couldn’t pay my bills or go into legal trouble with the state. Those things could always be out maneuvered. It was the fact that I developed a bar that was dependent upon live music to draw people into the club. Musicians are the worst people on the planet (sorry Keys On Main piano players but I think even you guys would agree that you are a bit demanding) and trying to run a business off the dependability of musicians is a poor business decision.  Trying to run your business off of people who support live music is just a dumb business decision.

My favorite story from The Woodshed relating to musicians and patrons happened in September 2007. As the baseball post-season was shaping up, I hosted a DJ at the club for a Friday night. It was one of those great nights at The Woodshed were everything miraculously came together with little work. It was pulling teeth to get the entertainment into the club, stocking the bar with enough products to sell, ramping up the staff for a busy night and finally getting people to show up. I probably didn’t say it at the time but thanks to Matt Jones for putting the evening together. It might not have been one of his shows but he definitely set up enough successful nights with insufficient thanks. As the room got progressively busier and more and more people showed up, the large windows in the front of the club became covered in condensation. Between the sweat of the people dancing and the coldness of the early autumn evening, the windows became completely translucent.

The San Diego Padres were in a dog fight to make it to the post-season. In fact they had a play-in game against the Milwaukee Brewers to make it to the play-offs. It didn’t work out for them and they were denied when Tony Gwynn Jr. hit the go ahead run for the Brewers. Devastating. There was a customer in the bar who was a huge San Francisco Giants fan and he wrote a large SF on the front of the windows. The condensation held the SF for all to see but I was too busy to go wipe it down. The night eventually ended and we started setting up for the next night’s show. Tired, I didn’t even consider washing the windows before leaving for the evening.

On Saturday night, we were hosting some sort of vegan/punk/hardcore show. Not my cup of tea but it usually drew pretty well. Here’s a secret about Vegans: if they had enough iron in their blood, they would be the scariest people on the planet. For people that don’t eat animals, they certainly drink enough PBR, smoke enough cigarettes and cover their bodies with enough tattoos. I could make the argument that it is healthier to eat a McRib every now and then than spending hours in a tattoo parlors puffing butts and drinking cheap beer but it would fall on deaf bolted ears. Once again, the club was packed but this crowd was a little more intense than the night before. The show was in full swing, the room was packed and I was slinging drinks. Around 11 o’clock, this diminutive hipster woman came up to me and demanded to speak to me in private. Fearing the worse, we went out front. She demanded an explanation on what was on the window. I looked at her confused and asked what did she mean? She emphatically pointed at the large center window in the front of the club and told me she has never been more offended in her entire life and what kind of club was I running. I was dumbfounded. I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. I asked the people in front of the club to step aside and I knew instantly what the problem was.

There was a swastika on the front window.

Somehow, the SF from the night before had been converted into the symbol of the Third Reich. For the first time in my life, I yelped. I darted into the bar, hopped on the stage to the anger of the band playing and frantically wiped the distorted SF away. If there was ever a moment where I knew I wasn’t cut out to run my own club, this was one. Forget all of the legal and tax problems I had for three years—inadvertently advertising my bar as a skinhead club might have been the final straw. So if you wonder if I regret selling The Woodshed, the answer in an empathic no. As much as I complain about pouring drinks for douche bags and their dates, there is no way I wouldn’t have been found hanging by my belt if I had to continuously deal with trivial things like tax commissions and swastikas. Instead of looking backwards, I am always looking towards the future and trying to avoid wasting time and opportunities. I figure we’re all going to have some sort of Albert Brooks Defending Your Life moment when we die and I don’t want to get sent back to Earth in the body of some sort of Affliction shirt wearing idiot.

Ben Raskin works at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin or follow his Tumblr feed. Become a fan of Behind The Bar on Facebook.

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