Zee Germans Are Coming

It must be real nice to be European. Specifically, it must be real nice to be German. It must be nice to come to our country and utilize our National Park system, berate bartenders and tip nothing. It must be real nice to think that the sun never sets on the German Empire and that it is acceptable to act like Mother Berlin is watching over you at all times. In the arc of recorded human history, World War II was like last week and I think Germans abroad forget this timeline. They’re culturally bankrupt. Any group that worships bukkake, snuff films and Hasselhoff sound be firebombed back to the stone ages.

Last Wednesday, I had a full bar. The club was packed with conventioneers from around the country and the world. The vast majority of the guests were from the East Coast but there was a really strong German contingency in the club. You could almost hear “Das Lied der Deutschen” as they hunkered down at the center table. They seemed innocent enough at first. They ordered rounds of beer and wine while struggling over the menu at Keys On Main. Their confusion was over the very obscure appetizer known as “The Nacho.” I found it very hard to believe that in all of their travels they have never heard of a tortilla chip covered in cheese. I could only imagine what an outsider watching me would think as I pantomimed a dance of chips being covered in cheese and put into an oven. What was really upsetting was that as I was explaining the ubiquitous snack in North America, the rest of their party were getting annoyed that I was explaining the menu instead of taking their order. I felt like Sallah in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Instead of waiting, they kept slapping the bar and catcalling at me. A dueling piano bar is a poor place to replay the Versailles Treaty.

Before you contact the German Anti-Defamation League (although, I can’t imagine this group really existing in 2011), let’s be clear: I am not talking about German Americans. Those Germans who came to the United States and helped build this country into a world leader I am cool with. In fact, if your last name is Miller, Coors or Anheuser-Busch, I celebrate your German heritage. My beef is folks visiting Utah for the first time and thinking it should be exactly as it is at home. Say it with me, “The joy of travelling is experiencing new cultures.” Utah is different than Munich as much as it is different than Rhode Island. And I don’t care if you’re in Thailand or Budapest or Tooele, you don’t badger the bartender.

They weren’t the only problematic country represented in the club. There was a group of five South Africans in the bar that needed to put over the knee of Nelson Mandela and spanked. In the pantheon of good accents, the winner will always be West Texas. That slow draw is a panty creamer. On the other end of the spectrum is the whiny, wispy and guttural tongue of the South Africans. It sounds like the King’s English getting fingered by a Valley Girl. It is obnoxious. If you ever want to learn how to speak Afrikaans just take a handful of Scrabble tiles and vomit them into a conversation. It’s gibberish at best. It probably doesn’t help that I’ve seen Lethal Weapon 2 a million times to know who the bad guys are. Whereas the Germans stopped me at every point to correct my service, the South Africans hid behind their native tongue while pointing at me.

It is bad enough trying to explain Utah’s liquor laws to Americans. Doing this with international folks is damn near impossible. How do you tell people who routinely feed wine to toddlers that they can’t have a double in Salt Lake? Demanding and cheap, Germans are the worst. Sure, they build a great car and Oktoberfest at Snowbird is a lot of fun but as customers I would rather pour vodka and Red Bulls for the Affliction/TapOut crew any day. To say it ended poorly with the Germans would be an understatement. The only positive of their experience at the club is when they left.

What’s going on with the Occupy SLC movement? I went to lunch with a friend in downtown Salt Lake last week and saw a group of the protestors in front of the Wells Fargo building. Carrying signs and holding a banker in effigy, it was interesting to finally see the Occupy movement in person. They were a varied group ranging in both age and appearance. Using the people’s microphone, they were chanting an anti-Wall Street message and blocking the sidewalk from people to walk by. The only thought that I had as I was walking to The Bayleaf for lunch was, “How the Hell do these people have time for this?” If you have my schedule where you work at night and have your early afternoons off, sure, go ahead. Shouldn’t these people be working at noon on a Thursday? I couldn’t help but think that the Occupy SLC looked shabby and unorganized. With the recent death of Michael Manhard at Pioneer Park, the Occupy SLC movement has become deadly.

In reading about what has been happening in Seattle, Oakland and New York, I think the psyche and confidence in this country has been damaged. The last ten years has been traumatic in both our role in the world stage and in our own backyard. The 9/11 attacks, two wars and an economy a notch above the Great Depression has done little to bolster faith that the future is brighter than the past. The housing crisis and bank/automobile bailout is vastly more complicated than anything I could understand but I do know that it is because these industries were not properly regulated. It seems misdirected that our rage is against the bankers and not against those elected officials who facilitated a playing field that allowed them to bankrupt this country. Let’s be clear: the bankers are assholes but the real criminals in this debacle are the elected officials that made laws that were lean on oversight. Instead of braving the cold and camping out at Gallivan Plaza, they should be trying to un-elect every member of Congress.

Ever hear of a Lazy Eye? If the first thought that popped into your head was Forest Whitaker, don’t be upset. He was my first thought too. As it turns out, it is a layered shot that is equal parts amaretto, tequila and Irish cream. If you’re throwing up in your mouth as you read this, don’t worry, so am I. In the flood of customers that came to the bar last weekend, nothing put my stomach in such turmoil as pouring a round of Lazy Eyes. The first real snow storm of the year hurt business this weekend. I think a lot of people wanted to hunker down at home after watching the Utes beat Washington State in overtime. Nonetheless, it didn’t stop people from coming out. It was a mixed bag. My favorite was a guy named Lonny Anderson who didn’t know who Loni Anderson was. He started a tab with me and was shocked that there was a buxomly actress on WKRP in Cincinnati that shared the same name. If my name was George Washington and I didn’t know who the first president was, I think I should be called an idiot. For the record, the best name that men or women can have is Kelly. He turned out to be a good guy except for the fact that he drank a quart of fight juice (Seagram’s VO & Coke) and kept calling me Bernie.

Two of my biggest pet peeve type of customers came into the bar. The first is a shifty SOB who orders for his girlfriend and himself. At first, he seems like a real gentleman until it is time to pay. He’ll reach into his wallet and pull out a credit card with his girlfriend’s name on it. He passes it on as if he is picking up the tab. Real slimy. I don’t think there is any problem with women buying drinks for their date. Often when I go out, I’ll buy dinner and my girlfriend will buy the drinks at the club. When guys are acting like their partner’s card is their own, I can’t help but think what an abusive turkey the guy is.

The second problematic customer is the loiter. These customers are as bad as Germans without the accents. They stand at the bar doing everything except order. The rule of the busy club is that hanging out at the bar means you are there to drink. Checking your phone, talking with friends or staring off into space is what you do at home. Furthermore, have a drink menu chambered. A drink menu is a go-to beverage that everyone knows how to make like a gin and tonic or Jack and Coke. The problem with the loiter is that they treat every drink order as if it is the very last cocktail they will ever order. It’s not Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. When ordering it’s not like if you select the wrong Holy Grail you will wither into a pile of ashes. It will probably be the first of six drinks you’ll have in the club. So, just order something to get the evening started.

Last Monday, I had my first and probably last sports massage. After all of the European bashing, I am going to reel it in with a disclaimer: the woman who did the massage was a decent, hard-working Christian from Sweden who doesn’t need to be strung up from a telephone poll. She was polite and funny but these characteristics got lost in the fact that she had strength like a silverback gorilla. She drove her elbow into my lower back for a half-hour like she was milking my spinal column for stem cells. I honestly believe that I could survive waterboarding better than another sports massage. If anyone ever needs to extract a confession out of me, just send the Swede and her massage table to my house: I’d be confessing before the lotion hits my back. I have enormous strength when it comes to being patient. Behind the bar, I can patiently listen to any drunk ramble on about any subject ranging from motor boats to ex-wife to the Milwaukee Brewers. The discipline it took to run The Woodshed demanded patience traditionally reserved for junior high teachers. Pain, on the other hand, is something I am not really good at.

Because I lead an active lifestyle while enjoying drinking and being predisposed for hurting myself, my body is a chubby landscape of scars, skinned knees, busted knuckles and painful back spasms. To alleviate the bangs and bruises covering my body, I take handfuls of Tylenol chased down by cocktails. What can I say? I am a wuss. To make matters worse, I don’t have a shred of stoicism in me prohibiting myself from loudly complaining at all times about my ailments. You should be so lucky. If you have read this far, it means you enjoy me constantly whining and bitching.

To date, the greatest example of me being a wuss happened the summer before I went to college. I was working as a dishwasher at Angel Park Golf Course in Las Vegas. It was a great gig. It was an apprenticeship in a world that I knew I had to leave but somehow have never left. I played golf in the early morning and worked the afternoon shifts. The kitchen was a violent and loud place with two-time loser cooks and a head chef that was running more drugs out of kitchen than covers. The best part of the job were the cart girls. They were the ladies in their early 20s that drove the beverage carts around for all of the golfers. They sold pre-wrapped sandwiches and Miller Lites at outrageous prices but nobody cared: they were too busy distributing free passes to the strip clubs they worked at night. I was so naive, I actually thought the cart girls made their money selling snacks on the golf course.

The country club hosted a lot of private events at night and I always worked them. On one particular evening, I stayed and helped clean up after the banquet. My job was to collect all of the candles and clean the wax out of the candle holders. I was in the kitchen scrapping the wax off the thin glass holders with a steak knife. There were probably 300 that needed to be cleaned when I did the thing that I promised myself not to do: I broke through the glass with the knife and stuck it cleanly into my left palm. Blood squirted everywhere and I squealed in pain. I gingerly pulled the knife out of my hand and watched as the palm of my hand pooled in blood. My uniform was sprayed in red. With me crying, the coked-out head chef saw an opportunity to leave his post and get to the bars early. He volunteered to drive me to the emergency room to get much needed stitches.

If you had to list the five places that you never want to visit at midnight, a Las Vegas emergency room on a Friday night ranks somewhere between the Bronx and Beirut. The place was awash in bums, ODs and victims of black eyes. The place was a zoo. By the time I checked myself into the ER, I am certain the head chef was on his second drink at a nearby bar. I settled into the hard plastic chairs and started feeling sorry for myself. The bar towel wrapped tightly around my hand was saturated in blood and I was wondering when my mom was going to come and rescue me. Just before the crocodile tears started falling from my eyes, something snapped me into focus. The sliding glass doors of the ER swished open with two black guys dragging a woman who was screaming like she had been shot twice in the stomach. The sound registered like a 747 engine filled with banshees. She was screaming like a banshee because she had been shot twice in the stomach. For the first time of the evening, I considered that maybe my hand wasn’t that bad. I even considered just going home.

I didn’t see the next doctor—she did. I was eventually seen and had nine stitches put into my hand. My mom picked me up and took me home. If I hadn’t seen the shot woman, I would have been moaning for the next two decades but instead, that evening just turned into a good drinking story throughout college. The take away is that I like to complain and I should never use a steak knife for anything besides cutting up a ribeye.

I am over a year into writing the column. I wrote my first blog last Halloween. It was a silly little note about getting the mules out of the barn. I was trying to recreate the column I wrote throughout college and I forgot what it was like to write a weekly column. It didn’t take long to remember exactly what it is like—it is very hard. It takes a lot of time and energy to put one of these things out each week. I experimented with different styles, formats and subjects but in the end, I stuck with what I like writing about the most: Salt Lake City, bar life, pop culture and sports.

Because of problems with blogspot.com, I am moving the column to WordPress. It is a little more complicated to use but I like the look of the website better. I figure since I am not going to ladle out a ton of pictures, I wanted to keep a really clean look to the column. I am barely a writer much less a photographer.

I have avoided putting up advertising on the column because I want it be about the stories. I don’t think there is anything more annoying than looking at a web page and not being able to determine where the content ends and the ads begin. Because of this, the column will always be free. I am never going to put up a PayPal account or solicit money from the readers. Now, if I ever release a book, I’ll ask for you to buy a copy (or two) but I am not going to cover the website with a bunch of crappy ads. I prefer a streamlined look and in talking with the readers, I think most of you do as well.

With that said, I would ask if you enjoy reading the column, to please subscribe to The Rhetoric and hit the like tab on Facebook. I never expect to make a dollar writing this column. The only thing that I would ask is for you to be a mensch and tell a friend. Followers, comments and likes on Facebook are the methadone that makes this entire process work. I’ll bring the funny if you hit the button.

Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin and become a fan of Raskin’s Rhetoric on Facebook.

2 thoughts on “Zee Germans Are Coming

  1. You tell it like it is Benny, and that I appreciate. Love your blog, and always find that it is a good short story of the day. Thanks.

  2. “It seems misdirected that our rage is against the bankers and not against those elected officials who facilitated a playing field that allowed them to bankrupt this country.”

    As I understand it, Occupy is protesting the whole system, not just bankers, where our lawmakers are the same people who serve on the boards of big corporations, or their votes are purchased by the interests of big business. The people have no real voice in democracy under this plutocratic system. Since the Great Depression, regulations to keep big business out of Washington have been slowly stripped away until we are left with the run-away capitalism that caused the housing crisis and now our second great depression. (The press call it a recession, but it is not. America’s media outlets, incidentally, are owned by corporations.) Millions of people are out of work in this country, millions more are under-employed. Able-bodied, willing people are out of jobs and homeless while the fat cats on Wall Street collect million-dollar bonuses. In corporate America, it is regular practice now to squeeze more profit from the company by laying off workers, in order for the boss to give himself a raise. The protest is against the wealth gap between the richest Americans – the 400 or so people who control most of the country’s wealth and aren’t sharing, yet have the largest say in what goes on in Congress. Of course Congress will make laws that benefit businesses. Meanwhile, money is directed away from our schools, public health services, and welfare programs for the needy.

    The framers of the Constitution made legal provisions for the people to fight for the separation of church and state. However, they did not foresee the mess we’re in now, when we have no legal way to fight for the separation of capitalism & corporations from government. This is why people are camping at Occupy. The movement is rooted in the idea of civil disobedience – that there comes a time when laws must be broken to make a stand for what’s right. America is a shambles. I believe the people can set it right, but must be aroused from a long sleep.

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