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Bar Life, Holidays

2011: A Christmas Story

The Nativity of Jesus is a relatively simple story. A carpenter and his pregnant wife wander through the hillsides of Bethlehem looking for refuge through the night. Stopping at various inns, they are denied shelter until a kindly shopkeeper allows them to sleep in his stables. During the night, the woman gives birth to a son, Jesus, and wraps him up tight in a manger. A manger is a trough or box that is used to hold food for animals. The birth of this kid in a dirty barn corresponded with the arrival of three Magi from the East named Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar. Following the Star of Bethlehem, they came in search of the new messiah. Upon finding Jesus, they fell to their knees in worship of the new child. They present the baby with presents worthy of a king in frankincense, myrrh and gold. The new father and mother were warned by the Magi to escape to Egypt to avoid the impending massacre of children by King Herod. Narrowing avoiding capture, they left Bethlehem right as the soldiers entered the town. It wasn’t until Herod’s death, did they risk returning and eventually settling in Nazareth.

I think it is a thrilling story. In the darkness of night, a family is able to find shelter, birth a child and outwit the Romans. You don’t even have to be a Christian to enjoy how stirring of a story this is. It has all of the excitement of a Bruce Willis movie without the one-liners. Unfortunately, somehow this part of the birth of Jesus is not apart of the conversation during the month of December. Out of the adventure Joseph, Mary and Jesus experienced, somehow, we are left with a Christmas story that has been distorted somewhere between obscene and absurd. Instead of celebrating the series of events surrounding Jesus’s birth, we focus on shoveling food and booze down our necks and buying cheap Chinese crap. Look, I am not a holy roller but taking Jesus out of Christmas is like erasing the Indians from the first Thanksgiving or forgetting about Giant Sequoia for Arbor Day. You’re not getting the whole story. For this reason, I stand by the fact that movies like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard have more in common with Christmas and Jesus’s birth than It’s A Wonderful Life.

I am glad Jesus was born over two thousand years ago and promptly crucified. There is too big of a risk that if he was born in this era he could end up on a Ryan Seacrest show. Everything today is so cheap and shallow that even something as big as the birth of the new messiah would have only 15-minutes of fame. The Nativity story would lack gravitas in today’s world of iPads, Fox News Corp and Kim Kardashian’s porno tape. The fact that Joseph & Co. survived the adventure loses something in a modern tale because it is a slow burner. The reality is that people don’t let things steep when it comes to storytelling. When it comes to child birthing tales, the average TV viewer needs the story told in 22 minutes or they are changing the channel. Think I am wrong, consider this:

It’s a story we’ve heard a thousand times. A heavy-set white woman goes out to dinner with her equally chubby husband. Returning home to finish the night out sprawled in front of the television, she suddenly develops a sharp pain in her side. Thinking it was just too much spicy Mexican food she rushes to the bathroom and hopes some Pepto-Bismol would do the trick. Sitting on the pot waiting for the medicine to take effect, she involuntarily starts to push. Thinking she is going to take the BM of a lifetime, she is shocked to find a screaming premature baby in the bottom of the toilet bowl. And she didn’t even know she was pregnant…

TLC’s I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant should have been named Toilet Babies. I watched a handful of episodes over its four season run and never stopped marveling at the beauty of childbirth. Mostly, I marveled at the check-out, obese husbands plopped out in front of the television while their wives are in the can screaming for dear life. What kind of poop habits does his wife has that doesn’t involve him investigating to see if she is okay if the result of her time in the bathroom results in a child? Childbirth seems to be traumatic enough to not have it mistaken for indigestion from Indian food. I think I would rather not know who my father was then to have been born in a toilet. Being a bastard child seems more dignified and I would hope if we ever have kids Erin will be in a hospital and not in a Honey Bucket.

In terms of Christmas, I am just as much of a hypocrite as the next guy—definitely if the next guy is Rick Perry. We don’t talk about Jesus during Christmas. I probably worship at the Cathedral of Frosty the Snowman more than any other church. I spent too much money on gifts and booze. In fact, the only time I said the words Jesus Christ during the holiday season is when I ran out of tonic water for my Hendrick’s Gin. To compensate for this lack of spirituality, we went to Mass on Saturday at St. Ann’s but I mostly do this to honor my grandmother by lighting a candle for her. I figure the 90 minutes in church can make up for not believing in God and regularly breaking the majority of the 10 Commandments. Nonetheless, throughout all the sacrilegious activities, it was a good holiday season for us. As much as I hate the fact that the Christmas season starts immediately after Halloween and ends the minute the presents are unwrapped on the 25th, we try to counter that by extending the holiday season the other direction past New Years and into January. I consider it amateur hour to celebrate Xmas before Jesus is born.

With Christmas in the rearview mirror, it was nice to reflect upon a wonderful three-day weekend. Gifts were exchanged and drinks were hoisted. We spent time with friends and family and even made a sojourn into the Uintas. Most importantly, I was able to take a break from the club and get some needed perspective on work. I have become increasingly soured in my attitude behind the bar but some of you haven’t helped. Somehow, customers are becoming more selfish and entitled than in years past. I think the tact that the vast majority of every customer I have ever poured a drink for has the IQ of a springer spaniel doesn’t help make me any less cranky. I love bartending but everyone on the other side of the bar has made me reconsider why I do this for a living. I like where I work and for the most part, I like pouring drinks for the majority of you but you need to stop bringing your idiot friends with you to the club. You are in danger of being lumped in with these knuckleheads and I don’t want to start hating on you. It doesn’t help that I have had laryngitis for a month and the greater part of everyone that’s has stepped foot in the club has been hitting the car bar before blubbering their self-righteous malarkey to me. In a perfect world, I would have 86’ed every last one of them.

Here are some truths about bartending. For starters, it is hard work. While it is not as physically taxing as ditch digging or working as a prison guard, it is hard on the body. You’re on your feet for over eight hours, moving non-stop and believe it or not, thinking the entire time. It’s where the rubber meets the road in sales jobs. I concede the point that we are not curing cancer or building rockets for the moon but I know we play a small, vital role in the fabric of the society. If it wasn’t for people like me, who would give all of those newly printed 21-year olds their first JagerBomb? You? I don’t think so.

The other problem with being a professional bartender is that people don’t take what I do seriously. Most people think that bartending is just a temporary job and that there is no way one can make a living pouring drinks in Utah. Most customers ask me during slow periods what am I trying to be as if bartending is only a gateway job. My friends don’t understand why I can’t go out on the weekends and why I don’t take any time off. They think that I want to work all of the holidays. I treat bartending seriously because it is how I provide for my family and pay the bills. The reason most people don’t take bartenders serious in Utah is because most bartenders are half-crocked and spending more time on their cell phones than pouring drinks. My favorite bar in Utah has some of the single worse bartenders I have ever seen. Sugarhouse Pub is a great place to drink providing you’ve budgeted enough time between drinks and don’t mind dirty glassware. Lumping me in with this ilk of gin monkeys is both erroneous and insulting.

Finally, bartending is challenging because you are always surrounded by temptation. Ranging from alcohol, drugs, sex, theft or simply putting your values on hold. I live in a cash driven society and cash is the preferred method of payment for vice. I am by no way a moralist. I simply have my do’s-and-don’ts laid out pretty clearly for myself. The problem as per mentioned is that people don’t take bartending seriously and don’t understand why trading drugs for drinks doesn’t add up in the register. They don’t know why I wouldn’t want to go to their house and party after work. I think my boyish good-looks hides the fact that I am really an old man and want nothing more than to go home after my shift. You add up all of these factors and every customer should thank their lucky stars that I don’t pour their drink with a side of cyanide. Considering all of the absurdity and nonsense that I see every night, I don’t think I would be human if some of the craziness didn’t get to me.

All I have ever wanted for Christmas was for my family and friends to be happy and healthy in 2012. Throw in a couple of Jameson’s and get invited to a few BBQs throughout the year and that is all I ever wanted for Xmas. This year I made out like a bandit with a beautiful wool jacket from Erin but more importanly, I couldn’t have been happier than being able to spend three days off with her and the pups. With Erin going back to work today, I couldn’t help but think about the moment Joseph decided to pack up Mary and Jesus and get the Hell out of Bethlehem. He knew he had to hits the bricks before the Romans put his boy under the knife. He had some pretty good timing. I know my time behind the bar is limited but I am not getting ready to leave anytime soon. In fact, the more that I think about it, the reprieve of not having my voice has probably done more to extend my time slinging drinks. Watching and listening to guests throughout the silly season has strengthened my resolve to leave bartending on my own terms. There are too many wrecking balls that need to be swung and I still have a little in the tank. I won’t be running off to Egypt anytime soon.

I want to extend a belated holiday wish to everyone. I hope everyone had a happy Xmas and didn’t do anything stupid like drink and drive or hang mistletoe over your crotch at the company party. I think the miracle of Christmas is our collective relief the moment it is all over. As I get older, I realize that Santa Claus and Tim Tebow are make-believe but it doesn’t stop me from wishing they were real. Thank you for supporting the column. I will have the 2011 Bean-O Awards on Thursday and a New Year’s Eve primary up on Saturday. Happy holidays!

Ben Raskin bartends Wednesday to Saturday at Keys On Main. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. He is still gruff but a couple quarts of eggnog calmed him down this week.

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About Ben Raskin

Born in El Cajon, raised in Las Vegas, educated in Reno and living in Salt Lake City. I bartend, write, box and live in Sugarhouse UT.

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