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Bar Life, Salt Lake City, Utah

Governor of the Island of Misfit Toys

My name is Ben Raskin and I am the governor of the Island of Misfit Toys.

That’s what I am calling Keys On Main’s VIP section—an island of misfit toys. I work East #1 at the club and my primary responsibility is to take care of the VIP section. That’s are large roped off section with couches. You’re far away from the pianos but you’re close to the windows and that’s what gets you seen. Usually, it is reserved for people who can’t make our 9pm deadline for reservations and for folks willing to spend $250. I like to think that I am worth $250 although an organ harvest wouldn’t garner $2-bucks worth of guts.

Personally, I think it is a great place to watch the show because most of the show happens in the audience. The music and performances are fantastic but how people react to our show is what keeps me coming back. It’s a perfect sociological experiment every night with people trying to best enjoy cover songs for four hours. Some people can’t get enough of watching white boys belt out Aretha Franklin and other people look like they wish there was a length of rope and a fire suppression pipe just out of reach to end their misery. From the VIP you can see basically what I get to see from my station or as I like to call it, Falcon’s Lair.

Sometimes, the VIP is used as an exhaust vent for a mistake in booking. Reservations were made but we failed to get their table ready. So, instead of refunding their money, we give them the section at no cost. It usually smooths out any discrepancy and they get me for nothing. This is when I become a territorial governor of a banana republic that should be ruled with an iron fist, subjugating the native population and raping the land of both natural resources and their women folk. You know, like, business as usual.

Well, a misbooking brought a boatload of misfit toy into the safe harbor of my VIP and they did not disappoint. Rude, drunk and self-entitled, they pushed me through the night with constant naggings of stronger drink and more attention. Pay for the VIP and I open the kingdom doors for you. Screw up your reservation and you get my better than average attention.

As governor, I haven’t been mistaken for a child in a very long time. I am a thick mess of human meat squeezed into a work shirt and pants that can’t stay up over my negative butt. For as chubby as I am, I am surprised I have the smallest arse. I can barely twerk it’s so small but I do. Damn right, the Governor knows how to twerk. I wear a full beard and have broad shoulders made strong from carrying the damn work at the club for the last 4-years. My skin is clear but there is age in my eyes from looking at drunks and calling them sir. I haven’t been carded for booze or porno or smokes in forever and I certainly don’t look like I am under the age of 12.

One of the misfit toys thought different. While ordering his fifth round of Crown and Cokes with Lemondrops on the side, some chunky Joe Pesci in an Affliction shirt said something that I haven’t heard in 30-years, “Boy, shake that drink.”

Boy? Did he just call me Boy?

I stopped what I was doing and placed my thick hands on the bar top. Taking a deep breath expanded my barrel chest into the shape of a keg and I asked him if he just called me boy. He looked sheepishly at his friends but there was no safe retreat behind them. Did you call me boy?

In an instant, my head was a flash flood of memories and history lessons crashing through the context of that word. In describing my brother’s son, he is a 5-year old boy but my brother is a man. In the context that he said the word to me, it screamed racism compacted into a simple 3-letter word—hatefully, pejorative and cruel. It was an undersized slave master addressing his property. It was the flippant gesture to sit in the back of the bus or at the other counter. Coming from an under-educated dink in an expensive t-shirt, he probably isn’t accustomed to having his chain jerked or being questioned. Instead of owning the words that he said, he meekly apologized and said that I probably hated him. I responded with a yes and you owe me $12 for the drinks.

I found out later, the reservation boggling came from the group trying to book a table at our Seattle property. In fairness, both start with the letter S but that mistake is on you. They should have paid the $250.

***

For the record, Ryan Lucas, Tony Moe and Rod Duncan are some of the best bartenders in the state. Good bartenders are a dying breed. You shouldn’t waste your time ordering drinks from people who don’t know what they’re doing behind the bar.

***

The measure of a man’s fashion can be found in his wristwatch. Function and form meet perfectly in miniature clocks on one’s arm. The wristwatch primary function is to tell time but can also double as a piece of functioning jewelry. It is the only form of jewelry I wear. Friday before work, my faithful Timex Ironman failed me. The rubber band snapped off after only 4-years of daily wear. I calculated the daily cost of the $40 time piece and discovered that it cost a little over 2-cents a day over the 4-year span. Not a bad ROI.

Because most jewelry is gaudy and cheap and serves little to no function, I’m quick to dismiss folks who wear too much of it. Wedding bands are fine, the occasional earing is acceptable and a necklace might be pushing it for men. You should never have to spend more than 15-seconds removing jewelry when passing through TSA stations. Women are allowed to wear whatever they want providing they know when to take it off. Going to sleep dressed like circa 1980s Mr. T is never permitted unless you plan on role playing a scene from The A-Team.

In profiling customers, I am quick to look for excessive jewelry and have rarely been disappointed by the customer’s disappointing behavior. Such was the case with one fellow named Pete. He was wearing a white linen jacket (after Labor Day—oh the humanity!) over a graphic t-shirt, jeans and a grip of jewelry. Bracelets dangled busying along his right arm with both ears pierced and ropy necklaces doubled over on each other around his skimpy neck. He was tall but his height betrayed his look. He was dressed like Johnny Depp if Captain Jack Sparrow wore painter’s stilts.

But he did have a nice watch—in fairness, it was a very, very nice watch. It was a Rolex Submariner. I doubt he paid for it but it was on his wrist and gleamed like Katy Perry’s smile or a freshly grilled bratwurst. The Rolex Submariner is my dream watch because it sends a couple of messages. For one, it means you’ve arrived in rugged style. Two, it means you have the disposable income to buy a $6,700 watch. Guys at the Jiffy Lube tend to rock a Timex like me.

I bring him up because he was canoodling with so hot Columbian woman. I knew she was from Columbia because she told me every time she ordered a Bacardi Limon and Coke and how the drinks taste better back in Bogotá. As Pete moved his hands over his girlfriend’s ass in front of my well, he kept pushing up his left sleeve to show off his wristwatch. Imagine Sonny Crockett in DI with a $10K watch on…with worse hair…and 14-pounds of costume jewelry on.

I don’t mind the flashiness of the bling but bring your wallet out when it comes to the tip. What good is it to have a Rolex Submariner when you have to drink Bud Light?

***

I’ve discovered that George Dickel Sour Mash is delicious with ginger ale or over ice or in a shot glass next to a beer or in a coffee mug while showering. At $16 a bottle, it is equally delicious on my wallet. John Powers, on the other hand, has betrayed me. What once was my favorite affordable Irish whiskey has shot up in price to $30 a bottle. Fucking highway robbery! For a couple of shekels more, I can be sipping on Jameson. My calculus with home drinking is cheap beer pars best with expensive whiskey with the opposite holding true. Tsingtao goes well with Ancient Age.

***

Want to know what Hell is? A bar full of young blondes collectively trying to decide what they want to take as a shot. Hot blondes don’t burn a single calorie to be cooperative with the bartender because their looks have carried them so far for so long that they rarely get to hear the word that most of us live our life by, NO. I love it when they feign indignation that they get passed over for customers who know how to order and have their money ready to pay for the drink. In the fortnight it takes Lindsay and Britney to order, it is another calendar month before they open their expensive pocketbook to get their debt card out.

I believe in gender equality but if a guy gets an earful from me for being a shitty customer, does settling a hot blonde’s hash being misogynistic? Of course not. If you want a world of equality, better start finding the common ground and start walking it.

***

Reason #219 living in Utah is better than most places: living in Mountain Standard Time. Bring on prime time television at a Christian hour. Root beer and chili cheese dogs from Hires Big H are reasons #220.

***

VIP customer of the night was the hipster who made me recite every beer available both in a bottle and on tap. He eventually asked for our cheapest beer and I gave him a Bud Light draft at $3. He paid for it with a $100 bill and didn’t tip. Paycheck rich, I suppose. Some call that Irish rich. I didn’t like being forced to jump through a bunch of hoops. Making people dance is a poor way to go through life.

Opposite to him was a couple of fellows who wanted to know what we had. They were Hispanic and one of the guys looked like a suckerfish. He had a congenital birth defect with huge swollen lips and a birthmark covering most of his face. I told him he looked good in his suit and he should drink a Miller Lite. Just because your face is a mess doesn’t mean you should be cruel. I figured this guy has probably had a compacted assfull of being treated like a freak and I wasn’t going to pile on to the certain pain he’s experienced. He said he’s never had one before and I told him get ready to be born again. His friend asked if we had water and I told him straight-faced that we don’t carry water at the bar. After a moment’s pause, I told him I was joking and we all shared a laugh. $3 order with a $3 tip. Lesson from that exchange is you treat everybody the same until they distinguish themselves positively or negatively.

Also, I wish I could taste my first Miller Lite again.

***

FILE UNDER: Nothing New Under The Sun. For a guy who makes his living working in a live music venue (dueling pianos are live music), I abhor new music. Or I should say, I hate new artists. The music of my youth is that of grunge and I haven’t strayed away too much. Throw in some Zappa, Zevon and Zepplin with 80s punk and you have my musical taste. Imagine my joy with Pearl Jam’s newest album, Lighting Bolt. I consider it to be a mortal sin to buy music in Salt Lake and not doing it at Graywhale. Sure, they are surly and better than you but I appreciate buying music from a store that values the tradition of record stores from my youth.

I went in on Thursday to buy the new PJ album. While cruising through the racks, I found a copy of Dead Kennedys Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. If you don’t know Jello Biafra, you’re not living and you know how a Wikipedia homework assignment. I decided on the Dead Kennedys and Pearl Jam, paid and made my way into my truck. Deciding what CD to listen to first, I think I made Eddie Vedder proud. With the windows rolled down and the dial to 11, I drove southbound on 1300 East listening to “Kill the Poor.” I eventually got to Pearl Jam’s latest offering and it the best album since Riot Act. I am looking forward to seeing them in Oakland at the end of November.

***

Speaking of whiskey, if we are going to shut down the government over something as silly as debt ceiling, when are the fat cats in Washington going to address this Fireball Whiskey epidemic spreading into our clubs and saloons? First off, it is not whiskey and second it is the liquid incarnation of Nickelback. Canadian. That’s a four-letter word my grandmother wouldn’t want to hear coming out of my mouth. I had somebody nearly spit blood on my glasses when he ordered a whiskey and I poured a shot of Wild Turkey 101. He said he didn’t want “that type of whiskey” but Fireball. I probably should have served it in a spent tampon.

A trend that is seriously impacting my ability to pour behind the bar is people ordering shots and asking for a soda pop chaser. One shot now takes two glasses and it is eating into my dishwashing time. Memory serves that a chaser was supposed to be a swig of beer or a deep breath to strengthen one’s intestinal fortitude. Now, it’s a shot of Fireball with a Coke back to help ease the burn. This is why the terrorist are both winning and hate us. Robert Mitchum chased bourbon with tequila and tequila with your friend’s wife. We should all take a page from Night of the Hunter.

***

I think Prince is a clown. Pretentious, gaudy and short. I got not time for short people but I do respect that he had the forethought to write a song called 1999 in 1982. I can only imagine what kind of scratch he made in the 5-year window of the new millennium with that tune. If I had a musical bone in my body, I would be writing songs with the following titles: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2099, Salt Lake is a Hell of a Town, 2100, 2101, Heading back to Provo, 2107 and Ogden will rise again. Get on that, Gershwin.

***

Last story: a guy comes in and asks what beers we have. I gave him the spiel and he selected a Strongbow Cider. Paying the $6, he asked me if we had Johnny Walker Blue. I couldn’t help but giggle. I told him that we don’t and he probably couldn’t pay for it. On average Johnny Blue runs $18 a shot and I would serve it in a relatively dirty glass because nobody should be spending that kind of money on 1-ounce of liquor. He nodded dutifully when I gave him the bad news but I did find out that he has bought it in the past. Just what the bar and this world needs—one more baller.

Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. Podcast at the TPR: Trib Prep Radio. The Governor is taking a well needed three day hiatus from bartending responsibilities.

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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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