Compulsory Bartending for the Good of the Nation
Here’s an interesting stat. Did you know that the majority of teenagers don’t work between their senior year of high school and college any longer? In fact, the majority have no work experience of any kind until they graduate from college? This is bad. This is very bad.
Let me tell you, I have a solution for this. A damn good solution. No, I’m not going to suggest shipping them off to the military so some lantern-jawed jarhead can holler at them about holding their rifles correctly. I have never been able to understand how the military is any kind of preparation for real life. Perhaps if real life involved endless repetitive tasks and an unquestioning obedience to arbitrary rules. An excellent preparation for the post office, perhaps, but otherwise it bears no resemblance to what most of us have to deal with every day, which is an intense, multitudinous work environment where we have to move quickly and think on our feet, a place where we have to play the role of servant, counselor, babysitter and authority figure, a place where we have to break up fights, commiserate with the wounded and stare down the mean, a place where we’re expected to know more than the boss but should never expect to be paid commensurately, a place where our mistakes will be called out in public, but our successes will be largely taken for granted.
For this far ranging set of skills you need the experience of a bartender.
I have never been a bartender, but over the years I have conducted a sort of informal survey of bartenders and I am impressed. I am especially awed by bartenders who tend bar all by themselves, with just one or two bar backs, in a room swarming with customers, a whole rank of whom are sitting just a few feet away, lined up in a row, staring at them, like a dais of inquisitors.
Can you imagine trying to do your job under intense pressure, multi-tasking like crazy, holding a half dozen purchase orders in your head, all the while your customers are watching you, weighing what to give you as a tip, which, by the way, is how you’re going to make your living? That’s a challenge.
Boy, would I like to get some of these ho-hum nineteen year olds and throw them into that squirming pit. They wouldn’t last ten minutes. They’d come out disheveled and frantic and begging to join the military. “No way,” I’d say. “This is real life, baby. No one gives a damn whether you can make your bed, but if you can whip up a good cosmopolitan and light this candle and change the channel and take my food order and throw out that obnoxious jerk at the end of the bar, there’s two bucks in it for you.”
I propose compulsory bartending for all American teenagers. Kennedy was onto something with the Peace Corp, a constructive way to use our young people other than as cannon fodder, but this would be even better.
Serving porridge to fly specked children in Zimbabwe or practicing mid-wifery in Chad may be commendable, but it doesn’t prepare you for a persnickety client who wants to confront you over a minor change in specifications, or one who’s hinting that he’s going to speak to your boss about revisiting the bottom line and may want to put the entire project on hold until January, thereby jeopardizing your sales projections. For that you need a bartender’s deft knowledge of when to lubricate and when to call a bouncer.
And mixology requires schooling. Not a four year college, mind you. Not even an associate’s degree. But for the schooling averse, bartending requires a minimal commitment to acquiring a marketable skill that not just anybody can do. And once they’re out of school, they can join a community of like minded people dedicated to servicing customers in a barrel-house, watering hole or lounge. They can even share their ideas and insights on a website like Tha Mixologist.com
If your recent high school graduate is telling you that school sucks, introduce him to the wonders of making a mai tai, show him how to pour a Guinness, and confront him with the awful truth that drink garnishes were once whole fruits until a hardworking bartender, just like himself, sliced them up.
Ah, but you say, teenagers can’t become bartenders because they are not of age. Yes, this is an interesting quirk in our American system. Teenagers are not permitted to serve drinks because they could become tempted to imbibe. Apparently, however, it’s perfectly fine to teach them to kill people without fear of a lifelong tendency toward violence.
For my money I would rather have a former bartender with a taste for the sauce but an ability to separate fives and ones living next door than a former soldier with an uncontrollable lust for firearms and an ability to dig a slit trench.
I’m not so foolish as to believe that our government would ever allow anything so constructive as teaching young people to tend bar, but I’m telling you, as soon as my daughter turns 21, I’m taking her by the arm and leading her straight to the nearest bartending school. I can think of no better education in hard work, multi-tasking and human relations.
And besides, maybe she can pour her old dad a free one from time to time.