Casual Monday.

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Certain things change drastically when you get your shit together, go to college, finish a degree and stop working in bars and restaurants. One of the major shifts that I’ve noticed is how the holidays effect my day-to-day life. As my life inches further away from being comparable to Cheers and closer to something more in the line of Leave it to Beaver, this whole season takes on new meaning and emotion.

For those who haven’t spent considerable amounts of time working in the service industry, allow me to explain what the holidays meant to my previous self. The cooler weather in Phoenix alone brings the busy season for hospitality workers. This is, I have been told, opposite to the way things work in parts of the country where cooler weather is not as welcome as it is here. We have a snowbird population that swells the city headcount considerably in the winter months. This, regardless of the holidays, already makes it a busier time of year for wait staff and bartenders. The holidays do also add to that.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is a huge going out night. People seem to treat it like the kick-off to the holiday season. Short work week, 4 day weekend, perhaps people have traveled from elsewhere and arrived in the city early enough to see old friends before being locked to family for the remaining time. Whatever the reasons, Thanksgiving Eve is probably one of the busiest bar nights of the year. It’s no New Years Eve, but it does get quite busy.

Thanksgiving day is dead, but other than that the time between Thanksgiving and Xmas sees a noticeable increase in bar and restaurant sales. This makes the holiday season a prime money making time for anyone whose income comes mainly from  tips. The money, however, does not come easy. A lot of the people who go out around the holidays really only go out around the holidays. These are people who tend to still think 10% is the industry standard gratuity, who don’t understand concepts like rush hours, large party reservations or the headache of splitting checks 15 different ways. Wait staff go to great lengths to train their regular customers on how to make their jobs easier, and this training all goes to shit starting the 3rd Wednesday of November and doesn’t return to normal till January 2nd.

But, even though the money/work ratio gets kind of nasty the overall take home is generally increased so it’s not all bad news. Stressful, yes, but also rewarding. The real stress comes from also trying to be a person experiencing the holidays while simultaneously being a person whose work life is getting its ass kicked by the holidays.

Thanksgiving Eve is great, bars and restaurants are busy, there’s money to be made. But there’s also Thanksgiving itself to deal with the next day. Maybe you worked the bar till close at 2 am, floor swept, money counted and trash taken out gets you home by 4 am. Mom text you earlier to say that everyone is getting together at Aunt Helen’s at 11 am which is just an obscene hour for you given your professional night owl ways. You feel obligated to make an appearance because, as your moms states in her guilt trip, “We don’t know how many Thanksgiving’s Aunt Helen has left.”

So home by 4 am turns into bed by 5 am, awake at 9 am to make the trek to the suburbs for the sake of Aunt Helen’s golden years enrichment. You may still need to be back at work sometime around 3 pm. Thanksgiving Day is a shit day to work in a bar, so all the extra money you made busting your ass the night before just becomes a wash in the two-day average. So you get to throw down a plate of food and leave before dessert to drag your 4 hours of broken sleep back home to get ready for an unprofitable night.

The boss knows Thanksgiving is a shit day, but won’t just close the place if they think they can make $10. That, and they’ve probably lined up some deep cleaning chores to take care of since you’ve got the time. You’ll be moving equipment and cleaning a years worth of grime and buildup, probably slicing yourself on a broken chard of glass behind a refrigerator glued to the wall with maraschino cherry syrup. Also,  you’ll be getting paid a whole $5 an hour to do it.

After Thanksgiving you have Black Friday. Busy perhaps, but full of people who are just in an awful mood. The ones who have been shopping all day are embattled from the experience. I myself have always refused to be a part of that madness, so I can only imagine what it’s like to go through. It’s not all bad though. If you’ve been diligent throughout the year, you’ve cultivated a core set of well-trained regulars to hopefully give you some relief from the seasonal masses.

For the weeks leading up to Xmas, you bounce back and forth between overworked booze-slinger and holiday reveler. After all, you’ve got your own shopping to get done, friends and family to see, parties to attend to and everything else that others seem to just be strolling along through. This is where the stress ramps up. Sleep is reduced and energy expenditure increased. I’ve worked bars where busy shifts were literally comparable to playing 6 hour games of racquetball. When you can’t make all the functions or stay through all the courses of the meal, the guilt trips from friends and family increase. It always amazed me how the non-existence of Paid Time Off in the service industry escaped all the people who couldn’t understand why I didn’t just take the day off. Time in that job field directly equals money. Time off means zero money. Perhaps the day you skip was one of the bad ones, but schedule writers take notice of those who weasel their way out of bad shifts. Repercussions for such behavior were certain.

There’s a slight calm after Xmas now that all the shopping and most of the parties and get together’s have occurred, but it is a calm before the storm call New Year’s Eve. This is the culmination of the Holiday Season, the closing ceremonies. If you’re a young go-getter of a bartender, you might be excited to work New Years Eve. You’ll get dollar signs in your eyes at the high sales-potential and, if you’re like I was when I was younger, just be looking forward to how fun it will be to be busy all night. These nice feelings about the potential of this evening are soon ruined for anyone who actually works a few of them.

In the biz, we tend to refer to this evening as Amateur Night. This is the night where you see a massive jump in the raw count of party goers. These people, to put it bluntly, are simply not good drinkers. A lot of them only  go out on this one night a year, inevitably black out and so by January 1st they’ve already forgotten any social lessons they may have otherwise picked up during their party time. Any lessons they do remember the next day will slowly be forgotten over the course of the year and they will show up next December 31st like a brand new bad drinker. This gives a different connotation to the New Years Baby icon. The babies I had to deal with came in the form of grown men and women crying and vomiting because they thought 6 shots of Fireball in the car outside sounded like a fun way to kick off the evening.

People tend to stress themselves out on New Year’s Eve, as well. There’s so much self-imposed pressure to party the right way. It’s an amazing, albeit stressful, thing to witness. People stress themselves out about what they wear, where they go, what they drink, when they drink it, who they drink it with, who they kiss at midnight, yadda-yadda-yadda…and when this inevitably blows up in their faces, it can be like having a room full of intoxicated bride-zillas. This phenomenon occurs in both men and women, but the bride-zilla comparison was the only other instance I could think of where a human attempting to create a perfect moment falls apart in emotional ways when the perfection doesn’t happen. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy for these people, which is the really interesting part. They don’t understand that it is exactly their pursuit of the perfect midnight moment that keeps them far away from enjoying the evening, and, of course, trying to explain this to any of them just falls on def, drunk, ears. You just gotta roll with it.

So the shit show to end all shit shows is the cherry on the top of the shit show holiday sundae for people who make their living in food and beverage service. We all die a little by the end of it. Depending on the gig you’re working, you could still walk away from it all with a decent amount of cash. The money will be sprinkled with blood, sweat and tears, but at least there was some sort of reward for the abuse.

Now contrast that with my post-college, business casual Scottsdale office life. My week this week is short. HR sent out an email on Friday letting us know we could dress casually all week (which I love) giving me a nice little Casual Monday today. My weekend coming up is long, 4 full days to do whatever I want. Non-food and booze related industries tend to slow down this time of year. People take vacations and offices run skeleton crews. I’m going to be one of them, in fact. I’m taking 40 hours of PTO starting the day after Xmas and leading up to New Years. I’ve gone from the holidays being the busiest, most stressful 5 weeks of my entire year to the exact opposite. I get to kick my heels up, spend time with the kids, do any shopping I might do at my leisure. Oh, and I also expect an annual bonus to make the whole thing sweeter. I no longer have to save all year to make Xmas happen for the kids. Not that my kids are overly materialistic. I’ve raised them to value experiences more than things. But whatever presents I do buy or trips we take them on can easily be paid with additional income that is given to me just for working hard all year. Never you mind how much my bonus is, but it is enough to change the December game for me.

I don’t feel I’m being boastful about my improved economic and work/life situation. I’ve earned my spot here. I fought for it. I don’t feel bad for enjoying it. I also try really hard to not forget where I came from and what it used to be like for me. Now I am one of those people going out more, seeing friends and family with less worry, spending more at bars and restaurants. I am one of the well-trained regulars now, and it feels good. So long as I don’t lose my memory of what it was like to live the other way, I will keep not feeling bad about enjoying my success. If you’ve never walked a mile in the shoes of a waitstaff person, then take my word for it when I say they are getting ready to go through some shit for the next several weeks. Be nice to them, and tip them well.

Happy Holidays.

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Title Game.

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I’ve never been much of a sports fan. My mirror neurons have just never fired up the same way I suspect they do in other humans while watching sports games. There was a shiftless period in my life right after the army when I had a bunch of time and money on my hands, so I started to get into baseball. It lasted about a season and a half. Mostly I just liked going to the games. It was the event of it all. I could pick up tickets on a random day off (of which as a nightclub bartender I had many) and sit in a park drinking with friends while a baseball game was going on near me.

The good thing about baseball is you don’t typically have to glue yourself to the game. More often than not, you can just ignore it, converse with your friends and the other fans around you and listen for the crack of the bat to let you know when it’s time to focus back onto the field for a few seconds before returning to your socializing.

As such, I could never really get into watching the games on television, and certainly not if I was alone. It was the social aspect of it all that I was actually experiencing. The sport was just a framing reference. It provided context for the human event.

I never acquired an ocean of statistical knowledge or got to know the history of the players various paths through life; which teams they had played for before, who had rivalries and scores to settle, or any other of the million bits of information that true fans hold in their minds in mesmerizing and intellectually interesting ways. I did, however, pick up the core concepts of the game. I know how it’s played, and have a decent sense of the game-behind-the-game. There’s a psychology to it all. It’s more than just a mechanical process of hitting a ball with a bat as hard as you can. The players are playing each others minds as much as their bodies. Perhaps even more so. There’s something akin to chess in the game that I also find interesting. Perhaps other sports are like this as well, if you really get to know them. I’ve simply never taken the time.

So I’m not a super fan, but I do know a little something. I knew the Cubs and the Indians had made it to a historically significant World Series, although I knew nothing of the season that got either of them there. I got glimpse of the headlines on social media, although never was inspired to click on any of the articles. The headlines were enough.

Cubs Series Blah Blah Blah, 108 years since Blah Blah Blah

Indians Series Blah Blah Blah, 68 years since Blah Blah Blah

Really everything I needed to know about it is contained in those two sarcastically paraphrased pseudo-headlines…

I knew that there was a drama unfolding in the first 6 games of the series, and that it had all come down to game 7. I caught wind of the unfolding score of the game through the side of my social media eye; I can always count on the stream of posts and tags to let me know if something important is happening. I wasn’t, however, rushing home from the office to glue myself to it in anyway. It seemed like the Cubs were going to pull it off with an early lead and good for them. They were, after all, the team with the longest dry spell. It seemed justified they would be the ones to break the streak first since they put in more time, right?

Catching wind of the tie-up of the game, and the encroaching 9th inning, I understood that there was something even more momentous than the series itself about to happen, so I turned on the TV and decided to get into it a little bit. I do like television history, even if our streaming lives mean there’s less of it these days. We don’t really ask each other, “Where were you when it happened?” anymore. Probably because we aren’t prepared for the answer to be, “Watching on my iPhone from a toilet the next day.” But back to the game.

It was like watching every baseball movie cliche unfold into reality all at once. Game 7, World Series, tie game, 9th inning, longest dry spells in baseball history, a moment more than a century in the making…Just as I had been doing in those earlier years of my short-lived baseball fandom, I was really tuning in to the human aspect of it all rather than the game itself. I just wanted to watch the look on everyone’s faces for a while and contemplate their emotional processes.

Being a fan of humans more than a fan of baseball meant I had no dog in this fight. I had no one I was rooting for, except maybe the random old guys in the stands who looked like they were about to have a heart attack at any given moment. I was definitely rooting for those guys. The suspense was terrible, and I hoped it would last. And it did.

The 9th came and went with no score change. Extra innings. Then a rain delay. I wondered how many times the phrase¬†You’re killing me, Smalls! was exclaimed across the country. I hoped it was a lot.

I feel like I could have climbed on to the roof of my condo and been able to shoot a direct azimuth from Phoenix to Chicago by the large cloud of tension I could sense on the Northeast horizon. I’ve never been to Cleveland, so I couldn’t empathize enough with that city to sense its collective emotional being, but I assume it was comparable.

The rain delay ended and the game got back underway. As much as I was checking in with the high emotions of the crowd, I also noticed the relatively calm demeanor of the players. It was commendable to watch professionals being professionals. If they were freaking out at all, as one would expect them to be, they certainly weren’t showing it on the outside. Or maybe they were all just in their flow states and focused on the game without the context being permitted into their minds. I’ll chose to believe the later because it’s more interesting to do so.

The 10th inning played out the way it did, Cubs gained two runs in the first half, then held the Indians at bay in the second half with a snag and an out that gave them all the glory.

And the crowd went wild! (Yet another cliche, but a well deserved one.)

It was good stuff, a good emotional ride even if I was only a tourist that caught up with that last hour of the journey. Again, I had no dog in the fight. I just like watching the people feel things.

It was interesting to watch the reporters start to hound the players right after the game had ended. They all wanted to know what thoughts the team had about the way the game went. I thought, “Just let them have their moment for crying out loud! If I had achieved something half as momentous as that, the last thing I’d want to do is answer a bunch of questions with a damn camera in my face!” I’d probably just want to be as mindful as I could muster and experience everything real I could. The pageantry of it all is just a part of the game, I suppose.

After it all was said and done, I think my wife summed it up best when she said, “I’m just happy that Bill Murray is happy.”

Congratulations, Chicago Cubs. Enjoy the day today. You’ve earned it! I wish I could get on a plane and go to Chicago right now. I’m certain today will be a great day to be in that city.

Just do it.

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To blog, or not to blog. That is the question.

Really it’s just a question of which contemporary authors I’m going to listen to. Some say to only write when inspired, others say to just write and never stop writing. Since both camps have reached some level of success, I’ll have to conclude that there is no right answer to this question.

Honestly, that’s not even what keeps me from writing. To say it is would be fraudulent. The reason I don’t write is because I’m afraid to. I’m afraid of sucking. That’s really the it of it. I am getting better at overcoming the fear of the suck, though. A lot of people never get so far as to identify their fear of the suck as the thing holding them back, so in this regards I’m already at least a little bit ahead of the game.

I don’t necessarily want to rid myself of the fear of the suck, either. Not completely at least. I want to push it into dark corners, or bottle it up to keep on the mantle only taking it out when useful, but I think I do need to keep the fear around a bit. When I can muster the strength to beat the fear, there’s always great rewards on the other end. If I kill the fear altogether, will I inadvertently close the path to the rewards as well? Maybe that fear is just another level to be ultimately dispatched with. It’s a tricky minefield.

I’ve also come to learn that I have an internal pessimism that lives inside me. This pessimism keeps me thoroughly unhappy with pretty much everything I accomplish. It allows me to have momentary triumphs when I create something that pushes my previous envelopes into a new size, but the triumph is fleeting and the pessimism quickly sets in and starts telling me what a fucking jerk I am for thinking that I’m any good at anything at all.

This snotty little internal bully creates some pretty thick imposter syndrome sometimes. No matter how skilled I get at things, no matter how many people tell me I’ve done something impressive, I can’t help but think that they are all lying to me in some mass orchestrated prank. Any day now I’ll walk into a trap set in a board room and everyone who’s ever told me I did something right will be standing there pointing, laughing and telling me how it was all a setup just to berate me.

A few weeks ago I actually caught my subconscious trying to convince my conscious that I am actually a special needs adult whom no one has bothered to tell they are a special needs adult. For reference, I have an engineering degree and work as a business analyst for a pharmaceutical company. They obviously don’t give these things to just anybody, and yet, I still found myself with the momentary conspiracy theory that everyone in my life outside of my family constituted an elaborate system of life-coaches (hired by my family) whose entire purpose was to applaud everything I do, no matter how mundane it is, as if it were some sort of great accomplishment and to never let on about the ruse. Oh, and this game also comes with a middle-class salary and great benefits, for some reason.

This is an extreme example of how strong that pessimism monster can be, but I assure you there is no exaggeration in it. It’s non-sensical to even entertain the possibility of such a grand lie perpetrated to save me from knowing what a fraud I am, but imposter syndrome is never logical.

The fucked up part about it is, I can’t completely kill the imposter syndrome, either. I need that as much, if not more than, the fear of failure. It’s all very driving. I am driven by pessimism, fear and doubt. I am also, at times, held firmly into place by pessimism, fear and doubt. As previously stated, it’s a tricky minefield.

If I was ever truly satisfied with the way I am, I would have no drive to get any better. In fact, at this stage of my life I can say confidently that any level of skill or success I do have is directly a product of being the absolute last person in the room to ever accept that I am actually skilled or successful. It’s a vicious cycle.

So I think the solution is to just keep going forward. The fear and imposter monsters will keep getting stronger, and I will have to keep getting stronger to beat them. I’ll work to accept the antifragile dance of the two parts of me, and trust that there’s something significant on the other side. I may never achieve escape velocity into the realm of being perpetually pleased with myself, but that will be okay, and I will be okay. As seen on some random Facebook posting recently, “Confidence is not believing everyone will like you, confidence is knowing you’ll be okay if they don’t.”

Or, as a Twitter contact recently tossed at me, “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.”