“REMEMBER, NO MATTER WHAT, don’t sell liquor by the drink. It’s against the law around here.”
The young man who’d just hired me looked intently into my eyes to make certain I understood. I understood. I could sell beer, and I could serve setups for those who brought their own spirits. The bottles sat in a colorful row on a shelf behind the bar.
I was pursuing a Masters in English literature and had taken a job as a bartender via a wild hair during the summer between semesters. I was curious about the night life, having little myself. And, oh yes, I needed money.
One night, a couple of red-faced older guys in Hawaiian floral shirts stopped in early. It was so early, in fact, that just one regular sat at the bar, nursing his drink.
“What’ll it be, fellas?” I asked.
“Bourbon,” they answered, almost in tandem. I noted their lack of a personal bottle and smiled. “Sorry, we don’t sell liquor by the drink. How about a cold beer?”
“Nope,” answered one. “I want bourbon.” The other nodded in acquiescence. Big old babies, thought I. I explained that this was simply not possible. We didn’t sell liquor by the drink…it was against the law. Again, I suggested a beer. Again, they made it clear that nothing but bourbon would do.
At that point, the regular client who sat three bar stools away nodded his head toward his own bottle, so I poured two drinks from it. “So nice of you, Jonathan,” I said, and pointedly looked at the ungrateful men. “This guy is sharing his bourbon with you.” They ignored my remark and each plopped down fifty cents for the setup (having moi pour a drink was valuable stuff), downed the liquid and shoved their shot glasses forward. “One more.”
I looked askance at Jonathan. He nodded again, and as I poured, I said, “That’s awfully generous of you.” I was irritated that the two men hadn’t thanked him, hadn’t acknowledged his gift. They flung down more quarters for the setups, tossed their second round back, and left. I was glad to see them go.
A few nights later, a half dozen policemen streamed into the club, shouting, “Arrest warrant for Ann Doe!” I thought…well, I’m Ann. Oh my gosh, they want me! So I did what any law-abiding citizen would do. I ducked into a little black-curtained phone booth.
Okay, I thought as I sat there. This is just nonsense. Go out and find out what the heck’s going on. I walked out. What was going on, they said, was that I’d broken the law…I had sold liquor by the drink. I was extremely vocal in my denial of the charge and on the way to the station in the squad car (a brand new, exciting experience for me) I was told quite firmly to shut up.
I was released within a few hours, and the young man whose livelihood I’d just placed in jeopardy contacted me a day or two later. The case would go to trial in a couple of weeks, he informed me, and he insisted I lie about it. I was shocked. And stressed. Although the two men had been given the liquor by Jonathan, they’d paid for the setups. If Jonathan had treated them to my pouring as well as the stuff I poured into their glasses, there would’ve been no “sale.” I was outraged, frightened.
“I’m just going to tell the court how it happened,” I told the owner. “They can’t possibly shut you down because of an innocent misunderstanding like that.”
“They can, and they will,” he said desperately. “You’ve got to say you didn’t do it. It’s your word against theirs.”
I didn’t know what I was going to do. I still don’t know what I was going to do. It never went to trial. The club closed the very next week, forever.
I guess what I’m trying to say (besides warning anyone and everyone to never hire me as bartender) is that the old saw, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you,” is wrong. It can hurt you, and it can hurt others.
In Younger Next Year, Henry Lodge, MD writes something that will surprise you. At least, it surprised me.
As he discusses the cycle of decay and repair that drives our physical well-being throughout our lives, he tells us, “You can control the cycle. Commuting, loneliness, apathy, too much alcohol and TV all trigger the inflammatory part of the cycle. But daily exercise, joy, play, engagement, challenge and closeness all trigger the crucial repair.” That makes sense; now, are you ready for the surprising part? Here goes. “That’s why a man who’s thirty pounds overweight, smoking a pack a day but exercising every day, has a lower statistical mortality than a thin, sedentary nonsmoker.”
He goes on to say that vigorous exercise cuts one’s risk of dying from heart attack by half. And chronic stress? We all think we know about that, right? Heck, I thought I knew all about selling liquor by the drink! But here’s the deal. Lodge goes on to say that “chronic stress alone won’t kill you. It will melt big chunks of you, but it won’t kill you. We, however, have taken it a step further, because we’ve coupled chronic stress with cheese and butter and red meat and chips and sugar and French fries.” Then he gives us this lovely image: “When you combine chronic stress with our rotten diet, the white cells turn into vacuum cleaners sucking fat out of your bloodstream. They grow to obscene proportions. They absorb so much fat that the actual cellular machinery of your arterial walls becomes invisible, buried under a mountain of goop. We don’t even call them white blood cells anymore; we call them foam cells.”
Fine, I don’t want to know about foam cells. But foam cells don’t care whether I want to know about them or not. They’re there, anyway. The good news is, of course, that joy, connection, good food, exercise…all these lovely things will keep your own club open. There’s not much refuge in ignorance, hope, or a black-curtained phone booth. It simply bears repeating: what we don’t know can hurt us.
That’s true across the board and can happen to anyone in various ways. Once, during a stirring 1963 Berlin speech, John F. Kennedy said, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Some linguists argue that he unintentionally identified himself as a jelly-filled doughnut.
Wow, those two red-faced old fellas in Hawaiian shirts that were straining at the buttons? I’m surprised they didn’t ask for jelly-filled doughnuts to go with their bourbon. You know…to feed their foam cells before trying to throw me into a steel one.