No One Would Buy the Soundtrack to My Life
June 6, 2010, 12:04 pm
Filed under: SARAH | Tags: , , ,

Dear Rebecca,

I work as a bartender at an Italian restaurant where I spend my hours serving up Chianti and Chardonnay to fine diners, Moscato and Limoncello to sophisticates,  and Jameson on the rocks to a parade of high-functioning alcoholics, all long-time regulars.

The restaurant is named after a stringed instrument which in the course of its storied history has been lavished by many a great composer with preludes and sonatas, caprices and concertos. The décor, as such, is musical. Very, very musical. For example, hanging above the entrance to the establishment, mounted to the wall, are a cello, a wooden piccolo, and a violin displayed in a green-velvet lined violin case.  The walls are also lined, these with photographs of famous musicians, mostly classical musicians, as well as opera singers, even famous ballerinas, and Liza Minnelli. All of the photos are autographed, many with personal notes to the restaurant’s owners. Some of these musicians regularly stop in for drinks (Cynar, Punt e Mes, Sambuca, a Negroni up).

A well-run restaurant resembles a well-run orchestra. Servers, bus boys, cooks and dishwashers all must inhabit their parts to the point where movement marries tempo and that bucatini all’amatriciana is ready for Table 3 a half-stop after the gamberoni.

Bartending has its own choreography, characterized by speed, grace and, the bottom line, efficiency—Taylorism at its finest.  An order for five drinks? I arrange my movements accordingly. One hand reaches for the necessary glasses while the other goes for the ice scoop. Then on I move to speed rack, top shelf, juices, and garnishes.

Choreography not always, but often, benefits from musical accompaniment.

Here is the situation where I work:

Not too long ago, the owners acquired a satellite radio service and promptly “broke it.” Or, as some prefer to put it, the satellite radio “broke itself.” I suspect that the circumstances of the satellite’s demise will forever languish in a Rashomon-like matrix of competing narratives. One fact remains strictly empirical: a small restaurant such as ours requires a soundtrack other than the groan and grind of the kitchen. And furthermore, I just wanna dance. For an eight-hour shift, the sound of silence don’t cut it.

Sometimes a server donates her IPod to the cause.  A few days ago, I had the pleasure of watching customers consume pricey branzino con stufato di fagioli to the ska punk of Sublime’s 40 Oz. to Freedom intermixed with the best of Bob Marley. Another server is a self-professed Dave Mathews cultist, who also enjoys The Killers, Huey Lewis and the News, Bon Jovi and Sinatra, which is as Italian as the music ever gets.

The other night, however, we were without IPod. What did I hear?

The bangs and hisses of the kitchen; silverware clacking on plate; the grumble of trucks driving by; air conditioner’s whirr. From the prep room, the sotto voce conversations of the servers reached my ears as murmurs…

At some point, the owner emerged from his fallout shelter in the restaurant’s basement. He turned on the TV, which is mounted to the ceiling above the bar. “Golf…golf…more golf,” he muttered. “How ‘bout a movie?” I never watch the TV, but I humored him by looking up at the screen. There assailed me swarthy men in green standing at attention. Enter the swarthiest of them all, the Duke himself, John Wayne.

The closed-captions read:

[ Military fanfare ]


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