The original definition of 86’d was to get rid of someone in the permanent sense. The phrase “80 miles out and 6 feet under” was reserved for someone who had to dig their own grave 80 miles from civilization and then get shot execution style. The three stories I will tell you had no such permanent consequences – only the embarrassment of losing face with friends, or the shame of the drunk who will never again be seen with that beautiful woman on his arm.
As a bartender in the city in the early 1970’s, 86-ing was a skill that you needed to master for many reasons, the first being basic survival. If you were clumsy or careless when kicking drunk customers out of the bar, you might find yourself on the receiving end of a fierce fist, bottle, glass, or chair. You could end up securing the situation or making a late night trip to the emergency room/nearest jail.
Many of the practices that I employed in the 70’s wouldn’t work in today’s climate of political correctness when lawsuits seem to occur if you look at someone the wrong way. And many would get you a ticket to jail or have you paying out a fair amount of your hard-earned money. But at that time. there were no real rules of engagement.
With years of 86-ing practice, I learned several fundamental lessons. First, the best insurance for keeping the law at bay was to understand the laws concerning who, what, when, where, and how violence would be tolerated. Another good insurance policy was to know all the boys in blue who came around your neighborhood and treat them just like family. Yes, a little brandy in a hot coffee on a cold night when they were walking the beat always got their attention. Or when they came to your place and they were treated to complementary service, that always brought on a smile.
Also important was to realize that you were working in a weapons-rich environment. With this awareness, you began to notice an amazing variety of tools that could and would be used against you.
My last general rule was to know who you were fooling around with at all times. At the time I was working, there was a certain set of people that you just did not want to cross. Most of these people kept a low profile and were the quiet ones watching everything. Most of them had mysterious employment and were usually packing some kind of weapon that would either slice you or blow through you. I learned that if you kept out of their business and were respectful to them, many times they would step in to help you.
The first of the three incidents I will title: The Flying Irish Coffee Glass.
I was working in a club at the time that had live music. It had a long bar, with one end of the bar close to a big window onto the sidewalk, and the other end at a wall that divided the back room from the main bar. In the wall was a large cut-out where you could see the act and everyone in that back room. We had a bouncer at the entrance to the back room who checked people out for bottles, drugs, or weapons, and collected the room charge.
In the back room, all the way back in the right hand corner, was a service bar used on busy nights and weekends. It was a great bar to work in because it was compact and everything was within a couple of steps to the service area. It could seat about four or five people. Usually we had two or three cocktail waitress working the whole bar, with one person who worked the service bar in the back.
I was working the service bar that evening. We had a hot band playing and the place was packed. I had a couple sitting in front of me, the woman drinking Irish Coffee and the man drinking Beer. I took note of them because the woman was already lit up when they came in, and my military situational awareness had put them on my radar.
After she had her third Irish Coffee I knew it was time to ease her on her way. And my instinct was confirmed when she started banging her glass on the bar and yelling, “Barkeep, get me another damned Irish!” I walked up to her, leaned over the bar, and said, “I think you’re good for the evening. I’m not going to serve you any more liquor.” I then asked, “Would you like some water or coffee to sip on?” Her eyes turned into fireballs. “What the f*** did you say to me?” I leaned over again and looked at her husband (at that point I noticed the wedding rings), and repeated, “I’m sorry, but I’m not going to serve you any more alcohol.” At that point the storm was unleashed.
The string of profanity that came out of her mouth was almost amusing and would have made a sailor turn around. She was screaming at the top of her lungs. I was talking to the cocktail waitress, who just looked at me as if to say, “What demon from hell is this?” We were both laughing, which in hindsight was like pouring JP5 fuel on a flame.
Even the band was looking back at the bar, as was most of the crowd. I was looking out toward the front for the bouncer when out of the air came a flying glass. Had I not turned my head at just that moment, it would have caught me dead center in the left eye. Instead, the glass broke on the frontal bone right above my eye socket. I felt warm blood flowing into my eye and down my cheek.
I grabbed a clean bar towel and pressed it to my head. I could feel that I had no glass in my eye. The coffee glass was hard and thick enough that it broke into only a few large pieces. I was glad she hadn’t been drinking martinis from a glass that would’ve shattered on my face. But the lip of the glass had done a number on my bone.
The woman was standing on the bar-stool, unloading another mouthful of bile, when I looked at her husband and told him to get her out this instant! He meekly said to her: “Honey, we have to go.” She turned to him like a shrew lit on fire and screamed at him to shut up.
This was when I went to battle stations. I was so damned mad at having the glass thrown at me and my shirt and jeans all bloodstained by this harridan that I jumped over the bar, grabbed her by the shirt and the back of her pants, turned toward ‘Mr. No Balls’ and said, “Lets go. Now!”
As I started moving her through the crowd, she was trying to bite me and hit me with her flailing hands. All during this time I had the bar towel wrapped around my head and it was soaked in blood that was oozing down my face. The woman was screaming and everyone was telling her to shut up—well, not in those words, but you understand. She dropped one of her shoes and I told Limp Husband to pick it up and move along.
I was crossing in front of the stage with her, heading for the exit, when she noticed a candle on one of the tables. It was a pear-shaped orange glass candle wrapped in orange netting that was very popular in the 70’s. We were right in front of the band when she swung her left hand back and hurled the candle off the table onto the lead guitarist’s guitar, splattering hot wax on his new buckskin shirt.
The guitarist jumped off the stage and followed me and the crazy lady as we passed by one of the owners of the club. The owner looked at me with blood all over my head, face, shirt, and jeans, and then at the alcohol-fueled lunatic thrashing in my hands, and then at the husband saying nothing but just tagging along, and finally at the lead guitarist yelling at the husband that he’s going to pay for a new shirt and guitar repairs. In that flash of a moment I could see in the owner’s eyes that “what the hell just happened” look of fear.
I got through the crowd, kicked open the front door, and tossed the screaming woman out onto the sidewalk. I turned toward the husband standing next to the foul creature and told him( six inches from his face): “You are 86’d from this bar, and if I ever see either one of you again I will kick both of you so hard in the ass that we’ll be at the hospital looking for my boot! Do you understand me?!” He nodded his head in the affirmative and they stumbled away.
I walked back into the bar to a hero’s welcome. The woman who had been working with me in the back, plus a line of people from the audience, were crowding in to tell my boss how I had been attacked and how they would testify if there were any legal repercussions. My boss already knew that he was paying for a new shirt for the guitarist, and possibly repairs to his really good guitar.
I sat at the bar talking to my friends for one quick shot of whiskey and a chance to clean up my cut and put a bandage on it. My boss came over and said, “You’re not going to sue me are you?” You would have to know the guy, he was always worried about these untidy, dark areas of the bar business. I laughed at him and said, “No, I’m not going to sue. But I am going to take home a good bottle of Whisky.” He said, “Sure, sure no problem.”
I then headed back to my bar to finish my shift.
The second of the three incidents I will title: Waking Sleeping Giants. But that’s tomorrow’s tale.