Jimmy Yadisernia, that is, but few bothered to pronounce the name and most butchered it, so he was Jimmy Y, and his favorite rejoinder was ‘Why not?’
I hate stories about bartenders. It’s a job too often romanticized by those who sit on the other side of the counter. They imagine a life of ever-changing characters, the pleasure in a well-made drink, the excitement of always being where everyone else wants to go. They imbue the men and women they’ve encountered with wit they do not possess and fail to see the craftsmanship behind the charm. They don’t understand that it’s grunt work. It’s lifting, cleaning, hauling, feet-aching grunt work you have to do while managing a smile or a smirk, whichever façade you wear best. It exhausts the body and wears at the mind, makes a wet twenty dollar bill shoved under a beer glass the highlight of a week.
But Jimmy was a bartender. A fellow bartender at a posh resort in Colorado too far from Aspen for Hollywood, but close enough for people to pretend. Jimmy’d been a bartender most of his life. He worked odd jobs until he was twenty-one, then caught a greyhound to Vegas for the glitter life until he found himself a soon-to-be father with bad gambling debts and a wife in rehab. Somehow, this all led him to Colorado.
I was fresh from college, drifting after graduation and determined, in my naive way, not to hand myself over to a life of working for a paycheck. I had watched my Dad sacrifice for the comfort of his family. He had sacrificed his body a piece at a time through truck wrecks, plant fires, valve malfunctions—the jobs college boys refused. He’d sacrificed his mind, working night shifts and day shifts and double shifts, until all he could do at home was down a beer or three, swallow a pill or four, smoke a cigarette, sleep, watch sports. I love my father. I will be eternally grateful for these sacrifices. But I did not want his life.
So I was tending bar and making plans for travel and graduate school. At 22, My life was all about the future. At 45, Jimmy’s was all about the past, though neither of us could deny where we came from. Jimmy couldn’t shake his Boston accent anymore than I could shake my Oklahoma twang, and we gave each other equal amounts of shit about both. When we worked a Sunday morning shift, he would ‘howdy’ and ‘ya’ll’ and I’d ‘Harvard’ and ‘chowder’ over trays of Bloody Marys and shitty church lady tips.
And it was usually in the mornings, the two of us the only ones on shift, when Jimmy would make not-so-sly sexual overtures. They were always half-teasing, half-serious. They were never threatening. He always left it up to me to tilt the relationship.
And I would always chuckle and make sure I looked him in the eye and smiled when I reminded him of his none-existent hairline, my far-more-attractive fling, and his impending social security check.
And he’d say, “Twenty years ago…”
And I’d say, “I was two.”
And we’d move past the moment, go back to talking about sports or co-workers we didn’t like.
It wasn’t a difficult decision not to have sex with Jimmy. He treated most women as half-wits, defended the designated hitter rule, and always had to have the last word. He had two tufts of hair that he parted down the middle, a middle-age paunch around the gut, and hands so dry they bled at the nails.
But he also had an ex-athletes body, the fat running to the belly, but leaving his hips, thighs, and calves as a reminder. And every now and then, his back turned to me, my mind elsewhere, I would take a second look and surprise myself.
And sometimes—when he mouthed-off to a customer in a way that made them peel a few more bills for the tip, or when he told the rich bastard at the corner to watch his mouth (or his hands) around the lady, or when he talked about his daughter—I could see it. And I would wonder about twenty years ago and imagine running across a smart-ass, tough, athletic, Boston guy who liked baseball and whiskey and girls who talked back. I would see the him of twenty years ago chatting the twenty-two year old me up. And I would think maybe he was right when he said twenty years ago.
Now, ten years later, I live in a college town, which means that when I go out, I find myself thinking “ten years ago” as college boys call me M’am, or fail to see me at all, or hit on me out of some kind of desire to ‘bag a cougar.’ Now they are the ones with only a future, and I am the one insisting on some past version of myself.
But why? These are not interesting or attractive men. I have no desire to sleep with them. So why do I have this need, not for them to desire me as I am now, but for them to see me as I once was?
Maybe it’s out of some desire to be that person again, to be someone who has yet to make thousands of bad decisions, and one or two good ones. To be the person who has yet to truly hurt others and truly be hurt by them. To be the person who does not yet know that for all her accomplishments, ten years from now her life will seem to be a series of lowered expectations. Maybe. But the only reason at which I arrive that seems to make sense is this: Maybe I want to strip away the experiences and trials of my current self because my 22-year-old self seems to have loved so much easier, and to have been loved so much easier in return.
This is, without question, true. If I were to wade back through my journals over the past ten years, I’m pretty sure I would note a steady decline in both the number of men I’ve fallen for and the number of men who have fallen for me. It might look something like this:
Am I exposed to fewer potential mates now? Has my taste become more limited? Is my libido fading? All of this? None of it?
Or is the real key that I am far more cautious. Has having my teeth kicked-in (romantically speaking) a few times stopped me from leaving them exposed?
Whatever the case, no matter how much I occasionally want to say “ten years ago” to a twenty-year-old skinny-jeans hipster with a copy of White Noise and a Radiohead lyric tattooed on his forearm, or a perfect-smile senior with a frat-yard tan and a ten year plan, when I think back to that 22-year-old girl, it’s important for me to remember that I don’t actually want to be her.
That girl serving drinks and sassy comebacks in her purple cocktail waitress uniform. That girl determined not to take-on the responsibilities of family and work. That girl with nothing but future plans—that girl wasn’t really capable of loving anyone. Not in the way another person deserves to be loved. Certainly not in the way I think myself—after all the bad decisions and lowered expectations and broken teeth—capable of loving someone now.
I see the evidence of this in the way I love my family better. And the way I love my friends better. And the way I do my best to better love myself.
If this is starting to sound like an episode of Oprah, I apologize. It was supposed to be a story about a bartender. But I can’t tell Jimmy’s story because ten years ago I didn’t care enough about anyone other than myself enough to have listened to it. Ten years ago, when Jimmy said “twenty years ago,” instead of insulting his hairline, I could have learned what it was like growing-up Italian in Brookline in the 60s, and what took him from Brookline to Vegas, and whether his debts there involved the Mob, and what hopes he held for his daughter…There was a lot I could have learned about Jimmy.
Maybe then I could give you a good bartender story.