Life’s reset button
I’ve always had a difficult time with change. Such a difficult time that even the smallest decisions like getting a haircut will send me into anxiety for weeks. Due to this unfortunate personality flaw, I’ll tend to maroon myself in things that probably needed to change a long time ago. This goes for jobs, relationships, habits, and so on. A little over six months ago, I had what I considered a comfortable life. I wasn’t happy, but I would do nothing to change any aspect of what surrounded me. I was going on the seventh year of a rocky relationship, entering the 18th year of a career that was completely unsatisfying, and living my 3rd year in an apartment that I hated with an inconvenient location. When I look back on it now, there were many simple things that I could have done to make things better for myself. I didn’t see any of it at the time. It wouldn’t matter, because in the span of one week every aspect of my life changed. Life pulled the fucking rug out from under me and I could no longer unhappily sleepwalk through my existance.
It was a chain reaction, beginning with my relationship being destroyed. It had come out that he had cheated, and he no longer wanted to be my partner. I was devastated. I didn’t want to believe that he had given up on us after so many years together. I spent a lot of time not accepting it, and thinking that he would change his mind. This was the worst thing I could have put myself through, and it nearly destroyed me. He was my whole world, and now it was gone. I couldn’t function on any level. I stopped eating and dropped down to 98 pounds. I didn’t sleep. All I could do was blame myself and wallow in my own self-loathing. This state I was in led to the next phase of my life falling apart.
During this horrific breakup, I was on year 3 of a very high-stress job. I had been recently promoted, and the expectations and responsibilities were extreme. When the break up happened, I let the higher-ups know that I was going through personal hardship and I would try my best to not let it affect my work performance. They were sympathetic for about a week. They wouldn’t allow me to take any vacation time or leave, as it was a peak time for us and the business simply couldn’t run in my absence. They began to lose patience with me after I waasn’t back to my old self quickly enough. My work quality was slipping and I was distracted. I didn’t look good due to the weight loss and lack of sleep, and my co-workers and the people who worked for me were visibly uncomfortable to be around me. I was making mistakes, and I knew that it would be only a matter of time that I would be terminated. I’ve never been fired from a job in my life. Work has always been the most important thing to me, and I have built an excellent resume and refrences. I did not want a black mark on my career. I made the choice to quit without anything else lined up. Something I have never done before in my life. Hands-down the riskiest move I’ve ever done. It was the only option at the time, and I knew it. When I took my store keys and handed them in, the fear of the unknown was overwhelming. Underneath that, complete relief. I realized at that moment how much I hated working there. Truly hated it, and it consumed 45-50 hours a week of my time. The thousands of things and the hoards of people I was responsible for suddenly werent my fucking problem any more. What a wonderful relief.
The scramble to find work was immediate. Because I electively chose to leave my job, I couldn’t draw unemployment. I got paid out my last checks with that fucking vacation time they wouldn’t let me take, so that bought me a little time. All this time, I was still living in our small apartment with my now x that already had a girlfriend. He wanted me out. I needed to start working again. Through mutual friends, I found out a guy I knew owned a coffee shop/bar and might be needing someone. At different points in my life, I had been a barista and bartended. After some networking, I was hired. I was officially unemployed for exactly 52 hours. I would be brought on part-time, and at minumum wage. Obviously, not enough to live on but it would be some income coming in until I found another job in my usual carreer. I thanked my friend for helping me out, and promised to be the best damned worker he’d ever had.
There I was, 35 years old. Single, working in a coffee shop, essentially homeless. Definitely not how I envisioned my life at that point. Some days, I felt like a fucking loser. Others I tried to tell myself that I should enjoy the liberation of having no adult responsibilities. One of my customers offered me a room to rent in his house. I moved in, and my x and I stopped living together. That was both necessary and sad. The final nail in the coffin of our relationship. Although I felt like a personal failure, I honestly liked the job. It had been so long since I had worked with zero responsiblilty I had fogotten what it was like. My mind was completely clear while I was there, and I actually smiled while working. Not that fake corporate smile you learn to plaster on your face from years of conditioning. I could wear beat up sneakers to work. That alone was a blessing. I was used to living in staunch corporate dress which included 9 hours in high heels. I liked the customers, and was happy to see them. Even more wonderful, they were happy to see me. In my last career, I was upper management so any person I had to deal with was usually very upset and I would need to find a way to appease them which at that point was near impossible. I could play whatever music I wanted, and put whatever I wanted on the television. It was like an adult fantasy camp. I knew it couldn’t last. I’d have to make some actual money in order to put an actual roof over my head. Thats when I started tracking what I made at the new gig. With my minimum wage and tips, I nearly made as much as I was making in my last career. After taxes, insurance, and other bullshit taken out of my checks…shit. It wasnt quite the same, but it was damn close. That’s when I had to come to terms with the fact that I had been slaving away for the last 18 years, getting my fucking ass handed to me, killing myself with stress and I never had to. I had convinced myself that I should stay with that career because I had built a certain resume that afforded me a decent salary and I would be crazy to leave and go with something else. Now I could work less hours, with no stress and make almost the same amount of money. I honestly couldn’t believe it. I was sick with the thought of devoting my late teens, twenties, and early thirties to a soul-crushing carreer for no fucking reason and with no yeild. Life’s reset button forced me into leaving a career I hated, and showed me there could be something else. Better late than never, I suppose.
The black cat cafe
The cafe itself is weird. It sits on the head of Alberta street, which is a “destination” area for tourists. It has a long history of being a shady place for neighborhood folks to buy and sell drugs and for underage kids to get drunk. By the time I was hired, the business had been bought out and was in the process of re-branding into something else. The building had been there for so long and had been such a notorious institution in the neighborhood, the change-over was difficult. Many of the old regulars stopped coming in as an act of protest. Those that still came in still called it by the old name of “The Black Cat” and refused to aknowledge that it has a new name and was under new ownership. My first weeks working there nearly every customer that came in would ask those same qusetions in hostile tones:
“This isn’t the Black Cat any more?”
“Why did it change?”
“It sucks here now. Why would I come here?”
“Do you guys still sell cigaretttes?”
The neighborhood was resistant to accept any change, and the purchasing of the Black Cat pissed a lot of folks off. I didn’t mind feilding the angry crust punks’ questions. Still better than any one person I had to deal with in my old carrer. I would still get the occasional shady dude who would breeze past me with a backpack on heading straight to the back patio just to dart out again once realizing that either his dealer or his clientele is no longer posted up there. Some of the old customers continued to come in. Despite the name change and the lack of cigarettes, the place was mostly the same. The food menu remained, the coffee got better, and we still served the cheapest booze and beer on the street. I started to get attatched to the place, and the regulars that frequent it. I would notice if I didn’t see someone come in for a few days, and worry about them. I became the only full time employee, and essentially the manager as there are just some things you cant turn off even if you want to.
The way it was
It was a slow afternoon. I was working the mid shift, and I hadn’t seen a customer in at least an hour. That was typical in those days. Back then all of our business would be in the morning, then stagnate in the afternoons. I would keep busy. There was always something to clean or organize. Shit, just getting to pick my own music to listen to while I was working was still such a treat for me I could care less how slow the time was going. My shifts were 5 hours long. I was used to working 9-12. Total fantasy camp. My friend Kyle came in to hang out and chat with me. He did that often, as he lived 3 or 4 blocks up from the cafe and was always a welcome distration for me on those slow afternoons. He and I were alone in the cafe for about an hour before the next customers walked in.
A woman in her 40’s came to the counter accompanied by a guy that looked like he was in his early 20’s. They both ordered screwdrivers. I asked to see the guy’s id. He scoffed at me and started copping an attitude. He let me know that he used to work here, and the fact that I didn’t know that is rediculous. I told him that I’d never seen him before, therefore I would need to check his id. He finally gave it to me. I poured their drinks. He asked me those usual “why isn’t this the Black Cat any more” questions. I patiently answered them. I also patiently listened to how much he hated that it’s under new ownership and how badass the place used to be when he worked there. Former employees were always the worst to deal with by far. They have a weird sense of entitlement over the place, like they own it in some sense and almost always cause large amounts of problems when they decide to visit. The woman that was with him quietly hung back as he was going off on his tngent, smiling at me apologetically. She eventually cut him off and urged him on to the back patio.
By that time a few more customers had trickled in. All were regulars that I recognized, there to get a few cheap tall cans after clocking off from work. Kyle was still there hanging out. I had about 2 hours left in my shift. The uppity kid from the patio came in and ordered another round for himself and his companion. He asked me to make them “extra strong” and he’d “tip me well” wink wink nudge nudge. I told him I pour all drinks the same. He got pissy and said that he would tip me double. I again told him that I pour all drinks the exact same. He again expresed that he wanted his drink to taste “strong”. I said I could put in less orange juice, if thats what he wanted. He agreed. I poured the drinks and he went outside.
After about a half hour, the woman and the kid appeared at the counter, half-drunk drinks in hand. She starts chatting with me about the music I have playing. She is tall and blonde, in a fashionable coat and beyond pleasant. I can’t help but wonder what her relationship is to the much younger, and much shittier kid she’s hanging out with. She asks me if I wouldn’t mind putting a song on that she’s really been wanting to hear. Normally I wouldnt do something like that, but the cafe was slow and I couldnt’ think of any good reason to tell her no. I found the song and played it. It was some blues song from the 60’s. She sat and sang along, eyes closed and swaying to the beat. The kid and Kyle began chatting. We discovered that his name was Bobby, he had just moved back to portland after a brief stint in New York, and he was a homosexual. These were the three things he kept telling kyle over and over. It was also clear he was drunk. Way drunker than a cocktail and a half should make a person. Kyle has a way of engaging people, and kept trying to entice a conversation out of Bobby. He was stuck on that skipping record of the drunk where they just keep repating the same things over and over with more and more urgent tones. The blonde’s song ended. I put my playlist back on. They finished their drinks.
The blonde lady began to put her coat back on and was gesturing for boby to leave with her. He started to get up out of his bar seat and then snapped to attention. “I want to hear a song now. She got to hear one, now I want one.” I asked him what he’d like to hear. He took a long time deciding, and I just wanted him to leave. He was drunk, and getting louder and more difficult. He finally blurted out a song. I bent over the house ipad, busyng myself with try to find this song and artist I’ve never heard of on yotube. As I was still searching, I heard a loud crash. I turn around and see Bobby standing up on top of the bar, staring right at me. He had chucked his empty cocktail glass at the wall of liquor bottles. Thankfully, nothing broke. Not even the empty bucket glass now spinning on the ground.
Get off the counter.
The blonde and Kyle both stared at Bobby, frozen with mouths hanging open. He jumped down behind the bar with me. He swayed back and forth, looking dead in my eyes.
I used to work here. I’m from New York.
I told him to get out from behind the counter. The blonde grabbed his arm and yanked him hard out from around the counter. She said “Bobby, I thought we were going to have a nice day together but I guess we aren’t now. That’s a shame because I was having a really nice time with these nice folks. Now we have to go because you did a bad thing. you understand?’
Bobby looked at his feet in a moment of shame. Again she told him that they had to go. She apologized to me, and said they would be leaving. She pulled on his arm and he went completely rag doll-limp and fell to the ground. He remained lying on the floor of the cafe, spread out like a gingerbread man and refusing to get up. He then emitted a loud scream, mouth hanging wide open with eyes staring straight up at the ceiling. The customers in the cafe looked on. I told the blonde that he had to go or I’d call the police. She got him up off the floor. I let him know he was 86’d, and no longer allowed in this establishment. At this point he appeared to suddenly have a very difficult time walking. She had to help him to the door and they both exited and lumbered on down Alberta, arm-in-arm.
Kyle and I both looked at each other in a general “what the fuck was that” kind of moment. The regulars talked amongst themselves and discussed what the hell must have been wrong with that guy. I had only seved him two drinks. Why was he so fucked up? I could only guess one of three scenarios: a) He was really drunk when he got there and I didn’t notice b) He drank his friend’s drinks as well as his when I wasn’t looking c) He was on drugs. Pobabaly all three.
Bout ten minutes later, he was back. He appeared in the doorway, without his friend and swaing back and forth with that drunk-eyed expression. I want my bag.
His friend had clearly ditched him. I did not blame her. He was back, looking for some mysterious bag he supposedly had when he came in there that contained his cell phone. I did not remember him having a bag when he came in. I helped him look all over the cafe and the patio. He was unable to describe to me what this bag looked like, so I had no idea what he was looking for. There was no abandoned bag. He roamed around in circles and then gradually wandered out.
Ten minutes later, he was back. Bitch, stop hiding my bag. I’m from New York.
You’re going to have to leave. Your bag isn’t here. I didn’t even see you come in with one. You have to leave. If you come in again, I will call the police. Got it?
I used to work here. I’m from New York. Fuck you.
He swayed defiantly, looking at me for more than a few minutes. A few of the regulars got up out of their seats to back me up, in case this dude was going to try anything. He eventually turned around and left.
Thirty minutes later, I was told by a customer coming in the cafe that Bobby Buckets was sleeping on the sidewalk outside of the cafe. And by sleeping, they meant passed the fuck out. Customers continued to come in, and I worked in the cafe alone leaving me unable to go and access the situation outside. Kyle went out to check it out for me. Sure enough, there he was right outside the building. He was passed out, face up and right on the sidewalk. He looked like he literally fell backwards onto the pavement, and it was under no mistake that he was fucked up.
Oregon has really strict laws when it comes to booze. Much different than when I poured liquor in California. For starts, anyone serving alcohol has to take an educational course and hold a permit and register with the OLCC (Oregon Liquor Control Commission). This education course includes everything from the legalities in which a bartender or establishment can be held to, how to identify and handle a visibly intoxicated person, how to check and identify fake ID cards, to the rules and regulations of personal conduct while serving alcohol to customers. The course is followed by a test, and you must pass with a certain percentage to get a license. You may not work as a bartender without one. When I started pouring booze in this state, I was told by friends that the OLCC does not fuck around. If they catch you violating any policy whatsoever, they could not only take your permit but will personally fine you. That means not only will you need to find another career, you’d better find one quick because now you’re heading towards bankruptcy. I was new to dealing with the OLCC, and was mindful of the horror stories that people had told me. This made me very concerned that I had a guy passed out in the front of the bar I was working at. This also made me afraid to call the cops. What if they took my license for over-serving? This was my only means for the moment. If they took my license, I could never do this type of work again and I had just started in this town. Now I know that I had nothing to be afraid of. I should have called the cops immediately. I didn’t know that then. This fear of the OLCC is the reason why everything happened the way it did. I asked Kyle to try and get him up off the ground and away from the building. I continued to help customers.
After a long while, Kyle returned. He said that he was able to wake him up and offered him a ride home to his house, wherever it was. He said he refused, and ended up running off down the street. Good. Gone.
Business continued on. A regular came in and told me that there was a guy on the side of the building who had ripped a tree branch down and was hitting cars with it.
Kyle and 3 regulars went out to look as I helplessly stood behind the counter serving the line of waiting customers. What the fuck was going on outside? Literally nothing I could do. I sweated nervously, waiting for Kyle to come back in and tell me what was going on. Eventually, the group came back in. I was told the following happened:
He ripped our drainage pipe off the side of the building and was stabbing parked cars with it like a medieval jouster
He pulled an 8ft long tree branch down, leaves and all and was wielding it over his head like a fucked up flag as he was marching in the street screaming “bitch has my bag” and occasionally bringing it down on car hoods.
Laying down in the street, arms and legs spread akimbo while emitting various squeals and guttural noises.
Kyle and the regulars explained to me that several times they explained to him that if he just left this area and went somewhere else, there would be no trouble and everything would be fine. He refused. He had waged war upon me and the surrounding area, as I had stolen his bag. The gang assured him that I, in fact, did not have said bag and he needed to just go away. At one point, the argument between my regular (I’ll call “Eric”) became heated and Bobby spit in his face. Eric clocked him, and amazingly Bobby did not go down. After that, they came in to report what had happened. Bobby remained outside, dragging the branch through the street.
This is when the cops definitely should have been called. They should have been called the minute this fool took a booze-snooze on the concrete mattress. I know that now. Back then, I didn’t know that the cops side with the drinking establishments in situations such as these. I also worked for a privately-owned business. One of which where I personally knew the owners, and who were friends of mine. I didn’t want to bring any unnecessary problems, fines, or black marks onto their establishment. What if I got their liquor license taken away? What then? I also don’t trust cops in general, and prefer not to deal with them at all costs. Growing up in Fresno you learn that cops are not your friends, they don’t take your side, and dealing with them will almost always cost you a lot of money and even sometimes your freedom. I continued to try to control the situation. If this dude would just fucking leave, there would be no problem.
Customers came in. I had to serve them. Kyle went to see what was going on now. Bobby had abandoned the branch in the middle of the road, and snapped the windshield wipers off 3 of the parked cars and was throwing them like footballs at the side of the building. I dropped what I was doing and went outside.
I was fucking pissed. I ran up to him and started yelling.
What the fuck are you doing?
Give. Me. My. Bag.
You think if I had your bag, I wouldn’t just fucking give it to you so you’d leave? I don’t have it. It’s not here. You left it somewhere else. You need to leave. I’m going to call the cops. You will be arrested. You don’t want to go to jail. All you have to do is leave.
I’m not leaving without my bag.
What’s in this bag that’s worth more than going to jail?
Buy a new one. You’ve vandalized property. At this point, a phone will cost far less than what you’ll be facing. Just leave. Do it. I’m giving you a chance of a lifetime.
By this point the cafe regulars had come to join me outside. They told him to go as well. He still stood there, defiant. He started arguing Eric again. It looked like it was going to turn into a brawl.
What happened next occurred so quickly, it’s almost hard to describe. Bobby ran from the side of the building to the front, which is on a very busy street lined with popular shops and restaurants. We have a very heavy, blackboard sandwich sign that sits on the sidewalk. Somehow, this scrawny kid picked it up and flung it in a huge arc right into the street. A speeding sedan plied the brakes, laying smoking rubber to a keep it from coming down on their hood and windshield. The car behind it had to swerve into the oncoming lane to avoid the suddenly stopped car. Miraculously, no one was hurt. Everyone stood, stunned. I needed to get to a phone and call the cops. I drug the sign out of the road so the cars would stop piling up. I ran inside to get my cell phone. We had a house phone, but it was an ancient piece of shit that barely worked and you couldn’t hear much more than static out of. Plus, my phone was closer. I ran around the bar and snatched it up.
Incredulously, two customers were queued up at the register waiting to be served. As I ran behind the bar, they tried to shout their order at me. I ignored them, and ran outside. One of my regulars was already on his cell with the cops. I called one of my owners. Bobby was screaming and yelling, flailing his arms and legs around like he was having a mental break in front of the store. My owner picked up. I shouted into the phone as best I could over the phone what was happening over the chaos. He said he was coming.
Bobby stopped flailing and suddenly darted in full sprint into the store. I pushed everyone out of the way and followed him in. He’d sprinted to the back patio. I grabbed the first weapon-like object I could find: a broom. I chased him in a circle off the patio and back into the store. He suddenly stopped dead in his tracks and faced me. Eric was next to me.
I don’t like you. You are mean, and you wear way too much makeup.
He reached over and grabbed a bottle of French’s yellow mustard from the nearby counter. I knew what was going to happen. I yelled no and threw my hand up in defense. Eric did not foresee, unfortunately. Bobby began squirting the mustard. First, all over Eric. In his face, his hair. Eric fell away, trying to wipe mustard out of his eyes. Bobby then began squirting the windows, the walls, the floor…. I ran at him to get it away from him. He emptied the rest of the bottle down onto my face and hair, then chucked the it down as hard and fast as he could onto my cheekbone and nose. My eyes instantly watered up and I couldn’t see. I staggered, trying to recover. By the time I could see again, the cops were there and arresting him. I wiped off my face with a bar towel and went outside.
The minute the cops touched him, bobby began to scream and wail at the top of his lungs. He didn’t stop. To say it was a spectacle would be an understatement. By this time, everyone from those stores and restaurants had come out and were lining the street to watch the show. Two cops and an OLCC representative wanted to interview me. I was completely freaked out. They asked me what happened. I told them everything from the moment he first walked in. They asked me several times how many drinks I served him. I told them, and also mentioned that he had paid with a debit card, and could show them the receipt as proof that he was only served two drinks. They asked to see it as well as my ID and liquor license. I took them inside and provided it for them. They looked at those as well as the mustard mess all over the inside of the building. My hair was matted against the side of my cheek, coated and reeking of mustard. I wanted to puke. Bobby was still screaming outside, bent over the cop car hood with his hands handcuffed behind his back. They took my information and thanked me for calling them. That was it.
I stood outside and watched as bobby decided to put a nail in his coffin by suddenly spazzing out and resisting arrest as the cops tried to guide him into the cop car. The largest, most terrifying wall of a man eased himself out of one of the back up cars and slowly walked over to Bobby that was flailing like a fish. With one beefy arm, he drug bobby up like a rag doll and popped him in the car. Bobby fell in silent amazement as the car door slammed. He began beating his head on the window in a rhythmic pattern. His current charges now included vandalism, assault (because of the spitting), public intoxication, trespassing (as I was later to find out, he had along ago been 86’d from this establishment) as well as resisting arrest. All he had to do was walk away. Hell, Kyle even offered to give him a ride home. You want to feel sorry for someone like that. Someone with a clear problem with either substace abuse, mental illnss or perhaps both. You want to, but you just cant. I had given him so many chances to avoid this outcome. The cops drove off. The owner showed up as I was mopping the mustard off of the windows. Eric was in the bathroom rinsing his hair and beard in the sink. I started to try and tell him what happened.
It turns out bobby is a notorious character in these parts, and had been 86’d at most establishments for similar erratic behavior. Apparently, he’s a deeply disturbed individual with a drug habit. That may be why he was so reluctant to take off without his bag that day. I also found out his nickname: Bobby Buckets. That wasn’t his real name, but what everyone called him. Not sure why. No one could say. At the Black Cat alone, he was 86’d previously for spazzing out, becoming violent, stealing, etc. Also, bizarre behavior such as pulling the bus tub down off of the counter and squatting in it while meowing like a cat. I felt like such a jackass for not just calling the cops when shit started to go south that day. Valuable lesson learned.
The cops and the OLCC came by two more times to interview me after the incident. They informed me that all charges were going to be pressed that were up against him. All of the people who’s wipers got snapped off of their cars were suing for property damage. My owner chose not to press any charges, as well as myself. Eric declined to press assault charges, as he had pending warrants and didn’t want anything to do with talking to the cops. Kyle and I were both subpoenaed to testify in court.
No one took a video of anything that happened. It all happened so fast and everything was so dramatic, I suppose no one thought to. I know I didn’t. No record of anything that happened….save one pic. Kyle got one glorious pic of bobby passed out on the sidewalk. The day after it all happened, he posted this to my Facebook wall:
That night, I took the picture he sent me and decided to memorialize bobby in the proper way. I give you the Black Cat employee of the month: