“At Your Service” by Stephen Haines

We mix martinis and Manhattans. We serve peanuts and pretzels and cold slices of pizza out of tepid, yellow, rotating containers. We take the month of January off for vacation when business slows to doldrum; business is never slow, and we haven’t had a vacation in years. We walk out of work—sweaty, pensive, and smiling at 4 a.m.—with our money buried deep in our boots, just in case someone tries to rob us at gunpoint. We cut off people older than our grandparents well before noon and watch them search their pockets as they struggle to stand. We observe carefully to see if the girl on her own likes the attention from the guys that came in, all together, shouting. We shout at DJs to turn it down; we shout at DJs to turn it up; we shout “Last Call!” from behind bars covered in sugar and beer and, sometimes, vomit.

We patiently explain to foreign visitors why the Washington State Liquor Control Board won’t allow us to accept Lithuanian driver’s licenses as an acceptable form of identification. We decline service to little brother using big brother’s ID. We give the woman in torn, dirty clothing a cup of hot coffee and let her escape from the rain awhile before we must mandatorily notify security. We tell suited men with no patience that if they snap at us again, they can find another place to feel tall. We watch loud ladies point to other loud ladies and then contort limbs into hurricanes on a dancefloor. We wallow all night in maelstroms of insincere laughter and dream all morning about cocktail recipes with names like Thaumaturgist.

We ask, “What else can we do for you?”

We have the following phone numbers at our disposal:

  1. Police.
  2. Security.
  3. Owner.
  4. Neighbor.
  5. Taxi. (Are you familiar with Lyft or Uber?)
  6. Regular with a knack for fixing drains clogged with decades of rotting pulp.
  7. Regular who left their daughter’s birthday card on the counter two days ago.
  8. Regular who: ­_________________________

Insert:

  • drinks from open to close seven days a week and is dying from cirrhosis.
  • is a veteran doctor and “knows how to make your insurance cover care.”
  • owns a bar on the beach in St. Augustine if you’re ever visiting.
  • knows the right tailor in town.
  • knows the wrong side of town.
  • knows the perfect place for a date night with your Mona Lisa.
  • knows the exact combination for the safe in his boss’s office.
  • Our partners (whom we don’t see often enough).
  • Our friends (whom we only see at work unless they’re service industry).
  • Our parents (who ask us if we ever plan to do anything else for a living).
  • Our managers (who hand us our schedules for the next week on Sunday).

We are gay, straight, lesbian, queer, bi, cis, pan, trans, non-binary. We are propositioned for sex both discreetly and overtly. We get screamed at by Louisiana oilmen who claim they hate queers but more likely hate themselves. We watch morose bankers pull their wedding rings off bloated fingers and lurch closer to the person sitting next to them. We guide ecstatic, bright-eyed young guys from bible-belt states to the bars on Capitol Hill where they can be themselves. We tell the man who won’t stop asking the woman from Philadelphia, “Where in Africa are you from?” to pay their tab and leave. We know every ethnicity, every town, every city, every state, every country. We are denizens of natural unity. We speak all languages. We know every secret corner of every city and we’re willing to guide you, if you speak the mother tongue.

We counsel lawyers, treat physicians, banter radio hosts who drink tequila in the afternoon, nod along with telemarketers who miss the last bus home, listen to clergymen confess their Cosmopolitanism, give comedians a practice before a Tuesday open-mic in the back of a Thai restaurant, review books with college dropouts and films with the rejects of the School of Cinematic Arts, serve food to sallow, broiled chefs who dissolve in their chairs to the humming of overhead fans.

We serve—we wish we could do so much more.

We wish we could ritualistically curse whomever: ­_________________________

Insert:

  • Stole your motorcycle from a dank, subterranean parking garage.
  • Had sex with your partner of two-and-a-half okay years.
  • Slapped your Weimaraner for begging at a picnic table.
  • Lifted your shopping bags, filled with groceries, from outside a restroom twelve days before payday.
  • Sold your late older sister fentanyl-laced cocaine.
  • Pissed on your office floor.
  • Stole your lunch from the breakroom’s refrigerator.
  • Drove drunk and killed your aunt Jennifer and your uncle Mike.
  • Broke your commuter car’s window and left behind a rancid crackpipe.
  • Disowned your fragile, errant nephew, who wants to sing and dance on Broadway.
  • Turned you down for a job because you’re older than fifty.
  • Left you on a stretch of desert road outside Palm Springs.
  • Kept all of the troubling things from you that you never knew a person could hide.

To them I say,

May their faces be captured stunned on camera! May they forever drink warm, flat cerveza! May their stool always wobble, their seat be always uneven, their napkin and cutlery always stained! May their steak be always well-done, and their fish farmed and dyed to the audacious pigment of a popsicle! May their hearts never know the joy of real butter with Dungeness Crab! May they wallow in rivers of cheap liquor and never find harmony in Scotland’s misty Islay waters! May they always linger too long in the company of establishments with long histories of harboring Health Department violations! May they never experience a Croque Madame with a French-pressed coffee! May they always be last in line in a busy bar, and first to exit when the band gallops into stride! May their reservation always be in vain in the hands of coy, inexperienced hostesses! May they be carried out of our favorite bars, kicking and screaming like children, by men working part-time as security guards to fund their mixed-martial-arts passions! May they never know the fun of a warm conversation with a fellow patron! May they never toast the birth of a child or the engagement of a friend! May they never raise their glass and linger in good company! May they be 86’d from the resplendent lounges of the afterlife!

There. It is done.

What else can I do for you?

Stephen Haines is an MFA student at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WAS, where he lives with his partner, Kelli, and he was raised in Port Orchard, WA.