"Is it St Paddy's day over there?" asks Ava. "Mike T calls that 'amateur night'."
All I can say is, he's not the only one. I think Amateur Night is what everybody in the bar/food industry calls St Patrick's Day. They dread it the way a pharmaceutical company dreads universal health care. And all it takes is five minutes on the streets of Times Square to see why. When I get out of work around 4, 48th and Broadway is chock full of staggering and shouting members of every ethnic group imaginable, all of them wearing AstroTurf Green. If they were all laid end to end you would have had ten football fields.
DOROTHY PARKER: If they were all laid end to end, I wouldn't be at all surprised.
ME: And none of them would remember it.
Earlier in the afternoon, I send my bartender friend Liz a quick e-mail:
From: Wells, Matthew (CS)
Sent: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 12:58 PM
To: liz weber
Subject: happy amateur night
I'll stop in later, just to prove that not all Irish alcoholics are a total pain in the ass.
True to my electronic word, after spending three hours pulling out project folder after project folder and going "I need to work on this one! No--wait--THIS one!" I throw the Business As Usual folder into my bag and head for Maxie's Grille, where I walk into a total Gaelic madhouse at 7:45PM. Three deep at the bar, everyone drinking Guinness (even the women who looked like they'd walk out of the joint if somebody didn't order them a white wine spritzer), and Liz behind the bar, multitasking like a stage juggler who starts with three balls end ends up spinning plates while she's keeping half a dozen bowling pins in the air. (My project for next year: I want to throw all the people in the so-called business world who use the word "multitasking" behind a bar on St. Patrick's Day just so they can understand the REAL meaning of the word.)
I'm greeted at the door by Will the manager, who spreads his arms wide and goes, "Whoa! Haircut!"
ME: Yeah, I got tired of looking like an Old Spice commercial.
WILL: You look great. Want a shot of Jameson's?
ME: Is the Pope getting a lot of flack for ignoring child abuse in the clergy?
Since there's no room at the bar, I sidle into one of what I think of as the corral tables, because that's what they used to be called at The Cedar. I Catch Liz's eye as she's dervishing back and forth between customers, and she grins and then give me a wide-eyed "You got a haircut!" look which tells me, wordlessly, how good she thinks it is. After ordering a Guinness, like everybody else within shouting distance (and believe me, everybody is shouting, there's gonna be a ton of Tallulah-voiced cube dwarfs in this neighborhood tomorrow morning) I see Darryl and Felix off in the corner, standing under one of the TV screens, and wave hello to them. Will comes back with my shot of Jamey, wishes me a happy Saint Patrick's Day, and spins away, kvelling about the fact that the place is so busy. This kind of crowd is a manager's dream; they all know that there's an unwritten law of the universe which says that the more crowded a bar or restaurant is, the more people out on the street want to come in and make the crowd bigger. Nothing creates a crowd like a crowd; and contrariwise, nothing makes people turn around and walk out quicker than the tumbleweed effect of empty bar chairs.
The beer of choice for people who want to pretend to be Irish for a day.
I'm halfway through my first pint and organizing the Business As Usual folder into scene by scene notes and format and concept reminders, when a guy comes in with two women and glances my way. I'm taking up the corner seat on two small tables pushed together to make a four-top; as he goes to the bar to order drinks, I tell the women he's with that they can take the other three chairs, and I separate the two tables. They thank me profusely, and the guy asks me what I'm drinking. "Guinness," I say, and he buys me my second round. Who says kindness doesn't get rewarded?
THE WORLD: People who are kind to assholes.
ME: No, sorry, you should be kind to everybody.
THE WORLD: Even assholes?
ME: Sure. That's how you find out who the assholes are. It's like free speech. Free speech is the reason why you always know who the morons are.
Finally a group of people actually leave the bar area and head off to wherever it is people go for after-hours drinks when it's only 9PM, and I actually have room enough to walk over to Darryl and Felix and say hello in person. After talking with them for a few minutes, I notice an empty seat at the bar, and I hop onto it faster than a claim jumper at Sutter's Farm. "Hel-LOW!" says Liz, who is half-looped from all the activity and half-looped from fighting a cold. "You haven't looked like this in years," she says, pointing to my hair. "And it's taken years off my face," I reply, and I know, I know, I'm fishing, but like a good friend, Liz nibbles at the bait by saying "It does, it does," and then swims away to the service bar. Will is behind the bar with her at this point, doing bar back and continuing to kvell about the joy of being busy; and Darryl and Felix are now sitting at the bar alongside me. The night is winding down a little, and we can all feel it; so we keep drinking because we don't want it to wind down for us, damn it.
In true obedience to Amateur Night Law, even though people are starting to leave, the noise level has increased in the bar area. This is because Amateur Night Law requires all fake Irish tipplers to vocally compensate for their lack of Hibernian genes by shouting instead of talking, and then yelling at the top of their lungs instead of shouting to make up for the fact that all the other shouters have decided to go shouting in the streets as they head for CVS to stock up on Advil and Smart Water. Currently earning the title of Rí Scairt (which is Gaelic for King Shout) is a guy named Olaf, who is only slightly more civilized than a soccer hooligan, and who starts yelling "IT'S PATTY'S DAY!!!!!" over and over again, finally getting up on a chair by the hostess station and spreading his arms like DiCaprio and Winslet in Titanic and screaming "IT'S PATTY'S DAY! WHOO-HOOO!!!" At which point he gets cut off and handed his check. I love it when guys named Olaf pretend they're Irish. It's like celebrities pretending they're writers.
So the place slowly clears out, and the late-night regulars start to trickle in. Here's Umberto, the gay waiter from City Crab who thinks I'm gay. He asks me if I saw A Single Man, and we talk about that for a while. I recommend the book to him, and am a little surprised that he doesn't know it was a book before it was a movie. And here's Rachel the City Crab waitress who's also a painter. She sits next to me and we talk about the tattoos she's planning on getting, one on each arm. Thankfully, the late-night regular on whom I have a Hopeless Schoolboy Crush (patent pending) does NOT come in tonight, which is a Good Thing For Matthew, because she usually comes in after 11 and when she does, it is always--always--right after I have finished that one beer too many, or done that one shot of Jamey too many, and cannot speak without slurring, or move without weaving, or walk without staggering. When I get like this, an Irishman would call me a grass-holder, in honor of the joke that says an Irishman is never drunk as long as he can hold onto a blade of grass and not fall off the face of the earth.
But I am not this drunk tonight, although I have definitely uploaded the Hug Everybody App into my emotional IPhone, and am reaching out to Liz to say goodbye as I leave, hugging Darryl and Felix as I leave, and hugging Rachel after I hang with her while she smokes a cigarette on the stairs outside.
RACHEL: It's nice tonight. Last year it rained on St. Patrick's Day.
ME: It always rains on St. Patrick's Day. Bloomberg pays to have it rain on St. Patrick's Day.
RACHEL: I think this is really it.
ME: I think so too.
RACHEL: Maybe we'll get a real spring this year.
ME: Wouldn't that be nice?
RACHEL: Instead of going from 34 to 84. And needing an air conditioner by the end of March.
ME: Not this year.
RACHEL: I hope not. Between the daylight savings and the warm weather?
ME: I think this is really it.
RACHEL: I think so too.
And about time too.