I haven’t always been thrilled about it, but I have come to really like working on Thanksgiving. The first year, it was pretty quiet, kind of boring. I sat there bored and thought to myself, “I haven’t even had turkey today.” Wild Turkey is close enough right? There are some vodkas made out of potatoes right? We had cranberry juice. I poured a shot of each, and boom, without even knowing it, I started my own holiday tradition.
I drank my Thanksgiving dinner without telling anyone for several years.
Then one year, a man came in all alone. It was early and still very slow. Just a few vagrants trying to get warm. He told me his girlfriend had broken up with him recently, and he had no family. He said he was depressed about being alone for the holidays. I laughed, and said, “At least you’re not working on Thanksgiving. If you look around, I’m really the saddest character here. Everyone else has the night off.” I asked him to join me for my liquid turkey dinner. It was the first year I had told anyone about it, and the first year I had a guest for my somewhat sad and silly celebration. He thought it was funny, and we laughed about the pressure put on a singular day of the year to have a very specific meal. It got busy and he found other people to talk to. He ended up spending the night drinking, talking, and laughing. He has been in every year since. The second year, he admitted he had been planning to end his life, but ended up enjoying himself enough to change his mind. Now he has a place to come to year after year that feels like home. How many stories out of a dive bar end like that?
One year my sister, a fellow employee at Char Bar, found out about how I make my turkey dinner. She thought it was funny and told the rest of our family. I didn’t want my mom to know. She is a recovering alcoholic and member of Alcoholics Anonymous, and previously had been a longtime member of Alcoholics Everyone Knows. My mom told her AA group about my Thanksgiving dinner and they all agreed it was more funny than sad. With the consensus being that it was funny, we began selling it throughout the holiday season. Now I have a lot of people who join me for my version of turkey dinner.
Christmas Eve and Christmas are Zack’s shifts. He prefers to be at work rather than with his family. An only child, he likes having an excuse to leave after awhile with his parents. A lot of customers are there for the same reason—okay, that’s enough family, now let’s drink with our friends.
I don’t work Christmas or Christmas Eve anymore, but I recall having a good time when I did. After one Christmas Eve, I wrote a poem about the experience:
’Twas the night before Christmas
We were open as norm
And college kids hurry
Right out of their dorm
With visions of Jäger bombs
And dancing redheads
The bartenders are so busy all the bums they don’t see
Drink half empty beers, use indoor plumbing, then flee
While drinkers drink to the end of their cup
’Till finally at 2:30 all the drunks try to hook up
On Surly, On Weepy
On Slutty, On Creepy
Come vomit, Come puke it
Come drink it then lose it
To the gyro guys’ food cart
Where they trip and then fall
Now crash away, crash away, crash away all
And I hear them exclaim as they stumble out of sight
Something that makes almost no sense at all
Then, “Hey buddy can I get a light?”
I could be upset about working on the holidays or I could laugh at it. I don’t know if I have ever been a glass is half-empty or a glass is half-full sort. I think I have always looked at the glass and thought it would be better if it had a little whiskey in it. The holidays can be as depressing or as happy as you want to make them. You don’t have a family, you don’t have traditions, make up your own. Or better yet—come join me. I’ll have a turkey dinner waiting for you. It might not be just like what your mom used to make, but it’s a pretty close second. Bottoms up! Cheers! And may your holidays be happy however you choose to celebrate.