Tending bar has always reminded me of the guy who hits himself in the head with a hammer because it feels so good when he stops. It isn't masochism in the purest sense because the satisfaction is only loosely attached to the beating. It's sort of an enhanced masochism with the additional pain of delayed gratification.

Bartending comes with a fair amount of actual physical risk, usually right up there with cops and cabbies on the list of the ten most dangerous professions. I have had a good run so I won't relay too many violent episodes but I could provide the names of two dozen bartenders who would. I could account for a few more who didn't live to tell about it.

I did some independent study in college on the effects of various recreational substances and I can report without equivocation that alcohol is by far the most potent. It's a startling paradox that the crazy juice is legal and socially encouraged while a mellowing herbal agent that grows like a weed is verboten, but such is war.

The barman dwells in the gray area between getting you liquored up enough to piss away your children's inheritance and hoping that you don't kill an innocent on the way home. Most states provide for his prosecution as an accessory to murder should the latter occur but the moral dilemma is much scarier than the law.

There is no feeling in the world like surviving a twelve hour stint in a busy bar, to the satisfaction and physical well being of all concerned. A thousand variables conspire each night to menace the barman's serenity so, in the parlance of aviators, any landing that you can walk away from is a good landing.

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I've always had a soft spot for night auditors. We're usually the only two people stirring in the entire hotel by the time I close the bar so we are kindred spirits. It takes a certain kind of person to work the graveyard shift for any length of time and I almost always hit it off with that type of person. We share a quiet pathos.

It's rare for me to exchange more than a sentence or two with my counterpart at the front desk but these ships passing in the night have always been among my favorite relationships. I'm usually in a hurry to finish my chores and the night auditor is in a hurry to have my paperwork, so he can begin his. Ours is a perfectly benign symbiosis, we simply exchange pleasantries and say goodnight.

On a lark, I once asked a cute new auditor if she had ever fantasized about sneaking off to a vacant room with the bartender. To my shock and eventual regret she confessed that she had. As it turned out, her particular pathos was seasoned with violent psychotic outbursts so I learned to keep a cool professional distance in all future exchanges.

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I'd heard the rumors about Carrie but I've been around the block enough times to know that gossip is usually only half-true and is almost always mean-spirited. I'm sort of like the FBI when it comes to loose talk; if you make a report on your neighbor, I want to know what's in your garbage can. I dismissed most of the speculation about Carrie as idle innuendo. A wiser man would have recognized that the other half of the truth was worse than the gossip.

Carrie was a recovering heroin addict and former prostitute from the mean streets of Los Angeles. She didn't jive well with the wholesome midwestern work ethic at the front desk and by the time I met her she had alienated all of her coworkers, one by one.

She was hired, with the assistance of her parole officer, to work as a desk clerk in the hotel but her shrill voice and disturbing manner necessitated a lower level of customer contact. By the time I collided with Carrie, she was being trained in for the graveyard shift.

As I handed her my paperwork she glanced at the signature on the bottom and emitted a screech that would make Fran Drescher flinch.

"I know this name, this name on your report...It's Shute isn't it?"

The timbre of her voice was almost comically grating, like a cross between the Wicked Witch of the West and Joe Cocker. Carrie was fifty-something and the topography of her vocal chords bore the ravages of almost a half a century of Marlboro Reds, loveless blow jobs and cheap wine.

"Umm, yes, that's my name. It's, uh...nice to meet you?"

"It's you alright! Your father was a Catholic Priest and he killed my brother driving drunk!"

Her eyeballs were cranked open so wide there was no evidence that she even had lids for them. Her pupils were tiny little dots that darted constantly from left to right, alternating their pinpoint focus on each of my own. I've faced angry men with loaded weapons and pissed off girlfriends with golf clubs but I've never been as disquieted as I was at that moment.

"Umm, I think you have me mistaken for someone else...I come from a long line of Lutherans and we'd have certainly noticed a drunken Papist in the mix."

"No, I'm sure of it, your father killed my brother!"

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Carrie wasn't your run of the mill delusional psychotic; there was some method to her madness. I had plenty to fear from her fixation on the imagined murder of her brother but it wasn't the only cause for alarm. She was hate filled in general but she had fine-tuned her rage to fit within the ideological dogma of the white supremacist movement. Her arms were decorated with Aryan Nation tattoos to demonstrate her devotion to the cause.

Sometimes she seemed to forget that my father had killed her brother and she'd take me into her confidence about someone else's transgression.

"You know that little bitch Julie that works the three to eleven has a black baby don't you?"

"Umm, yeah...he's a cute little bug, his name's Anthony but they call him 'The Ant'"

"Cute my ass, he's an abomination, so is the race traitor bitch that spawned him!"

"Umm, goodnight Carrie."

Crazy is as crazy does so we must forgive people with an extreme ideology. If Fred Phelps tells you that "God hates fags," you may wish to forego debate and simply nod and smile. When you encounter a worldview that is shockingly dissimilar to yours and in total contrast with good sense, don't be quick to assume that it's as well reasoned as your own. They might just be a nut case.

Carrie called me "the ni**er lover," a moniker she spit out with more venom than "race traitor." She swore herself to my undoing and made daily subversive attacks on me and mine. She called the police on me one night because I smelled like beer and the nice policeman explained to her that bartenders often smell like beer after swimming in the stuff for ten hours at a time. He further explained that they were currently investigating a rape and that she was wasting their time needlessly.

The poor cop winced when Carrie shrieked, "I was raped once!" then he quietly excused himself.

Her reign of terror eventually culminated in her firing but not before she'd done real emotional and monetary damage to a dozen different coworkers over a period of six months. In the final analysis I got off pretty cheap. I dropped a couple hundred bucks to paint over the racial epithet she scratched into the side of my car and I had to replace a set of brand new radials.

Geno at the garage was a real mensch about it and he cut me an amazing deal on replacement tires. He said I broke the record with fifteen roofing nails in four wheels and he was giving me his "victim discount." You can find comfort and wisdom in the strangest places and I found mine in my automobile mechanic. Geno told me with sage certainty that I must have angered an idiot and I should be proud, not upset. His mother told him that he could always judge a man by his enemies.

When I explained that I'd been targeted by a rampaging white supremacist, he gave me the first good belly laugh I'd enjoyed in months.

"Yeah, I hate Minnesota Nazis."


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