It is my own damned fault for telling the manager that I wasn't leaving until they took me away in handcuffs. I thought I was joking at the time because it seemed to me that I was on the same team as the police. Cops and bartenders have a lot in common after all, from sore feet and soggy shoes to chronic back problems and a drunken clientele. I once asked a cop in the bar what percentage of his calls involved alcohol and he gave me an incredulous look and didn't hesitate to do the ciphering.

"Percentage? You're not serious, are you? All of them involve alcohol."

I worked in a downtown hotel for years and relied on the boys in blue to pull my fat out of the fire dozens of times. The detectives from the downtown command and the second precinct often held down stools in my bar and the plain clothed, armed presence was a great comfort. It was not uncommon to have every single suit at the bar packing a side arm and I secretly wished that some idiot would try to rob me just to liven things up.

The closest I ever came was when an unlucky ne'er-do-well grabbed what he thought was easy money from a cocktail tray at the waitress station. The waitress saw it happening and yelled at me from across the barroom and I turned in time to grab the guy's forearm while his hand was still in the cookie jar. The menace reached into his coat pocket with his free hand and warned me to let go of his arm or he'd cut me.

I came up on the streets, often on the wrong side of the law, so when the detectives pulled their guns and started yelling for the guy to lay face down on the ground, I instinctively dropped to the floor as well. The thief must have wet himself when he saw all of the shiny metal unholstered by what he thought was a bunch of businessmen. Instead of the six dollars he was aiming at he wound up with a thorough pummeling and a couple of months in a room without a view.

I never did find out if the poor bastard really had a knife in his pocket.


After ten years or so downtown I began having recurring nightmares about people with guns and being killed behind the bar and decided to move my show to the relative calm of the suburbs. I would no longer have the well armed watch command to protect me but assumed I would need them less at a lemonade stand in the sticks.

I took a gig at an upscale hotel and convention center in the bosom of lily-white suburbia and turned the tables completely. The only times I saw a cop at that joint was for trouble somewhere else in the hotel and they rarely came into the bar. The insulated security of the business campus was like another world and all of a sudden I seemed like the heaviest hombre in town.

As a young hoodlum I feared the cops but as a bartender they had become just about my favorite category of humans. I commiserated with them on the difficult job they had to do and was in their debt for cleaning up messes I helped create with the loco juice. I never dreamt that they'd eventually come looking for me.

It was two days before the big millennium celebration and I was taking up space in a totally empty hotel lounge. The rest of the world was preparing to party like it was 1999 but I was gearing up for more of the same, a nearly vacant hotel and an empty tip jar to match. Nobody was planning to ring in the new millennium in that sorry scene and I hadn't made a buck in weeks. I was thinking hard about changing professions when the two guys came in and ordered tap beers.

When I set the draft beers on their table, the older of the two guys stood up and showed me a badge. He told me that I was under arrest for serving a minor and I actually looked around the empty bar to see whom he might be referring to. His companion was a head taller than me and had a beard like Grizzly Adams but he told me that he was only nineteen years old.

At first I thought it was a practical joke, or some kind of warning deal. Surely they weren't going to commit a crime on purpose and then arrest me as an unwitting participant.

"Damn, you could've fooled me. The mountain man there looks older than I am."

"Don't feel bad, buddy, we've only been at it for an hour today and he's already five for five on getting served. You have the right to remain silent..."

"Wait just a minute! You found a nineteen-year-old who looks forty-five and you're going around arresting bartenders for serving him? You've got to be kidding. There's so little crime in the 'burbs that you have to make up your own?"

"...Anything you say can and will be used against you. You have the right to speak to an attorney..."


There's a lyric in a John Prine song that goes, "One of these days, one of these nights, you'll take off your hat and they'll read you your rights." Wow. I hated my job enough as it was, without bringing handcuffs into it. My little voice was telling me that this was going to turn into an expensive ordeal and I wasn't making any money at that stupid scene to begin with.

My boss was a smart guy and he knew better than to bust my chops about it while the veins were still throbbing in my forehead so he tried to comfort me on the way to the squad car.

"Well, you always wanted to tend bar like Socrates would and now you've been sidelined for corrupting the youth."

Yeah, everybody's a f**kin' comedian. I was coming off of the single worst year of my life. Everything that could have possibly gone wrong did and two days before New Year's Eve I get popped in the bar for doing what I'm told. As a kid I overheard a teary relative complain that she had been having a really bad year and I thought she must have been exaggerating. How could an entire year be bad?

My year started with my wife almost killing herself in a fall on the kitchen floor and it went downhill from there. Two hernias, a drunk driving charge, a slipped disc in my back, a dear friend murdered, both parents diagnosed with cancer, audited by the IRS and now this. Just when I thought things could not possibly get any worse I remembered the drugs in my pocket.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone but my anecdote requires me to make a small confession at this point. Anybody who has spent more than a decade behind bars turns to some level of self-medication to calm their nerves and smooth the ripples and I was no different. Most lifers become alcoholics themselves eventually but I was never much for strong drink so I had to seek alternative relief.

I found deliverance from my beleaguered psyche and the obnoxious drunks in a little wooden device called a "dugout," which contained a small amount of medicinal marijuana. I carried it with me everywhere, unashamed of my tiny vice, a secret to nobody who knew me well. I offered a "one hit" to my father on the golf course once and he accepted it reluctantly, telling me that I should use a proper pipe like the Indians did.

It always seemed a great mystery to me why the grass was illegal and the tequila wasn't but I was never in any position to challenge it in the Supreme Court. I read someplace that it had been rendered verboten because it made people too passive to fight in a war, which would also explain why the crazy juice was legal and socially acceptable.

When the cop patted me down and found the grass that made me too mellow to fight back, I was an entirely beaten man.

"Just go ahead and f**king shoot me."


There are twenty-three liquor licenses in that particular suburb and every single one of them was tagged for a similar offense that week. The Mothers Against Drunk Driving contributed over a million dollars in cop overtime for the express purpose of turning bartender's lives upside down and in my case they succeeded. The hotel lounge was never a magnet for teenaged revelry so I'm afraid that all they really accomplished was running one conscientious bartender out of the bidness.

I was never completely secure in my profession selling poison for a living so I attributed my comeuppance to karma and took it like a man. Getting liquored up makes you want to drive fast and cross three lanes to get to your exit so I bow to MADD's greater wisdom. If you miss your exit while you're high you are more inclined to simply turn up the tunes and wait patiently for the next one so I remain unashamed of my "drug" arrest. When the Mothers Against Drunk Driving want to make a real impact in saving lives they will devote half of their considerable resources to legalizing marijuana.

I had some time to study on the irony of the situation while I was being photographed and fingerprinted at the cop shop. When the uniformed propagandist asked me if I had any more "dope" on me I told him that I didn't have any "dope" to begin with. I said that I had a little grass to take the edge off of my personality and that he might try it himself sometime. When they called it "pot" in the courtroom I told them I wasn't sure what that meant so the understanding judge replaced every "pot" reference with "contraband" and threw out most of the charges.

I paid the two bucks, the police kept my dugout and I told the enablers at the hotel to find another boy.

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