Queen City Nerve

Charlotte's Cultural Pulse

The Bear Awakens
A Russian doll that went too far

By Justin Zalewski

July 9, 2019

Justin Zelewski (Photo by Tim Baker)

Who doesn’t love the Fourth of July? It happens to be my favorite holiday. Good ole U.S.A.’s Independence Day! Whichever side of the political spectrum you land on, or your current thoughts on the state of our country, it’s hard to argue that we are pretty damn lucky to live in the land of the free.

In celebrating our telling England to kick rocks, America has become quite cocky. Years of being a world power have given citizens of this great country a bit of big head. Over the years this has affected me in the work place to certain degree.

The land of the free has over time become the land of excess. You want a burger and fries? Go ahead and super size that bad boy. You bought a new car? Throw some shiny rims on that bitch and show out. Why would anyone want an average old Oreo when you can get them Double Stuf? Don’t just drink a beer, make it a triple IPA Hazy Apricot with Centennial hops with an ABV of 15.8%.

All that being said, “Let’s go out for the night and have some drinks,” can all too often be translated as, “Let’s chug six Red Bull vodkas, take 12 shots of Jager, and wash it all down with six beers.” Somewhere along the lines this country has lost its respect for alcohol.

In my late 20s, when I was traveling in Europe, I knew nothing else but to drink until I blacked out, or as I like to call it, time traveled. I noticed that my behavior was frowned upon, but had come to be expected from Americans. We are the loudest and, in most cases, the drunkest slobbering monsters in a bar.

Drinking leads to a lot of things, good and bad. In my years tending bar I have introduced people that have gotten married — though not that night. I have also witnessed behavior that has led directly to divorces. I’ve helped people celebrate the greatest achievements of their lives, and poured glasses to mourn the loss of a loved one. I’ve watched grown men cry over truly meaningful milestones and over what strangers did on a field with a ball.

Bars are a magical place where just about anything can happen, and bartenders are the wizards that man the ship and guide you on your journey of drunken debauchery.

One of alcohol’s more unfortunate effects is that it can make people aggressive and ready to fight. In my younger years working the bar, I will be the first to admit that my eyes lit up like a kid on Christmas when there was a barroom brawl. As a more seasoned bartender, I’ve grown tired of the throwdowns.

For example, one night behind the bar, not much later than 11 p.m., my fellow bartender looked at me and said, “Look at this guy.” Preparing myself for the thousands of scenarios I could encounter, I turned around and observed the specimen of stupidity.

I turned around and cast my eyes upon a man that looked like a Vladimir Putin bobblehead doll, with eyes swimming around his head like fish in a bowl. This guy was going to be a problem. I asked the other bartenders what his name was and where his tab was at. Expecting to see the man had been overserved, his tab included only two beers and a shot of Jack Daniels. I told the rest of the bartenders to steer clear of Putin, as he was visibly no longer fit to have a drink of anything other than water.

After 30 seconds of observation, Putin was locking eyes with complete strangers and sticking his tongue out as if he were a snake tasting the air for his next meal. This behavior is not rare, I just have never seen it done so well; he was transforming into a snake before my eyes. I needed to take action before he slithered up to someone and licked them, or tried some other mating ritual only seen in the wild.

As I approached Putin, his tongue was still flicking out every 10 seconds and his eyeballs were rolling upside down, doing the back stroke. I explained to Putin that he was cut off, only to be received as a missionary explaining religion to a pagan in an uncontacted tribe. So I handed him some holy water in a bottle in hopes he would be obliged to leave, as I had asked nicely. He babbled to me in a language I would only be able to understand if I were also 10 shots deep.

I leaned in closer, and what happened next was unexpected — although it shouldn’t have been. He slammed me right across the face! In that split second, he woke the bear, and when you wake the bear, you have to play with the bear. Use your imagination for what Putin’s fate was.

Now folks I love you all, and I make a damn good living serving you! By no means am I asking you to quit drinking. Keep on getting drunk. It’s what we do, and we are damn good at it, just remember: tip your bartenders and don’t wake the bear.

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