When I was in college, people were constantly asking me what I was going to do with a history degree. Teach? Go to law school?

Looking back, I wish I’d just told them I planned to work a couple of years in a shitty retail job, then get a job as a bartender for a couple of years, then a postman, then more shitty retail, then retire at 44 to a small farm. But who knew?

The bar I worked at was located in the upper rooms of the building pictured above. The woman who owned it had worked as a waitress in The Ivy Room downstairs while she attended Duke, and when the Ivy folded, she got some of the regulars to purchase stock in a new restaurant, located in the former Cosmopolitan Tap Room just upstairs.

Val’s Upstairs, as it was now called, catered to a pretty diverse crowd. Off-duty cops, newspaper folks, Duke students, Gays, Lesbians, rednecks, prison reform activists, preachers, Marxists, fascists, writers, dancers, and politicians. Val had been a history major, too, so she let me run a tab. After a certain point, since I seemed to live there anyway, I moved behind the bar and covered for my complete lack of bartending skills by adding more liquor to the drinks whenever possible. I can only recall a couple of instances where things got out of hand, and considering the clientele, that’s remarkable in itself.

One that still makes me wince happened during a fundraiser for a local mayoral candidate. Volunteers took over the kitchen that evening and made green chili burritos and enchiladas. A popular lesbian folksinger was performing, and a small group of the sisterhood was seated at the end of the bar near the kitchen, quietly and responsibly enjoying their beers. One of the volunteer cooks decided he was going to make a play for one of them.

You know how it is when you see a car run a red light and you know there’s going to be hell to pay and you can’t do a damned thing about it?

Well, it was about that sudden.

He spoke to her just long enough to let her know she was not dealing with a rational being, and then he uttered the fatal “Come on, honey, let’s dance!”. I was too slow to shield my eyes as he tried to snake his chubby arm around her waist. There was a faintly audible pop as she swung his arm to his shoulder blades, kicked his feet out from under him and dropped him to the floor. Now he understood, and he was released to wander back into the kitchen, to stir the green chili with his good arm.

She sat back down with her friends, and knocked back the rest of her beer. She couldn’t have weighed more than 120lbs. Next round was on the house.

(Photo above from Endangered Durham. HT: Gary)

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