Islander's Blog

Finigan’s Findings

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“You’re going to have to grow up sometime, Holl,” she said through clenched teeth over breakfast at the Even Keel. “You’re just going to have to settle down one day. And I’m sorry.”

And she was sorry. She didn’t like passing judgment on my island and trying to persuade me that “Nantucket is not the real world.” She had a hard time viewing me as a bartender and didn’t see past the Grey Goose bottles to realize how happy this job made me, and how it had changed my life so much for the better. 

They all wanted me to grow up.

They wanted me to change the mahogany bar and oil candles for a cubicle and unflattering overhead lighting. They wanted me to have weekends off and to learn how to go to bed at 10 p.m. They wanted me to come home for Thanksgiving and to stop looking at weddings like a huge pain in my wallet and pebble in my platforms. They would never admit it, but they often wanted me to be like everyone else. And that was the last thing I had ever wanted.

I often find myself on the defensive when someone asks me what I do. It’s not that I mind saying I’m a bartender. It’s just in my experience, many people think a girl with a college diploma should be putting it to good use making the world better. Not drunker. I feel like I have to say that I love to write just as much as I like to mix a martini. I say while all my friends were losing their jobs during the recession, I was, in fact, thriving, as an important person to keep all these out-of-work people in “good spirits.”

There is something very different about the Nantucket restaurant industry, though. It’s not like working at chain places where every person and location seems the same, whether you’re in Boston or Burlington. Clearly, financially it’s a lucrative business. Just ask the seasonal guys and gals of all ages who come bACK every summer without fail. Thanks to the taxing state of Massachusetts, health insurance can often be acquired through a serving gig. It’s not only a great job, it is what shapes confidence. Think about it. Who do you know who thrives off of walking up to strangers and asking them what they want to eat and drink? How many people can look a table of eight in the eyes as they rattle off three specials, each with 10 ingredients, and all from memory? Who can peacefully listen to a husband and wife fight about finances over a filet? Who can casually drop a check on a table that hasn’t finished their entrées because you need that table back? Who can smooth-talk an intoxicated guest into a soda water instead of sauvignon blanc? Waiters and bartenders. That’s who.

Don’t get me wrong. The Nantucket restaurant industry is tough. And it’s definitely not for everyone. In fact, its like Darwin’s world: only the strong survive. Think about how many waiters and waitresses come and go. How transient so many “dime-a-dozen” employees seem to be. In this world, everyone is replacable. Prerequisites for the bar include having a great personality, a good look, and a tougher-than-nails liver. And when you pass the bar, you’ve got a whole exciting life to look forward to. Life is a party. Life is a stage. Actually all the bar is a stage. And we’re all actors and actresses.

What they don’t understand is that I’ve often been awarded for Best Comedic Performance. Our island has won Best Picture. And finally, my supporting cast is more than just Oscar nominees, they’re all serious professionals. And we sure aren’t strangers to one another. We’re not just part of a great business, we’re also part of a great family. 

So this 27-year-old bartender makes more money in four months than some of her friends do all year. She’s in better shape than she was in high school. She owns a car, has her own health insurance, has very little debt, wears designer clothes that she has no business owning, has traveled all over the world during the chilly months and smiles every (late) morning she wakes up. 

Now we ask you, what exactly about us is not grown up?
– Finigan’s Findings appears weekly in this space and periodically in The Inquirer and Mirror.

4 Responses to “Finigan’s Findings”

  1. Brian Wilson Says:

    Queen of ACK,
    Holistically you have done an excellent job of illustrating an issue I have with conventional society. When people pose the question of, “What are you doing?” and you are find yourself at the intersection of Anxiety Road & Impression Avenue – what really is the “right” answer? Most sound and stable people would lean towards a presentation with a foundation of integrity, with a modest twist towards appropriate. My position is f—k the bulls—it presentation and simple brutal honesty is a requirement. Who is the board of directors on this evaluation? What is the scale that people qualify success? It shouldn’t matter; it should be what makes you happy. At the end of the day, I have found most people tend to qualify your success as an “adult” on income and status. Having said that, why do people love being around kids? Enthusiasm, imagination, attitudes and perception based around “THAT IS AWESOME!!”, but mostly I think it is because kids have ignorance by default to what is ‘conventional society’. They are innocent, they don’t have a past or present, all they have is a now. They live in the moment. They have an appetite for risk, because they aren’t afraid of failure, there is an irreplaceable passion for life, because everything is new and exciting and worth grabbing by the reins and taking the chance. So I guess my only question is – who is really the adult, and who is the child? Is it the one that lives in the now, isn’t afraid of what they do or what they are doing regardless of their status or position on the social scale – or is it the one that works to live? I would think the one that lives their life in a chamber with barriers of protection against risk, and herds along is acting a bit childish don’t you think? If you want to be an adult according to conventional society, go ahead – but don’t ask me to come along your guided tour or buy a ticket to your show – I know the ending. I’m my own tour guide in the adventure of life, and I don’t sell tickets because you never know what you are going to get – and that is truly priceless. Grow up, and act like a kid.

    Some other “adults” that have the same point of view:

    “In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play. “
    Friedrich Nietzsche
    “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. “
    Pablo Picasso
    “The reluctance to put away childish things may be a requirement of genius. “
    Rebecca Pepper Sinkler
    “Adults are obsolete children. “
    Dr. Seuss
    “I am often accused of being childish. I prefer to interpret that as child-like. I still get wildly enthusiastic about little things. I tend to exaggerate and fantasize and embellish. I still listen to instinctual urges. I play with leaves. I skip down the street and run against the wind. I never water my garden without soaking myself. It has been after such times of joy that I have achieved my greatest creativity and produced my best work. “
    Leo F. Buscaglia
    “One of the virtues of being very young is that you don’t let the facts get in the way of your imagination.”
    Sam Levenson
    “What a distressing contrast there is between the radiant intelligence of the child and the feeble mentality of the average adult.“
    Sigmund Freud
    “Children have neither past nor future; they enjoy the present, which very few of us do.”
    Jean de la Bruyere

  2. Nika Says:

    one of my favorite quotes of all time…

    “Remember when you believed in grown ups?”

    [Before you grew up to realize that nobody knows what they are doing or if what they are doing is in fact, “right”]

  3. Erica Hocking Says:

    Holly, I love reading your writing more than anything in the world…honestly it’s comparable (yet different) to my new Elin Hilderbrand book (who I have been telling you about for months, hope you have picked one up since they are mostly set in Nantucket). You make me want to pick up the pen and paper again (or keyboard and mouse).

    Keep it up please this is ONE of the MANY things you were put here to do….and the less dangerous for my vacations on Nantucket (hence my last trip to your bar ended with a healthy hangover and a rental Jeep stuck in the mud)

    Lot of love.

  4. rich Says:

    Love your writing, and agree with all of it..almost. While I agree, many restaurants and pubs off island are alike..most are not! I am a 26 yr regular visitor to the Grey Lady..and trust me, there are few places I like as much..especially your great bars and pubs!
    But to say there all the same off island, is as blanket a statement as saying Nantucket is only old sailors and wealthy wasps!
    I live outside Boston and love to see my favorite bartenders and share stories in venues as different and varied as the great folks who make Nantucket their home.

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