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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.