by: Douglas Grant
The bartender – patient relationship examined….
I’ve been a bartender for quite a few years now, and to this day it never ceases to amaze me how perfect strangers are willing to bear their souls to you simply because you’re serving them drinks. I find it flattering yet alarming at the same time.
With some people it takes time—be it a month or a year—of regular patronage before they feel comfortable enough to open up to me completely. With others the rapport can be assumed from the get-go. It’s encouraging when bar-goers can size me up within moments and decide that I’m the kind of guy that will listen earnestly to the vivid details of their lives’ joys and pains. And although I have my faults, I am definitely a good listener.
The thing I really suck at is giving advice. I’ve made a lot of mistakes on this journey and I would never audaciously presume to tell you how to travel on yours. I get mush-mouthed when people truly want to know what I would do in their shoes.
“Uh . . . yeah. That—that’s a tough one. Well . . . I suppose you could . . . Wait, let me think about this.” Of course this isn’t always the case. But when I leave one of my customers hanging, it’s like I’ve only done fifty-percent of my job. They want a little more reciprocity.
They also want attorney-client privilege. I am to sit and listen while they dish out all of their depravities. I am forbidden to reserve judgment. I’m not being tipped to judge. My qualifications are a license to sell alcohol posted on the wall.
Some people aren’t looking for advice. They could give a damn about what I think. Right then and there I am merely a living, breathing human conduit, and that will suffice. They’ll point their thoughts at me and let fly with their trials whether I’m ready to hear about them or not. It’s the act of vocalizing these thoughts that’s the purging for them. I’m as faceless as the priest inside a confessional.
I have compassion. I’ll be on the same page as you as best I can. We all have problems, and I’ll listen to yours. And even though I might not agree with everything you say or do, I know that you’re in here drinking with me because you have something you want to get off of your chest. And it means a lot that you’re willing to share these thoughts with me, even when they’re shocking. We are, after all, complete strangers.
Therapy’s expensive. Come sit down and have a drink instead.