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Gin And Tonic With A Side Of Humor?
One of the fun things about writing a column that not only doesn't rubberstamp the status quo, but is written with humor, is figuring out the tweak of the week: Which group of people is going to be deeply offended by something I've written, and by what.

Sometimes I know it's coming -- like with the bunny huggers. And my editor warned me about The Cat People -- not the ones from the horror movie, but the ones horrified by any mention of cats (nasty creatures!) that's anything less than glowing.

Recently, I've gotten a few letters from irate female bartenders in response to a single line in the column, Opportunity Knockers, about the guy whose bartender wife was getting a new rack, and then some, funded by some aging barfly.

Here's the line (boldfaced) in context:

A female bartender is basically an affordable stripper. For some guys, she’s the one woman who will not only speak to them but listen like she’s actually interested. A lot of guys mistake this paid interest for genuine interest, and it’s up to the bartender to close out a guy’s tab and his fantasy at the end of the evening and go home to her family. And then there’s your wife, who sees no reason why having a husband and child should stop her from having a “Who’s yer daddy?!”

Here's an irate comment left by some woman named Loraine:

Am I the only one who takes offense to the statement "a female bartender is basically an affordable stripper" ?? What kind of BS is that? Thanks for insulting me and my job, which, by the way, doesn't involve me taking my clothes off, a brass pole, or lap dances! bartenders, while they should appear to have fun on the job, also have to juggle dozens of tasks at the same time, all while keeping an eye on everything going on at the bar, and being responsible for all cash and alcohol (and all that occurs in the bar on her shift, usually)! We do all this with a smile and try to insure that everyone within a diverse group of people is having a good time. (But not TOO good of a time! I.E. Not overserving, no barfights, etc!) I could keep going forever on the intricacies of the job, so suffice it to say I really didn't appreciate that nasy little comment, Amy

And here's my reply:

No, Loraine, there are other humorless female bartenders writing me as well.

Read the next line: "For some guys, she’s the one woman who will not only speak to them but listen like she’s actually interested."

Do you really think all your regulars come to the bar because they haven't figured out that they can get a whole six-pack for the price of a beer? A number of these guys are probably paying you for your attention. For their fantasy relationship with you. That's what guys get from strippers, too.

I interviewed a friend of mine who is a bartender for this column (who, by the way, has a sense of humor and thought the line was hilarious). She told me stories about, for example, how she once offhandly mentioned that her back hurt. 10 minutes later, two guys were back with bottles of aspirin. You think they do that for the guys who bartend?

P.S. If anybody should be insulted, it's strippers, by comments like yours. What's wrong with a woman taking her clothes off for a living? Free market, consenting adults? Is there something wrong with a woman modeling for Vogue for a living? What if she takes her top off in Vogue and earns money for it? Where do you draw the line, Loraine?

Welcome to America The Humorless.

FYI, you'll find the exposed titties in French Vogue.

Posted by aalkon at August 11, 2007 11:52 AM

Comments

bartenders, while they should appear to have fun on the job, also have to juggle dozens of tasks at the same time, all while keeping an eye on everything going on at the bar, and being responsible for all cash and alcohol (and all that occurs in the bar on her shift, usually)! We do all this with a smile and try to insure that everyone within a diverse group of people is having a good time. (But not TOO good of a time! I.E. Not overserving, no barfights, etc!)

Almost all of that is true of strippers too. I've never pole danced, but everyone who does says it's a lot more physically demanding than it looks, and I believe it.

Posted by: LYT at August 11, 2007 1:13 AM

On the topic of Vogue: the prudishness in American media is pretty astonishing. I read about some television program or other where one of the actresses apparently has nipples that show through her clothing. Possibly "desperate housewives"?

In any case, according to the article, they airbrush every single shot of her in every single episode, at some astonishing cost, because otherwise the show would be forced to a late-night time-slot.

Must not let kids know that women have nipples, oh no.

Not having been back in a while, I'm curious what the state of affairs is regarding breastfeeding. Can women breastfeed in public, or do they have to hide, for fear someone might be offended?

Posted by: bradley13 at August 11, 2007 6:29 AM

I believe the law says they can, but every now and then some prude will throw some woman out of some business establishment for it.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 11, 2007 6:49 AM

It was Desperate Housewives:

http://www.thesun.co.uk/article/0,,2006430300,00.html

She said: "The whole first season, thousands of dollars were spent digitally erasing my nipples.

"I think Grey’s Anatomy gets to have nipples and I have a little beef to have with the network about that.

"Then again, they are on at 10 o’clock – 10 o’clock, you can have nipples, 9 o’clock, no nipples."

Meanwhile, in France, there are huge pictures of tits everywhere, including on posters on the subway, and they have a much healthier sexuality than we do.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 11, 2007 6:51 AM

I read the original article, and the advice was great. But I thought the remark in question was a catty dig. Now when people are calling you on that, your response is to accuse them of being prudes and not being able to take a joke. That kind of passive-agressive way of personal communication is the thing I hate the most about the way women often relate to each other. Your directness in your advice is one of the things I like about you, so to see this type of thing coming from you is disapointing.

Posted by: Allison at August 11, 2007 7:13 AM

What's this? You hate cats, Amy? Sounds like a control issue. I know you hate the licking idea, but that doesn't make a dog cleaner.

If cleanliness was really the issue, we would all have snakes. Cleanest thing in the pet store, including the people.

----

I'm not surprised about the network and DH. The censors are probably as overloaded as I am watching that cast on a calm day. How many other shows have as much non-adolescent candy on display?

Posted by: Radwaste at August 11, 2007 7:51 AM

I'm not a fan of cats, but I just put that in there to be bratty. And I'm not passive-aggressive, I'm aggressive-aggressive. Stating an opinion isn't passive-aggressive. It's anything but.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 11, 2007 8:02 AM

> they have a much healthier
> sexuality than we do.

Oh, fuck that.

First of all, there's just no reason to believe that it's so. It's the sort of gabbing sophistry that we always hear from Euroweenies, who want us to believe their dimmed imaginations and dulled sensitivities confer --through some ironic and backhanded but terribly intellectual way which no translator has ever been able to convey-- a greater fulfillment from this universal human impulse. Which ain't likely. 'Cause those people never wash.

Secondly, the score for "Breathless" sucked, OK? There, I said it. You heard me! It sucked. "Deedily-dooooo-doot... Deedily-dooooo-doot...." Garden hose, it sucked. Fire hose.

Third, "a healthier sexuality" is a freaky locution. With its chirpy optimism and willful ignorance of ethical matters on behalf of mere wellbeing, it sounds like something off the jacket of a 1970's self-help book that was never opened again after Carter took office. No one has ever asked, when told of the upcoming introduction to a possible mate, "Does he have a healthy sexuality?" Rather, one asks "He's not another one of your goddamn bondage freaks, is he?" The darkest and most manipulative power in human affairs deserves respectful address.

Fourth, it betrays the Oz-like reputation that France has held for the American middle class for centuries, exposing not any sort of civilized excellence but only the lonely man's/woman's dream of Utopia. There's nothing special going on in the Pants of France. There are as many lovers in Indonesia, Kenya and Korea who could break your heart just as fast and just as deep. Hell, you could probably meet somebody nice from the Valley. Probably. It's possible.

Fifth, and this is the big one, it's true: Americans have weird ideas about The Dairy. I think that's one of the things that makes this a great place to live! With careful observation, you'll notice that breasts grow on women but not men. This hardware distinction makes them extremely useful to heterosexuals who want to keep their vibes well-tuned.

Posted by: Crid at August 11, 2007 10:18 AM

Amy, when I read your "affordable stripper" remark, I believed that it was aimed at the audience for "affordable strippers" - the men who delude themselves into believing that bartenders are actually interested in them, simply by virtue of doing their jobs. And those men are out there - I've seen them, and I've seen some make life miserable for bartenders. (The same way some men who frequent real strippers delude themselves. No one wants to believe that their money only goes so far - or is more important to a woman trying to make the rent than their scintillating personality.) So I thought that you were right on the mark - and I thought that the line was funny too.

Now if you had said "ALL female bartenders are wanna-be strippers who just don't have the guts or the tits or the whatever to strip", that would have been a dig at bartenders.

I have a cat and love her dearly, but believe me, I can understand why some people can dislike them. Not to the point of cruelty, but to avoidance, yes. And I don't take this personally, because someone's not liking cats isn't a judgment of my tastes, intelligence, or anything - that person simply doesn't like cats. Also, once I adopted a cat I immediately learned to appreciate the finer points of dogs - and I'm still not a "dog person". Yet!

There's a German saying "A joke is the hole where the truth falls out". I usually find your columns and advice funny because it gets right to the truth of the matter.

My question: where does this humorlessness come from?

Posted by: soleil at August 11, 2007 10:25 AM

Soleil gets it.

And Crid, they aren't airbrushing titties off French TV. The French see sex as part of life, no reason to spend bazillions of dollars and far too much time putting a president through the ringer when he could be doing his job (with the occasional blow job under the desk).

And I'll let others speculate as to where the humorless comes from. I see a lot of it. This sort of angry, wounded attitude from people who seem to be looking to take offense.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 11, 2007 10:32 AM

> with the occasional blow job

Paraphrasing Hitchens: He sexually tormented the servants, then spent public money on lawyers who claimed only that he wouldn't do such a thing, never that he didn't.

Posted by: Crid at August 11, 2007 10:44 AM

> the score for "Breathless" sucked, OK?


Maybe, but the editing was a revelation in its day.

Posted by: Stu "El Inglés" Harris at August 11, 2007 11:03 AM

Ever see a Soviet propaganda film or news report? They edit like that anyway. Voiceovers land in random patterns over available footage. Jumpcuts aren't art... They're just the the start of next footage from the bin.

"What do you mean, Comrade? Are you saying the splice won't hold?"

"No I mean... OK, whatever."

Posted by: Crid at August 11, 2007 11:20 AM

The president's sex life was only a question because we're a nation of repressed religious fanatics.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 11, 2007 12:03 PM

All I care about is if the bartender (male or female) is generous or not. Never had the need to divulge any small talk with the person on the opposite side. Just pour the drinks and give me the correct change.

Posted by: Joe at August 11, 2007 12:07 PM

Joe - the right kind of conversation with bartenders can pay dividends

Posted by: LYT at August 11, 2007 12:13 PM

> because we're a nation of
> repressed

Speak for yourself. The guys was probably a serious rapist and a counterfeminist besides. Tellwiddum.

Posted by: Crid at August 11, 2007 12:21 PM

No, the President's sex life was a question because any other boss in America that did what he did would be crucified. No nookie on company time, eh?

Oh, and bartenders/watiresses/hostesses/etc. are nice because they are paid to be. Being innately nice is helpful, but not a requirement.

In other words, no matter what she says, chances are she's just not into you.

Posted by: brian at August 11, 2007 12:26 PM

The current president takes a lot of vacations on company time. Got any issues with that?

Luke, when, at 15, I wanted to know what it was like to get drunk, my bev of choice was Vodka and Tab. For the first and the last time. These days, it's white wine or nothing. Okay, red wine in a pinch.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 11, 2007 12:30 PM

Stating an opinion isn't passive-aggressive. It's anything but.

I didn't mean that the comment was passive-agressive, it was characteristically direct, and not without truth. It was just a little likely to be taken in offense, don't you think? The post would have been just as funny without the remark in question, it just wouldn't have been as in-your-face. What I accused of being passive-aggressive was coming back and saying she didn't think it was funny because she's a humorless prude.

Ok, her email was shrill, and I wasn't expecting you to fall down and apologize to offended lady bartenders everywhere, but I thought that throwing the offense back at her that way was a little p-a and snarky, that's all.

Posted by: Allison at August 11, 2007 12:50 PM

Well, I do think she's humorless. I think people are looking to be offended, they get some kind of juice out of it. I thought I made it pretty clear with my explanation:

A female bartender is basically an affordable stripper. For some guys, she’s the one woman who will not only speak to them but listen like she’s actually interested. A lot of guys mistake this paid interest for genuine interest,

This reminds me of the time that somebody accused me of using my column as a "platform for anti-semitism" because I used the visual of a little old Jewish grandmother floating off to Cuba in her big yellow Cadillac. The other picture in my head was a little old black lady -- my mental picture of Larry Elder's late mother from hearing her on the radio -- but my bubbie lived in Pompano and drove a huge yellow Cadillac and I thought she'd get a kick out of appearing (at least visually) in my column.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 11, 2007 1:02 PM

"I interviewed a friend of mine who is a bartender for this column..."

When I first read that line I thought you meant you kept a number of bartenders on staff to facilitate the creative process.

Although, it would explain a lot...


Kidding!

Posted by: martin at August 11, 2007 1:10 PM

I could use a couple snarky sitcom writers for when I've got blocked funny ducts.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 11, 2007 1:14 PM

I agree, Luke.

Most bartenders in expat drinking holes were always generous with their information. Also, always make friends with the Russian expat community too. They have secrets on how to hold down as much alcohol as possible. (i.e. olive oil) Aussies are okay if you spend one evening drinking with them, but avoid turning it into a ritual event as much as possible.

Posted by: Joe at August 11, 2007 2:14 PM

How to hold down as much alcohol as possible: Leave it in the case, and use bungee cables and a tarp.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 11, 2007 2:28 PM

> Jumpcuts aren't art... They're just the the start of next footage from the bin.


Well, actually, jumpcuts are your penalty for failing to shoot the cutaways. But in Breathless they were cute. And the score, and everything else, of Jules et Jim were magnificent.

Posted by: Stu "El Inglés" Harris at August 11, 2007 2:47 PM

TO: Amy Alkon
RE: I'm Reminded....

"How to hold down as much alcohol as possible: Leave it in the case, and use bungee cables and a tarp." -- Amy Alkon

...of the battalions redeployment from Fort Irwin, CA, to Fort Bragg, NC.

There were (hearsay) reports that the battalion commander and his XO's quarter-ton jeep trailers were packed to the gunwales with Coors. This was the mid-70s, when Smokey and the Bandit came out.

Many paras were reported to have bragged, and shared, six-packs of Coors they brought back to North Carolina by jumping them in in their ruck sacks.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
P.S. As for the bartenders that don't care to be 'undressed' in the minds-eye of their patrons....

...please....grow up.

Posted by: Chuck Pelto at August 11, 2007 3:56 PM

Amy - when he's on vacation, he's not signing idiotic laws, is he? Maybe Congress should go on vacation more. Although, technically, the President is on duty 24/7, so it's not so much a vacation as "working from home", is it?

My point is this: A CEO is unlikely to get hauled into court for taking too much vacation time. But if he starts banging secretaries, he's just begging for a sexual harassment suit.

How come Clinton got adoration while businessmen get their careers ruined?

Posted by: brian at August 11, 2007 5:32 PM

> he's not signing idiotic
> laws, is he?

The White House Mischief Engine grinds 24/7, staffed by enthusiastic graduates of our nation's most beloved Christian academies.

I was appalled at how fast Bush started taking long vacations shortly after 9/11, and accelerated his enjoyment of them following our commitment to war.

It's inexcusable.

Posted by: Crid at August 11, 2007 6:06 PM

Joe - what's the olive oil trick? Just drink some of it straight between rounds?

Amy, you are the drinking opposite of me -- white wine of any kind, even champagne, requires an immediate dose of extra strength antacid for me.

Other booze I will avoid completely and remain sober if it's the only option: Coors, Old Milwaukee, Southern Comfort, and Jim Beam. All give me stomachaches long before they get me buzzed.

Posted by: LYT at August 11, 2007 7:04 PM

Yup, a shot of olive oil between 3 or 4 glasses of vodka.

Posted by: Joe at August 11, 2007 7:20 PM

Crid - you want to know what's truly disgusting?

Those Christian know-nothings are doing a better job than the Yalies of the last two administrations.

I'm not holding out much hope for the future of the Republic. We're pretty much guaranteed to get Hillary! as our next ruler. After that it's anyone's guess, but if I were a betting man, I'd bet his (her?) last name will be Bush. Which sets up a Chelsea in 2020 bid.

I'm glad I don't have children to leave this world to. I don't think there's gonna be much left in 100 years.

Posted by: brian at August 11, 2007 8:17 PM

Amy - I think the "affordable stripper" bit is off target, because a bartender doesn't strip. Feigning interest and conversation is not the same. You might as well say a bartender is an affordable shrink. I can see how it might cause offence, and unless offence was your intention, an apology or withdrawal would be polite.

Posted by: Norman at August 12, 2007 3:03 AM

Again, Norman, a number of guys are paying her for her attention, which I explained. Hence, no need for an apology, although I did say to some of the people who e-mailed me, "I'm sorry you're insulted," which isn't the same thing. (It means, "I'm sorry you're humorless, and sorry your humorlessness caused you pain when you read what I wrote.")

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 12, 2007 6:35 AM

Amy just hasn't met my cats, that's all.

The "affordable stripper" line is one of those that has a completely different meaning when taken out of context. For better or for worse, we're in an era where information is broken down and digested into bite-sized chunks, and is thus almost always taken out of context. Some of the people reading Amy's column were literally not able to digest anything past that first sentence, and are reacting thereof.

Posted by: marion at August 12, 2007 9:59 AM

Sigh...I got fired from the Pioneer Press in part because the editor said I don't write for people reading at an eighth grade level.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 12, 2007 11:15 AM

Amy- I understand your point abut guys paying for her attention, and I think you're spot on with that. The story about the sore back and aspirin bears you out, as does the price difference for supermarket beer and bar beer. It's just the "stripper" word that seems wrong to me. Paying for attention is not especially comparable to paying for stripping.

Trying to pass it off as humour doesn't work, because it's not particularly funny. I don't mean that in a sourpuss sort of way, I mean there's no joke there ... "Why is a barmaid like an affordable stripper? Because you pay for her attention!" Huh?

I have cats and dogs, and I prefer cats, FWIW.

Posted by: Norman at August 12, 2007 11:38 AM

Norman, like with a stripper, these men (who she has zero interest in) mistake her attention to them as woman/man interest in them. They do not run out and get the guy bartender aspirin.

I didn't say female bartenders are giving lapdances. I explained, to those patient enough to read another sentence or two before setting themselves on fire and running to the computer, why the two are comparable:

For some guys, she’s the one woman who will not only speak to them but listen like she’s actually interested. A lot of guys mistake this paid interest for genuine interest,

See? All there. No reason for howling!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 12, 2007 12:13 PM

OK, I'm all hosed down and extinguished.

Posted by: Norman at August 12, 2007 1:01 PM

So, I am a female bartender. I work at a bar in baltimore that only hires female bartenders, and attractive gay male bartenders. The owner likes it this way. You know why? We make more money. We make tons of money, ridiculous amounts of money. And people are paying for our attention, and time, and conversation. There are regulars that come in just to see their specific bartenders, and god forbid we ever have to switch our shifts around because of vacation or weddings, the regulars get angry. It is about talking, but it's also about these bizarre fantasies people make up as well. I'm also a regular drinker, and I have bars that I frequent for a regular bartender as well, but it's more that they know what I drink regularly and will have it waiting the moment I sit down at the bar, it gives people a sense of belonging, and it makes them look important to the people they're with. It irritates me when people get up in arms about things like this, Like you wrote in a previous column (paraphrasing here, because I'm being lazy) I could go running on the streets of baltimore at midnight in short shorts and a tank top, because I should have a right to, but it's not the best idea in a city with one of the highest murder/rape rates in the country. People are going to objectify their female bartenders, and form fantasy relationships about them. I'm not adverse to wearing a low cut top for my thirty dollar tip on a ten dollar bar tab. Denying that this is they way people are doesn't make it not exist, it just makes us less able to deal with it when it happens. And getting angry about it when it does happen is going to cut into my rent money.

Posted by: Anne at August 13, 2007 7:14 AM

Thank you, Anne, for posting that.

My favorite bit:

People are going to objectify their female bartenders, and form fantasy relationships about them. I'm not adverse to wearing a low cut top for my thirty dollar tip on a ten dollar bar tab. Denying that this is they way people are doesn't make it not exist, it just makes us less able to deal with it when it happens. And getting angry about it when it does happen is going to cut into my rent money.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 13, 2007 7:36 AM

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