Becoming a bartender in a striped-shirt establishment over fifteen years ago was an accomplishment. It meant hard work, late nights, studying drink recipes until dawn, and surviving the not-so-subtle hostility of fellow bartenders whose friend didn’t get the coveted spot or who didn’t feel I’d deserved it, and waiters who’d wanted the position for themselves.
I’d worked hard to get there, though it was a means to an end for me, not the end itself. I was interested in management, and without a college degree the only way to get there was to work my way up through the ranks. I tried to be a perfect bartender. All my beer bottles were face out, my pour spouts saluted left, the brass taps gleamed, the plastic circle in the middle of the Hershey’s syrup cap was always, always a pristine white, and my drawers balanced…always.
I worked the bar alone most days as the service bar was located in the kitchen, the back of the house as it’s called. But occasionally the service bartender would come to the front bar for something, an orange, a knife, whatever. Nobody but a bartender or manager was allowed behind the bar, and so one day when I was busy with customers and the service bartender, D.B., came behind the bar I didn’t give it much thought. I saw him, out of the corner of my eye, crouch down and root for something in the small cupboard beneath the register, and then he was gone again and I was making drinks and taking lunch orders.
The service bartender was always let go before the front bartender, and so when I did my financial that day D. was already gone. My drawer was fine, as always, but the cash box was $50.00 short. I hadn’t used the cash box that day. I hadn’t needed any more change than had been in my drawer, and I was flabbergasted. I even knew exactly what was missing; a paperclipped batch of ten fives. It had been there that morning. I’d been the only one behind the bar.
No. Actually there had been someone else behind the bar. And the cash box was kept in the cupboard beneath the register.
I didn’t want to believe that D. had taken the money. And yet I knew I hadn’t taken it, and nobody else had had the opportunity. I was given the choice to pay the money back or have the missing funds documented in a write-up and placed in my file. I was devastated. Not just by the decision–pay money I couldn’t possibly afford or take a write-up that could jeopardize my chances to advance–but also by the betrayal of my fellow bartender, someone who, while not necessarily a friend, was not someone I thought would allow me to take the fall for his crime. I had no choice but to take the write-up, and it was clearly D.B.’s fault.
So I killed him.
Okay. So I didn’t REALLY kill him. I didn’t ever speak to him again though. He knew why, and to his credit he didn’t even try, and could barely look at me after that. The two of us were the only ones who knew what really happened. He quit a few months later, but the write-up stayed in my file for the rest of my employment, branding me a criminal to anyone who had access to it.
So I didn’t commit a legal crime then. But I did commit a personal mental health crime. I held onto my anger at D.B. for a long time. It seemed that as long as that write-up was in my file I was going to think about it. It didn’t keep me from advancing, though I changed my mind about management. Instead, years later, I became an accountant. With access to the files.
And therein lies my true crime (according to the corporate guidelines anyway): I got my file, pulled out that write-up and shredded it. And with the disposal of my criminal past, so went my anger. So, D.B., I’ve forgiven you the $50 and the write-up. But if you want to atone, I know that the restaurant is still where it always was. Feel free to write a check and send it to them and let go of a little bit of guilt that I think you were human enough to feel.