He ain't no bartender

But he won't stop

Good Lord God and the Virgin Mary Poppins, Grant Henry just got voted his city's best bartender. "Readers' Choice," I swear to god. This is a guy who, the first time he mixed me a cocktail, missed the glass completely and poured the tequila right into my eyes. I swear this is true.

Granted, I had plopped my head on the table face-up and demanded that he dump the hooch directly into my mouth in an attempt to receive an "upside-down margarita," a concept that involves a lot of vomiting in the gutter afterward. Still, though, given the size of my mouth and his standing as the city's future best bartender (ha!), you'd think Grant could have, at the very least, hit his mark.

"I'll hit you now, bitch," Grant says today.

Evidently I am not the only one Grant has blinded by alcohol, which might explain why readers voted for him the way they did, because Lord knows he ain't no bartender. Ask him yourself. "I ain't no bartender," he'll say straight to your face, even as he grows the extra arms he needs to Frisbee 50 orders at once. "Don't ask me for anything, I don't work here."

When we first met, Grant led the ideal existence. He made a living by picking through trash piles, pretty much, and hit gold when he started collecting those old plywood signs painted by deranged evangelists that you commonly see posted along the highway — "Repent Immediately!" "Hell Hurts." "Sinners Burn Like Bacon!" etc. He had a standing arrangement with a local coffeehouse that sold his finds, but the owners eventually took offense at them and asked Grant to leave. It probably didn't help at all that Grant had often used his key to let me and Daniel in after midnight so the three of us could dance to Al Green and eat all the inventory out of the cake display.

After that, we had to hang out somewhere else. So we picked the Local because it had booze, a definite plus. At the time, Keiger was not yet the owner; he was just a joe who happened into a bartending job there himself. Then he bought into the place and the first thing he did was recruit Grant as a bartender. Grant agreed, "as long as you understand I ain't no bartender."

Rather, he insisted, he'll be a local luminary who happens also to serve drinks. It coincided with the reinventing of himself as "The Anti-Artist," when he took to creating his own brand of trailer-vangelism and started painting his own plywood signs. (My favorite of late is the paint-by-numbers picture of a kitten with "Jesus Loves Pussy" written across the top.) Often Grant would show up for work wearing ornate silver horned-rims and his hair in a complicated beehive, then spend his shift channeling the demented nun — one of his "personality fragments" — that he credits with being responsible for his creations.

From the beginning I was fervently against the bartending idea because it meant Grant would actually have to be somewhere at a set time on certain days, drastically reducing my success at dragging him with me when I hankered to drop everything and fly to, say, South America or something. See, as a low-paid scullery plebe for the airline industry, I could fly free and was laden with buddy passes that often allowed me to take the worthless gaggle of bloviating monkeys I called my close friends with me. It was perfect.

Until, of course, Grant got sidetracked with this I-ain't-no-bartender bartending thing. "Jesus God, just call in sick, you pathetic poo hole," I demanded regularly. "How can you pass up Venezuela? Do you not know there was a mud slide in Caracas last year? Now the whole place is one big trash pile for you to pick through."

"Bitch," he protested, "how many times do I have do tell your selfish, drunk-ass face that I need to be at the Local every Monday, Wednesday and Fri-goddam fucking-day?"

"Can you tell me those hours again?" I answered. "Because I don't have any better way to waste my time besides keeping track of your time-clock idiot ass."

Infuriatingly, Grant kept showing up for his shifts, which brings me to my other gripe about his new job: If he was supposed to be busy at the Local making drinks for other people there, how the hell was he supposed to drink with me there? Who the hell was gonna hold my hair back if I needed to barf in the gutter again? I swear, some people are so selfish.

"I give it six months," I grumbled at the time. Seven years later Grant is still there, and since I couldn't get him to stay with me in our comfy little cesspool of irresponsibility, there was nothing for me to do but become an accountable citizen myself. I could count on Grant, of course, to back me up.

"Jesus, bitch, I haven't seen you drink in I don't know how long," Grant griped the other day from behind the counter. "You gotta drink, Hollis, otherwise people will think you're an alcoholic." This right here is what I love about our friendship; all the unfailing support.

"I can't drink, you crusty old ass-tard," I bitched. "I have a deadline tomorrow. Now can you get me another Diet Coke?"

"Get it yourself," Grant said, wiping down the counter. "I ain't no bartender."

Hollis Gillespie is the author of Confessions of a Recovering Slut and Other Love Stories and Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood. Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered."

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