I took a deep breath, let it out, and tried to stand a little bit taller as I opened the door to Floggin’ Brews for my first official day on the job.
I wore the FB “uniform” – a blue shirt, sleeves rolled up to the elbows, and a pair of khaki pants. I had splurged on the khakis and had them made by a theatre friend of mine who specialized in period costumes but wasn’t above the occasional tailoring gig. As a result, they fit both my relatively flat ass and curvy thighs at the same time. And they had deep, functional pockets, front and back. The holy grail of pants.
“Good morning, Ms. Irving!” A voice boomed from the bar.
I flinched. “Please, call me Ret, Mr. Kivi. Or Margaret if I misbehave.”
I’d actually had to sneak a business card when I was at the EARLY munch to learn his name: Mikhel Kivi.
“Oh, I don’t think I’ll have to do that,” he smiled. “Call me Mikhel.”
The paperwork completed, I was assigned an apron and a small pin for the collar of my shirt in the shape of a flogger. The business office featured a number of padded surfaces from which Boss could supervise. There was also a small locker for my stuff. I unpacked a few essentials from my bag, including my secret vice: a box of brown sugar cinnamon Poptarts. Because you never knew when a sugar high would help.
I’d pinch-hit behind the bar already, so I was familiar with how the glassware was organized and where the most popular taps were, but it was going to take me awhile to memorize the beer list and where each was located. As far as I could tell, they were arranged by mood, with the brighter “happier” brews on the right, and the darker “moodier” brews on the left. The sinister side, of course. There was a bank of taps for the nonalcoholic options, mostly craft sodas, heavy on the root beers. And a few surprise pulls – the “Keystone Light” option, for example, which looked like it should be a high-octane IIPA. Another tap had an unmarked gnarly knot of wood for a pull, and a pin in it so you couldn’t accidentally use it without unlocking it first. And a few others I was told “not to worry about, we won’t use those just yet.”
A final instruction about the Boss’ expectations: Her dish was to be kept spotless. Cream was in the minifridge behind the bar, Her regular meals were served in the office by Mikhel. And as Owner, She was the final authority on any issue affecting Floggin’ Brews, including the character of its guests. Not sure how a cat could own a bar, but somehow I believe it.
And with that, I was ready to start my shift.
A few neighborhood folks stopped in, lunch bags in tow, and had a brew with their sandwiches and chips. A Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, a Masonic Rite blood orange wit from 3 Floyds, and a Cutthroat Porter from O’Dell. There was an older couple (a Scottish ale and a ginger ale), some utility guys at the end of their shift (Surly Furious for everyone) and a 30-something woman with dreadlocks who set up her computer at the corner table and started drinking Hemingway daiquiris. Whatever does it for you, I guess. From what I could tell, she was a much faster typer than Hemingway.
Boss made an occasional appearance, seeming to check out the clientele. The older couple wanted to pet and coo at Her, but She gracefully kept Her distance and they eventually gave up.
Mikhel took care of a handful of other guests, and the bar cleared out around 2:30, except for the writer, who was still nursing her second daiquiri.
“I’ve got to make a few calls. You okay by yourself for a bit?”
He headed back to the office, followed by Boss.
Around 4 p.m., a couple of kids came in. They looked about 16, certainly under-aged. Both had lumpy backpacks.
Is school out? No, wait, it’s summer, has school even started yet?
The two looked female but also like they’d probably declare themselves queer. One had dark hair, which had been shaved on one side but was growing out. The rest of her hair was festooned with those little plastic clips kids used. T-shirt advertising some band I’d never heard of, tattered jeans, and flip flops.
The other was wearing a sweatshirt that was clearly too warm for the day. She took it off, revealing a long-sleeved shirt that was both rumpled and none too clean. Her cargo pants also looked slept-in. I made a few assumptions about them and hoped I was wrong.
The two looked around warily, and then studied the signs that said “Order At the Bar, Make Yourself At Home.” “$1 Discount for Returning Your Glass and Wiping Your Table.”
“Hey there. Can I help you?”
The first bit her lip. “How much is the root beer?”
“Three bucks.” I paused and watched her reaction. “But I can give you a couple samples for free.”
A nervous smile. “That would be great.”
After some discussion, they left the bar with four little “sample” glasses of soda, and two large glasses of water, and hunkered down at a table by the window. I walked over and put a bowl of pretzels in front of them.
“Let me know what you think, okay? I’m new and I haven’t tried those sodas yet.”
I kept an eye on the kids as a few other customers drifted in and out. The pretzels were clearly a big hit. The sample sodas disappeared, and they came up and paid for a Americana root beer with a single bill and lots of quarters. I grabbed another bowl of pretzels and overheard a bit of their discussion as I approached.
“No, he’s in his mom’s basement, there isn’t room and she doesn’t like him. That won’t work.”
“I have an aunt in St. Cloud. Maybe . . .” They shut up when they saw me.
Damn. I wasn’t wrong.
I set the pretzels down and smiled at them. “You two in a jam?”
The rumpled one said, “Umm,” and looked at the pretzels. The one in flip-flops looked at me, then out the window. “Sorta.”
“Hang on a second, I’ll be right back.”
I ducked into the office, where Boss was clearly feeling secure enough to get some beauty sleep, and Mikhel was on the phone, asking questions about streaming capacity. He lifted an eyebrow at me.
“Everything’s fine, I just needed to grab something.”
I took the box of Poptarts and my phone from my purse and headed back to the bar. The kids were still at the table.
Good. They didn’t bolt.
I looked up a few numbers and jotted a few things down on a notepad. Then I picked up the Poptarts and headed back to their table.
“There is an outfit called Avenues that might be able to help you. They can find you a place to stay, something to eat, point you in the right direction. They’ll pay for a cab if you need it.”
I handed the rumpled one the sheet of paper. “Here’s the number, ask for Tina. She’s a friend of mine – tell her Ret sent you.
“And there’s this.” I set down the box of Poptarts. “Someone left them here this morning. It’s not open so I figure it’s okay. They’re yours if you’d like them.”
“Yeah!” said the one with hairclips. “I love Poptarts!”
The rumpled one looked up and gave me a small smile. “Thanks.”
I topped off the root beer twice without charging them as they huddled together and made a quiet phone call. Half of the Poptarts disappeared. Eventually they gathered their things and came up to the bar to get a rag to wipe down the table. I handed them their dollar discount and wished them luck. They were out the door before I realized they had left the dollar as a tip for me.
As I stuck the dollar in the tip jar, I heard a small noise and felt Boss rub against my leg.
“Nice job. She approves,” said Mikhel.
“Oh. Uh, thanks, Boss.” She gave me a gracious look and ambled back toward the booths. Writer was packing up and looking satisfied. Three daiquiris appeared to be the charm.
“Next time, there is a stash of Hot Pockets in the cabinet to the right of the fridge.”
“Hot Pockets? Eww . . . well,” I paused. “I suppose they aren’t any worse than Poptarts.”
“We can order some of those too. Or anything else you think might be useful. This is a place that takes care of people.”
“Yes,” I said as I took the glasses to the sink. “Yes, it is.”