In Boozo Veritas #40 by Teege Braune
‘Til Death Unite Them And They Part No More
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a very young child. Dreaming up vivid worlds and monsters has always been a favorite past-time of mine, but I learned early on that a vivid imagination is only the first, tiny aspect of a writer’s struggle. The unending, labyrinthine process of writing and revising, ingesting, regurgitating, transposing, and finally metabolizing the work of the masters of the craft, accepting constant rejection, delicately handling the elusive fragility of inspiration, realizing that college bares little resemblance to real life and that no amount of success back then makes earning a living as a fiction writer anymore likely, continuing to write anyway, enduring the Herculean labor of something that is often thankless and usually unread by anyone, knowing that if you never wrote another word, few would be likely to notice, but doing it anyway because something you can’t name compels you to do so, this endurance test and Sisyphean task never becomes easy. It is something that I’ve worked at most of my life and will most likely never be at peace with.
I’ve never made a fraction of my income as a writer. Once my formal education had ended, figuring out how to pay the bills was a largely unsatisfying endeavor that found me bouncing around unhappily in the service industry. Bartending was not something I had ever thought much about doing. The idea of working while everyone else was hanging out seemed frankly depressing. Nevertheless, I found myself begging my friend Brent for a job at Redlight Redlight when I abruptly discovered that Ballard and Corum, the quaint bakery that I had been managing, was soon to close. He flatly turned me down explaining that as we were such good friends, he thought it would be weird to be my boss. I told him not to look at it that way, that we were simply doing each other a favor. I promised that I would walk away without resentment if, for some reason, he felt I wasn’t cutting it, but he wasn’t convinced. Then a few days later, as though our last conversation had ended quite differently, he called me to talk to me about a film night he wanted me to host at the bar. I took this as the closest thing to a formal job offer I was likely to get and accepted. Relieved to even have a job, any trepidation I had about beginning a new career, especially one I had never even wanted, melted away the moment I stepped behind the bar. Right away I felt preternaturally at ease in that position. Brent’s training was relatively straightforward. He handed me a rag and bottle opener.
“Here are your tools,” he said. “Here’s the register. It’s just like the one you used downstairs at the bakery. Here’s how you poor a beer from the tap. Make sure you open it all the way so you don’t get too much head. I think you got it.”
Talking to people has never been difficult for me, and for some reason, I find it even easier with the bar between us. The bartender is a special job in the service industry. It is the unique role in which the customer is at your mercy and not the other way around. With this reversal in mind, I, who have always been an extrovert, like people more than ever. While bartending I feel like I am in my own personal space while simultaneously on a stage, the lights tilted just so in order to reveal my best angle. With my momentum and perhaps just the tiniest bit of alcohol fueling me, you’ll often catch me dancing around and singing to myself as I take orders and pour drinks. On those nights when everything seems to fall into place, I know I have the best job in the world, one I wouldn’t trade for anything. I think no one else could possibly be having this much fun at work. There are few other situations in which I like myself as much as I do while I’m bartending. In these moments the best version of myself effortlessly rises to the top and takes over.
In love with that euphoria, I once mistakenly believed that bartending was all I needed. Fed up with the exhausting struggle that comes with being a writer, I thought I had discovered something to replace it. I threw myself into my new job, tended bar six nights a week, and to my own detriment, all but quit writing completely. Never mind that bartending has plenty of its own frustrations, in the long run it was not sustainable as my sole aspiration. I dreamed in words. I began to narrate my own life as I was living it. I became deeply unhappy as I let some fundament aspect of my very nature atrophy. Finally at the not so gentle urging of my girlfriend Jenn I sat down to write the story that would become “What Keeps Mankind Alive.” Composing the first few pages, most of which have since been discarded, was like prying up the reeking sarcophagus of some long sealed tomb. In the month it took me to complete this very dark short story I had to accept that I was not only the friendly bartender that everybody loved. There was someone less likable lurking around inside me as well, and I had to acknowledge this frightening aspect of my personality because it was not going away.
Perhaps my sanity lies delicately poised between the inward exploration of psyche that is writing and the outward projection of idealized self that I achieve through bartending. If so, it is a delicate balance that requires constant tension. If I’m a good writer, it’s because I’ve worked hard my entire life to be one. If I’m a good bartender, it’s because I was fulfilling an odd personal destiny the moment I stepped behind a bar. Some fundamental aspect of my identity lies precisely where these two activities, so diametrically opposed on many levels, converge. As a writer I will never achieve my final form. Inherently protean, I will never stop changing and growing. My goal, unachievable by its very nature, will forever be just out of reach, both a blessing and a curse, symptomatic of my willful desire to never be satisfied. As a bartender I strive to be immutable. I will never be better than I am right now.
Teege Braune (episode 72, episode 75, episode 77, episode 90) is a writer of literary fiction, horror, essays, and poetry. Recently he has discovered the joys of drinking responsibly. He may or may not be a werewolf.