Continuing the conversation

5:24 pm:

I've managed to stay positive in the past hour and a half and to tell myself not to be negative with the customers. They're here to pay me, after all. It just means I have to dance around like a person approaching a black hole, stretched by the gravity of competing needs.

"We can't go on together with suspicious minds," sings someone who isn't Elvis Presley over the XM Radio. The signal cuts out every time I have to use the microwave.

So far I've cooked four dinners. There are eight people here. None of them are noticing that the faux Elvis is cutting in and out, even though I'm not cooking at the moment.

There's a football game on the television and I'm ready to be here tonight, to have fun and be positive no matter what. I'm here by myself, which is always stressful. I can get through it.

I don't know what's going to happen. All day I tried to imagine what my life would be like without being here. And, I'm scared to move on. I would love more than anything else to be part of a team that functions well and works like a team. I have that with Sarah and Beth, and was on my way to having that with Billy, but he's gone now.

I would love to be able to hire someone to work with me, and to focus on building the business potentially with an eye towards owning it one day. I know that's such a foolish thought, but there's something about this place that I don't want to end. I've written about this extensively and I'm sure I'll continue throughout the night.

For now, I'm going to clean a few things up and get ready to cook more meals. I will radiate positive energy tonight.

11:52 pm:

And that was the kind of night I love to have. Jeffrey Pink implored me to be positive, and so I remained that way the entire night. I had fun with all of my customers, and even served dinner to a nine-top. Pink kept me positive and for that I am grateful. We had fun with puppets, I got to play guitar for people for a while, met some fellow Hokies, and generally enjoyed myself.

I want to stay here. I'm home when I'm here, and maybe I should try to do something to formalize this as my home away from my home. I'd come back tomorrow if I knew there were people who would come in and want to hang out. I would hire a cook who could take care of the things I don't like to do. I would concentrate on building the community I've cultivated here.

But who knows? I know I'll be sad if I leave here, but maybe I could be successful somewhere else. The older you get, the more leveraged you are, and the harder it is to make choices. But, yet, it's more important than ever to make those choices. It's more important to begin defining how the rest of my life is going to be.

As I type this, things are pretty awesome. I lived today. I may not be where I thought I was going to be when I was younger, but things are pretty good at the moment. That's the point, right?


Candid assessments of an evening at Court Square Tavern

5:57 PM: 

I'm over the grumpiness, at least. There's a certain tension as I walk the two blocks from one job to another as I realize yet again that 5:00 is not the end of my day, but the beginning of an open-ended shift that does not have any certainty. Both of my jobs are similar in this regard, in that I never have any sense of finality. I'm required to work until the work is done.

What's worse are the nights when I don't even fully finish the first job before moving on to the second. As I type this, I'm waiting edits to come back from the paper so I can post a story.

But, as I said, I'm over the grumpiness and I'm not going to worry too much about being here tonight.  I am going to worry about my future here, because something about working here is unsustainable if I want to remain an upstanding member of our community.

7:09 PM:

We're in that weird section of the night when everything is taken care of. It's not actually busy. The cook tonight is Billy, who was supposed to be our savior, but he's leaving us next week for a much better job. Unlike myself and the Tayloes, Billy is in this industry for the full-time money. Me, Sarah and Beth do this job because we can't get by on one salary.

I could do so if I did not have any obligations to my children. But, I do, and I need to pay at least a certain amount of money to their mother each month. At 38, I live with two housemates who help me cover my mortgage. I'm relatively happy about this arrangement, even if it means that I don't have much privacy.

In general, my life is so similar to how it was when I was about 22 or 23. I don't have the answers to fundamental questions to what direction my life is going to take. Yet, I also have the experiences of a man who has been married twice and who has three children.

And, I live up to my responsibilities. For the past three years nearly I have sacrificed my weekend nights to pay for the things I need to pay for. I have sacrificed several potential relationships, and have made my second job my social life. Things are not necessarily bad.

But I remember a conversation I had with my friend Kristen in 1995, shortly after we had moved to New Hampshire together.

"If I'm still working in a restaurant when I'm 25, something will have gone desperately wrong in my life," I said to her. We were celebrating the beginnings of our careers, and enjoying margaritas on a Friday night.

Has something gone wrong with my life? I'm not sure. Being here has brought me great joy, good friends, and has kept me out of trouble on weekend nights for several years now.

So, why did I just put my two weeks' notice in?

Can't write now. Have to go take people things.

8:00 PM:

How many times have I quit here now? There was the time I walked out in July 2010 when the owner yelled at me in front of customers for something that was so ridiculous.

"You have the right to run this place however you want, but you do not have the right to treat me like that in front of our customers," I said to him.

I came back a month later because I missed the place, and because my help was needed. Sarah and Beth were left to fend for themselves because management had done nothing to replace me and had done nothing to replace Katie Fox, who had quit with three weeks notice.

They know I love this place and want it to succeed, so they know my threats are hollow.

9:33 PM

I am hoping to be done early tonight. There aren't many people here. I'm so disinterested in being here at the moment. I know the time I am here is well spent because I'm not spending money and am instead making it.

I have to be here tomorrow night, too. This is my life, working nights during the week and then working a second job during the weekend. I'm grateful to be able to cover my obligations. I'm grateful for my health.

I just wonder I'm living up to my potential. I want to be the best person I can be.

10:18 PM

Waiting for the end. This is the time when the late night crew will come in, but I'm so ready to leave that when they show up I'll be more or less scornful. This is not fair to them, and ultimately, it's not fair to my employer. I need an attitude adjustment, but I also just need a break.

And I'm not going to get it. The savior will be gone next week, and any hope of having a weekend night off disappears for at least two months. This is a very dysfunctional place to work. My efforts to get them to hire more people have not been met with any success. My efforts to put energy into the place by updating menus have also not been met. It's very much like purgatory for me.

I make about $1200 a month here, enough to cover what I pay for my children and have a little extra in my pocket. If there were more people who worked here, and there was even the hint I might get a break, it would be okay. But, that's just not how it is. I love this place, and have spent so many joyful nights here.

But, what else could I be doing? What could I have done tonight if I hadn't been here?

I don't know. Sometimes it's not worth it to ask questions about universes that don't exist. This isn't science. I'm here. Waiting until I can no longer be at the beck and call of those who want things.

If I owned this place, I would be happy. But, I have no idea how to own a restaurant and don't think that's a practical solution. I want to be the best journalist I can be. I want to be the best person I can be.

11:56 AM, next day:

The general manager has asked me when I want my last day to be. How many times have I been here before?

And why do I always stay? I feel wanted there, and I make what I need to make. But, I'm not supported and my requests for help are not met.

I really would love to buy the place and just run it slightly differently. The only thing I don't like about working there is the management. Case in point. I've been saying for months that it stresses me out to work by myself on Saturday nights. I don't like to cook. I'm a bartender and server and overall master of ceremonies. All I want is people with me so I don't have to do all the work by myself. How hard is it to hire someone in this economy?


I will spend the next three hours taking stock of all of the memories and all of the details that makes Court Square Tavern so special to me.

One of the best pieces of graffiti above the vintage urinal in the men's room reads:

"When is it time to walk away?"

One of the best responses in the men's room reads:

"When you're done pissing."


On the recent lack of posting and searching for a way forward

I've kept this blog for several years now after keeping one for a few years in the late 1990's before the word was coined. I'm not sure I'll be very prolific in 2012.

There is a value in having a forum to write out my most important thoughts for others to see. I've tended to feel less lonely and more connected to people by being able to write out what I think about things.

These days I'm writing privately rather than publicly. I have so many drafts in blogger that I don't really want to be public. I get the impulse to write about what's going on in my life, and then I think better of hitting publish. I've lost the sense of what this blog should be about now that I mostly use Twitter, Facebook and Google+ to get my thoughts out there.

I'm currently not nearly as interested in writing about running. This could be because I've not raced since Thanksgiving.

I'm currently not interested in writing about Court Square Tavern because I've already said pretty much everything I need to say about it, and I'm still in the same basic situation of wanting to quit but not being able to do so.

I'm not interested in writing about my personal feelings or my bouts with depression. I was for so long, and credit keeping this blog with keeping me positive in the last few months.

I'm not interested in writing about my love life, something I've never really done on this blog. There are a lot of great stories, but they are private ones best left for friends in email or over conversations at the tavern.

It's a shame, in a way, because life as a single man in his late thirties is fairly amusing and interesting. I never expected my life would be like this.

I am interested in writing about being a father who doesn't live with this children. I have them at my house one day a week. The rest of the time, they live with their mothers. My children are the most important people in the world to me, and I have grown accustomed to not having them around every day. If I pause for a moment and think about this for too long, the notes of depression's siren song begin to sound.

I'd like to write more about what I see on a day to day basis as I go about my life here in Charlottesville. I'd like to capture little vignettes as a way of exercising my observational skills.

But at the moment, I can't seem to recall anything I've learned today. I had one of the most nerve-wracking days at work, trying to write a story but not quite knowing what form it was going to take. Now the story is done and I'm listening to a woman explain her support for a particular project for the Crozet area. I'll write this story up tomorrow for work but for now I'm just listening to what she has to say. I'll sort through all of that tomorrow.

For tonight, I lack focus. I'm ready to be off work and doing something that is not sitting in an auditorium at a public meeting. This will not happen for at least another two hours.

But hey, first blog post of the year down, right? That's got to count for something.