The Bar That Showed Me Who I Could Have Been

I lied to get the job, but bartending revealed unexpected truths about who I am — and who I’ll never be

Nicole Peeler
Human Parts


Illustration: DenPotisev/Getty Images

WWhen I was 22, I moved home to live with my parents. Needing money, I did what every red-blooded American girl does when she’s short on cash and large on desperation: I got a terrible job at a terrible bar, called Kickers.

Located out in the middle of nowhere, Kickers hunkered down on the land like an aged trailer park queen squatting to take a shit. It had a grotty parking lot and a crumbling patio housing a few dispirited tables. Inside was a huge bar and more seating, everything covered in dingy Formica or linoleum. There was a pool table, spattered with the sorts of stains found in either crime scenes or porn shoots, and along one wall were two slot machines, discreetly paid out by the bartender, sandwiching a broken jukebox.

My first morning’s customers were a baker’s dozen of construction workers rained out for the day. They proceeded to show me the ropes. Because it was 11 a.m., I served “breakfast drinks”: screwdrivers and Bloody Marys made with V8 and trench-shelf vodka. They explained how, at Kickers, one didn’t ask for another drink. One either placed one’s empty glass in the well, which indicated another beverage was required, or one…