By Mark Driver


People often pull me out of gutters, offer me a creased paper towel with which to scratch the dried, black vomit from the cracked corners of my mouth, and say, “Mr. Driver, sir, you are so learned in the ways of inebriated women.”

“Yes, yes I am.”

“Sir, if I may be so bold as to ask, what’s the best way to pick one up? Let’s say … err … in a bar?”

“People are terrible. You should avoid them. You should leave them alone.”

“Yes, I realize you are so wise, you have seen so much, you float above us all in a Antisthenistic fog, redolent of an emaciated Engels, living the spiritual nihilism of Schopenhauer, gathering your strength to face each day by realizing the ultimate pointlessness of existence, and the necessity of the systematic killing off of desire for what is ultimately illusory in a meaningless and empty world—”

“Well now you’re just being silly.”

“I’m sorry, sir. But please, if you could tell me, what is the best way to pick up a girl in a bar.”

“That’s easy. Be a bartender.”


“Unless you’ve got hair growing out of your eyeballs or are visibly suffering the advanced stages of bubonic plague, you’ve got your pick of the whole drunken litter. Yes, my friend, you are the maestro, beating the crowd back with bandaged hands, snapping bar rags at philter-craving philtrums, bringing order to crushing chaos, conducting business with an orchestra of gaping mouths—bam!!!—rub out another one, one right after another, rube after goofy rube buttered blind with your practiced tip smile and your sincerest thank you of horseshit and hogwash. Fight them until the end, until they disappear, until they stumble home and scream as the clarity of their nightmare existences slowly come back into focus with the rising of the sun. As bartender, you have the power to reward AND the power to punish these monsters. This makes you irresistible.

“And girls. Oh, the girls. Through loose dollar bills and the extended, money-filled fists of strangers, through the cylindrical beams of halogens cutting laser-like through boiling clouds of cigarette smoke—she’ll catch your eye. You’ll slow down, smile, lean in. Make her think she’s the sole object in the entire universe. Everyone else? They’re scum. Peons. They can wait. It is only your state of being, my princess, which concerns me. What can I get you? A vodka tonic? Let me know if it’s too strong. Oh, it’s on me. Of course it’s on me. Look at my big smile. What next? Little kiss? Nearly imperceptible wink? Fake swoon and sigh before reassuming battlestations? This is where you add your personal twists. This is where art begins.

“You won’t see her again that night, but she’ll be back. Don’t you worry. Let her escape into that night. You’ll be sweat drenched, half-drunk, and stank footed anyway. You’ll see her again. Maybe on a slower night. She’ll bring a few friends to check you out. A little witty conversation, a few flip answers to a few prying questions, a little proper aloofness, and then, after at least three years of dating that lead to a proper church wedding, you can make the sex with her.”

“But I’m not a bartender.”

“Why not? Everyone should be a bartender.”


“OK, OK. How about I tell you how not to pick someone up.”

“I already know how to do that.”

“No, you just THINK you know how not to pick someone up.”

“I’m afraid you’re losing me.”

“Don’t be afraid. Just follow me closely, because I’m not going to repeat myself. Well, I might repeat myself, because it’s sort of a habit of mine. To talk about the same things over and over again. Like you know those HUGE pick-up trucks? Not the ones that folks use for proper work, but the kind that people buy just to drive around in? Church trucks? God, do they piss me off. I see a fifty ton, shiny tank some tan-boothed, peroxide-yellow, buck-toothed, fruit-leathered suburban witch is using to tool down to Crate and Barrel—the one at University Village, not the one downtown, because when you drive something so stupidly obese, you need parking lots (even if she will cram the thing into a “compact” spot), and you can’t live within the city, because those things are impossible to parallel park unless you’ve got enough curb to float a battleship—I just want to RPG it. Her screaming overweight kids, her Laura Ashley table linens, her QFC bags full of value-pak ground hamburger meat and Lean Cuisine frozen Turkey Tetrazini dinners and Lunchables for not-so-little Timmy who won’t eat any fruits or veggies, only pizza, cheese, and nitrates and so what if he’s 10 and already suffering from gout and is minus a leg from diabetes—I want to see the whole shebang in cleansing flames. Hummers too. Anyone who owns a Hummer is an unmitigated moron, I guarantee it. You might as well have a huge bumpersticker that reads ‘I Am Terrible At Spending Money.'”

“Yes, well—”

“And politics, don’t get me started on politics. That Bush regime? I can blab forever about those ghouls. You ever see a picture of Wolfowitz? That guy looks like he could skelatalize a black lab puppy in ten seconds flat. And just yesterday I was reading this-“

“Sir. Please. Nobody wants to hear about that. Plus, I’m going to be late to work. I just need to know—”

“How to become a bartender.”




“Then what?”

“How to pick up people in a bar.”


“I prefer the term ‘women.'”

“Well excuse me, little Mr. Antioch. I suppose you spell it with a ‘y’ and don’t put any vowels in ‘girl?’ Christ, do we gotta do 1995 all over again?”

“No. I just think—”

“Shut up. I’ll do all the thinking around here. Basically there are two things I can tell you.”

ONE: Never buy a drink for a girl as a way to break the ice. Ever. In over two-and-a-half years of bartending and nine years of barhopping, I’ve never seen it work. Never. Not once. Buying a drink for a chick as an opening gambit immediately labels you as a chump. It’s a cheeseball move, usually performed by a guy who’s way too old and way out of his league, or otherwise its a greasy groomed chimp in a tucked-in shiny shirt, tinseled with clanging gold necklaces, reeking of cologne, talking about the gym, golf, his job at the firm, yawncetera. He’s playing the numbers game, throwing his money around and seeing if anything sticks. Girls know this guy. 90% of girls hate this guy. The other 10% love this guy and use him for entertainment, taking his pathetic offerings while simultaneously making fun of him. Don’t be this guy. Please. There are too many of him already.

And if the only way you can make friends in this life is by buying things and you are dead set on announcing to the entire female population of the bar that you are a creep of the lowest order unworthy of being taken even slightly seriously, for shit’s sake, ask her if she wants the drink first. Don’t loop a hardworking bartender into your doomed little mating dance. Saying, “Hey bartender, give that little lady a drink on me,” is THE WORST. Any bartender who has been a bartender for more than fifteen seconds is going to go ask her if she wants one anyways, because they don’t want to put her in the position to where she’s all of a sudden obligated to talk to this jerk. That’s not how you get regulars my friend. And if you’re going to be a bartender—”

“Look, I’m in a hurry. So, what works?”

“You really wanna know what works?”


“Will you give me Gatorade money if I tell you? I’ve got some serious cottonmouth going on here.”


“Gatorade is an excellent beverage. I like it even more than beer. I can’t remember my favorite flavor, though. Alpine Snow or something stupid like that. I really like the clear flavors, although the original green brings me back to the soccer fields of my youth. Do you enjoy orange slices?”

“Mr. Driver, please—”

“Pizza parties?”


“If she’s sitting at the bar, go stand next to her while you order a drink of your own. Casually look over, smile, and ask her what she’s drinking. Unless the thing has a fucking Budweiser label on it, you should be ok. If it’s stupidly obvious what she’s drinking, say something to the effect of, “that looks good, I think I’ll have one too.” It’s innocent. Noncommittal. Friendly. You can vibe out the situation and there’s an escape route for both of you. She can bless you with her lovely smile, ignore you, be polite, run away, break a bottle across your jaw, explode … just see how she acts. It’s all about giving her outs.”


“And not being creepy.”


“And you can’t act like you care too much either.”

“Why not?”

“Look, I think I’ve given away far too much already.”

“But you already have an extremely hot girlfriend. And plus, you’re an internationally known celebrity. Your inbox is constantly stuffed with obscene sexual advances. And what if she’s not sitting at the bar? You already agreed to tell me two things.”

“Ah, yes. My second point. John Motherfucking Ashcroft.”

“NO! About picking up chicks.”

“I prefer the term ‘women,’ but we all can’t be enlightened now, can we? Let me just say that if a woman approaches you in a bar …”


“And you’re not a bartender …”


“Run away. At full speed. Something is wrong.”


“Something nefarious is afoot.”

“Are you saying even in this day and age, women aren’t allowed to—”

“Hey, you want some fuzzy, felt-paper idea of how you want the world to be, or do you want solid conclusions based on years of extensive data collection?”

“I’m just saying that, if a guy comes on strong, he’s considered assertive and confident, but if a woman does the same thing—”

“Drop your drink, scream at the top of your lungs, quit your job, and relocate your primary residence to a city at least five hundred miles away.”

“It sounds a little drastic.”

“Let me tell you a couple of stories. “

Back when I worked at that shit bar in South Seattle, I co-tended with a little guy named Tony. Tony was 5’3″, from Santa Fe, about as broad in the shoulders as I was, and, unlike me, totally ripped. A slightly self-absorbed gym nut, you could bounce quarters off the kid’s abs, and probably off the bed he made every morning in his momma’s house too. He was fresh out of a four-year stint in the Navy, young and smiley and as innocent as peach cobbler with a newborn baby crust smothered in fluffy lamb sauce. Nice kid. How nice? We were drinking after work one night and he told me his biggest disappointment in life (not usually too traumatic to hear about a 22-year-old’s regrets) was getting kicked out of the SEALS program for breaking his commanding officer’s thumb. Wait, bad example. Here’s an example of what a great guy Tony was.

He had been at sea forever when his ship docked in Thailand. His buddy, a few years older with plenty of tours under his belt, had a place for them to stay. A clean little apartment inhabited by two sisters, 13 and 15, who cooked and did laundry and were cheaper than the Holiday Inn. So Tony and his bro show up, eat well, drink a bunch of shitty beer, smoke cigars on the balcony while these girls wait on them, and then it’s bedtime. His buddy pairs up with the 15-year-old and they disappear into a bedroom. The 13-year-old pulls Tony into her bedroom starts kissing him, all clumsy like. She pushes him onto the bed and suddenly he’s buried in a pile of her stuffed animals. She’s pulling up his shirt and kissing his chest and he’s half-drunk and looking around the room. There’s a picture of her older brother on a nightstand. He sees these ribbons, awards from school, Backstreet Boys posters-all these things reminding him of his little sister back home, and he totally freaks out. Tony pushes the girl off of him, grabs a pillow, and tries to relocate to the livingroom couch. The girl flips out too, following him through the door and wrapping herself around his legs, practically ripping his shorts off, upset that he doesn’t want to fuck her, that he doesn’t think she’s sexy, that she’s not gonna get paid, that she’s gonna get in trouble with her sister and maybe get kicked out of the house. He’s trying to explain to her that he doesn’t want to have sex with a little kid, that it’s wrong, and she’s saying no, I’m no kid, I’m all woman. You try me.

“And dude,” he told me, “I had just been at sea for months. I thought I was gonna die. And we were there for two more days.”

“So what did you do?”

“I ate a shitload of noodles and jerked off eight times a day.”

Sweet kid.

Anyways, we worked weekend nights together, but during the week we split the shift: he was on days and I was on nights. We swapped out at 5:30. He’d sit and have a drink and we’d fill each other in on who was 86’ed for a week, who was straight-up banned, who’d been stabbed, who was in jail, who got a hot basket of deep-fried chicken gizzards dumped on his head, which cracked-out cocktailer got fired for stealing salt packets, and any other hilarious dirt that needed dissemination.

One Monday afternoon I’m grudgingly starting my shift, waiting for the 22 oz of Mickeys from my commute to kick in. I’m sliding my bar rag through my belt and he’s back in the office getting his leather bomber jacket when this girl, 25-ish with long brown hair, walks in though the back door. Cute. A little rough looking, but cute. Sort of like a sorority girl stumbling home the morning after spending the night on the bathroom floor of Delta Suxalon, shakily trying to piece together what her commemorative T-shirt advertised as “A Night to Remember.”

She asks for a job application, and I tell her that she doesn’t want to work in such a dump. Fine. She asks for a rum and coke, and then if I have a girlfriend.

You always say yes. Always.

“That’s a shame,” she says, taking her drink and sliding down the bar to sit next to Tony, who has just pulled up a stool. I make him a Strong Island Iced Tea and they start talking.

Back in the corner, some dipshit with a pool cue screams and then chases some other dipshit out the back door into the parking lot.

“Take over, Bos’n,” I yell to Tony, hopping the bar and charging out the back door to break up the fight and get the pool cue back, motivated by nothing more than the fact that my slimeball boss will take double the cost of a new pool cue out of my paycheck.

Out in the parking lot, I stand between the two absolutely smashed morons and with a mixture of calm words and ridicule, I will the pool cue into my hands. I go back inside, slap the warped cue back into its place on the wall, and yell at Tony for letting those guys get so sloshed. It’s a common theme at the bar. Tony gets these bums wasted, gets their tips, his shift ends, and I have to pick up the pieces. He doesn’t have the cajones to cut the jerks off. And the only way to get him to grow a pair is through severe ridicule. But I let up on him today. He’s making inroads with this girl and wants another drink. He’s buying one for his new friend too. They make a cute couple. She’s whispering in his ear. He’s laughing and gives me a thumbs up when she turns to scout out the bathrooms.

And then construction workers and Boeing grunts start pouring in for our 6-8 happy hour that corresponds perfectly with Goldie’s 4-6 happy hour up the street, and the 12-4 happy hour at the place a few more blocks up the road that changes names and owners every two months. My own assembly line begins and I throw bottles and yank taps like a robot. I’ve become apathetic enough to be a good bartender, and can easily weather the stress that comes with contemplating the fact that 100 dusty, hot, and pissed off guys have been looking forward to this moment since breakfast and every second they spend waiting means another typical and shitty insult hurled at my head. The world has been riding their asses all day, and now they get to ride mine. Yawn. I sneak a shot of rum and go sit in the walk-in cooler for a minute just to be annoying.

I come back out and Tony’s demeanor reminds me that hasn’t been bartending long enough to have built up a scary tolerance like me. It’s his first “real job” and he’s acting goofy off of a couple tough drinks. He tries to climb back behind the bar and mix up a few more shots, but there’s a video camera trained on us (and the register, and the parking lot, and the kitchen), so I pretend to yell at him and push him around to the other side of the bar. I slap two Dead Nazis down in front of him and, as is our on-camera puppet show, swap his $20 for four $5’s out of the register. He leaves one as a tip. We’ve been passing the same $5 tip back and forth for weeks.

The afternoon progresses normally. I fill countless pitchers of MGD, calloused hands offer shitty tips, and I sip off my pint of whiskey coke, counting the hours until I can scream “last call,” turn the TVs to Food Network, pour myself a pitcher, and load the deep fryers up with cheese sticks. The next time I turn around, Tony and his lovely friend are gone.

He walks back in like fifteen minutes later with this stupid guilty smile on his face. “Dude, I gotta tell you something.” He pushes me back into the kitchen. “I just fucked that girl.”

“Wow. Where?”

“In the back of my Bronco.”




“It’s sort of messed up. I didn’t use anything,” he said, almost smiling. “She didn’t want me to use anything.”

“That is fucked up. You need to go to the doctor, man.”

“Hey, can I enjoy this for like one second?”

“OK, enjoy it, but you gotta go to the doctor tomorrow, and three months from now, and six months from now—”

“OK, mom. I’m just saying … that was CRAZY. Fucking HOT! I got her phone number and everything.” He looks almost hypnotized, like he just won the lottery. And he takes off, half dazed. Dumb kid.

So about five minutes after he leaves, the girl comes back in. Gets another drink. Asks me if I still have a girlfriend, as if now that I know what she’s offering, I’m gonna change my mind and turn the hatchback of my Honda into a sloppy-seconds love pavilion. My face automatically shrivels and I make a noise like:


She shrugs and slides on down towards Patrick, a stout, smiley Mexican dude with gold chains and a Hornets jersey who comes in around 6 every night, sits at the corner of the bar, and plays the touch-screen bar games until his boys get off work at the kitchen next door. He calls me “maestro” and as far as I know, the only three words of English he knows are “Bud Light Pitcher.” She puts her arm around him, breathes into his ear, and he looks at me like he just won the lottery.

“Dude no,” I tell him, “she just screwed Tony.” He just grins and says “Tony!” without understanding what I’m trying to tell him. The girl gives me a bratty smile.

“No, Patrick. Don’t! Uh … punta sucia. Muy sucia. No vas con ella.” God, my Spanish sucks.

“What are you saying to him?” she asks, indignant all of a sudden.

“I’m trying to tell him that you had sex with our friend like 5 minutes ago.” She takes Patrick by the hand and I try to grab him to keep him from going. He brushes my arm off. “Inodoro! Condomio!” I yell. “Prophaliactica! Crap, does anyone know what condom is in Spanish?”

Nobody offers any vocab assistance, just a bunch of dirty giggles. The couple exits through the back door together, Patrick grinning at the pool players as he leaves.

So, about a half hour later, I’m telling this story to Mike, a heavily medicated psycho on parole for a crime I never asked about. He comes in loaded and I attack him with free cups of coffee until he eventually wanders out. He had a room in the public housing across the street, and like I said, was on a zillion meds. He liked to drink cheap wine by the gallon, which mixed perfectly with his cavalcade of pharms to keep him drunk and awake without food for days straight. He’d be so out of it, he’d forget to take his antipsychotics, and then he’d become completely incoherent. I usually forced a plate of fries on him when he was looking really bad. His daughter, who had been a regular before getting 86’ed, did her best to care for him, but she was a nutjob too. Meth-thin with gray teeth, she was banned for life for hitting our Friday-night DJ over the head with a glass beer pitcher. Since it was his head, there was no serious damage, merely a lump above his eye that constantly threatened to birth an alien. To be fair, the DJ did pass her a corking case of warts a month after becoming her fiancée, because he dealt all sorts of lovely substances out of the club … and not always in trade for money. And they say romance is dead in America.

Mike was 99% harmless. It was that other 1% that kept us all on edge. He was a small, about fifty. Long, greasy hair and glasses. Missing teeth. Vietnam vet. Army jacket, POW T-shirt, the whole works. So I’m telling him the story, and—

She walks back in and stumbles toward the bar. Glassy eyed, obviously with more in her system than rum, sperm, and an unquenchable libido. “Well, Mike,” I say, “here’s our little princess now.” With great effort, she manages to raise a middle finger to my nose.

“Ghi meh uh ruuhm ahhhhhnd cohhh-ka,” she slurs.

“Yeah, I think you’ve had plenty.”

I’m acting flip, but she was really starting to bum me out. It makes you sick to see someone burning down like that, right in front of you. And to have no one else around who give a shit. People think it’s funny. I’m the weirdo. I’m the freak for being anything other than utterly bemused, or even using the word bemused. She takes a handful of bar napkins and throws them on the floor in defiance.

“Look,” I say, knowing well from experience the sheer stupidity of attempting to reason with an ape in this shape, “you’re really making shitty decisions right now. Let me call you a cab. Please. I’ll fucking pay for it.” So much for the tips I’d make tonight.

Mike slowly turns his face to her and says, “hey!” loudly. She turns her head towards him even more slowly, and they meet somewhere in the haze. Good. Mike is gonna try to talk some sense into her.

“I got wine at my place,” he says. She raises a sluggy eyebrow and gives him the once over. “I live right across the street.”

“OK,” she says, rubbing her face, “let’s go.”

“How much for these fries?” he turns and asks me, the first time he’s EVER offered to pay.


“T-t-t-t-two …”

“Just get me the next time you see me “

And they shamble out the front door together like a pair of three-toed sloth.

And then, after forty-five minutes of relative calm, she comes back in. After fucking Mike in his sad little government bed, in his sad little veteran housing across the street—probably the best thing to happen to him in ten years—she comes back in. Everyone knows what’s going on by now and I’m just waiting for the line to form. Oh how to do now?

That’s the thing with a job like this. You are forced to constantly make judgment calls. Figure out what to do in situations you don’t understand, situations you don’t want to be involved in, situations that you couldn’t even imagine existing prior to your immersion into the muck. I just wanna pour drinks and make decent tips! I’m not a social worker! Stop fucking up! I’m constantly forced to look out for the interests of people who are unwilling to look out for their own, people who usually hate my guts for trying to help. Somehow, the situation always twists so that I’m the bad guy. It’s hard not to get dosed by the taint.

I had little sympathy for cops before taking this job, due to less-than-inspiring encounters with the police departments of Atlanta (routinely pulled over for DWMFMIWN, Driving While Mistaken For Mexican In A White Neighborhood), Los Angeles (you’d think that in a city where 1 in 3 murders go unsolved there are more pressing issues than a guy bringing a bottle of Boones to a semi-romantic sunset picnic on the beach), Seattle (WTO cops spraying mace into the face a handcuffed girl while their buddies stood around and laughed), and Indianapolis (ask me about the time the engine of my friend’s car exploded and, with all of our earthly belongings completely engulfed in flames on the side of I-65 while we tried to pull our stuff out, the Indiana Highway Patrolman who pulled out a billy club to stop us from saving our clothes, administered field sobriety tests to us-two deathly sober punks watching all of our books and records being destroyed at 11 am on a Sunday-then frisked us against the hood of his car for nonexistent drugs, and then had the nerve to ID us AGAIN for an imaginary unopened six-pack of beer he thought he saw through the back window of the car shortly before it melted …)

Now I think I understand a bit about what happens in the mind of a cop. Just try to do your job while someone you’ve never met is trying to stab you with a meatfork. Split-second judgments are sometimes right, sometimes wrong. It’s not easy. Stakes are high. Mistakes are costly. Speaking of the cops …

Is this a call-the-cops situation? A person making terrible decisions with possibly fatal ramifications? I doubt it. Even if it is, I can’t call the cops, because, according to scumboss, “unless there’s a body or hostages, the police are not to be involved. You handle the situation yourself, or you will be fired. The cops already harass me as it is. One more incident and they’ll go for my liquor license. Got me?”

I had $508 in cash to my name. Fuck getting fired.

She’s staggering from guy to guy and I’ve got no solutions. I’ve had it. Time for her to become someone else’s problem. I jump the bar again and forcibly begin to shove her out. She yells to some guy to meet her outside, he starts to follow her, I tell him to sit back down, he tells me to fuckin’ mind my own business. All these old fucks want a crack at her. They think it’s funny. The guy follows her out the back.


And, elbows on the bar, there are construction men with mustaches who are married and tired of the drama. They want their beer and let me know in no uncertain terms. There’s an angry Tongan alongside them, loudly demanding pulltabs, vodka, pineapple juice, chicken gizzards. And whose fucking six-year-old kid is sitting on a barstool playing videogames? Work beckons.

“Fuck her,” one of the construction workers says. “She’s getting what she deserves.”

“I’ll fuck her if I get the chance,” says ol’ Elmer, sipping on a tumbler of Early Times. His 26-year-old granddaughter will be popping in at any minute to drag him home for dinner.

Oh, this grand human spirit whose wholesomeness knows no bounds!

Twenty more minutes pass without incident, and I am thankful.

And then, an uptight, preppie-looking guy in a blue polo shirt struts through the front door. Think Swedish computer programmer with no friends who has been living with his mom in Scottsdale, Arizona for three years, without cable television. Little round glasses, tall skinny head. Flushed face. Khakis. Orders a 7 UP, which is never a good sign.

“So,” he says after sitting and stewing for five minutes, “are you the bartender who fucked her?”

“What? Fucked who?”

“My wife.”

Jesus. And I got pissed at my girlfriend for leaving a pot of mac and cheese on the stove for two days.

Part 2 up next Wednesday morning, 8/20. Swear.

I was not expecting quite as many people to email me about the book. Shit! 460 responses as of this post! I guess we’re doing a bigger run than I thought. Rock! Again, it’ll be at least a month before I mail this thing to the printer, so if you want a book, please let me know. Email with the subject BOOK BOOK.

To answer a question: yes, seeing how more than half of the people who read this column seem to live in England, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, I will mail books over borders and overseas with applicable postage added on. We’ll figure it out, mates.

The line edits are coming along rather nicely as well. I’ve got a firm promise from Mr. Chops of September 1. With a realistic revision to incorporate said edits, I’m giving myself two weeks past that. Then a final read. Then a tearful goodbye as I slam the thing into the mailbox and wait for 500 books to show up in my mail slot.

Off to happy hour …