I’ve always taken Kurt Cobain’s lyric, “just because you’re paranoid, don’t mean they’re not after you,” to heart. Someone’s usually out to get me, whether it’s the IRS, my cable service operator, the neighbor who refuses to make eye contact, or the guy at my local bodega who keeps sabotaging my breakfast order (how hard is it to remember a sesame bagel, well toasted, with egg and cheese?).
That’s why, one fine spring day, I wasn’t surprised to find myself a victim of a shameless and sneaky crime. I was out with the family and some friends at a fish and chips joint in Brooklyn, the sort that’s a pub-restaurant hybrid, so I didn’t feel so bad about our letting the kids run a little wild. But my defensive parent radar kicked in when I noticed an unusually high number of grimaces and sideways looks from the nearby bartender. Maybe it was after helping myself to yet more straws (great for distracting 6-year-olds) from his precious domain that I began to feel the barkeep staring daggers into me.
Well, that’s what I thought until 10 minutes after leaving, when I had an uncontrollable need to flee from my family’s side to find that unparalleled relief only afforded by white porcelain. It was like I’d been punched in the gut.
My first thought was that that bartender slipped something in my pilsner, which, come to think of it, had a slightly strange taste to it. That night, I went on the Internet to see if such actions are a figment of my imagination. I got a fair number of hits. Visine was the weapon of choice in these matters — but it didn’t appear to be a common phenomenon.
Lucky for me, my good friend Scott owns several bars, so I asked him whether he’s ever heard of such acts of vengeance against patrons. He just shook his head. Scott’s got a thing about how people think the bar business is run, and here was another example of me being a dolt. “You don’t understand,” he said. “Why would a bartender risk his job or worse for something like that? It’s just not the way a bartender would act.”
But I couldn’t let it go. I found myself striking up a conversation with an Irish bartender who’d been serving me Blue Moons one evening. She laughed and belittled my accusations as “urban legend.” I harangued an acquaintance, a longtime bartender who also owns a bar, and she said that she’d never done it or known anyone who has. She hasn’t even seen someone spit in a drink. If someone pisses her off at work, she responds the old fashioned way: she tells them off. But then she went into detail about how American Visine no longer is made of the same ingredients that causes diarrhea — but that you can still get the right stuff in Europe.
Why would she know such a thing?
I called up Chicago’s Haymarket Pub & Brewery, just to get another perspective on the matter, and I spoke with a manager there named Paul. He thinks he may have seen something similar happen in Wedding Crashers. “I don’t think any of the bartenders I’ve ever worked with would ever do that,” he said with unblinking earnestness. “It’s a moral thing.”
I hope that they’re right, and that there’s not some blanket of silence that I just couldn’t uncover. Alas, for anyone who thinks I’m totally crazy, I leave you with one item from the crime blotter: in 2007, a Pennsylvania bartender pled guilty to spiking a cop’s drink with Visine because he didn’t leave a tip.
The bartender was sentenced to one to two years for recklessly endangering another person and criminal conspiracy. Let that be a warning to all you bartenders reading this, and who I know are itching to spike my next drink.
Have you ever heard of a bartender seeking liquid revenge on a customer (or are you a bartender who has done so!)? Speak up in the comments.