I work in a restaurant that caters to an older clientele and so of course I anticipate the fact that my tattoos are inevitably going to raise a few brows. It’s the choice I’ve made and I get it and I live with it, although my grandmother can’t. In favor of college tuition, she’s started a savings account in my name for when I’m “ready to have them removed.” In other words, that money isn’t going anywhere any time soon. But that’s the older generation and I completely appreciate your opinion just watch what you do with it.
Tonight, as I’m talking to some regulars at the bar, I see the older man on 107 raise his eyebrows. He’s obviously completely unaware of the fact that I can see him, based upon the way he digs his elbow into his frail wife’s side and points in my direction. Makes an incredibly indiscreet gesture at his own left arm to indicate where she should look. And look they do. His face contorts beneath the darkened lights of the bar and I carry on my conversation but tune a listening ear into their own, a mere five feet away.
“It’s disgusting,” he says. “Disgusting what the younger generation does.”
And he continues to glower and grimace and frown and I continue shooting the shit with the darling couple at the bar who’ve never mentioned my tattoos, let alone frowned at them. I’d doubt they’ve even noticed. They’re the kind of people that look inside first. In other words, the good kind.
But the man keeps going and he’s now telling a story about a young kid he once saw with tattoos up to his neck and his hands are fluttering about his face in illustration like wild little thrushes in the shrubs.
And I finally can’t take it anymore and I turn to him. “If they offend you that much, I can cover them up.”
And he grows quiet and looks down at his now calm hands framed in prayer in his lap. And I wonder what his problem is. Beside my tattoos I’m not talking superficial here I’m talking deep seeded. Because this is the same man I’ve waited on for seven years. The one who was hospitalized and medicated a few years back and had to change his diet and I listened with compassionate ears each time he came in to practice humanity’s favorite pastime: Burden the Bartender. And I even bought him a little book of recipes detailing how to cope with his newly discovered illness and I slid it across to him, over the bar. Because I play Burden the Bartender too. Only, as the Bartender, my role in this game is to listen. And respond. All of which I did.
And then I got tattoos and all of a sudden I’m unrecognizable and I’ve become something foreign and ugly and worthy of shame and I could tell him the story of the flowers embedded into the skin of my arm. I could tell him all about the grief and the love and the memory they symbolize. But he won’t listen. Because he’s all about the burdens, and not about the truth.
My bar is a place of peace. It is a place of love and acceptance and diversity. I love the sight of tattooed arms resting on my bartop. I love the rainbow hues of hair and the earth tone shades of skin and the beautifully painted eyes looking back at me from above the glistening, sugary rim of a lemon drop martini. I love the pierced ears and noses and brows as much as I love the clean cut, slicked back hair of my favorite CPA. I love it all. So if you’re coming in here to practice your discrimination over a round of happy hour apps, I’ve got news for you: this is not the place. We serve acceptance here. We serve inclusion and kindness and grace. I’m pouring out a round of shots garnished with compassion. If you’re not ready to toss back that sweet liquid, then perhaps you should find another bar.