The singer of the hardcore band I liked back in high school flipped his phone shut.
“Dimebag’s dead,” he said as I was about to throw back my fourth shot of Jameson. I looked down at the glass in my hand. It was my third shift as a bartender and I was drunk, probably too drunk to be serving anybody else. Possibly near the point of intoxication where another bartender would say, “You’re cut off.”
Thankfully that wasn’t such a problem. The bar I worked at, a cavernous place in the middle of a Williamsburg street that hardly anybody ever walked down whether the sun was up or down and that probably made more money from its Big Buck Hunter game than it did actual drinks, was almost always empty. For my first two shifts I mostly sat alone on a stool with my music blasting from the speakers, counting the seconds between patrons. I wrote little short stories on napkins, read a book I didn’t like but felt the need to see through until the end, and whatever else people did with empty time in the pre-iPhone days. People came in and usually had one drink before moving on to wherever else, so it’s very possible that the hardcore band guys were the best customers I had. It’s really too bad I didn’t make them pay for anything.
Up until that third night of my brief career behind the bar, I’d never given much thought to Dimebag Darrell. His old band, Pantera, was the soundtrack to a thousands cars that zoomed by me as a teenager, with some dude leaning out the window yelling homophobic slurs in my direction. People tried to convince me to like Pantera because of their crucial influence on metal and rock, but it was too hard to disassociate their sound from high school enemies clad in the Pantera logo.
Before I made any jokes, I remembered that the band I was drinking with had at some point toured with Pantera, so I withheld any comments I may have had and held my shot glass overflowing with whiskey in the air in salute to Dimebag Darrell.
We kept drinking until the band left around two in the morning in a much better mood then they’d been in around ten when they heard the news about Dimebag, leaving me alone in the empty bar with an hour to kill. Drunk, tired, and pretty sure nobody else was going to show up on a frozen weeknight in December, I considered taking a nap on the pool table. Instead, I sat behind the bar, chugging one pint glass filled with water after another in an attempt to fight the impending hangover that I knew was on its way. I wasn’t going to make any money anyway after pouring all those free drinks, but it felt like I’d done a damn good job, like I’d joined some unspoken New York City bartenders union by helping customers through a rough patch by pouring them drinks to help them not think about too much.
Unfortunately the manager of the bar didn’t think so, and I was fired over the phone the next morning. One of the five other customers that came through during my shift was a friend of the owner’s and told him that I was drunk and gave her a whiskey and ginger when she asked for a margarita. But I like to think I was there at just the right time, like my failed attempt at being a bartender in Brooklyn served some kind of higher purpose, that I was in the right place the night Dimebag Darrell died.