During the day, the café where I worked attracted three groups with its international cuisine and almost funky ambience. First there were the tourists, identicaly dressed, escaping the rain, asking for directions and, if they were from Germany, stealing all the bread. Then, there were the immigrants, gathering together to talk about the old country in a place where they didn’t feel completely surrounded. And finally the artists, tucked in their corner, requiring an unceasing supply of expresso and ice water. This was no problem. I reprimanded (that’s ALL for you, Dieter) and directed the tourists to Kolaportið. I kept the artists on a steady caffeine drip. I shed a tear with those far from home. Mostly however, I chain smoked and listened to the stereo. If this would have been the extent of my duties, I would have been content. The problem was that Friday night always came eventually.
As day turned to night, our little oasis of multi-cultural interaction turned into a nightclub of sorts. The nature of the job changed. While the place filled up with merry-makers, you were expected to become a sort of master of ceremonies, a good time coach, making sure everyone was enjoying themselves. This was difficult for me, as I didn’t give a damn who was amused so long as I was.
Weekend shifts were tricky. It could go either way. If the place didn’t fill up, or if it emptied before 2:30, the owner would tell you to lock up. This left you a few hours of playtime for yourself before last call all over the city. But if the place was still jumping by 2:30, your night was shot. You’d be cleaning and cursing until 7 a.m. easily.
One Friday ran like this:
9 o´clock: All the tourists scurry back to their hotels, in their matching anoraks and feckless expressions. The immigrants have gone home, they’re saving money. The artists switch from coffee to white wine. And then come the rest…
11 o’clock: The 16-year-olds show, order Cokes and hot chocolate while furtively guzzling fifths of Beefeater stolen from Pabbi’s liquor cabinet hidden in their backpacks. I come upon one in the kitchen, wrist deep in a sink backed up with Sambucca and Thai-noodle vomit.
Kid (clad in too-big pink dishwashing gloves, finger tips bent hysterically)- I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I couldn’t make it to the bathroom. I’ll clean it up. I’m cleaning it see?
He rummages around ineffectually in the muck. Splash, splash. He’s got tears in his eyes and I’m waiting for closing.
12 o´clock: The druggists arrive, stake out tables close to the restrooms. They go to the toilets in pairs and fill up our wastebaskets with bloody tissues. They can never order just a beer or a shot. Always something exotic or non-existant.
Druggist (getting his head together)- Ok,Ok,Ok…I´ll have a Russian, no, no,no a Screaming, no… a blue meanie. I want a blue meanie.
Me- No such thing, man.
Druggist (genuinely offended and developing a nosebleed)- What kind of place IS this?
1 o’clock: Everyone else arrives. Most of Reykjavík. Hair gelled stiff and curled. All dressed to the 9’s and posing like somebody’s watching. The crowd’s half-drunk already, acting up and, by the looks of it, down to stay for the duration.
My barman’s banter is non-existent, the more crowded we get the more annoyed I become. I viewed the night as my own personal shootout at the O.K. Coral. You ask for a drink, I throw it to you. Bang, yer dead. I had fulfilled my duty to you. I didn’t want to hear about your lovelife, your interests, or your chances with the dark haired girl at that table. Your night was getting in the way of mine.
By 4 am my night is fucked. I’m on a stool behind the bar, smoking my Nth cigarette. I’m long since past the point of caring about the patron’s music taste. I put in Thin Lizzy and Dancing in the Moolight comes over the speakers. I notice as a woman stands up from her table. She’s in her late twenties, eyes crossed, a bit chubby. She starts to dance a bit to the song, clumsily, just there next to her chair. She’s not a bit drunk, I’ve served her soda water and lemon all night. Her face is turned toward the ceiling, eyes closed as she dances naively, unselfconsciously. We all watch mesmerized, through smoke shade and bloodshot eyes, break our poses and just watch. Her friends are looking up at her smiling. And suddenly it’s all alright. The tourists are bundling up against the feared weather. The immigrants are counting krona in their sleep. The artists are worn out with talk and wine and are nodding at the tables.The druggists are a-jingle-jangling home. The teenagers are wretching all over the dawn breaking city. It’s Saturday morning in Reykjavík and it’s alright.