Get It Together

By Ron Ciancutti

I was just finishing my shift and had counted my tips for the night. As was expected, I carved out 10 percent for the busboys and another 10 percent for the bartender. There was a standard policy at the restaurant that once a waiter changed out of his uniform and clocked out, his first beer at the bar was half price, so I indulged in that privilege and chatted with the bartender, a really nice guy, several years older than me, and a “townie.” I was a student then and really no more than a visitor to the neighborhood, but he had lived there his entire life. I really looked up to him in a certain way since he had his own house and was out of school. He was proud of being unattached and his own man. As we used to say in my hometown, “He was a guy who had it together.”

However, that night my image of him changed in a matter of seconds. Evidently, management had been watching him for some time, as was often the case with bartenders. The manager thought he was giving stuff away for free: long pours, double shots, less ice than was standard, all the things that could be easily covered up or denied if confronted, but was definitely a way to gain favoritism from customers and seemingly improve a bartender’s personal tips. The manager sat beside me and ordered a club soda. Without hesitation, he asked what the beer I was nursing cost. I told him I got the half-price deal for just finishing my shift. He asked if it were my first beer of the evening. I assured him it was. He asked if I ever got a free beer while at the bar, and I said I hadn’t, which was true. I’d always insisted on paying, mostly in case of moments just like the one I was now experiencing—I needed the job and didn’t want to lose it over a complimentary drink.

When the bartender brought back the club soda, the manager confronted him directly. “I think you’re giving away free shots and beers, and I will find out, so you may as well just tell me now!” Well, my friend went pale and then got red-faced. He looked angry and then sorry and then, yes, he started to cry. I mean like a 4-year-old playground kid crying. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he said over and over with his head down on the bar, wailing. I was torn between being so uncomfortable and completely mesmerized at the transformation going on in front of me that I think my mouth stayed open in amazement.

“C’mon, man,” I thought. “Get your cool back on, brother. You can explain this.” The manager hadn’t even blinked.  “Clock out, get your coat, and never walk in these doors again!” The bartender collected himself, did as he was told, and left the building. In the ensuing years, I would bump into him now and then at other places, and always said hello, but I could never forget the meltdown that took place and how he virtually “shrunk” when the pressure was on. It was a true series of life lessons for me that day.

No Cheating
First and foremost—don’t cheat your employer. A company gave you a job, and with that job there should be a certain amount of trust the company is entitled to. It may seem small, but even taking a “harmless” office supply or two is wrong. Stealing is stealing, and if taking anything gives you the slightest moment of pause, trust your gut and put it back. The smallest stolen token sets a precedent, and although grabbing a spool of Scotch tape to wrap Christmas presents at home seems innocent and insignificant, it isn’t. You didn’t pay for it. It’s not yours.

Play Your Cards Right
Second, if you’ve chosen to live with any form of deceit, you will be labeled forever once you have been found out—and you will be found out. So you had better think about how to handle yourself when confronted. The bartender could have defended himself and “softened the blow” by talking to the manager upfront, letting him know he did give more favorable pours to some of the regulars, etc., because he thought it was good for business. His meltdown looked foolish, childish, and unprepared. With a little self-awareness, he could have thrown up his hands and said, “Wait a minute. I told you why I felt justified, but I know if you have that little faith in me already, I’ll never have a clean name in here again. Let’s call it even here and now. I will clock out and never return.” By giving his employer what he wanted  (the employee gone), he could eliminate the give-and-take that may put him in a highly unfavorable light. It’s like pleading “no contest” to a traffic violation. Again, I’m not encouraging you to tell a lie, but you have a much better chance if you maintain enough decorum and dignity to handle yourself like an adult. People make mistakes, especially younger people. In that instance, the bartender could have legitimately argued that his “customer-friendly” service kept a lot of business coming in. A small reprimand might have been the come-uppance instead of a blatant firing. His frantic response to the accusation triggered the verdict. That all contributes to self-awareness, another way of saying how important it is to “have it together.” Preparation helps. 

Calm And Collected
Most people can tell you of the rotten trick your body plays on you when confronted with challenge or danger. Let’s say you’re driving along and you accidently cut someone off as you enter the parking lot to the movie theater. The guy you cut off is screaming at you out the window and you smile at him and turn to ignore him. Ten minutes later as you stand in line outside the theater, you casually turn to look behind you and he’s standing right there smiling at you. With the threat now right on top of you, your body does the following—your voice goes up three octaves, your breath begins to shorten into little pants, and when you speak, your voice shakes. You have absolutely no control over any one of these outbreaks, and you are powerless to change any of them. Well some find that moment terrifying enough that they take karate classes, or self-defense classes, or carry a weapon, or go to the gym and work their bodies so they can properly defend themselves. And next time, in that same moment, they are calm, cool and collected. They have it together in many ways and their mind is in control of their bodies. They have prepared for the worst moment and “have it together” just in case that moment unexpectedly arrives.

Be Prepared
People often mock me for my preparedness, but they wind up admitting that I do, indeed, know how to get what I want.

When I have my taxes done, I always bring the records from the previous three years. Once my accountant said, “If I only had last year’s file in front of me,” so the next year I said, “Here it is.” After a roll of my wife’s eyes, the accountant would immediately find the exact number he was looking for, and nine times out of 10, I was “filed” by morning. If you know what an employer will be asking for, bring it along. Have it together.

When my kids move into a new apartment or home, I have several copies of their house keys made. I tell them I have only one copy on my personal key ring and say no more. Months, weeks, even days later when they call and say they lost their key and are on their way to get my copy, I tell them they don’t need to make the drive. They will find a copy of the key under the rock by their back door. “Dad, how did you know?” I just smile and say “good night.” Knowing they won’t get it together insists that I must have it together.

My wife is always unprepared for bad weather, so she never has the right jacket or sweater. One day at a garage sale I bought five hoodies of varying thickness, washed them, and put them in the trunk of my car. So if the temperature turns cold, whether at a soccer game or from the air-conditioning in a theater or restaurant, she is never without a backup jacket. And each time I provide her with what she needs, she shakes her head at my preparedness and scoffs at how handy it is for me to “have it together.” Of course, she says this AFTER she puts the jacket on.

Ron Ciancutti has worked in the parks and recreation industry since he was 16 years old, covering everything from maintenance, operations, engineering, surveying, park management, design, planning, recreation, and finance. He holds a B.S. in Business from Bowling Green State University and an M.B.A. from Baldwin Wallace University. He has held his current position as Director of Procurement since 1990. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at