Welcome back, dear readers, hope you enjoyed your holiday and as promised, your friendly bartender has saved you a seat at the bar. And for those of you who don’t have a seat (all you stragglers out there), I’m sure you can drink and read standing up. Anyone need a refill before we begin? No? Good, let’s get started……
Remember two weeks ago when I talked about how a bartender has no buffer between himself and some unwanted customers? How any old clown can walk in his bar and unless he’s sporting a duck on his head or projectile vomiting in the entryway, order a drink and share a part of his life? Well, it’s imperative today I add this observation. And that’s this. For every one of those wackjobs… those characters better suited for the Star Wars bar… there are scores of people who come in each day who make my job not just bearable but downright pleasurable. And none more so than the person in the following story.
I first met this man… this much older gentleman who along with his wife were table customers having dinner in the corner of the room… when he walked up to the bar and asked me the score of the game. It was the Pirates versus the Mets and when I gave him the numbers which were heavily in favor of the Pirates, he gave me a big thumbs up and walked away. Now, being from Pittsburgh myself, this made me curious if he was too so when the man and his wife were leaving I stopped him and asked. And it not only happened they were both from “the Burg” but he and his wife were still happy residents of same. He said they came to New York every couple of months where they stayed at their son’s apartment, as their son was often on the road with his job in sales. And the next time the two of them did come to town they paid us another visit I’ll never forget!
The place was kind of empty that day with no one at all at the bar, so the husband shouted across the room, “Hey, Pittsburgh, how ’bout comin’ over and sayin’ hi?” Their food hadn’t arrived yet so he thought he’d fill the time by comparing notes. You know… What part of town ya’ from? Where’d ya’ go to school? Do you know this person or that person? The usual. So I walked over and that’s what the hell we did. Then oddly, after running the full gamut of all our shared knowledge of our fair city, he realized we hadn’t exchanged full names as of yet (we’d just called each other “Pittsburgh”), so he formally introduced himself and his wife. Then it happened!
When I told him my full name (let’s say it’s Jeff O’Connor) he said, “Did you ever know a guy back home named George O’Connor?” “Well, ah, yes,” I said, kinda with a chuckle yet taken aback, “my dad was a George O’Connor for what it’s worth. He died back in the mid 1980’s.” The man got a strange look on his face and then he went for the particulars on his George O’Connor. Like where did he work, where did he live, etc., and then the big one that buttoned the whole thing down. “Was your dad ever a member of AA?” he asked, his eyes big as saucers and staring straight through me. If the answer was yes there couldn’t be any doubt. “Um… yeah,” I said, picking up on a massive Rod Serling vibe, “my dad was definitely in AA. Why, did you know him?” “Know him?” the guy roared. “Your dad was my damn sponsor! The man saved my life and I haven’t had a drink in thirty five years.”
WTF??? Am I dreaming?
“Do you mind if I sit down at your table?” I asked, not just because I was totally blown away which truly I was, and not just because my legs felt like aspens in a Category Four which they did, but because I wanted to know more about their relationship. Like a lot more. See, (not to get all maudlin here) I never really quite knew my old man, knew him as a father I mean… my folks had split when I was a baby… so all I ever heard about him was the negative. And so to have a chance to sit with this guy and maybe hear some positive, was an opportunity I just couldn’t see passing up. And I didn’t.
Oh sure, I know my dad was a bit of a rogue and a lady charmer and all, and let’s face it… a drunk a lot of the time… but damn it when he was sober he was terrific. And this man sitting at this table was testimony to that. And since he was just as anxious to tell me about dad as I was to hear about him, he regaled me with story after story to both our delights. And this went on through most of their meal as he painted a picture I hang in my head to this day. A beautiful picture no longer in the rogues gallery.
Then, as the conversation wound itself down and ironically as it all turns out, and after loads of all that good stuff I couldn’t get enough of, he told me their roles became totally reversed at the end. It was this guy who became the sponsor and my pop was the one who was making those two a.m. phone calls. He was making those calls, that is, until eventually he just stopped making them… and that’s when the booze caught up and finally killed him.
Well gosh-by-gee-by-golly, dear reader, what is your friendly bartender to make of all this? I mean first of all, what in the hell are the odds of something like this happening all these many years after my father’s death, and all these many miles away from Pittsburgh? Plus, I know Pittsburgh is not Beijing in terms of population, but it’s also not Mayberry RFD either. In the city proper alone there are over three hundred thousand people, and just to know any from that group is not only rare but damn near off the charts.
And then there’s this business of coincidence thrown into the mix. I’ve often read in spiritual philosophies (not religious, but “spiritual” philosophies) there are no coincidences in life, that everything happens for a reason, and all that occurs is thought into being by our super-consciousness. Is that so? Who knows? That’s an ocean of thought too deep for me. But one thing I do know and this I’ll take to my grave. This event was not some random collision as too damn much went on, too much raw emotion, too much “these-things-have-to-be-said” kind of thing. And so if I had to pick a reason as to how and why this happened, I’d have to say my pop was doing the orchestrating. I know that sounds like a wishful son but that’s what I’d say looking back, he saw the two of us there and put us together. I could feel it.
But, hey, either way and neither way we were all better for the experience, and I hope you are as well for having heard it. There are beautiful things at work if only we knew it.
This took place about six years ago and since I moved shortly thereafter to the place where I’m now employed, I never saw this man and his wife again. But that’s okay, what more is there to say except to paraphrase Bogart’s words from the movie Casablanca. “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world you had to pick mine… and boy am I ever blessed, Sir, that you did.”
Over and out from Bar-land… see ya’ next week-end!