Perhaps I should state at the outset, dear reader, that this week’s post will not be the usual fare. In other words your friendly bartender will not be swimming in the familiar waters of Bar-land gaffes and kerfuffles… those slips and trips that have kept this blog on schedule… for those waters, alas, have turned this week to thin ice. Upon which he’ll tread lightly.
So if you wanted your cocktail served today with the tingling glee that comes from a verbal joy buzzer, or tears from a squirting lapel flower posing as humor, I’m sorry. You’ll have to wait til next week’s entry when I’m sure by then some pontificating ass, while toasting his very own being, will have poked himself in the eye with the plastic swizzle stick. So let’s get serious…
The shrieking, high-pitched giggle I heard… wind chimes in a gale… preceded her entrance by seconds as it rang down the hallway. Aw shit, I said to myself, who in the hell is this at this freaking hour? I thought we were done!
And I had thought we were done, dear reader… Chet Baker was soothing the room in CD, we hadn’t had a customer in an hour, and I’d just told the waiter to go ahead put up the chairs. I’m not in the mood for this!
But when I gratefully saw who owned that giggle.. someone I’m going to call “Girl” for obvious reasons here… my mood quickly changed and I welcomed this incoming foursome. Good news indeed!
“Girl, I don’t believe it,” I said, “what a wonderful surprise this is!” Then we both leaned across the bar for a peck on the cheek. “It’s been ages!”
“I k-n-o-o-o-w,” Girl replied, in her signature five year-old’s voice, which wasn’t an act but simply the way she talked. “But that’s because we moved, ‘ya know,” referring to her company’s relocation downtown. That should’ve warned me right there this wasn’t her first stop.
“Of course I know you moved, Girl, don’t you remember how sad it was the day you guys held your going away party upstairs?” Then I laid on the bar four bev naps after I said it. Girl was with a woman who was roughly her age, late twenties maybe early thirties, and two guys who were clearly late forties or early fifties. This looked like an after work thing that had kept on going.
“So,” I continued, trying engage all four, “where are you guys coming from?”
“Florida,” barked the one guy… the younger one of the two… and he said it in a wise-ass tone that took me aback. And he winked at his friend as he said it to accent the “wise-ass”.
“Florida? For what, a business trip?” I said. I was still in the un-hip dark, dear reader, thinking they’d been away on some kind of conference.
“N-o-o-o-o-o-o,” chimed in Girl, “not a business trip, silly. We just met these guys in the bar up the street and when I realized we were here in your neighborhood I thought I’d bring them by for a phhh-i-n-a-l, final. ” Girl I could see wasn’t drunk but definitely slurring. And even that she did cute!
“O-k-a-a-a-y,” I said, “what’s everyone having?” I wanted to get get down to business and move this along. So Wise-ass ordered a gin and tonic while his friend went Johnny Black rocks, and both of the women ordered chardonnay backed by two waters. I made the drinks and set them on the bar and that’s when the god damn trouble kicked off in my head. For while gin and tonic and the one chardonnay were chatting and getting to know each other, Girl and Johnny Walker Black were already there. They were already locked in embrace and moving into kiss.
What the hell? That’s pretty fucking fast, I thought, as I watched this thing unfold. Then, son-of-a-bitch this is fast and wrong… that old bastard’s wearing a ring on his third freaking finger. Geez, Girl, what the hell’s going on here?
Now at this point it must be made clear, dear reader (which I hope you already know), that your friendly bartender is far from being a prude. Yes he more than understands hormonal rage at two o’clock in the morning, for many is the night on your side of the bar he’s been that man from Mars, promising a woman from Venus to pick out furniture in the morning… if only he could spend the night en route to that morning. So this wasn’t some case of righteous baloney or Solomon sitting in judgment, this was definitely a “something else” but (what?) I couldn’t figure.
Yet not wanting Girl to sense my dismay I walked to the far end of the bar and leaned against the backbar. Mind your own business, man!
But I couldn’t let it go. “Do you believe this shit?” I said to the waiter who had just come over to join me.
“Believe what?” he said.
“That shit! Girl and that old frigging hump down there muggin’ it up. It’s unbelievable! He’s not only twice her age but the bastard”s married!”
“What the hell do you care?” said the waiter. “She’s a big girl, she knows what she’s doing.”
Precisely, I thought, she does know what she’s doing, so why do I care for crying out loud? I mean, for all intents and purposes, I really don’t know this Girl except for our long ago exchanges which were strictly customer-to-bartender. And believe me it’s not some deep seeded crush buried deep, deep, deep in my psyche, for just like Johnny Walker Black I’m way too old for her. So what is it? I continued. Is it a big brother thing? Good grief, a “paternal” thing? Am I the moral compass for all little girls out in Bar-land? Well, “Hell no”, to that one indeed… one look into my past would invalidate that notion. So what is the reason this thing is getting to me?
But reason or not this had gotten to me and dammit Girl picked up on it, for just as she turned to gather her water and ungather Johny Black’s arms that were clinging like grape vines, she saw in an instant my thoughts through my furrowed brow. And I cursed myself for that. The whole dynamic suddenly turned on a dime and she looked like a girl who’d just gotten a “D” in spelling. And I was teacher. Her big doe eyes looked straight across the room and hit me right between mine, and carried on their gaze a guilt that I’ll never forget… especially if this was the last time I’ll ever see her. And the guilt that I got from that gaze had trumped hers in spades.
In a matter of minutes Girl had gathered her things, threw me a rather weak smile, then walked out the door with Johnny Walker Black and his wedding ring. No kiss good-bye, no “Glad I saw ya”, just that enigmatic smile which could’ve borne ten meanings. And she also left behind gin and tonic with Chardonnay still at his side… unfinished business between them, finished business to be sure between me and sweet Girl.
“Start putting up the chairs,” I said, to the waiter who was glad that I did so, for he’d been chomping at the bit since the four of them walked in the door. And as I looked through the window out onto the street at Girl and Johnny Walker Black sliding into a cab together, not going into (which my mind wanted to do) Maybe they’re going for coffee and breakfast or one’s dropping off the other to save on cab fare, I decided to call this whole fucking affair none of my business. Bar-land stages a drama a night and this was simply one of them, one in which your friendly bartender failed miserably as director.
I handed the tab to gin and tonic whether he wanted to see it or not, then I turned up the lights and the volume on Chet Baker’s CD. There wasn’t a need for “Last call” we’d already had it.
Over and out from Bar-land… see ya’ next week for a much lighter tale I’m sure.