Mom’s the word…

It was a moment in time when your friendly bartender was anything but friendly, a moment he clearly regrets and surely will learn from. Or so he hopes…

This event took place a few weeks back on a night that looked for all the world like a bust. The first signs of spring had warmed the city and if anyone was in the mood for a drink they sure weren’t having it with me… this was one of those nights for sidewalk cafe fare. I had no one at the bar, the tables as well sat damn near empty and the only pressing matter it seemed was what game to watch.

Then all of a sudden, like a frantic fire drill from hell in reverse, in poured twenty young professionals eager to unwind. They’d apparently just left a seminar of sorts and were here to soak their new-found knowledge in alcohol. Holy shit, I thought, this is a job for Superman! So I quick jumped into my imaginary phone booth, put on my red cape and tights, and flew to the task of sating a huge gang of thirst. There were Cosmos coming in waves it seemed, bourbon old fashoined’s and sours and such, and all kinds of drinks that weren’t just your beer and wine types. But fear not, all you doubters, Superman had it covered. But then just when it seemed I was getting ahead… three quarters through all those orders… in walked a sight that sure as hell didn’t fit this picture.

Pushing through the crowd with a firm politeness, hell bent on claiming the one empty stool at the end, was an older gentleman well over six feet tall. In fact he was huge. And I only point this out because it was this along with his age that compounded the oddity. He was not only thirty some years past the crowd but a good twelve inches as well, amazingly trying to join this mob of “Let’s drink!”

Aw, man, what the hell is this? I thought, as I looked up from the ice at Grandpa Goliath. Why would that man at this time join that crowd in this fucking bar? Is he a masochist? I know that sounds cruel, dear reader, but those are the thoughts that run through your mind when you’re buried in catch-up mode, and any addition to the tally looms as intrusion.

“I’m going to be a while,” I shouted, with the warmth of a Tundra December,  “I’ve got myself quite a group here ahead of you, Sir.” I actually wanted to discourage the man from staying. Pretty lousy, right?

“This is no problem,” the man answered back, in an accent I couldn’t discern, then he added the broadest of smiles which was just as elusive. “But for now, if this is okay, Sir,” he went on maintaining that smile, “may I see please one of your menus that I could look at?”

You gotta be shittin’ me! This guy wants to fucking eat at the bar on top of it? Can he see what’s going on here?

“Here ya’ go,” I barked, stopping mixology to show him some menu toss-ology. Then I went back to mixing.

About five minutes later, and after taming the thirsty beast at least for the moment, I returned to the man with the menu and very strange accent. “Sorry to keep you waiting there, pal, would you like to order a drink before the food part?”

“I would,” he said. “I would like a glass of this Oban and a bottle of your Budweiser. Do you have these?”

Hmmm, not bad, a shot and a beer with pretty good brands to boot!

“Yes, I have these.” Then I went and got (this) and (your) and placed them in front of him. But then came the part when I wanted to kick my own ass.

“I am so glad that finally I get to come to this bar,” he said.

“Where are you coming from?”

“From Sweden.”

“And why does this make you so happy? Coming to this bar, I mean.” He took a sip of his Oban, a healthy swig of his Budweiser, and gave me that great big smile again as he spoke.

“You see, I just put my mother, who is a hundred and one years old, in a retirement home. And when I go through all her things to empty her apartment, I find from her days in New York a little diary book, yes? And so when I start to read this book…”

“Whoa!” I interrupted. “It’s none of my business but do you think you should be reading your mother’s diary in the first place, let alone sharing it with some bartender here in New York?”

“Oh, no, I know she would not mind… this is not a diary like what you think. This is a journal she keep, from 1944 to 1946, when she and my father live right here in New York. It’s like a history. And when I’m reading this, I see all the time  three famous places they go to. One is The King Cole Bar at the St. Regis, another is the Russian Tea Room, but most of all she writes about this place right here. Yes, from what I read they came here most of the time. And so I say to myself while I’m reading this, when I come to New York I have to go to this place. And look! Now I am in this place. Can you see now why I’m happy? I’m reliving history!”

Well, needless to say, dear reader, seeing the joy in this man’s expression and contemplating how I had treated him upon his entrance, made me feel about as small as small can get. We’re talkin’ micro!

“Well, Sir,” I offered, taking a swipe at my guilt which was now at its apex, “all I can say to you is, I’m really glad we were here for you when you got here. And I mean that. And hey, since your mom and pop obviously spent a lot of time here, which means a lot of money here, I’d like to offer your next drink on the house, how’s that?”

“Oh no, that’s okay, I only have these two and then I eat. But thank you.” Then I took his food order (chicken wings, of all things, given all the wonderful entrees on our menu), then I left him so I could mow down a fresh batch of cocktails.

When I returned (my cape and tights in tatters but clinging nonetheless), this hulk of a man, out of nowhere, began this sort of reverie about his mother. And it was downright touching.

“You know,” he began, “what was to me so… ahh… so beautiful… when I read all these words she writes back in 1946, was how different she was from the mother I know growing up. Do you know what I mean? She was so young back then and so happy and so free, and so loving to my father which I never see in all the years that I know them. It just makes me happy to know this other woman. Even proud. And this is the woman that now I want to remember. The one who came here in 1944.”

At this point, either the wings were too damn hot or his words were too damn pure but a tear began to form in the corner of his eye. And almost in mine.

He finished his plate of wings, drained off his Bud and his Oban, paid his bill and tipped me above and beyond. Then (good grief!) he shook my hand with such a force you’d have thought I’d been that bartender back in the forties. And then he was gone.

Well, there you have it, dear reader… an Oban, a Budweiser, an unlikely plate of chicken wings, a man from Sweden with a story to tell and a red-faced bartender with one big lesson to learn. And that is this. Never prejudge a patron, always give a warm welcome, and realize it’s not about you but about the customer.

Over and out from Bar-land… see ya’ next week-end!

Celebrity update: The couple I wrote about two weeks ago in the post called “A Lesson in Humility”, stopped in again and gave me permission to name them. So for those of you still curious, it’s Adam Campbell and his wife Jayma Mays. She’s starring right now in the television series “Glee”. And the two of them couldn’t be nicer.

26 Responses to “Mom’s the word…”

  1. 1 Ken April 10, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    Scrib, you have really topped yourself. What a great story! You set it up brilliantly, with the flock of young professionals coming in on a warm spring night. I was expecting another jerk at the bar story.

    Great pivot, to the Swedish gentleman, seeking out his mother’s, and in a way his own, past. Fleeting vision of mom and dad as young lovers, in Manhattan, in 1946. Great stuff.

    And a nice, unforced moral to the story. Reminds me of what a wise physician once said to me: It’s not your job to please me, it’s my job to please you.

    Great work. May the ghosts of Mel Ott and Carl Hubbell bless you!

  2. 2 jc April 10, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    Hi Jayma! I loved your “I could’ve danced all night” number, great show. Good luck to you!

    Scrib, a dude in a cape and tights isn’t supposed to make me cry, dammit. I wasn’t expecting that! You ARE that bartender from 1944.

  3. 3 Arundel April 10, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    Great story. I’m so happy the Swedish man had the diary, could read of the fun youthful times his mother had there in the 1940’s. Love that- NYC is filled with memories, the past, something I love thinking about. Mostly I’m glad for him that someone as appreciative of that, as humanist and writerly as yourself, was there to greet him and talk. Or just listen. Thanks for making that guy’s sentimental journey a happy one.

    And Jayma Mays is indeed lovely and sweet in “Glee”, a very enjoyable show.
    Her character Emma is a bit shy and unassuming too.

  4. 4 scribbler50 April 10, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    Ken: Thank you so much for the kind words. Really appreciate it. And I’m glad you saw the story just as I felt it.

    jc: After a night like that, handling a crowd like that, I sometimes feel I’ve been doing this since 1944. And hey, as Jim Croce said in a song once, “Don’t tug on Superman’s cape”, it just might bring a tear to your eye, jc!

    Arundel: Your welcome, sharing this story was my pleasure, believe me. I’m glad you enjoyed the journey, it was one special night.
    (And I couldn’t agree more about Jayma Mays. Just like her character, lovely and sweet!)

  5. 5 Abel Pharmboy April 10, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    Brother Scribb, I came by to do my penance for being out of touch and I was greeted by this beautiful celebration of the soul.

    “You know,” he began, “what was to me so… ahh… so beautiful… when I read all these words she writes back in 1946, was how different she was from the mother I know growing up. Do you know what I mean? She was so young back then and so happy and so free, and so loving to my father which I never see in all the years that I know them. It just makes me happy to know this other woman. Even proud. And this is the woman that now I want to remember. The one who came in here in 1944.”

    I was going to write about how I started tearing up at that to only find in the next paragraph that your guest did as well.

    When we look at the snapshot in time our elders represent today, we too often forget they were just like us – young, beautiful, with all the promise and dreams we all have (okay, I was only young). I was just up in Connecticut last week for Easter at my sister’s place and she has all these great old pictures that include my parents’ wedding portrait, just shy of 50. They look so full of joy and anticipation of what life held for them.

    What a great way to break getting slammed by the group of 20 by being reminded that you are a nobel custodian of a great institution that has touched lives for decades.

    I shall not miss you next week, good sir!

  6. 6 scribbler50 April 10, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    Abel: Thank you so very much for that thoughtful response. And thanks for adding your personal story to mine. It so true isn’t it? We often fail to realize that those who came before us were every bit the planners and dreamers that we were. Or are. All one has to do is look at a photo and see the look in their eyes, or read the words of a journal and there it is. Then life does what it does to those dreams and suddenly we see just the person at the end of their journey. Sad and amazing!

    PS: Listen there, Mr. Pharmboy, you never have to do a penance for being out of touch, my friend. What you’ve been through and what you do more than warrants a respite from this little bar room. So all the best to YOU, “good sir”, and thanks for stopping by whenever you can.

  7. 7 Arikia April 11, 2010 at 6:25 am

    Hi Scribbler! This was just the pick-me-up I needed. A little kindness can go a LONG way where I am. I’ll think about that as I go about my journeys over the next week here in Haiti 🙂



  8. 8 Anonymoustache April 11, 2010 at 7:43 am

    A magnificent, beautifully moving post, Scrib50. I came here to say a bunch but the other commenters have already said it so well….
    The para that Abel excerpted…the man’s reverie…the soul of this post….it’s like a novel in itself, man.

    Since I am an incurable wag, I’m gonna go ahead and call this episode “The old man and the ‘See?….that’s why you shouldn’t pre-judge’….”

  9. 9 scribbler50 April 11, 2010 at 9:54 am

    Arikia: And you merely being in Haiti (for the reasons you are) is an act of kindness. Be well, dear friend, and here’s a smile back at ya’… 🙂

    Anonymoustache: Thanks for the kind words, Bro, and may you never be cured of your “wag-iness”. Because if you ever are cured it will be (to pun-a-phrase another Hemingway title) “A Farewell to Charms”.
    {place groan here…….}

  10. 10 Jennifer April 11, 2010 at 10:59 am

    For all of us who were once younger and freer, thank you for the post.

  11. 11 scribbler50 April 11, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    You’re welcome, Jennifer.
    Ahhh youth, ahhh freedom, ahhh shit, I forgot to take my pills!!!

  12. 13 physiobabe April 11, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    That was beautiful, Scrib. Missed ya!

  13. 14 DrugMonkey April 11, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    And no doubt the mother and father enjoyed the bar with an annoying flock of fellow 20-somethings back in the 40s….

    Awesome tale, Scribbler.

  14. 15 scribbler50 April 11, 2010 at 11:34 pm

    Comrade Physioprof: Elementary, my dear Watson.

    physiobabe: Thanks, bella mia… glad to be back and I’m glad you missed me.

    DrugMonkey: Good point that, Sir, I’m sure the 20-somethings were the same back then as now… a bar is a bar and people are people, the only thing that changes is the wardrobe. Hey, thanks for checkin’ in, man, always good to hear from you. And thanks for the compliment.

  15. 16 JSaw April 12, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Wow! You take a week off and then BAM! A classic unforgettable post.

    That story tipped the scales and I just made plans to visit MY mom in California for Mother’s Day. Thanks (and my mom thanks you as well.)

    BTW, was going to give you a pass on not recognizing the woman in the couple. But Jayman Mays?!? Come on! Use that new phone to fire up some Glee on YouTube. 😉

  16. 17 scribbler50 April 12, 2010 at 10:00 am

    JSaw: Sorry but I watch very little series TV and if Ms. Mays didn’t mind (a-hem!) neither should you! 🙂

    That said, I’m told that “Glee” resumes this week and you can bet I’ll be DVR-ing it. Everyone I’ve spoken to (who thinks I’m as out of touch as you do) tells me the show is great. I look forward to catching up.

    Best to your mom from Bar-land!

  17. 18 alboyjr April 12, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Another terrific entry. Many thanks to Mr. Wolcott for directing me to your site. I have ever slaved over a wet bar, but have not done so in many years. You’re bringing it all back, especially the reasons why I don’t tend bar any more. Keep up the good work. This story just about brought a tear to my eyes. Well done.

  18. 19 d-a-p April 12, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    really terrific story….tugs at the heart…
    as always…thanks again for these little slices of life…

  19. 20 Petro April 12, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    As your metier appears to be the touching anecdote, scribbler, I find it karmic-ally appropriate to have a random stranger pop in and feed one to you.

    Thanks for re-framing it and passing it along!

  20. 21 scribbler50 April 12, 2010 at 7:00 pm

    Alboyjr: And I as well thank Mr. Wolcott for directing you to my site. Yeah, there’s definitely that “pain in the ass” factor that comes with tending bar, but there are also moments like this one that make it worth while. Very worth while!
    Stop in again, friend.

    d-a-p: Thanks, Bud, sometimes a tug at the old heart strings is real good medicine.

    Petro: Don’t know if it was karma what done it but I’m damn sure grateful for the experience.
    Cheers, Pal!

  21. 22 Old Crusty Stan April 15, 2010 at 9:48 am

    Beautiful, Man. Just beautiful.

  22. 23 scribbler50 April 15, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Old Crusty: Hey, man, thanks a lot and welcome aboard. If I’ve thawed YOUR granite heart I suppose I’ve done something.
    Meanwhile, just checked out your site and definitely will return. Lots of stuff to chuckle and raise an eyebrow about. I particularly got a kick out of your profile in “About C. Adolph”.
    Again, welcome.

  23. 24 Marty Wombacher January 26, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    A wonderful story and you wrote it beautifully, Scribbler, thanks for suggesting I read it. I need to dip into your archives more!

  24. 25 scribbler50 January 26, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    Thanks, Marty, glad you enjoyed it.

  1. 1 “I’€™m going to be a while,” I shouted, with the warmth of a Tundra December, “€œI’€™ve got myself quite a group here ahead of you, Sir.” I actually wanted to discourage the man from staying. Pretty lousy, right?& Trackback on June 28, 2010 at 10:56 am

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