Fictional Sketch from Notes from a Barman's Album:
April 2017, the 17th day.
There is the new waitress. I think of the line at the end of The Seven Samurai. "The farmers always win." Type A in blood, and perhaps in temperament too.
I'd come in from the Saturday night shift, never easy, and my help that night, as almost any night, rarely soothes me, but rather provokes me into anxiety, moving about as they do like hoofed creatures, loud, barreling, bumping, linebackers now as they fancy going home. Is it a show? It must be intentional somehow. Their bodies signal they want to go at the soonest hour by how they move, by their actions; they are only hear to make money, then leave, never how I saw it. Can I go, they always ask me, and because their physical presence, after their jostling as they sweep, the indignant noise they make, picking up the heavy Hefty five gallon bag of empty bottles, or dirty plates, drumbeats to their attitude that otherwise presents itself as the stare into the cellphone screen, because of all that I am happy to tell me, yes, go, leave me in peace, leave me in peace, and I need a glass of wine anyway after all your jostling and pretense. They are more masters of the economy than I am. They know how to use their time without any extra, then just go drive home. And I, on the other hand, need to unwind, Jesus Christ. The barman is jostled anyway, tortured really, and anyone who comes up those stairs, every time the door opens, can potentially be an inquisitor, poking you.
Easter. It was an easy enough interpretation to make, that, looking at her behavior, her speech, her focus, that she's been drinking, in a relatively bad way, not necessarily so much before me, but the glass of rose some sort of iceberg tip of a greater problem. You've tried to be patient with her, Lord knows, but just could not stomach it anymore, no way to tell yourself that there was good in her being there, at her regular stool at the end of the bar, nor of her coming in right not two minutes after we opened the door. Not the best time to come and bug a barman with a long night ahead of him, anyway, as he'd like to make a small foray into social media, have a quick chat with a friend or a mother, before, now that things are almost set up as other coworkers never really appreciate, this general having everything ready to go when it comes, and I won't or can't say that about anyone else of my colleagues. With all this in mind, it seemed like a foregone conclusion, cut her off from the drink.
Her dining experience were often interjected notes of dissatisfaction, a need to substitute the vegetable for this or that, doesn't want blue cheese, doesn't like the chef's penchant for sweet and sour with his braised dishes. And then it seemed when she'd reached a point numb enough she'd to ask to pay and then screwing her eyes up to look at her check and take out her cash or credit card... none of this was going well. A smart lady, a good person, and yet, things had come over her, negative things, and she had started to weigh everyone who came in down down down, and not quite ready to keep her opinions to herself, some disconnect in conversation, too much, too candid.
So, when she pushes her empty glass forward, her fingers on the base of the glass, I ignore her. Go out from the bar over to the room over in the back, where three familiar friendly people sit. They're talking of the daughter and son-in-law's trip to Venice. "No, Harry's Bar is nothing like it used to be. " Back behind the bar, pressed again,for another glass, looking straight at her, and again, "may I have another," I stand and quietly say to her, "how about an alternative beverage." "what, you're out of rose," "no, that's not what I meant by 'alternative beverage.' " She asks for a water, no ice. I pour her some evian. Doing all this quietly. She takes another bite of cheese. Asks for a to-go box and 'may I pay you.' "No check, it's on us," I say. And just before she leaves, standing up, she says to me, "I have no idea what just happened. I don't understand. We can talk about his later." Okay, my friend. Okay.
The stories we tell ourselves... The narratives we create, to explain to ourselves what we see. In my mind, part of it was, I was simply losing my patience, the daily 5:35 arriving like a horror ghost out of a Japanese movie to haunt me with problems. A good ear, good advice, she had, when we could talk one on one, alone, before the bar had other visitors. I had long defended her, stuck by her, engaged her. But to watch her go that way, wherever she was going, doing what she was doing, with detached laughter, to listen to the drama of her housing situation, her deadbeat ex, it was wearing, and other customers noted that too.
At the end of the night I left a note explaining matters for the manager, and the next day, of course, he was supportive of my doing the right thing. If I wanted to 86 her... Mid week I talked to my therapist about how to deliver the bad guy news to her, the recommendation being to sandwich the bad news with good positive compassionate notes both before and after. She'd been back in, and in fact, sober, and of alert normal mental state.
A week went by, and her behavior markedly improved, but perhaps for a lapse or two toward the end of her visit.
She knows enough, quite a lot, about food and dining. A smart sense about a lot of things, and yet, I suspect, like me, a Type O as far as blood type, and with all that, all the problems of early humanity attempting to stick into the modern crossroads, the granary, all that. I felt for her, I knew myself the gut problems, the sleeping problems, the anxiety, all those issues, and the need for the sedative quality of a glass of wine low in alcohol. And she was going through some stuff, housing stuff, income stuff, that was unsettling.
One night she confides in me, as we had discussed the same earlier, off and on, about the changes in her medications, those used to treat her anxiety and help her sleep. She clearly saw now what the medications were doing to her, how hard it was just to get up, how hard to be part of a conversation. We've returned to a good place of conversation, even if she is right on me early all by herself.
And I suppose if you look at a person long enough, rather than being critical, you see your own problems clearly before you, which sometimes is hard to do, looking at yourself.
The writer does not always know what he is doing. Indeed, his work, if you could call it that, is the case of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing. But somehow, you keep at it, reaching for the non-judgmental perspective. Which can be unsettling. It feels like you have to use it for some end, for some increasingly spiritual recognition that rings like, "there, but by the grace of God, go I." In need of seeking forgiveness and of prayer. As Peter Matthiessen sees it, the embarrassment felt from being alive, in his observations within The Snow Leopard, as if one simply waits, marking time, until the great rug is pulled out from underneath... that conundrum oft paid homage to in pubs and watering holes, "what is life for, anyway..."
I wonder if it is those happy kids who'll later run into problems in life, their self-regulatory good disposition toward their fellows no longer enough to sustain one over and through all the worries that set in upon us in our maturity, our adult lives, our attempts at responsibility.
I take the medicine to get me out of the winter clock change night shift funk, feeling better now, less cravings, and up at a decent hour today, writing again.