The nine-top for the back room has not arrived yet, but for one. A customer who has become a good friend is bringing project members by; it maybe business related to defense contracting, which I can rant about on a given day, but over the years here at the Old Gaul, a deep and sincere friendship has arisen between us. One, a large man, has come to the bar, preferring to my pleasure, the Cahors wine to the Argentine Malbec. I talk to him about the menu, as local good friends meet for a chat, coming from nearby. He spends his week working in DC, goes back to Florida on weekends.
I smelled a storm coming getting to work, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist when it's Jazz Night at the old Dying Gaul, to smell a storm brewing. And by the end of it, I will be hurting, in need of wine, and sustenance, and friendship, and the zombie-sleep of drunkards when it's all over, waking enough to pee, and get another glass of water, to turn over a few times, remember a strange dream or two, but not enough of a wish to get up out of bed.
Earlier, I muttered to my friend, who will work alongside me, about Jazz Night. "Yeah, the holidays, stressful. I'm taking my Vitamin D..." I tell him. "Ted, you need to give out some Vitamin D," and I chuckle with good humor, and shrug, "yeah, you're right. Sorry," I say. That's probably what the whole entire front of the house staff probably thinks, seeing my depressed face come into work to set-up, often alone, with enough to do, needing a bit more help. But then, that is the ritual that has always worked for me, the physical sorting out, the putting things together in their place for the crucial set-up, everything ready to go, 5:30 sharp, a lime to cut, fresh lemon twists ready to go, mineral water chilled, wines cold in their ice buckets. Often left alone to do all this and to greet the first customers, which is fine and good.
A familiar face comes in, up the stairs, and she needs a table, for her and her husband, and I show her back to the four top table by the back window, and she is pleased. The kids have now grown up a bit, away at college. She is from Chicago, good taste, down to earth, polite, expecting good manners, but with a good enough sense of humor and a genuine care for fellow humanity. The family would come in on Sunday nights, and I'd take care of them, and at one point she mentioned to me a weekly meeting group for the spiritual minded up at the National Cathedral, which I never made it to.
I ask her if she still goes, and she asks me if I'm still writing. Yeah, I go see my therapist, and then I write, I say, implying some vague connection. And then she makes clear, there needs to be a relationship with Jesus in all such matters. "It wouldn't be faith if it were not tested," she tells me as we wait for her husband to arrive. And I could get rid of the therapist, the Lexapro, and the Zen Buddhism, and consider deeply the words of the Gospels. Church is okay, but too much based on the letters of Paul, which are not quite the same as what Jesus as recorded, she tells me. Getting Jesus directly, as God is pleased in him, is the thing. She emphasizes, again, the actual words of Jesus Christ, mentioning the Lord's Prayer. I can say, sincerely, that I say it every day, at least once, and that I thought Pope Francis's attention recently to the "lead us not into temptation" part worth mentioning. The real God would not lead us into temptation, she tells me. It's just that we are weak, and I feel a bit guilty about this, must say, as I am now feeling awkward of my having mentioned D.T. Suzuki and The Training of the Zen Monk, embarrassing, as well as the mention of therapy, and so forth. I do tell her, that yes, after my session, I'd go catch the Twelve Oh Five over there at St. Matthews, which I am proud of. Yes, we are weak. Boy, we are weak, and I feel responsible, or rather, irresponsible, for tempting people and making them weaker and less disciplined than they might be otherwise.
(On the other end, it might be said, that providing a place where people might talk freely, supported, is a good thing, in these terms of Christian life. Who knows?)
Well, the night gets busy. Very busy. Very very busy. Cocktails for my friend's table, French 75s, Tango Mango (without the mango), Last Word cocktail, at the time of the first hits of the rush, soon people lined up for space... Regulars arrive, without reservations, and it takes a hustle to find them space and get them started out.
The night draws to a close with my friend coming up the bar, and I pour him a port, and a bit of wine for me, as would only be expected. We go out for a drink, at not the holiest of places, for some "fun and dancing girls." He'd been my friend for years before I told him I wrote a book, which he identified with very much. There are similarities of experience, college days.
And so I sleep in. Tired out anyway, from the party on Saturday for fifty, from the ropes of Sunday night by myself, from the staff luncheon at Fogo De Chao, from Tuesday night wine tasting, making it interesting for the regulars, and finally, the unstopping steam-roller cluster-screw of Jazz Night.
I've been a Buddhist, sort of, I've meditated, over chakras, I've read up on Zen, but perhaps in the end you need Jesus, your faith being tested. How do you follow better? How do you act better, in accordance with what the good quiet woman told me, at this vulnerable time of year, when another whole year of the grind dawns on you. How do you become a better person, able to get up at a decent hour and bring goodness to the world, and "what am I doing now anyway..."
How do you get less chewed up by work, to put more time and energy into being a real true Christian, real and true? And I'm not the only one in the restaurant business to walk that line. To bear the serving of people, the personal torture than often resolves itself in becoming Born Again, and that sort of thing. Seen it more than once.
When you drink, I suppose, even if you don't drink more than the allotted three glasses of wine in two hours with food, even then, it's hard to make decisions. It's hard to break out of the rut. Add on top of that, the prohibitive hours, hours prohibitive of doing something normal people would do. You start to feel kinda like you're not good Christian folk...