A short story in three parts.
I tended bar at Jimmy’s. Corner of Washington and Cedar. Couple of blocks away from the big money places. Not that any of that money came into our bar. Wasn’t that kinda place. It was mainly construction workers that drank at Jimmy’s. We had a pool table, a juke box and a TV up high behind the bar. Apart from a few tables and chairs and a dozen bar stools, that was it. Nothing fancy. We didn’t do food. No kitchen. But we let the guys bring in their own stuff as long as they washed it down with our beer.
I came to Jimmy’s in June, 98. I grew up in Boston. Never knew my Dad, he disappeared when I was four. Mum never spoke of him, so neither did I. No point. Why talk about something you’ve never had. Mum raised me best she could, but I was always a bit of a handful. I got in some scrapes and petty crime but nothing serious. When Mum passed in 96, I was nineteen. I took the eleven hundred dollars savings that she kept in the gravy tin, put a few things in a bag and left Boston to see the world. Eighteen months later I’d only got as far as New York. I walked into Jimmy’s Bar looking for work. He took me on there and then. Even let me have the backroom to sleep in. After a while he trusted me enough to run the bar on my own. After six months I rarely saw him at all. Maybe once every couple of weeks. The business was worth nothing, but the land it stood on was worth a fortune. Jimmy was just waiting for some developer to make him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Till that day came, he left it to me to tend bar.
I opened when I wanted and I closed whenever the last person left.
As I said, our regulars were mainly workers from the nearby construction site in Greenwich Street. They were tearing down some old buildings and planning to put up new fancy condos.
Can I remember the first day I met Mike? Of course I can. It was November 17th 1999. Why can I be so exact? Because it was the day after my twenty first birthday and I was nursing one mother of a hangover. The lunchtime trade had gone and the bar was empty. It was four in the afternoon. It would now be quiet until around five thirty when the same old faces would come in to have a few beers before heading home. There were times when some never made it and had to sleep it off in the back room. It was THAT kinda bar. I was clearing one of the tables and when I turned round he was there, sitting at the bar. I hadn’t heard him come in which was strange as this guy was big. Six five and around two hundred and fifty pounds. He was wearing a black padded jacket, blue denim jeans and work boots. He had short dark hair with a few specks of grey. Difficult to say how old he was. Could have been any age from thirty to fifty. He had stubble on his face. Two days growth I’d say. I walked back behind the bar.
“Sorry, didn’t hear you come in. What can I getcha.”
He looked up at me and I know this is gonna sound kinda weird but he had kind eyes. See, I knew it would sound weird. But he did. Big… blue… eyes.
“Jamesons. Straight. No ice. Large.”
I poured his drink and watched as he swirled it around in the glass. Staring at it all the time. Then he took a sip and sighed. I tried to make small talk.
“So. Haven’t seen you in here before. You work in construction?”
He looked up at me as if he was trying to make sense of what I’d just said. Then he nodded.
“Oh yeh. I’m new. Construction. Yeh, that’s it. I’m in Construction.”
“The site in Greenwich Street?”
Once again he took his time.
“Yeh. Greenwich Street.”
After that I left him alone. He obviously wasn’t the talkative type.
An hour later and the bar started to fill up. I better re-phrase that because I might be giving the wrong impression. It was a small bar. As soon as there were twenty guys in there it was full. They were all big guys as well, wearing big heavy clothes. So although it was filling up there were probably no more than a dozen guys in there!
I knew them all by name and I knew what they drank. So serving was easy. That’s why there was only ever me behind the bar. I was in complete control. People came and went and by eight o’clock there were only four of us left. Me, Louis, Billy Mac and the new guy Mike.
Louis was reading aloud from a magazine.
“Hey, listen to this. It says here that seventy eight percent of Americans believe in Heaven.”
I noticed Mike sit up and down his drink. He looked over at Louis.
“Statistics should be used the way a drunk uses a lamppost. For support not illumination.”
He gestured for me to re-fill his glass.
It was the first words he’d said in almost four hours. But it was smart, clever and somehow profound. I liked it. I have to admit I didn’t really understand it but I liked it.
By eleven there was just me and Mike. He’d drank best part of a bottle and a half of Jamesons but looked completely sober.
“What time do you close?”
“Whenever the last person leaves.”
“Well I aint planning on going anywhere yet.”
“In which case I aint planning to close up yet.”
For the first time in seven hours I saw Mike smile. He left the bar at four in the morning. He’d sat on the same stool for twelve hours and drank two bottles of Jamesons. Yet walked out as sober as a judge.
Now you’re probably wondering how I knew his name was Mike. Well, I didn’t but I was a skilled bar tender. Asking someone straight out what their name was could be seen as being intrusive, nosey and the kinda guys that came in this bar were the kinda guys that didn’t like nosey people. So I used a technique that had never failed. Let’s say some guy comes into the bar for the first time, he has a few beers then leaves. He comes in again a few days later, keeps himself to himself doesn’t offer up any information. The third time he comes in. I begin to pour his drink before he gets to the bar. I then say.
“Hiya Davey, good to see you. Usual?”
I’ve just pulled a name from nowhere. He looks at me as if I’m mad.
“Who the fuck’s Davey? My name is Bob!”
Bingo! I now know his name. I say something like.
“Sorry Bob. You look just like another one of my good looking regulars called Davey.”
I give him his drink and then continue with something like.
“So Bob, hard day?”
Suddenly we’re talking and he feels at home. I tried it with Mike. He didn’t come in for three days then just like before he was there, outta nowhere. The first name that came into my head was Mike.
“Hiya Mike, didn’t see you come in. Jamesons?”
I thought maybe he hadn’t heard me call him Mike. So I did it again.
“Large, straight, with no ice. That’s right Mike?”
Fuck me. What were the chance of that? Of all the names that I could have chosen I’d got his name right first time. Unbelievable!
He stayed until four again that night. Once again the last to leave. He paid his tab and then slipped me twenty bucks as a tip.
“That’s for you for keeping the bar open.”
Twenty bucks was a good tip back then.
“Thanks Mike. When you next back in?”
He shrugged his shoulders and left. He came back two days later. Same time, four o’clock, and sat at his regular bar stool.
“Hiya Mike. Good to see ya.”
I poured him his Jamesons.
George Bush was on TV giving a speech about American morals. Mike tipped the drink down his throat, sat up straight on his stool and took a deep breath. I knew he was about to say something. He did.
“I honestly believe that no one from Texas should ever be allowed to become President. One day people will think of that man as a joke.”
There were six or seven people in the bar and it fell silent. Now there are two rules in a bar. Never discuss politics or religion. I waited for someone to speak up. No one did. Instead they all nodded in agreement.
Mike then continued.
“This man who insists that core moralism is what drives him will bring this nation to its lowest moral standing in history.”
He pushed his glass forward and gestured for me to re-fill it. I did.
After that. Everyone called him the Bar Stool Preacher.