Sunday, April 3, 2011


It took a split second to go from “he’s hot” to Code Orange. From inside the bar I could see him stumbling around outside. White ribbed sweater showing his defined chest, expensive jeans, hanging on to the side of the building for dear life before he composed himself enough to roll through the front door of the restaurant. Jose, the owner, greeted him as an apparent regular, though I’d never had the pleasure to make his acquaintance. It was early Sunday night, I was the only one in the place - the disturbed hunk took the seat right next to me. His scent had the intensity of a car airfreshener, he was bathed in booze and chain smoking. Jose spoke to him like he was any normal patron even though the young man had trouble stringing thoughts together. Jose slammed down a beer in a bottle, the scented gent downed it like Gatorade, Jose was there to enable with what would become a six pack in the next hour or so.

He was a Marine – his stumbling along the side of the building may have been explained by his broken hip, a souvenir he brought back from Irag – topped off with a combo of pain killers, self medications, and lord knows what else may have explained his precarious gate. “Honorable Discharge,” he raised a finger, he now worked for the city’s big phone company. He still had military clearance, Jose bragged that my new bar friend was the guy they called to rig the phone system when the president was in town. The president’s go to phone guy slipped off to the bathroom and reappeared, steadying the inanimate barstool to make sure it was safe before he slid himself back on.

The beer seemed to be waking him up. He told a story about his phone company and a service call he had up in Riverdale. “This Jewish lady” wouldn’t let him in. He had showed up to the repair appointment in the body hugging ribbed white sweater, and expensive jeans he was wearing now, even though the story took place a few days ago. The Jewish lady had sent him away even though he presented her with the company's photo ID. When he got back to headquarters his supervisor put the disgusted customer complaint on speakerphone. “I didn’t realize that Ventron was hiring homeless people,” she snapped. It seemed the guys at Ventron had a good laugh over that one, his “uniform” of body hugging clothes, badly bleached hair, and Eau du Camels didn’t warrant so much as a slap on the wrist. “Dude, don’t they have a uniform you can wear or something,” Jose was trying to help with some sound advice. The compromised soldier waved the comment off like an invisible mosquito was targeting his face.

A woman walked in, I had seen her at the place a couple of times, she was pretty, had a ready smile and a nice energy, she walked up to the discharged Marine and kissed him sweetly on the cheek like he was her hard working husband getting off the 5:02 train to Greenwich. She seemed oblivious to the stench he was putting out, or the fact that he was barely holding it together. Introductions were made, he slid one seat over, opening a seat up between us for his lovely wife.

Turns out she owned a bar on Brooklyn, she’d come from Ireland years ago, she and “Joe”, her husband, had been married ten years. I quickly turned my attention back on my sangria to hide my disbelief. Joe was nodding off, but would inject sudden epiphanies, Tara, his wife, would place her hand on his shoulder and say, “excuse me, Honey, what was that?” like he had something important to add, two staccato hiccups punctuated his fragmented thought.

Tara was engaging, John was going in and out of some form of consciousness, it was like the children had gone off to bed, Tara told me a story about getting her Blackberry back after losing it somewhere in the city. “I used my ex-girlfriend’s name on MY number, they called her, but it was me.” She looked for my reaction - it was confusion. John briefly woke up and did his best Greek Chorus impression, heralding, “SHE HAD A GIRLFRIEND! SHE HAD A GIRLFRIEND!!” and hiccupped again before narrowing his eyes on the beer in front of him like it was prey he would need to be very clever to capture.

Tara and I talked about people we knew from the neighborhood, the freaks, the legendary characters, one of them a gorgeous 30 something in the hood with considerable psych issues and an eating disorder to boot. John piped up, “IS SHE HOT? WOULD I LIKE HER, HONEY?!!” Tara didn’t miss a beat, “No, Baby. She’s crazy, crazy like you. You like together girls to balance your crazy. Don't you.” It was hard to imagine any “together” girl seeing John datable or even f*ckable – but John blinked twice for yes in response to his wife’s assessment of the bulimic girl in question.

The bartender/owner Jose had been plying me with free drinks but I felt the evening coming to a close. It was that feeling like you have to throw up but want to be in the comfort of your own home to do it, the couple showed no signs of leaving. When I stood up, John in a miraculous burst of energy jumped to attention to help me on with my jacket. It was a stunning gesture of chivalry at the end of a dicey impromptu evening. “Hey, I don’t know what you’re doing," he leaned into my ear, "but you could come home with us, we dabble in – “ “Stop right there,” I graciously declined the yet defined offer, “whatever it is you dabble in, let that be YOUR secret.” “Yes, Honey,” Tara smiled at her man, and winked at me.

I couldn’t wait to get home and wash my face, wash off the soldier turned Ventron tech, his stench, his wife, their offer. Yes, soap - a nightcap was definitely in order.

No comments:

Post a Comment