The bar extended about half as long as the number of brass nameplates That’s, if your measuring stick was an average bar stool. The tiny sign proclaiming thirty patrons only was buried somewhere in the darkness. It was floating almost out of sight hovering above a temple built of multi-colored liquor bottles. The evening had not panned out much in the way of customers. Some in pairs? And a few alone! Roderick broke his stride to meticulously polish a couple of glasses from a set of six that had appeared upon a hinged drawbridge blocking the entry to the back of the bar. Each goblet surrendering its milky film to perfect clarity before it was raised up on high into its proper place within the grooved frame above. Bar stools just behind him loudly stuttered. One after the other, the staccato chorus announcing the bar’s usual nightly arrivals. Two overweight middle-aged types dragged themselves ponderously up. Depositing their backsides upon the summit of each perch. The same nightly cycle of several wine coolers occasionally chased with a round of ‘B-52’ shooters. A side-wards glance by Roderick confirmed that one of them was already off to a head start. The bottle swung up and down in his solid grip. Decanted twice making the usual clink and rumble as it was dropped with professional abandon into its usual spot in the stainless steel trough just out of sight of the customers.
Conversations from here and there bounced from wall to wall then bubbled over the bar towards its maestro. It was the usual bit. Not quite arguments, so much as the usual ‘just find something absolutely trivial to bitch a little’ about! Barely worth his glance! Even if it was a shift of a single millimeter to either side! He thought about which of his usual quips would be the right fit to curtly tight betwixt the interval preceding another round? Maybe five minutes? This equating to another ten cycles of the exacting routine of wipe, arrange, mix and serve. He turned about abruptly to look in the beer cooler just behind him to check stock. The ‘Lites‘ had already been depleted halfway back to the middle of the wire shelf. It was about time to send the kid to the back to bring up a fresh carton from the basement.
Joanie leaned her tray half across the rubber matte at the server’s station. The increased frequency of the deafening crashes of empties crashing into each other within the garbage bin providing sharp counterpoint. It was obvious to Roderick that she was mentally watching the clock’s hands to make them go faster. The timepiece in question being hidden somewhere deep within. A professional sense of circadian rhythm! He’d never admit it! But, he hated it too! The problem was that it was too late! This job had invaded his soul! Could it really be his fault that these same old tired sad faces grew longer and sadder each evening? So much so, that even his best potions and mixes had little effect up their inevitable drifting downward. Where did they disappear to during those long intervals of absence from their seats? You might have thought that they all boarded a flying saucer to take a trip around the long side of the sun? Or even out of the solar system! Some of them, he liked. Some he couldn’t care less either way? Not a one of them ever knew the difference!
He broke his stride for a moment stopping to turn to the back of the bar to sip from his own private cup. Some of them on the other side of the bar might have speculated if there was a little more in there than just java? No one would ever know! Or get the opportunity to find out. It was none of their business! He really hated anyone trying to figure him out. After all! He didn’t come to their place of business and watch how they acted when they were on the job!
Another set of cold frothy Michelob’s magically appeared on the bar after a quick set of well-worn arcing movements. Two swollen reddish faces floated momentarily just above them. They turned back towards each other a pair of disembodied hands chivalrously carrying off the bottles to the expected point to await eventual evaporation. Roderick had his timing down to a five second sharp window. His ability was somewhere between an art and a science. Uncanny to many in how he could accurately predict the timing of one of his customer’s need for a new refill within an instant or two. He liked dealing with longstanding regulars because in addition to filling an expected nightly quota of the amount downed by each for the final end of the night ring, he could count on a reliable fixed amount of cash in tips. To each and everyone of them, he represented their most best reliable longstanding friend. Especially, if they had only taken up their friendship as of a day or two earlier! Backaches or bunions! The kids out of control and the price of gas this week just gone absolutely through the roof! An ‘emergency on the house’ glass was always forthcoming too the most deserving in his case.
Rosalee and her sister were a good example of a never-ending case constant regret’s. It was obvious from the look of the two of them sitting together side by side, that they were two emotional bookends. One was a desiccated mass of deeply incised wrinkles. While the other had voluminous layers of jowl, each overlapping the other. He sometimes wondered to himself if there was some way of equalizing the pair out? By the time the evening had worn on to nearly closing time, those extra winkles had been softened by a few laughs. It was always the same.
The part of the job that he absolutely hated! Something that was despised with a deadly passion developed after almost three decades of these same continuous well-worn moves in counterpoint with their well-timed variations this. He couldn’t stand someone that he couldn’t figure out! The queer sort of animal! One that would show up seemingly only to test the limits of his patience by confounding his automatic instincts. This threw him off by simply making him think too much! The most aggressively insensitive biting bits of hurtful commentary to the surrounding bleachers were saved up for this type of jerk.
They might sit there for hours with a single unfinished drink. Not bothering to even nurse it a little. Then quickly guzzle it down while he wasn’t watching. Perhaps the drama might be apparent to next to them casually looking over to the foam sliding down the inside of the glass.? This rankled him. Then this same ‘puddin head’ might start downing them one after the other non-stop erratically over the next hour. Worse yet, just when he thought he had the oddball’s timing pattern properly figured he’d immediately change to another type of call. It might go from a beer to a shot. But then! The kind of shot would never settle down into to just one category. If might first be bourbon. Then shift unexpectedly to cheap tequila, or even Russian vodka! This unacceptably rhythm really slowed things down for Roderick! Each tectonic shift taking too much time for Roderick to properly assess! To boot, these oddball variations totally throwing all internal sensibilities off kilter and in irrevocable conflict with the needs of his regulars. It might have seemed a minor irritation to someone much younger and indifferent to the subtleties of this trade. But it made him feel like a ‘doofuss’. Others might laugh the occasional odd duck off as possibly worth a story or a laugh of two. But Roderick was getting mightily pissed off. There was a guy wouldn’t show up on a regular schedule. One time this annoying fellow might not say much more than just an introductory grunt of a ‘hello’. Then after disappearing for a long indeterminate absence, the same clown would stumble in mumbling to thin air as if in conversation with an imaginary friend who perpetually hovering in the air around him. What would he order next? Roderick felt himself beginning to obsess. A stout followed just three minutes later by a glass of rose? This was total madness!
The seasoned professional in him demanded deep down that he take some unorthodox steps to try to recover this erratic orphan from chaos and back into the fold of the house regulars. He sent over some of his more exotic mixes so as to encourage a more consistent type of response from the guy. But the customer would never ever comply to stick to the same drink! Totally uncooperative after a four or five months! Here one moment and then gone the next for a span of a couple of weeks! Roderick was at his wit’s end! He was starting to rue going to work because he spent too much time thinking up what would happened if this particular ‘curse’ showed up? The title curse seemed most fitting as that is exactly what this fellow had become. The type of human that Roderick could best do without! But how? He’d been paying close attention to little details as of late. Roderick long ago eliminated the possibility that his ‘curse’ was married. No sign of a wedding ring upon an otherwise unblemished digit. The jingle of keys in a loose coat pocket not seemingly heavy enough to suggest ownership of both car and residence? Many times the bum would always seemed to wander off with little more than barely three drinks.
It looked like a simple ‘over serve’ with a discreet phone call tipping to the police station which might in turn possibly lead to a DUI? Or maybe, with the assistance of an unsuspected tampering of the brake line during a smoke break, a debilitating car wreck? But it was all out in terms of a plan as it was becoming pretty obvious that the presence of a car was increasingly unlikely. There had to be some way of pushing this guy over the edge, physically, or otherwise! The end of the year was fast approaching heralding another gala New Years Eve! The fact that this spook in the room rarely, if ever, said ‘boo‘ to the other guests allowed for still another possibility. The last possibility way at the bottom of a long list of finding a way for him to just simply disappear off the face of the earth in the most untimely manner. There was the default strategy of planting something ‘hot’ or dirty like drugs in the guys coat then calling the cops. The official discovery of same possibly resulting in a sentence of at least two to three years in prison downstate. But given Roderick’s luck, it might just as easily be probation and an even more erratic series of visits to the bar for this irritatingly lucky stiff to seek even more disrupting solace across on a barstool. Maybe a lot more than usual! “That plan would surely backfire!”, he mused. Part of him just wanted to get it over with by picking up a full bottle of rye and cracking the idiot’s skull in two with one quick whack.
Then there was Joanie! She wasn’t half bad looking after a few shots! Maybe he could lean on her to rub up on this ‘curse’ and drag him home for a quick ‘bumpin ugly’ shag and later present him with the cold shoulder. A lot of the moodier types never liked the idea of proverbially ‘coming back to eat’ where they had previously been ‘dumped’! No, it had to be more definitive! Maybe get off an hour or two before and sit in the car with the engine running just outside to wait for the guy’s approach? Wait one way or another till this ‘curse‘ was alone. Then slam the car’s gas pedal to the floor and . . .? If it was a blizzard well then . . . well no one might even blame him at all if it were simply an accident! Roderick gazed off into a mental abyss until he realized that someone was tugging hard on his sleeve. Joanie was motioning over to that party of eight by the far wall impatiently waiting to be rung up. He had blown their order twice in a row earlier in the evening, the second set sent back. He couldn’t be sure of it but it felt as if the right side of his mouth was developing a noticeable twitch?
Midnight was fast approaching and the New Year was just mere minutes away. He felt his own hand gripping hard upon the neck of a half-filled bottle of Jim Beam as he splashed a shot. Like some old time harpooner of old, he could feel that his adversary was now approaching very soon to arrive. The door dramatically blew open complimented by a mini-blizzard of snowflakes that shot about the room as his tormentor appeared. Roderick unconsciously raised a full bottle from off the shelf behind him. His hand was near to vibrating threatening to launch itself on its own as he hefted its weight. The ‘curse’ was covered head to foot in snow. Roderick stood there mentally measuring the distance between them. Waiting for the man to edge up belly to the bar, Roderick’s mind racing but his body sure. Just one step, a little bit closer! The victim would have to turn to take off his coat off to hang it on the back of the chair. And Roderick would merely have to lean a little bit forward and give it his all. The instants stretched out into tiny infinities as his intended victim stood parallel to a stool just before him almost ready to turn the other away and present his head like a melon awaiting the impact of a sledge.
The door loudly banged open once again making Roderick wince. A slender snowman entered and began brushing some of its coverage away to reveal an attractive woman. She walked over to Roderick’s pre, through her arms around him and dragged him backwards towards her just out of range. “Look everybody!“, this anima’s voice declared. “We just got married!” “We’re moving to New England tonight!” Roderick slumped backwards fully deflated, Like someone with one drink too many now soused, he fumbled the heavy bottle back roughly into its proper place with a loud clink. “This calls for a round of drinks on the house!”, his voice quavered. He silently stared directly at the two newlyweds as if transfixed by a cobra. Peering as hard as he could at them trying to catch sight of that same insane monstrous entity that had plagued him for the last half of the year. But he was gone.