On his way to finding his favorite stool, he looks around to see if he recognizes any faces. He waves at Joe, who is sitting in his usual corner, tie undone, disheveled hair, two empties and a new beer in front of him.
He could go talk to Joe, but he knows all the stories. Joe will bemoan the fact that he works harder than anyone else. He’ll mention – again – that his wife has threatened to leave him. He’ll wonder why his kids want to have nothing to do with him.
The guy doesn’t need to be the shoulder today, so he smiles at Joe and moves on.
He sees Ellen in the corner, snuggling up to a new victim. She hikes her skirt up a bit to show more leg as she sips her chardonnay. The victim has yet to learn that Ellen uses up men at the same pace that she sips her wine. The guy walks by their table just as Ellen leans her shoulders back in an effort to let her blouse fall open just enough.
Jack is holding court at the end of the bar. He’s laughing as he tells a story of one of his many failures. He laughs easily. He stopped taking himself seriously years ago. Jack collects friends the way Ellen collects victims.
He’s realistic about any successes he might enjoy, because he knows the steep costs involved in getting where he is.
He doesn’t have to tell those around him that the many times he has failed have gotten him to where he is today. That is obvious to anyone who cares to listen. But he’ll be quick to share the story of his journey, if you think it will help you on your own.
He has nothing to hide.
He waves and smiles at the guy and continues with his story.
The bartender greets the guy and says, “Hey, what’ll it be?”
“What do you have that’s dark? I’ll have that.”
After a couple tips of the pint, the guy settles in. The bartender stands directly opposite the guy, on the other side of the bar, washing glasses. Laughing while he rinses the glasses he says, “All the usuals are here tonight. Some things never change.”
The guy takes another sip and says, “I read the most interesting piece on the internet today. Have you heard of that biosphere thing in Arizona. You know, that man-made test environment where they conduct experiments in a self-contained ecosystem? Anyway, it’s been around awhile. The article I read said that they have to tether the trees inside the structure because trees won’t grow strong or stay standing without having to learn to adjust to wind.”
The guy picked up his glass and said, “I’ve been thinking about that all day.”
The bartender looked up from washing glasses and chuckled, “I hear all kinds of stuff in here, but that one’s a first.”
The guy laughed and took another drink of the dark lager, “Thing is, it’s not only about trees, it’s about people, too.”
With that, he put a five on the counter, thanked the bartender and walked out waving at Joe, Ellen and Jack.
The bartender greets another customer, pulls a couple beers, mixes a highball and gets back to washing glasses.
He looks up over the bar at the regulars. He begins a pass through the bar to pick up empties. He walks up to Joe and says, “What’s for dinner tonight?” Joe says, “I dunno. I guess I should get home and find out.” The bartender picks up the bottles in front of Joe and says, “You do that, buddy.”
The bartender makes his way to Ellen’s table. He considers telling the victim that he ought to consider putting his wallet under lock and key. He opts to keep his mouth shut and keeps on walking.
He approaches the bar as Jack says, “Two’s my limit guys. Dinner’ll be ready soon and I’m coaching the kid’s team tonight.” He grabs his jacket and waves at Joe on his way out the back door.
The bartender dumps the bottles in the bin and stacks the glasses next to the sink. He checks for new customers and starts washing the empties.
With hands in the hot, soapy water, he keeps thinking about what the guy said about wind and trees. He looks over to see that Joe hasn’t left yet. In the other corner, Ellen is ordering another glass of wine from the waitress.
He thinks about how some folks struggle more with coping than others and how that’s what defines all of us – how we handle the tough stuff – or whether we handle it at all.
He sees Ellen inch closer to the victim.
He watches Joe order his fifth beer.
As he rinses the last glass, he realizes, with instant clarity, what the guy meant about wind and trees and people.
As he brushes peanut shells off the bar into a bin, he looks up, greets a new customer and says, “What’ll ya have?”
Tags: the power in writing