“Butts on the Bar Stool” Story Seventy One: Stan Returns from 1847

“I’m back,” Stan the Nut says to Long Haul on this Sunday afternoon.

“Were you gone?” Long Haul replies.

“Yes, Tina, I was gone—didn’t you notice?”

“You were here two days ago,” Long Haul says.

This gives Stan pause. “I guess I could have been. Part of the paradox.”

“Stan,” Long Haul says. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“I time traveled. Just like that old psychic said I would. I went back to 1847.”

There are a lot of things Long Haul could say, or questions she could ask. She chooses to focus on a small point. “Why 1847?”

“Not sure. Maybe because it’s the year I mentioned, just randomly, when we talked about this before.”

Long Haul doesn’t remember that conversation, but says, “Oh.”

“I was there for weeks. Seemed like weeks, at least.”

“What part of the world?”

“That’s actually a sensible question, Tina,” Stan says. “I started out in Ohio, and witnessed the birth of Thomas Edison.”

“How’d you know it was him?”

“I heard the attending physician call the expectant father Mr. Edison. I then saw a newspaper with the date February 10, 1847. I knew that Edison was born on February 11, 1847 so it was easy to piece together.”

“You sure know a lot of useless stuff,” Long Haul says. “What was Edison famous for? Something to do with lightning?”

“Your ignorance knows no limits,” Stan says. “It is not worth my breath to explain.”

Long Haul shrugs. “I don’t really care. What else did you do? If you were there for weeks like you say.”

“I participated in the Battle of Buena Vista, as part of the larger Mexican-American War.”

“Whose side were you on?”

“Not an unreasonable question. The United States. I was in the Army.”

“Did you kill anyone?”

“Probably, from a distance.”

“You must have liked that.”

“I didn’t mind.”

“Anything else? And are you going to buy me a drink for listening to this bullshit?”

“I’ll buy you food. Polenta sticks to soak up the beer.”

“I’ll take it,” Long Haul says. “What else happened?”

“I was there when Brigham Young led 148 pioneers, Mormons, into Utah.”

“Brigham Young? Of BYU? They have a pretty good basketball team. Have been in the NCAA tournament a bunch of times.” Long Haul is a college sports fan.

Stan ignores this. “Then the next thing I knew, I was home. I came right here, didn’t even check the date.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re back,” Long Haul says.

“Really? I’m touched.”

“We all know that. Touched in the head.” She laughs. “I’m glad you’re back because I’m hungry and polenta sticks sound very good to me all of a sudden.”





















“Butts on the Bar Stool” Story Seventy: TripAdvisor

“Do you remember that review on Yelp a couple of months ago?” Tara asks Joanna.

“The one complaining about Mary Ann?” Joanna answers. Tonight, as she awaits Matt’s arrival, she is helping Tara prepare lemon twists.

“Yes,” Tara says.

“He called her Maleficent if I remember correctly.”

Tara laughs. “Yes, that’s right. I forgot that. And Steve chastised him in his response.”

“Such great customer service instincts that man has,” Joanna says.

“Well, anyway, I thought I’d check TripAdvisor to see if there are any recent reviews,” Tara says.


“I printed it out for you,” Tara says, handing her a piece of paper. “Read it out loud.”

“Oh, yay,” Joanna says. “This will be fun.” She puts her tiny knife aside and begins to read.

A friend of mine told me I should go to Stenny’s and order pizza. He said their other food is average and costs too much but the pizza is great. He said sit at the bar. Me and my girlfriend went in a couple of nights ago. The bartender, a guy, was fast and very friendly.

“Stephen. That’s nice,” Joanna says.

“Yes,” Tara says.

Joanna continues reading.

We ordered a large mushroom pizza. It took a long time to come. The bartender apologized and brought us free fries while we waited. That was very nice and the fries were ok. Finally some dude comes out from the kitchen with our pizza. It was lopsided and looked like it did not cook evenly but we thought ok, we’ll try it. The bartender was waiting on someone else at the time. We each took a slice. My girlfriend took a bite first and spits it out. Said it tasted like death. She’s dramatic sometimes so I took a bite. To me, it tasted more like evil than death, but it was really bad. I can’t even describe it. I’m not sure if my friend was just being an asshole by telling me it was good, or if something has changed, or if the pizza cook had a bad night, but we will never come back. Even though the bartender did the right thing and did not charge us.

“Wow,” Joanna says. “It’s because that twat Mary Ann fired Jordan.”

“Yep,” Tara says.

“Did Steve answer this one?


“Well, thank God for that,” Joanna says.

“Lenny answered instead.”

“Oh no! Do you have that printed out?”

“No, but I’ll read it to you.”

“Oh yes, please,” Joanna says as she starts cutting the lemon in front of her.

First off, the bartender, name of Stephen, should not have given you free fries and should not have taken the pizza off your bill. He will be disciplined. Second, it’s not helpful for you to say the pizza tasted evil or like death. Those things taste different to different people. You say you will never come in again. That is entirely up to you. But if you do come in, ask for me—I’m the co-owner Lenny. I’ll like you to explain yourself a little better.

“Jesus,” Joanna says.

“Exactly,” respond Tara. “And then he ends it with the same canned paragraph Steve used in his response to the Yelp guy.”

“Remind me.”

Tara reads:

Thank you very much for taking the time to share your feedback. It is very important to us, and it helps us make sure your future Stenny’s experiences are as excellent as they can be.

“Let me know if you hear about this guy coming in,” Joanna says.

“I will,” Tara says. “Oh, I can see Matt through the window.”

“Take the knife and this lemon. I don’t feel like having him mock me for helping you.”

“Your secret is safe with me. He’ll never know that you’re responsible for the perfect twist I’ll serve him with his Beefeater’s.”

They both smile and Joanna turns to greet Matt.

“Butts on the Bar Stool” Story Sixty Nine: Round Three

Caitlyn is behind the bar tonight, alone for the first time. Melissa was supposed to work with her, but she called out sick. Caitlyn learned this from her aunt, manager Mary Ann.

“Do you think you can handle the bar by yourself tonight?” Mary Ann asked after telling her about Melissa’s absence.

“People will get their drinks slower, but sure.”

“That may affect revenue. Lenny and Uncle Steve won’t like that.” Mary Ann was quiet for a few seconds, pondering.  She then said, “Most people have at least two drinks, right?”


“Serve two at once. Then you don’t have to get back to them as soon.”

“That’s a great idea! Why don’t we do that all the time?”

“I don’t know. I’ll talk to Uncle Steve about it,” Mary Ann said.

The evening started out quiet; Caitlyn doesn’t get her first customers until a little after 6, when Leigh and Jim arrive.

“What can I get you?” Caitlyn asks.

“Doesn’t Melissa usually work on Wednesdays?” This from Jim.

“She called out sick.”

“Oh,” Jim says. “So you’re working alone?”

“Yes, what can I get you?”

“Not much for small talk, are you?” Jim asks.

“Aunt Mary Ann says idle chatter can reduce efficiency.”

Jim pointedly looks around the empty bar and begins to say something, but Leigh interrupts. “Give it up, Jimmy.  She’s not going chat with you.”

“Tito’s rocks,” Jim says.

“I’ll have a Bloody Mary,” Leigh says.


“Maybe later,” Leigh says.

Caitlyn heads off without another word.

“What a little pill,” Jim says when she is out of eyeshot and earshot.

“Quiet, she’ll hear you. You know how this bar conducts sound.”

“I don’t really care. Let her hear. Let’s go after this one drink, ok? We can go to Solaris.”

“Ok, good idea,” Leigh says. She’s playing Candy Crush on her phone. Jim knows it’s futile to tell her to put the phone down, but does so anyway.

“Just trying to get to the next level.”

“That could take weeks,” Jim says. “And our drinks are coming.” Leigh sighs and puts her phone down.

Caitlyn has returned with Jim’s Tito and Leigh’s Bloody Mary. She places them on the bar, says “Hold on,” and leaves.

“That’s odd,” Leigh says as she takes a sip of her drink. “This Bloody Mary is terrible, by the way. Tastes like she put ketchup in it.”

“Watch out, she’ll hear you.”

“Touché. But it is odd. Why did she tell us to hold on?”

“Here she comes.  She has two drinks. Must be for the dining room.”

But, as we know she will, Caitlyn stops when she reaches Leigh and Jim, puts the drinks down and says “Here you are.”

“What the fuck?” Jim says. “What are these?”

“Your second round. I’m working by myself tonight, as you know.  This saves time.”

Jim is so incredulous that he is rendered momentarily speechless, which allows Caitlyn to wander off.

“Wait. Come back here,” he says.

“Yes? What is it? I have to cut some limes.”

“This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen.  You can’t serve two drinks at once!”

“Why not? I think it makes good sense. It was Aunt Mary Ann’s idea.”

“Well, that explains it. What she knows about bars could fit in the nucleus of a cell.”

“Good one, Jimmy,” Leigh says.

“You always have two, now you won’t have to wait for your second.” She looks around the empty bar. “I might get busy.” In the last few seconds, one new customer entered the bar and is sitting two stools to Leigh’s right.

Jim shakes his head. “Take the two extra drinks away and don’t charge us for them. We are one and done tonight.” His tone leaves no room for disagreement and Caitlyn complies, grumpily.

Leigh sees that the new arrival is openly watching this interaction. She says, “Hi, I’m Leigh.”


“Did you get the drift of what just happened or would you like me to explain it to you? And did anyone ever tell you that you look like Paul Rudd?”

“Yes I got the drift and yes I’ve heard that a time or two,” Robert says.

“Is this your first time here?”

“No, third. First time seeing this bartender in action, though. What’s her name?”

“Caitlyn. You sound official. What are you, some sort of mystery diner?”


“Hey Jim, meet Robert. He’s a mystery diner.”

“I didn’t say that,” Robert says.

“I hope you are,” Jim says. “You should test Caitlyn. She’s the manager’s niece. They’re both idiots.”  He drains his Tito’s rocks, throws $15 on the bar, and says to Leigh, “You’re done, right? Not going to finish the Ketchup Mary?”

“Yes, done,” she responds. “Robert,” she says. “If I give you my email address, will you send me a report on your evaluation of Caitlyn?”

“I don’t know that there will be a report,” Robert says. “I never even admitted to being a mystery diner.”

“Well, just in case,” she says. “Do you have a pen?” Robert does, and she scribbles her address on a cocktail napkin. “Please get back to me as soon as possible.”

“Have a good evening,” Robert says.

“Butts on the Bar Stool” Story Sixty Eight: Joanna Acts Badly

Joanna is our heroine, and we like her, but a couple of times a year, almost like clockwork, she acts badly. Tonight is one of those nights.

As is usually the case, there isn’t a clear cause for her bad behavior. It just is what it is. Her job is not any more troublesome than usual, she feels fine physically, her hair looks good, she is not worried about her dad or her son. And, as we know, she and Matt recently won a whole shitload of money at the Borgata in Atlantic City, although that’s still a secret.

It starts soon after she and Matt arrive at Stenny’s.  They’ve ordered their drinks from Tara—Beefeater for Matt, Pinot Grigio for Joanna.

“I thought you were going to stay away from wine. Gives you headaches, remember?” Matt says.

“Fuck you, Matt,” she responds.

“Whoa. That’s uncalled for.”

“I don’t need you to legislate what I drink.”

“That’s not what I was doing. Is this how you’re going to be tonight?”

“And what is that supposed to mean?” Joanna knows she is being unreasonable, and a bitch, but once she  begins down this path she almost always goes further.

“Joanna. You’re in a mood. I don’t know why. I doubt you know why. You’re trying to pick a fight.”

“Oh, I’m trying to pick a fight? You and your fucking gin?”

“I’m not doing this tonight,” Matt says. “I’m going to go talk to Ed.”

“Suit yourself,” Joanna says. “Don’t complain to me later about how negative he is.”

“I never do that,” Matt says. This is true; it’s Joanna who finds Ed’s downturned outlook on life to be aggravating.

Matt leaves. Joanna says nothing; she takes a big swig of her wine.

Tara witnessed this exchange. “What’s the matter, Joanna?” she asks.

No matter how foul her mood, Joanna would never be rude to Tara or any of the bartenders. “Matt pisses me off. So nice to everyone but me.”

Tara has seen this side of Joanna before, and knows how to walk a fine line in her response. “I think that can sometimes be true of everyone,” she says.

“Maybe, doesn’t mean I have to like it. Can I please have a baked brie appetizer? But I don’t want the figs. Figs suck.”

Tara is glad for a reason to stop this conversation. “I’ll put that right in for you,” she says.

“Thanks, Tara.”

For the next seven minutes, Joanna plays with her phone and drinks her wine. She checks her work and personal email, looks at Facebook, and takes a BuzzFeed quiz to determine what kind of cat she was in a previous life.

“Manx, shit,” she says to herself as she senses someone settling on the stool next to her.

“Thanks for what, Joanna?” It’s Deaf Donny, who, as usual, has misunderstood what he’s heard.

“Hi Donny. I said Manx, not thanks.” Joanna knows that Donny will not hear this properly, but (in line with her crankiness) she says it anyway.

“Manx, the cat?” Donny asks.

The fact that Donny did in fact correctly hear what she said annoys Joanna, for no logical reason. “Yes,” she says.

“They’re the ones with no tails, right?” Donny asks.

The good Joanna is impressed that Donny knows this, but the bad Joanna is in control tonight. “Many of them have tails, they’re just short and stubby.”

“She’s fine, working late tonight,” Donny says.

Joanna knows that Donny thought she asked about his girlfriend Dina, even though there was nothing about the sound, length, or cadence of her comment that could be mistaken for “How’s Dina?”

“She doesn’t like me much, does she?” Joanna asks; she of course knows the answer.

“Brand manager. Household products.”

This puts Joanna at a crossroads. She could pretend that Donny answered the question she asked, or she could re-poke on Dina’s dislike of her. She sighs and says “Anything interesting on the horizon? Like a new flavor of bleach?”

“We’re talking about taking a river cruise,” Donny says. “Where’s Matt?”

“Talking to Ed, down there,” Joanna says. She knows it’s a long shot that he will understand this, so she jerks her head accordingly. “Why don’t you go talk to him?”

“I think I’ll go talk to him, if that’s OK with you, Joanna,” he says.

Joanna nods, and sees Tara round the corner with her appetizer.

“I asked them to put in more brie in place of the figs,” she says.

This small act of kindness breaks Joanna’s lousy mood. “Can you take it down to Matt? I’ll head down there, I think I owe him an apology.”

Tara smiles gently and says, “Yeah, I think you do.”


“Butts on the Bar Stool” Story 67: A Really Dumb Argument

Long Haul, as we know, owns a cleaning service named Tina’s Sparkling Surfaces. Tonight she is talking about how she fired a woman named Angie. It was awkward, as Angie was recommended by Long Haul’s cousin, but Angie stole on the two jobs she worked, leaving her with no choice.

“And so,” Long Haul says on this Monday night, “I nipped it in the butt.” She is talking to Champagne Mike.

“Nipped it in the bud,” Mike says.

“Yes,” Long Haul says, thinking Mike is repeating her words as a way of agreeing with her. “Exactly.”

“No, nipped it in the bud,” Mike says. “You used the wrong word.”

“You’re saying the same thing I said, you old fart.”

“No, you said butt. B-U-T-T. The correct word is bud. B-U-D.”

“No, it’s not,” Long Haul says.

“Yes it is,” Mike says. “Need I remind you, Tina, that I taught English for over 30 years?”

“No, but you probably will anyway. Doesn’t mean you’re right. Nip it in the bud doesn’t make any sense.”

“It does, in fact,” Mike says. “I will explain in a moment. I first want to hear how you think ‘nip it in the butt’ makes sense.”

“Easy. If you give someone a nip in the butt, you’re telling them to get lost.”

“That may be true in your South Philly sub-culture, but it’s not true anywhere else.”

Long Haul knows that she, and her Italian heritage, are being insulted and ponders how to respond. After several seconds, she says “Fuck you, Mike.”

“Clever. Now may I educate you on the origin of the idiom?”

“I guess you think I don’t know what idiom means,” Long Haul says.

“If you don’t, that speaks poorly of our public education system,” Mike says.

“Of which you were a part of,” Long Haul says.

Mike, in an act of great restraint, does not correct her sentence structure. Instead, he says “It means to put an end to something before it develops into something larger. That part I think you know, because you used it in the proper context. But what it alludes to is destroying a flower before it blooms, not pinching someone’s buttocks.”

Long Haul is clearly thinking. “I thought nip meant a quick drink.”

“It can, for some,” Mike says. “But what it more accurately means is to sever, to pinch off.”

“Hmm,” Long Haul says. “That makes sense. I don’t mind learning. I’ll remember that.”

“I believe you will,” Mike says, with a 50/50 mixture of affection and condescension.

Leigh and Jim have arrived, and stop by for a quick hello.

“Hey, guys,” Long Haul says. “Guess what I just learned.”

“How to evade police by making yourself temporarily invisible?” Jim says.

“No, but that would be good,” Long Haul says. “That the expression is nip it in the bud, B-U-D, not nip it in the butt, B-U-T-T.”

“That’s crazy,” Jim says. “It’s nip it in the butt, B-U-T-T.”

“No it isn’t, Jim,” Leigh says. “Why am I even married to you?”

“Let’s not get into that,” Jim says.

“Oh bollocks,” Anglophile Mike says, and then hopes no one thinks he’s talking about testicles.



“Butts on the Bar Stool” Story Sixty Six: Officer O’Neill Has An Interest

In the six weeks since steely-eyed retired CEO Charles advised Larry to quit his office job (the nature of which Larry didn’t seem to fully grasp) and follow his dream of working with animals, the transformation in the young man has been remarkable. Once dull to the point of enervating anyone who spent more than 15 seconds talking to him, his joy in his new job at a vet’s office is apparent to Stenny’s bartenders and customers alike, and they are happy for him.

Tonight is Saturday and Larry is sitting at the bar, looking spiffy.

“Who are you meeting?” Melissa asks as she serves him an Amstel.

“How do you know I’m meeting someone?” Larry responds.

“Come on, Larry. You’re all dressed up.”

“Oh, okay.” Larry may talk enthusiastically about his work, but his overall conversation skills have not improved much.

“So who is it?” Melissa prods.

“Oh, right. Jennifer.”

“Hmmm, do I know her?” she asks.

“She’s in here once in a while. First came in when that girl cracked her head open on the floor during Stenny’s double happy hour.”

“Oh, I remember hearing about that, from Tara and Stephen. I wasn’t here that night. Jennifer came in right when that happened? Coincidence?”

“No, she was the responding officer.”

Something clicks for the bright Melissa. “Is her last name O’Neill?”

“Yes,” Larry says.

“You’re dating Officer O’Neill?”

“I guess we’re dating. Been out a few times.”

“Ben is going to fucking kill you,” Melissa says.

“Why? Is she his daughter?”

Melissa cackles. “Oh, that’s funny. No, he likes her. Wants to bed her.”

“I didn’t know that,” Larry says.

“Don’t worry about it,” Melissa says, even though Larry doesn’t look particularly worried. “She’s never shown any interest in him.”

“I don’t want any bad feelings,” Larry says. “He’ll really be mad?”

“Oh yes, definitely, furious, but I’ll take care of it for you, no worries.”

“Thanks,” Larry says.

“How’d you and the good officer hook up?”

“We just started talking one night. She was in with a friend. She said my polenta sticks looked good.”

Melissa laughs again. “I know you mean that literally, but it sounds funny.”

Larry says, “Ok. Anyway, we found out we both love animals. She volunteers for a greyhound rescue and adoption organization. And she seemed really interested in what I do at the vet’s office.”

Melissa sees Crazy Daisy signal her from halfway down the bar. “Sounds like a match made in heaven. Good for you, Larry. I’ll be back when she gets here.” As she heads toward Daisy, she sees Ben come in the side door; he lets his eyes adjust and then goes left, in the direction where Larry is sitting.

“No, no, no, Ben, sit here. Next to Daisy,” she says.

“Why? Is that bitch Mary Ann assigning us seats now?”

Melissa thinks about lying and saying something like, “Yes, that’s it, she’s the worst,” but decides this is one of those occasions where the truth will work best.

“No, it’s just that it looked like you were going to sit next to Larry and he’s saving that seat for a date.”

“Larry has a date? Some dog he met somewhere?” It’s not funny, and certainly misogynist, and Melissa loses any inkling she may have had to be gentle.

“No, it’s Jennifer,” she says. “Sit.”

Ben does. “You say Jennifer like I should know who you’re talking about.”

Melissa anticipated this response and it allows her to finish this part of the conversation with a lay-up.

“Oh, you know. Jennifer O’Neill. Officer O’Neill.”

“Larry is dating Officer O’Neill?” Ben’s face is instantly scrunched, very unattractively. “What the fuck! That guy is a dodo head.”

“She doesn’t seem to think so. She looks at him quite lovingly,” she says, ending her quick sojourn into the truth. “And they have so much in common. They are about the same age and they both love animals.” She leans in close to Ben and whispers in that way that sounds louder than normally-pitched speech. “And you didn’t hear this from me, but they are both into tantric sex.”

“What’s that?” Ben asks.

Daisy interjects. “I can tell you. Or show you, if you want.”

“I’ll leave you two to it,” Melissa says, pouring Ben’s usual Molson’s and whipping up another rum punch for Daisy. Just give Larry and Jennifer their space tonight. Let the lovebirds coo.”

Ben moves his head in a quick, jerky circle, stops for a second, and repeats. Melissa recognizes this as his way of dislodging Officer O’Neill from his brain; she glances down the bar and sees the good officer has arrived.






“Butts on the Bar Stool” Story Sixty Five: When Worlds Collide Part 2

We’ve mentioned that Jim has a grown daughter, Jamie, from his first brief and rancorous marriage. He doesn’t see her very often, but they are not what he would call estranged. They just inhabit worlds that rarely intersect.

Jim called Jamie the other day to say hi and see how she was doing, and due to a lag in the conversation (very similar, coincidentally, to what Ernie and his nephew just experienced) invited her to join him and Leigh at Stenny’s two days hence.

“Ah, shit, Jimmy, why?” Leigh said when he told her.

“She’s my daughter, Leigh. Why the fuck not?”

“I don’t have much to say to her.”

“So don’t talk to her. Just wander away. Talk to someone else.”

“You bet I will,” Leigh said.

Jim decided to let this go; when Leigh acts bitchy, it’s best to ignore her.

So tonight, a Friday, Jim is sitting alone at the bar; Leigh is talking to Ben and Kiki many stools away. He feels a light tap on his shoulder and turns around to see his smiling daughter.

“Hi Dad,” Jamie says, giving him two gentle raps on the head; she’s not a kissy-type young woman and this is her way of showing affection.

“Jamie sweetie,” Jim says, wrapping her in a bear hug. “So good to see you. Thanks for coming. You look amazing, what’s different?”

Jamie laughs and says, “I should be offended, but I understand. I lost some weight.”

“Some? A ton! You don’t have hyperthyroidism, do you?”

“No, Dad, I don’t have hyperthyroidism or anything else. Stop acting like you’re a doctor just because you give them drug samples.”

“I do more than that,” Jim says, slightly wounded “I educate, too.” He realizes that their conversation has quickly gotten off track. “Sorry, hon, never mind. So how did you lose the weight?”

“I decided to become a heroin addict. It’s cheap, and trendy.”

Jim is 90% sure she is kidding, but doesn’t trust himself to say anything, so he waits for her to say something else.”

“Kidding, of course. Just cut out almost all carbs. Life is no longer worth living, but I’m thin. Thinner.”

“Well, just don’t take it too far. Having some carbs in your diet is good. Complex carbohydrates like grains and legumes. Their sugar molecules are longer, they break down more slowly in the body, which is good.”

Jamie shows a flicker of annoyance; it is not an uncommon occurrence in their conversations. “I’m 33, Dad, and a chemist, remember? I know what a complex carbohydrate is.” She changes the subject.  “Where’s Leigh?”

“Down at the other end. Talking to those two people who seem to be about to argue.”

Jamie says, “I’ll go say hi.”

“I’ll order a drink for you,” Jim says. “What would you like?”

“Gin on the rocks. Tanqueray if they have it.” Jamie senses disapproval and says, “It’s low carb.”

“I’m not judging. Just be careful. Gin can be rough.”

Jamie raps him on the head, just once this time, and heads toward Leigh, Ben, and Kiki; concurrently, Jim asks Stephen to make Jamie’s drink and put it on his tab. “I figured that, Dad,” Stephen says. “She’s a pretty girl. And smart—some sort of scientist if I remember correctly.”

“Thanks, Stephen. Yes, a chemist.”

Meanwhile, Jamie has reached Leigh who is now standing slightly apart from Ben and Kiki.

“Hi Leigh,” Jamie says as she kisses her check.

“Hey JJ,” Leigh says. “You look fabulous. Low carb or low fat?”

“Low carb. Low fat would be easier. I dream about bagels. And pasta. And potatoes.”

“Stick to it, you look great. Your dad is excited for your visit tonight.”

“Not you?”  Jamie says this a bit ruefully; there are only ten years between them and their relationship has a neither-this-nor-that quality.

“I’m worried that you might not like Stenny’s or the people here, but I am glad to see you,” Leigh says somewhat truthfully.

“Introduce me to those two,” Jamie says, nodding toward Ben and Kiki.

“They are the worst examples of what Stenny’s has to offer. So I guess it’s a good place to start.”

“Why the worst?” Jamie asks.

“You’ll see. Ben, Kiki, turn this way.”

They do, stopping their conversation in mid-snarl.

“This is Jamie, Jim’s daughter. Jamie, Ben and Kiki.”

“Jim’s daughter!” Kiki says. “He doesn’t talk about you much.”

“I don’t talk about him much, either,” Jamie says.

“Your mother is Jim’s first wife, right?” Ben asks.

“Right,” Jamie says. “Teenage marriage. Didn’t last.”

“Shotgun, I’m sure,” Kiki says.

“That’s exactly what’s wrong with you,” Ben says, addressing Kiki. “Why would you say something like that?”

“That’s exactly what’s wrong with you. Afraid of the truth.”

“Here’s the truth. That shit you’re always selling. It all sucks.” Ben is referring to Kiki’s insistence on selling whatever she thinks she can sell to her fellow bar customers. This week it’s yet another cream that purports to get rid of fine lines and wrinkles. “We all hate to see you coming with whatever new shit you force on us.”

“I have my rights. You don’t have to buy if you don’t want to. Old crank,” Kiki says.

A few moments ago, Stephen arrived with Jamie’s Tanqueray, and has been silently waiting to say hello to her. Instead, he now says, “Actually, Kiki, we do have a non-solicitation policy. I know we’ve been lax in enforcing it, but Mary Ann has made comments lately. I think you better stop, before she says something to you herself.” The Mary Ann part is a lie; she is not sufficiently tuned-in to the customers to know what they are or aren’t doing, but Stephen thinks the lie is for the greater good and does not feel guilty.

“So there, Kookoo,” Ben says.

“Hi, Jamie, I’m Stephen,” Stephen says. “A pleasure to finally meet you. Your dad sings your praises.”

“So there, Kookoo,” Ben says again. “Jim does talk about her.”

“Hi Stephen. My dad loves it here. I can see why.” She slides a look at Ben and Kiki, and says “Sort of.” Stephen and Leigh both laugh; Ben and Kiki don’t hear; they are now arguing about the legality of Stenny’s prohibiting Kiki from earning a living.

“Butts on the Bar Stool” Story Sixty Four: A Revisit With Ernie

We haven’t seen much of Ernie lately; he’s the retired printer with ink-stained hands and rumpled jackets who starts and ends each conversation with “Always a pleasure,” and who is given slices of pizza or chunks of burgers or fistfuls of fries by Stenny’s regulars as he traverses the bar.

By the time he settles into his bar stool tonight, a Thursday, he has accumulated a slice of margherita pizza, a corner of a blue cheese burger, and three onion rings. He’s a little disappointed that no one offered him their fries, but the onion rings are a nice change of pace.

Truth be told, he’s a bit nervous tonight. He has invited his 45-year old nephew, his dead sister’s only son, to join him. As he takes a bite of the pizza (the quality of which he thinks has deteriorated since that nasty witch Mary Ann fired Jordan), it briefly occurs to him that he should have waited for his nephew to arrive before beginning to eat, but he shrugs off the thought.

His nervousness comes from the fact that he has nothing to say to his nephew; never did. The pattern of their relationship was set by a conversation he and Ken—that’s the nephew—had when Ken, then Kenny, was three. They were looking at a world map, and Ernie said, as he felt was befitting Kenny’s young age, “Can you pick out the United States?” Kenny immediately pointed to it, and said, “Can you pick out Yemen?”

Kenny grew up to be an attorney, specializing in real estate law. He’s married to a woman, also an attorney, to whom Ernie has even less to say than he does to Ken. He doesn’t expect that she will join Ken tonight, and as he can now see by Ken’s solo arrival, she doesn’t.

“Hello, Ernie,” Ken says as he sits on the bar stool to Ernie’s left. Ken stopped calling him Uncle Ernie when he was six.

“Always a pleasure,” Ernie says.

“So this is the famous Stenny’s,” Ken says.

“Yes,” Ernie says.

Ken looks at Ernie’s plate. “That’s an odd combination. Can you mix and match here?”

Ernie is not eager to share his scavenging habits, and says, “Yes.”

“Interesting,” Ken says, “Do you have something you want to tell me?”

For a moment Ernie thinks Ken is challenging him on how those particular foods got on his plate, and his stomach sinks. But he then decides it’s a more general question.

“Do you mean why I invited you here tonight?” he asks.

“Yes,” Ken says. “Since my mother died, we’ve never gotten together socially.”

This is true. The invitation arose from a long moment of awkwardness in their last phone call; a call that Ken had placed to wish Ernie a happy birthday. After saying “thank you,” Ernie could think of no way to sustain the conversation, and so asked Ken if he’d like to join him at Stenny’s for a drink. Ken was a bit taken aback, but he said OK, and they settled on tonight.

“Well, it’s good to see you now,” Ernie says. Somehow, he refrains from adding “Always a pleasure.”

“So nothing is wrong? Alma is OK?” Alma is Ernie’s wife.

“She’s fine. She was going to come tonight, but….” Ernie is not sure how to finish that sentence, because Alma never goes anywhere, and for no particular reason. “…..she’s home instead.”

Ken nods; he is used to what he thinks of as Ernie’s vacuity.

They sit in silence for 30 seconds or so; mercifully, Melissa approaches and says, “Hey there Ernie. Do you want your usual? And who’s this fellow?”

“Yes, my usual please, Melissa,” he says with a more than a hint of pride. He thinks Ken will be impressed that he has a usual that at least this bartender remembers. “This is my nephew, Ken.”

“Hi there, Ken,” Melissa says. “Glad to meet a member of Ernie’s family. He claims he has a wife, but we never see her.”

“She stays home,” Ernie says unnecessarily.

“She’s real,” Ken says. “Nice to meet you, Melissa. What’s your usual, Ernie?”

“Vodka and cranberry,” Ernie answers.

“Too sweet for me. I’ll have Cutty Sark on the rocks. If you have it.”

Melissa says, “We do. I see you have food already, Ernie. Do you want to see a menu, Ken?”

“I’ll just have what Ernie is having. Great idea to allow for a little of this and a little of that.”

Ernie looks at Melissa with slightly widened eyes; she sizes up the situation instantly and accurately.

“I’ll get your drinks and put the order in for what Ernie’s having. It’s officially called Combo Number 3, but we all think of it as Ernie’s Favorite.”

Ernie is beyond grateful and makes a mental note to tip her more than his usual on-the-dot 17%. As she walks away, he looks at Ken; it’s hard to tell for sure, but he thinks he is impressed, and Ernie is happy.

“Butts on the Bar Stool” Story Sixty Three: Funday Prep

Steve and Lenny have not been pleased with the revenue on Monday nights, and think the answer is designating Monday as game night.

They came up with a catchy name—Monday is Funday!—and then bowed out of the planning; putting Mary Ann in charge of the logistics.  She advertised via flyers posted all around Stenny’s, as well as via posts on their social media sites. She also instructed the bartenders to let their customers know and thoughtfully provided the following script:

Steve, Lenny, and Mary Ann would like you to know that we are implementing a game night. From now on, Mondays are Fundays. There will be prizes. We hope you agree that this is a great idea, and shows our commitment to making Stenny’s your best option for food, drink, and fun. Can I count on your attendance?

“Mary Ann,” Melissa says on a late Wednesday afternoon as she stands behind the bar polishing martini glasses, “I’ll tell folks about it but I’m not saying those words.”

“And why not?” Mary Ann is standing behind the bar too, a hairs breadth away from invading Melissa’s personal space.

“Because I don’t talk like that. No one does. My customers will think I’ve been taken over by a pod person.”

“And I presume Stephen and Tara feel the same?”

Melissa shrugged. “You’ll have to ask them.”

“Such a contrarian,” Mary Ann said. “At least I can count on Caitlyn to toe the line.”

“Tote that barge!” Melissa says. Mary Ann clearly doesn’t get the reference and Melissa doesn’t explain.

Instead, she tells Mary Ann that she has to check on her customers.  Ben (who many have begun to refer to as Ungentle Ben) and Big Mouth Ralph are at the other end of the bar, talking heatedly about something or other.

“I’ll come with you, and deliver the message to them myself, as per the script.”

“It’s your funeral,” Melissa says. Mary Ann shoots her a look of pure animus, so she adds “So to speak.”

Mary Ann strides toward Ben and Ralph, Melissa on her heels. At the last second, Melissa scoots around her and says, “Ben. Ralph. Do your drinks need freshening?”

“Hang on one sec, Melissa,” Ralph says. “I need to finish the point I was making to Ben.”

“No you don’t,” Ben says. “I get your fucking point just fine. And you’re wrong. I’ll have another Amstel, Melissa, thanks.”

“What are you wrong about this time, Ralphie?” Melissa asks.

“Melissa!” Mary Ann says sharply. “That is not an appropriate way to address a customer.”

“It’s fine,” Ralph says. “We’re pals. Ben thinks I’m wrong in my belief that socialism would be an optimal system if people weren’t so selfish. I’ll have another whiskey sour, please.”

“I’m on it, “Melissa says, and moves a few feet away to pull Ben’s Amstel and to prepare Ralph’s whiskey sour.

Mary Ann wants to take command, and says, “I’m Mary Ann. Steve’s wife and the general manager of Stenny’s.”

“We all know who you are,” Ben says. “What is it that you want?”

She pulls a piece of paper from the pocket of her slacks and begins to read:

“Steve, Lenny, and Mary Ann—that’s me—would like you to know that we are implementing a game night. From now on, Mondays are Fundays. There will be prizes. We hope you agree that this is a great idea, and shows our commitment to making Stenny’s your best option for food, drink, and fun. Can I count on your attendance?”

Ben and Ralph are both silent.

“Well?” Mary Ann says.

“Well, what?” Ben asks.

“Can we count on your attendance? The Funday Mondays begin this coming Monday.”

“Mary Ann,” Ungentle Ben says, ungently.  “This is a bar. Not school. Not work. Not an army base.  You will know I’m here if you see me.”

Melissa has returned with the drinks, and she chuckles.

“What kind of prizes?” Ralph asks.

“That has yet to be determined,” Mary Ann answers.

“If you won a prize, would you share it with the other competitors?” Ben asks him.

“No, why?” Ralph says.

“I think Ben is saying if you were really a socialist, you would share,” Melissa says.

“I can speak for myself, Melissa,” Ben says. “But yes, that’s what I mean.”

“You are getting more and more crotchety,” Melissa says to Ben. “Be careful, you may lose the few friends you have left.”

“Melissa!” Mary Ann says again, even more sharply.  “That is disrespectful. I’ll see you in my office in ten minutes.”

“I’ll be there if you see me,” Melissa says, echoing Ben, who laughs and palpably relaxes. “Want to share some fries?” he asks Ralph.

Ralph replies in the affirmative and Melissa says, “Coming right up.” She heads to the register, knowing that Ben and Ralph have turned their attention away from Mary Ann, who will, if past patterns hold, stand in awkward silence for 30 seconds or so before sputtering something about needing to get back to work.



“Butts on the Bar Stool” Story Sixty Two: Joanna’s Worst Nightmare

It’s Easter, and a familiar group has gathered at Stenny’s for an early dinner: Joanna, Matt, their son Russ, Joanna’s father Lou, and Matt’s mother Dorothy. We had a nice long peek into their dynamic during their Christmas Eve dinner; if you need a reminder, here goes: Dorothy doesn’t like Joanna because she wanted Matt to marry the blond and WASP-y Liza; Lou doesn’t like Dorothy because of the way she treats Joanna; everyone likes Matt and Russ; Russ just wants everyone to get along.

This get-together has been long-planned; Joanna has been dreading it only slightly less than she would an organ removal.

“It will be fine, Jo,” Matt had said to her Thursday when she made her millionth comment about wishing it was over or, better yet, not taking place at all.

“What does that even mean, Matt? Fine. Fine. What a weasly word.”

“I know you’re not looking forward to it, but don’t take it out on me,” Matt said.

It’s hard for Joanna to admit fault, but she knew Matt was right, and said, “Sorry. It will be good to see Russ.”

“That’s the way to think,” Matt said, to which Joanna responded, “Oh, fuck you and your lectures.” They has similar conversations all the way up to the moment they found themselves in Stenny’s busy dining room at 2:55pm, awaiting the arrival of Russ, Lou, and Dorothy.

“They better not be late,” Joanna says.

“Stop it,” Matt says.

“Stop what?”

“Being the way you’re being. If nothing else, you know how it annoys Russ.”

Joanna literally says “Harrumph,” because, once again, she knows Matt is right and can’t think of anything else to say.

Russ arrives at 2:57. “Hey, Mom, hey Dad, what’s going on?” he says as he approaches the table. “Can we get some bread?”

“Hi Russ, sure, sit down first,” Matt says.

“What’s wrong with Mom?” Russ asks Matt.

“I’m right here. Why don’t you ask me?” Joanna says.

Russ complies. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing at all.”

“Oh, okay,” Russ says, clearly disbelieving. “You don’t want to see Gram?”

Joanna sighs. “It will be fine,” she says. “Here she is now. With Pop.”

The three of them watch Lou and Dorothy approach. Matt stands when they are a few feet away. “Lou, Mom,” he says. “Happy Easter.”

“Happy Easter to you, and to you, Russ,” Dorothy says as she sits down.

Joanna thinks And it begins.

 “Good timing,” Matt says.

“What do you mean by good timing, Matlock?” Dorothy adds.

“You and Lou arriving at the same time. Did you meet up in the parking lot?”

Lou gives his daughter a kiss on the cheek. “Hello sweetie,” he says, settling into the chair next to her.

“Hey, Dad.”

“Meet up in the parking lot? That’s a bit crass, Matlock.”

Matt laughs and says, “Don’t read into it, Mom. It’s nice to see you.”

“And you. It’s been a while.”

“You and I went out to lunch two weeks ago,” Matt responds.

“Yes, as I said, it’s been a while,” Dorothy says, and turns to her daughter-in-law. “Joanna, is that a new hairstyle?”

“Well, I had a trim,” Joanna says. “But not new.”

“Oh,” Dorothy says.

I guess it would literally kill her to say it looks nice, Joanna thinks.

“It looks great, hon,” Lou says.

“Thanks, Dad.” Joanna knows she could shave and tattoo her head and her father would say he likes it.

A couple of months ago, Joanna was worried about Lou—she had what she has now accepted to be an illogical feeling that his heightened cheerfulness was an omen of  his imminent death. Not quite as far-fetched was her theory that he had a girlfriend, but she has seen no signs of it, and has let go of that too.

“Russell,” Dorothy says. “How is school?”

“Good. I’m going to make Dean’s List again.”

“That’s wonderful. You have inherited superior intelligence.”

Joanna thinks for a split second that the compliment may include her, but Dorothy shifts her eyes to Matt, and then to Lou.

 Don’t look at my father without my permission, Joanna thinks, fully realizing the ridiculousness of the thought.

Perky server Sarah arrives. “Hi Joanna, hi Matt,” she says. “And it’s Russ, right?” she says with her sweet smile.

“Yeah, hey,” Russ says.

“I’m sorry, I forget. Whose parents?” Sarah asks.

“My mother, Joanna’s father,” Matt says.

“Oh, right. Can I get you something from the bar?”

“Vodka rocks,” Joanna says. It’s a stronger drink than she usually orders, but being in the company of her mother-in-law warrants it.

“Same for me,” Lou says.

“Water,” Russ says. “And can you bring some bread?”

“Sure thing, Russ,” Sarah says.

“Beefeater straight up, twist,” Matt says.

“Scotch and soda,” Dorothy says.

“Be right back with those,” Sarah says. “And the bread.”

“Well,” Lou says. “Isn’t this nice.”

Joanna looks at her father for signs of sarcasm. She doesn’t see any and a new worry enters her mind: He’s gone simple.

“Yes, very nice,” Matt says, and surreptitiously taps Joanna’s hip.

“Uh huh,” is the most Joanna can bring herself to say.

“Jo,” Lou says. “How’s work?”

“It’s good, busy.” This is what Joanna always says.

“Busy is good.” This is how Lou always responds.

“I, we, have something to tell you,” Lou says, addressing the whole table.

“We do?” Joanna asks.

“Not you and me,” Lou says gently. “Dorothy and I have something to tell you.”

Sarah arrives with the bread. “Here you are, Russ.  I brought butter. Do you want olive oil instead?”

“Butter is good,” Russ says.

“Wait,” Joanna says. She sees Sarah’s confused look and says, “No, sorry, Sarah, not you. Butter is fine. Dad, you and Dorothy have something to tell us?” she says as she thinks Oh no Oh no Oh no Oh no.

 “Yes, hon, we do,” Lou says, as he takes Dorothy’s hand. “Dorothy and I are getting married.”

Russ stops buttering his bread in mid-stroke. Matt says, “Oh, wow.” Joanna bursts into tears.

“I trust those are tears of happiness for your father and me, Joanna,” Dorothy says.

“Dorothy, give her at least a moment to adjust,” Lou says sternly, but does not let go of her hand.

“Mom? Are you Ok?” Russ says.

His question brings back a memory from 17 years ago, when Russ was 2. The three of them were in a department store in a mall, and Russ disappeared. One second he was there, holding Joanna’s hand, the next he was gone. Joanna and Matt alerted security, who reassured them all would be fine. Matt went off to look for Russ, security did their thing, and Joanna sat on the floor and cried. Five minutes later, Matt returned, holding Russ, whom he had found happily exploring a nearby toy store. “Mommy,” Russ had said, “What’s wrong with your face?”

“Yes,” Joanna manages to say now. “Just surprised, I guess.” She looks at Matt, who she can tell is equally surprised. He’s more mannerly than she, however, and says, “Congratulations, you two. We’re all very happy for you.”

Speak for your fucking self, Joanna thinks, but she has stopped crying and offers a weak echo of Matt’s sentiment. “Yes, best wishes.”

Mercifully, Sarah arrives with the drinks and as she serves them, Joanna says, “Bring me another, please.” All eyes are on her, and she says, “It’s my way of celebrating.”