Bartender Tara is kind and patient, and very few customers get her goat. And there are plenty of candidates:
• A guy from Australia named George Tipton, who has brought his country’s low-tipping culture with him to this suburban Philadelphia bar; everyone refers to him as “The Ironically Named Tip.”
• Kiki, she who fought with Ben about his slight of Helen Keller (ed. note–Story Four: Burger Night) who regularly hawks a variety of products—deep wrinkle reducers, timeshares for unwanted weeks in unwanted places, pre-paid phone cards, berry-based dietary supplements—in blatant violation of Stenny’s no-solicitation policy.
• Princess Pete, so nicknamed because he’s 34, still lives with his parents, and brags about never lifting a finger to help his mother; he doesn’t even make his own bed.
• A 42-year old PhD candidate named John, whose “only my closest friends can use it” nickname is Poostie; he asks everyone else to call him Doc. (Tara tolerates him, but Joanna doesn’t, and when he extended her an invitation to call him Poostie, she said, “Not going to do that, John, nor am I going to call you Doc. Your doctorate if you ever fucking get it is in art history for Christ’s sake.”
But Charles gets on every one of her nerves every time she sees him, which is about twice a week. He’s the retired CEO of a mid-size chemical company, and treats Tara in the way she imagines he treated his employees—with haughty disdain. It’s fine that he expects her to remember what his “usual” is—any bartender worth their salt knows what their regulars drink. It’s even okay that he doesn’t ever bother to ask her how she is, or what’s new—not talking to him is fine with her. It’s his apparent belief that he is the most important person at the bar on any given night that pisses her off. When he wants attention, he clears his throat, and expects her a) to hear it; and b) to come running, no matter what else may be occupying her at the moment.
Tonight, a Wednesday, is unaccountably busy. Last night was burger night, which is usually Stenny’s busiest weeknight by far. But tonight is shaping up to be almost as crowded, which is a good thing for Tara and her finances. She has 3 kids, the oldest 18 and the youngest 18 months, and a musician husband whom she loves dearly but didn’t marry for his earning potential.
Charles walks in, alone and imperiously, at about 7. Rumor has it he has a wife but no one has ever met her. Tara pictures her leaning over their dining room table, polishing the mahogany to a high gleam, hoping to gain a tiny bit of approval from Charles.
“Good evening, Charles,” she says, as he sits on his accustomed stool. “The usual?”
“Yes,” Charles says, and Tara notices, as she does every time she sees him, how ice-blue and piercing his eyes are. Perfect eyes for a boss, especially one who’s a prick, she thinks.
She makes a Rob Roy and places it in front of him on a cocktail napkin. Charles likes to have his own bowl of pub mix—fresh from the container—and she prepares one for him.
“Thanks,” he says as she puts the bowl down. For him this is effusive.
“Would you like to see a menu?” Tara asks. Charles will occasionally eat dinner at the bar.
“Not tonight, Terry.” That’s another thing; he sometimes gets her name right and sometimes doesn’t.
For the next 20 minutes Tara tends to her other customers. She hasn’t heard any throat-clearing, but it’s time to see if Charles wants his 2nd Rob Roy (it’s his pattern to have two and only two), but his stool is empty. His half-full drink is there, and the pub mix appears untouched.
Champagne Mike is sitting on the next stool, and says, “He’s in the loo, I think.” Mike apparently thinks spending his working life as an English teacher means he should now, in retirement, use British expressions. Although it doesn’t really make sense, everyone is used to it and stopped questioning it long ago. “Been in there a while, come to think of it.”
“Could you check on him? Make sure he’s OK?” Tara asks.
“Sure,” Mike says and heads to the men’s room. He’s back in less than a minute and says, “I need help. Is Thomas here?”
Thomas is a dishwasher at Stenny’s; he pops out of the kitchen often to chat with the regulars. He’s big, loud, and engaging, and being teased by him is a sign that you are a true insider. One time he told Joanna that she looked like Sally Jesse Raphael; Joanna pretended to be insulted, but was actually pleased that he was paying attention to her.
“Yeah,” Tara says. “What’s up?”
Mike shakes his head. “It’s not pretty.”
“Should I call an ambulance?” Tara asks.
“No, I just need Thomas. Have him meet me in the men’s room.”
Tara picks up the phone at the bar; it has a direct line to the kitchen.
“Hi Jordan,” she says. “Can you please ask Thomas to meet Mike in the men’s room? Something’s wrong with one of our customers.” Tara listens for 3 seconds, thanks Jordan, and hangs up. “He’ll be there in a minute,” she tells Mike.
“Brilliant,” Mike says, which Tara knows means “OK.”
Fifteen minutes later, Champagne Mike is back, but Charles is not.
“What happened? Is Charles OK? Where is he?”
“He’s heading home, went out the back. I don’t want to offend your sensibilities, so suffice it to say that he was having some intestinal distress. It seems like his derriere and the toilet formed a seal, and he was stuck. Thomas and I helped him up. Then there was some cleaning up to do.”
Tara holds two thoughts in her mind simultaneously. Oh, poor Charles is one; the other is Haha, maybe that will bring you down a peg or two, you smug bastard.