Like any decent bar, Stenny’s has its regulars, although regular comes in many forms. Some people are in every night, some a couple of times a week, some every couple of weeks, and others every couple of months. As long as they stick to their established routine, they remain regulars and are greeted warmly by the bartenders and other regulars upon their arrival.
Ray is an (almost) every-nighter. An 80 year old widower, he is remarkably consistent in his arrival time—people begin to look for him at 7:15; they seldom have to wait for more than five minutes. Once in a while, he has plans with his son, daughter, or grandkids; he knows the bartenders and his bar friends will worry, so he texts a few people to let them know he will not be in.
Ray is technologically savvy for an old guy. He spent his career at a global IT firm; he still does some work for them on a contract basis—he’s the only one who can program the company’s one remaining legacy system that still runs on COBOL.
He has his favorite spot at the bar—good view of the TV and in easy reach of the cocktail napkins. He likes to shred them as he drinks his vodka & tonics, eats the chicken sandwich that is named for him (Rays’s Chicken Sandwich), and listens, mostly quietly, to the chatter around him. His daughter, a psychologist, says that he shreds napkins because it gives him a sense of control in a topsy-turvy world. Ray does not agree or disagree; he just continues to shred.
Ray smokes, an increasingly rare habit among living people, which is of course a good thing. But whether it’s at an office building, a school, or a bar, smokers—forced to smoke outside regardless of the elements—always feel a sense of kinship during those few minutes of puffing.
Tonight is relatively warm for October in Philadelphia and there are casual smokers as well as the diehards visiting Stenny’s outdoor smoking section, located behind the dumpsters. Smokers used to be able to smoke in a small courtyard right by the front door, but Ben and Kiki (in a rare show of solidarity) told owner Steve that they objected to walking through a wall of smoke on the way to their cars, so Steve relegated the smokers to the back corner of the parking lot.
The smokers can’t be seen from anywhere inside Stenny’s, so staff will often join the customers for a quick smoke and some small talk. Tonight, when Ray goes out for his 3rd and final cigarette of the evening, he is joined by server Ryan, dishwasher Thomas, and a regular (of the every-couple-of-weeks variety) named Larry.
Larry is an interesting guy in that, according to everyone he has ever met, there is nothing remotely interesting about him. That’s hard to accomplish—most everyone has something that distinguishes them, whether it’s good (She’s an actual rocket scientist!) or bad (He started to pull the wings off butterflies when he was three, and progressed as you might expect; he’s up for parole in 27 years). But with Larry—nothing.
Ray knows that silence is just fine for Larry, and it suits him too. But server Ryan feels an obligation to make conversation, because Larry is a customer and Ryan is a polite young man, a “darling,” as Leigh says.
“How’s it going, Larry?” Ryan now asks.
“Fine, thanks,” Larry answers.
“Did I hear you got a new job?
“Yes, well, sort of.”
Ryan tries again. “What is it that you do?”
“I’m not really clear,” Larry says.
Ryan thinks he misunderstood. “It’s not really clear? Your responsibilities aren’t well-defined?”
“Oh, I think they probably are. But I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do.”
Thomas interjects. He doesn’t feel the same level of deference toward customers as Ryan does. “So what that fuck do you do all day?”
“That depends,” Larry says.
“On what?” Thomas asks.
“On what I’m supposed to do.”
“But you said you don’t know what that is. So do you do nothing every day, but it’s a different kind of nothing depending on what you’re supposed to do, which you’re not clear on?”
“Yeah, something like that,” Larry answers. He does not seem perturbed or even perplexed.
“Can I work at your company?” Thomas asks. “I’d be good at not knowing what to do.”
Larry shrugs. “Maybe. I think I’m supposed to hire someone soon. What experience do you have?”
“In what my company does.”
“What do they do?”
“That’s hard to say.”
Thomas shakes his head. “Okay, I’m going to get back. You take care, man.” He and Ryan stub out their cigarettes and head off.
Ray hears Thomas say to Ryan, “That dude is in fucking outer space.” Larry smiles at Ray blandly; if Ray heard, he must have too. So Ryan in his politeness and Thomas in his persistence unearthed something interesting about Larry—he has somehow stumbled into a dream job.
If you like this story, please check out my completed book, “Butts in the Seat”; one reviewer said it was “amusing, entertaining, and provides therapeutic value.”