“Hey, Donny, how are you tonight?” Tara asks, as she places a cup of pub mix and a cocktail napkin in front of the man who just sat down at the bar.
“Not too bad for late October,” Donny responds.
Donny is partially deaf as a result of a childhood firecracker accident, and rarely completely understands questions posed to him. Tara knows that Donny thought she asked how the weather was.
“Yes, it’s been pretty mild. Would you like your usual?”
“I’ll have my usual, Tara,” Donny says, not having heard Tara’s question.
“Coming right up,” Tara says, and makes him a Moscow Mule.
Joanna and Matt arrive and Matt taps Donny on the shoulder. They are longtime friends; in fact Matt was present at the time of the accident. They were both 12 and while it was Donny’s idea to set off the firecracker, Matt has felt slightly guilty ever since. He knows he was the more sensible of the two and should have stopped him.
“Matt, hi. Hey Joanna.”
“Hi Donny,” Joanna says. “Hope you’re well.” Joanna tries to avoid asking Donny questions. She finds it exhausting, especially after a long day at work, to try to decipher from Donny’s answer what he thought she asked.
“A Moscow Mule,” he says. Joanna’s technique does not always work.
“How’s work, Don?” Matt asks.
Maybe because of their long-term connection, Donny understands Matt better than he does most people.
“Busy, but good,” Donny answers. Donny is a Cloud Engineer, a field Matt knows nothing about. Fortunately, like Ozzie Nelson, Donny doesn’t talk much about his job.
“How’s everything else? How’s Dina?” Dina is Donny’s long-time girlfriend. They’ve been together 18 years; they are both content with their arrangement—they live separately, have separate friends, and see each other once or twice a week.
Dina likes Matt, but the four of them don’t get together as couples, because Dina made it clear years ago that she does not like Joanna. She told Donny, who told Matt, who told Joanna, that she thinks she’s abrasive and acerbic. Joanna had said to Matt, “She’s an idiot. Those words mean the same thing. She should fucking pick one or the other.”
“She’s fine. She’s away right now, on business,” Donny says now. Dina is a brand manager for a big consumer goods company.
“What will you have tonight, Matt?” Tara asks. She asks because sometimes he drinks Beefeater straight up, sometimes he drinks Yuengling.
“Yuengling tonight, Tara, thanks,” he says, just as there is a huge commotion from the other end of the bar.
“What’s going on down there?” Joanna asks of anyone in earshot.
Donny did not hear the commotion nor does he understand Joanna’s question. “Moscow Mule,” he says.
Joanna ignores this. Tara has already made her way down to the other end of the bar.
“I’m going to check it out,” she says to Matt.
“Don’t get involved,” Matt says.
“I’m not. Just going to wander over, casually.”
She’s back in about a minute.
“Not sure what happened. I don’t know any of those people. Things seem calm, but a few people have very strained looks on their faces. Tara will know.”
Tara does indeed know, and in due time tells Joanna, Matt, and Donny. “Those folks are Solaris regulars,” she says, naming a bar/restaurant a mile or so away. “They’ve started to come in here once in a while. Apparently they take turns picking up the tab. There was a disagreement about whose turn it was. A few of them think turns should be bar-specific, others think a turn is a turn no matter where they’re drinking.”
“Oh,” Matt says. “I think a turn is a turn. Shouldn’t matter what bar they’re in.”
Joanna says, “Agreed. I hope they don’t make a habit of coming here. I don’t like their vibe.” She thinks for a second. “But if they’re good tippers, I’m happy for you and the other bartenders that they’re here.”
“Better than some. Not as good as you and Matt,” Tara says, smiling.
“No thanks, I’m not hungry,” Donny says.