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.”
Even though Stenny’s bar customers generally don’t patronize the restaurant, they know the hostesses. They say hi to whomever is standing behind the hostess stand as they head to the bar, and a couple of the hostesses will grab a drink once their shift is over, allowing for conversations that range from extremely shallow to too-deep-for-comfort.
Tonight, a Monday, there is a new hostess behind the stand as Jim and Leigh arrive.
“Hi, who are you?” Leigh asks her. Leigh likes to be in the know about all Stenny’s staff.
“Mary Ann,” the hostess says. “And you?”
“I’m Leigh. This is Jim. We’re heading into the bar. When did you start?”
Mary Ann looks at Leigh in a decidedly unfriendly way; this is aided by her resemblance to Cruella Deville.
“I’m actually the owner,” Mary Ann says.
“What? Steve and Lenny sold the place?” Jim asks.
“No,” Mary Ann says. “Steve is my husband.”
“Oh,” Leigh says. “Well, nice to meet you.”
“I’m sure,” Mary Ann says.
Once Leigh and Jim are settled at the bar, she says to him “Isn’t the appropriate response Likewise, I’m sure? Not just I’m sure?”
“Yeah, that was weird,” Jim answers. As he usually does, he reflects on what medical or psychological condition Mary Ann might have, but comes up blank.
Leigh has parlayed her Master’s in Fine Arts to a low-paying but enjoyable job as an editor for a small independent publisher of home-beautification books. She also reads a lot of fiction, and now says to Jim, “Objectification.”
‘What?” Jim says.
“I learned the term in college, when reading Catch-22. Nately’s whore.”
“I have no idea what you’re taking about,” he says as he takes a sip from the Maker’s Mark Manhattan Melissa had silently served him.
“Nately was a character in the book. He had a prostitute as a girlfriend. Or something like that. No one knew her name. They all called her Nately’s whore. They made her into an object, a thing owned by Nately.”
“Did you notice Mary Ann said Steve is my husband? And not I am Steve’s wife?
“I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I’ll stipulate to that.” Jim has watched a lot of movies and TV shows set in courtrooms.
“So she made Steve into an object. Something she owns,” Leigh says.
“I think you’re over analyzing,” Jim says, for approximately the zillionth time in their marriage.
Melissa has been listening, which both Jim and Leigh are perfectly fine with. “Leigh’s on to something,” she now says. “That woman is bad news.”
“How so?” Jim asks.
“I’m not sure yet,” Melissa answers. “But Steve sent the whole staff an email on Saturday saying that he was bringing her in to enhance our professionalism. His exact words.”
“Hmm,” Leigh says as she muses. “I wonder who our is in that sentence.”
Melissa says, “Exactly. That’s what has us worried. Did he mean the collective our, as in Stenny’s as a whole, or did was he directing it at us, the staff—saying that our professionalism is lacking?’
Jim has lost interest in this conversation and wanders down a few bar stools to chat with Ben.
“I think you just need to let it play out for a bit,” Leigh says.
“Yeah, I guess,” Melissa responds.
As if on cue, Mary Ann enters the bar. “Melissa, is it?”
Melissa back visibly stiffens. “Mary Ann, is it?”
“I think you have a thirsty customer at the other end of the bar,” Mary Ann says as she points in the general direction of Ernie, the retired printer who supplements his pension and social security by getting other bar patrons to share their food with him.
“Ernie? He’s fine. He only ever has one drink and he’s not even half-done.” In addition to her steel trap memory, she has the eyes of an eagle.
Leigh watches Mary Ann and Melissa engage in a 7-second staring contest, which is a very long time for that sort of thing. Finally, Mary Ann says, “Carry on,” and heads back to the hostess stand.
“You won that round,” Leigh says. “But I don’t think that’s the end of it.”
“I know it isn’t. Goddamn it.”