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.”
Bartender Stephen will one day have a wildly successful career in healthcare, and will make a difference in the lives of countless people. But at this moment, he is focused on the comfort of his guests, especially his regulars. He knows they come to Stenny’s to suspend, if only for a couple of hours, whatever worries they have about their jobs, their parents, their kids.
There is nothing he can do to guarantee they will have a good time, but he can help to create an atmosphere conducive to relaxation. He doesn’t like behavior that disturbs the equilibrium of the bar, and such behavior is going on right now, courtesy of a customer he thinks of as once-in-a-while Ed. He saw Joanna stiffen as soon as he took a seat at the bar stool next to hers.
Stephen likes Joanna a lot, but recognizes that she can lack subtlety. As soon as Ed sat down, she stood up and said to her husband Matt, “Switch seats with me.” Matt shot her a look that Stephen knows Joanna calls “Matt’s mean monkey face”; but he complied. Stephen thought He’s trying to avoid a scene.
Matt said to Ed, “Hey Ed, haven’t seen you for a while, how’ve you been?”
“Why did you and Joanna switch seats?” Ed responded.
“I think she felt a draft in this seat,” Matt said. Someone once said he was comfortable with small, casual lies; this was a fine example.
“I don’t know about that,” Ed said. “I think that maybe she don’t trust herself around me.”
This is the moment that Stephen began to feel a shift in the atmosphere of the bar, as palpable as a sharp drop in barometric pressure.
Joanna is studiously ignoring Matt and Ed, but clearly hearing every word. Stephen knows her well enough to know that she is offended by both the sentiment expressed by Ed, and his grammatical mistake.
Matt wisely changes the subject. “How’s your girlfriend? Sorry, I don’t remember her name.”
“Brittany. She’s home, cooking me a nice meal. Where all women should be. Right, Joanna?”
Stephen sees Joanna hesitate and surmises, correctly, that she’s deciding which way to take this conversation. He also sees a quick movement of Matt’s left leg, which means he has kicked her, which means he’s begging her not to take the bait.
“What month is your birthday?” she asks, surprising everyone.
“March,” Ed answers.
“How old were you on your last birthday?”
“How is that possible?” she says.
“I work out,” Ed says, and flexes the bicep closest to Joanna. “You want to feel this? Stroke it maybe?”
“No, that’s not what I mean,” Joanna says.
“Jo,” Matt says to her, sotto voce. “Please. Ignore him. He’s an idiot.” He may as well not have spoken.
“What I mean, Ed, is that for someone who was born in 1979 you have very antiquated ideas.”
Ed may not know that word but he figures out what Joanna means from context.
“You think you’re too good to cook Matt a meal?”
Joanna is silent for a full three seconds and then laughs with what sounds to Stephen like pure joy. “You know what, Ed? I just learned something very valuable from you. Life is too fucking short to spend any amount of time talking to assholes. I thank you for that. What are you drinking?”
“Stephen, Ed’s next three Peronis are on Matt and me.”
“Are you sure, Joanna?” Stephen asks.
“Absolutely. And if he doesn’t want three more drinks tonight, give him those little cups you use as chits.”
“Thanks, Joanna,” Ed says.
Joanna says nothing.
Ed tries again. “That’s nice of you.”
Matt says, “Ed, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Joanna will never say another word to you, ever. We’re going to head out. Enjoy the beers.”
They say their goodbyes to Stephen and a few regulars in their vicinity. In the parking lot, Joanna says, “That felt good. Liberating, really.”
“It was a good way to handle it. Hopefully he won’t start coming in more often expecting us to buy him drinks. He really is a horse’s ass.” Matt does not like the word asshole.
They get in their car for the 10-minute drive home. In what would be a surprise to Ed, Joanna has a nice fiesta chicken dinner heating up in her slow cooker.