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.”
There’s a saying known to all bartenders, or should be: Martinis are like breasts. One isn’t enough and three are too many.
In all fairness to vodka, “three is too many” really refers to gin. Its juniper berries can turn the gentlest of souls into snarling, vindictive, downright nasty monsters. Joanna has seen it firsthand on the rare occasions when Matt forgot to switch to beer after his second martini. At those times, Joanna remembers another saying she heard about gin: There’s a divorce in every bottle.
This night, a Friday in early November, is unfortunately one of those occasions. Matt had a tough week at work—he sells rope, twine, and tape to small businesses, schools, farmers, and anyone else in need of rope, twine, or tape—and he lost a big sale to a competitor. It was especially irksome because Matt had trained the sales guy who won the business, who then went to work for a bigger firm.
“I’m sorry, hon,” Joanna had said earlier, at home. “That sucks.”
Matt sensed, correctly, that Joanna was not too worked up about it. At that moment, pre-gin, he understood. He knew he sold unemotional products to mostly unemotional customers, and that one lost sale meant little in the scheme of his work, let alone in the lives of others.
As is sometimes the case, Joanna and Matt didn’t spend much time together in their first couple of hours at Stenny’s. Matt was absorbed in conversation with Jim and Ben, and Joanna was talking to Leigh and the beauteous Barb, a semi-regular who was as personable as she was pretty.
“I think you’re the best-looking woman I’ve ever met in real life,” a half-lit Joanna had said to Barb about six months ago. “You look like Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side, only better. If I were gay, I’d make a beeline straight to you.” Joanna lacks the embarrassment gene, and did not feel at all bad when she was later reminded by Matt of what she had said. “I meant it,” she said. “I may have been drinking but I knew what I was saying. Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed how gorgeous she is.” Matt didn’t even try to deny it.
Tonight, Joanna, Leigh, and Barb are discussing mascara when they hear raised voices from several bar stools down.
“Oh no,” Joanna said. “That’s Matt. Shit, has anyone noticed how many Beefeaters he’s had?” Matt drinks Beefeater gin straight up, with a twist but not a drop of vermouth. It’s a rhetorical question, as she doesn’t expect her friends to monitor her husband’s drinking.
“Can you tell who he’s talking to?” Joanna is hoping to get an answer to this question.
“I think it’s Ralph,” Barb says.
“Oh no,” Joanna says again, with more urgency. “If Matt has had too much gin and they’re discussing politics……” She can’t bear to finish the sentence.
“It doesn’t sound too bad,” Leigh says; one second later they all hear Matt say, “If you believe that, you’re just a fucking idiot.”
“What do you think I should do?” Joanna asks. “If I go down there, I can maybe distract him from Ralph but he may turn on me, and I am not in the mood.”
“I’ll wander down and see if I can get a sense of how bad it is,” Barb says.
She does, and is back in a matter of seconds.
“It’s bad, don’t go down there,” she says.
“What’s happening?” Joanna asks.
“They’re both wagging their fingers in each other’s faces. Matt looks like he’s spitting. Ralph’s face is purple.”
“Oh no,” Joanna says for the third time. “Matt spits when he’s really mad. It’s very disturbing. Did you hear anything?”
“I think I heard Matt say Communist and Ralph say Fascist. I know I heard a lot of Fuck Yous.”
Melissa is bartending tonight. Joanna is about to wave her down when she sees Melissa is already heading her way.
“Joanna,” she says. “I love you guys, you’re just about my favorite customers, but Matt is out of control. You have to calm him down or get him out of here.”
“Okay, I will.” Joanna says. “But do me a favor. Bring him some black coffee. In that huge mug you sometimes use as a joke. The one that says I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.”
“I will, but it will be a few minutes. You need to talk to him now.”
“Do you want me to go with you?” Leigh asks, half-heartedly.
“No, it’s not your problem.”
Joanna approaches Matt and Ralph quietly. She tries to make her face as vacuously pleasant as possible. Neither is speaking when she arrives; she hopes they have talked themselves out, but she’s not counting on it.
“Hi honey, hey Ralph,” she says.
“How are you tonight, Joanna?” Ralph says, as Matt says, “Hey Jo.”
“You guys ready to give it a rest?” she asks.
“We’re just having fun,” Matt says.
Joanna sighs. Matt says that, or something like it, when he is at his most obnoxious. She said to him once, “Remember, when you say you’re having fun, everyone else is suffering.” She chooses not to say that to him now.
“Is that right, Ralph?” she says instead. “You having fun?”
“Well, I don’t agree with anything Matt says, but I admire his passion.”
Matt looks like he’s about to rev up. Joanna sees that Melissa is approaching not only with the big mug but with an entire pot of coffee. She knows Matt, being what she calls a caffiend, will drink it all. It will go halfway to solving this problem; the other half involves her sacrificing herself.
“Hey Ralph,” she says. “I haven’t heard much lately about what your daughters and grandkids have been up to. I know they always have a lot going on. Tell me everything.”
While the gin has made Matt argumentative, it has not made him drunk. He sees what’s she doing, and taps her butt lightly as an acknowledgement; Joanna chooses to believe it is also a thank you.