It’s a week before Christmas; Leigh and Jim arrive at the bar and greet 80-yer old Ray, who is, as usual, drinking a vodka & tonic and methodically shredding the cocktail napkins stacked in front of him.
“Hey, sweetie,” Leigh says. “Parking lot is jammed.”
“Christmas party in the back. Stan’s company.”
“I think you’re supposed to say Holiday Party,” Leigh says.
“I’m 80 years old. I’ll say Christmas Party if I want. I may even call it an Easter Party, to make people think I’m addled.”
“I think the napkin shredding takes care of that,” Jim says.
Ray laughs and says, cheerfully, “Fuck you, Jim.”
“So how many people from Stan’s company are here?” Leigh asks.
“Not sure. Maybe about 40,” Ray replies.
Bartender Stephen hears this conversation from the other end of the bar, due to the Your Conversations Are Never Private acoustics of the bar.
He approaches the trio and says, “44. Hey Leigh, hey Jim.”
“Hi Stephen. Have you been back there at all?” Jim asks.
“Why do you say it like that?” Leigh asks.
“You know Stan, right?” Stephen answers.
“Of course. He’s a complete whack job,” Leigh says.
“Well, there’s 43 others just like him. All in one room.”
“Surely some of the spouses or dates or whatever are normal.”
“Partners weren’t invited. It’s just the employees. 36 men, 8 women.”
Leigh frowns. “I know he works for an IT company but it’s 2014. You’d think there’d be more women.”
“Not if all the men are like Stan, which they are,” Stephen says.
“Good point,” Jim says.
The four of them are silent for a few seconds, each recalling their favorite Stan-sure-is-a-nut story.
“What’s their set up?” Jim asks. Even though he makes good money as a pharmaceutical sales rep, he harbors a dream of one day owning a catering business, and these sorts of things interest him.
“$25.99 per person for the food. Drink costs are based on usage.”
“Are non-alcoholic beverages included in the food cost?” Jim asks.
“Is there a carving station?”
“Yes, roast beef, ham, and turkey. Self -serve.”
“Nice,” Jim says.
“Jim, forget it. You’re not quitting your job. Not for a catering business, not for a food truck,” Leigh says.
“Not now, but maybe one day,” Jim answers.
Leigh wisely changes the subject. She asks Stephen, “Do you know if Stan’s boss is here?”
“The head of the company is. I don’t know if he’s Stan’s direct boss or not.”
“What’s he like?” Leigh asks.
“Like all of them, as far as I can tell. I haven’t been back there for a while. One thing, they’re not heavy drinkers. They’re supposed to order up here and there hasn’t been much traffic.”
“I’m going to wander back and see what’s happening,” Leigh says. “Do you want to come?” She asks this of Jim and Ray, who say “No” in unison.
“Suit yourself,” Leigh says. She asks Stephen for her signature drink—the Leightini—before heading off.
She’s back in a few minutes. Her martini is waiting for her; Jim has already made a serious dent in his Tito’s on the rocks.
“Stephen, I know why they’re not ordering many drinks,” she says.
“They’re all drinking absinthe. There are bottles all over the place. People are slumped over. I think some are hallucinating. It looks like a fucking opium den.”
“Was that part of their deal?” Jim asks. “They could bring their own liquor?”
“Certainly not,” Stephen answers. “Lenny’s here today. He’ll have a fit if he finds out. We make all our money on liquor. And bringing in absinthe of all things.”
“I thought absinthe was banned in this country,” Ray says.
“The ban was lifted about 7 years ago,” Stephen says. “It’s legal, as long as it doesn’t contain thujone. That’s the chemical that could cause hallucinations, but in very high doses. I doubt people are hallucinating.”
“Humph,” Leigh says. “I stand by my observation. Looks like the Manet painting.” No one understands the reference, but they are used to such statements from Leigh, and no one asks for clarification.
“It’s probably just that they’re very drunk. Some absinthe is 144 proof, compared to 80 for Jim’s Tito,” Stephen says.
“I’ve heard that,” Jim says.
“I better go back there and clear them out. Just my luck this will be the day Lenny comes out of his office to mingle with the customers,” Stephen says.
“Would he blame you?” Leigh asks
“Yeah, I booked the party. And it’s a miracle Mary Ann isn’t here. She’d be all over me.”
“An Easter miracle,” Ray says, as Stephen heads toward the imbibers.
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.”