“Hey, is that who I think it is?” Melissa asks Tara.
“That’s an impossible question to answer,” Tara responds.
“Him, over there, next to Ray, look.”
Tara looks and says “Ahh, that’s Mary Ann’s Mystery Man. Is that who you think it is?”
“Yes. When was he first in here? It’s been a while, right?”
“Yeah, at least a few months,” Tara says. “Did you ever hear anything from Mary Ann about his first visit?”
“No, and I certainly wasn’t going to ask. I hate that lazy-eyed bitch. We figured he was some kind of mystery diner, right?”
“Yes,” Tara says.
The man Melissa and Tara are referring to is a Paul Rudd lookalike who visited Stenny’s back in November; he appeared shortly after Mary Ann told them that a very important patron was expected and should be treated like gold. Unhelpfully, that’s all the detail Mary Ann had, or was willing to share, leaving Melissa and Tara to connect some dots and decide that the man with the pleasant face and incongruently nasty facial expression was in fact the Mystery Man.
“I waited on him last time,” Tara says. “He grilled me. You take him this time.”
“Ok,” Melissa says, and heads that way. She stops to say hi to Ray and eat one his french fries; it’s a ritual they both enjoy.
“Hi there,” she says to the Mystery Man. “I’m Melissa. What’s your name?” As we have established, Melissa has a more direct approach than does Tara. Tara’s greeting three months ago was “Hello, sir, welcome. What can I get you?”
“Robert,” Robert says. “Although I don’t see why you need to know that.”
“So I can address you, silly. This is a bar. We talk to each other.” She places her hand on Ray’s forearm and says, “For example, this is Ray, an every-nighter. Say hi to Robert, Ray.”
“Hello,” Ray says.
“Now you say hi to Ray,” Melissa says to Robert. “That’s how it works.”
“Hello, Ray,” Robert says.
“Very good. Now what can I get you, Robert?”
Robert pulls a small memo book from his shirt pocket, flips a few pages, and says, “The last time I was here, I asked what kind of scotch you have. I’d like to ask you the same question.”
“Go right ahead,” Melissa says.
Robert looks at her quizzically for a second two, then says, “What kind of scotch do you have?”
“Johnnie Walker Black, Chivas Regal, Dewar’s, Dewars White, and Cutty Sark,” Melissa answers.
“Same answer, but a different order,” Robert says.
“Aren’t you trained to present choices in a certain order, to influence the choice that is made, to maximize revenue?”
Melissa laughs, heartily. “Of course not. Right, Ray?” she says as she takes another fry from his plate.
“Right,” Ray says.
“Is it your custom to eat your customer’s food?” Robert asks.
“I wouldn’t call it a custom. Although that’s interesting, isn’t it? Custom, customer. Ray likes to share his fries. There’s too many for him, and he thinks I don’t eat enough.”
“I see,” Robert says. “Can I look at a menu?”
“Sure thing. Ray, give Robert your menu.”
Ray does, and Melissa says, “While you look at the menu, what can I get you to drink?”
“No, stay,” Robert says, much as he did with Tara three months ago.
“Nope. Can’t. I have other customers and it’s my custom to wait on them,” Melissa says with a broad smile. “I can get you a drink now or I can come back when you’re ready. Those are your choices.”
Robert looks at her with an expression she can’t read and says, “Absolut on the rocks.”
“80 proof or 100 proof?” Melissa asks.
“What do you recommend?”
“Oh, no,” Melissa says. “Not going to be caught in that trap.”
“80 proof,” Robert says.
“You got it,” Melissa says, walks a few feet, fills a glass with ice, pulls a bottle from a shelf, and pours.
“How do you feel about her being so familiar with you?” Robert asks Ray.
Ray hears him, but doesn’t like the question. One advantage of being 80 is that he can feign all sorts of things—lack of hearing, lack of comprehension, lack of interest. So instead of answering, he says “Would you like a fry?”