IT WAS GOING on 11 o’clock, and she had been at the bar for nearly three hours. She wasn’t drunk or even intoxicated, she was just there.
In my business, time is money, or in some cases, not money. Empty bar stools are bad enough, but ones filled with people not spending any money are worse. An empty seat can be filled, but one that is already occupied can just be dead space.
Such was the case this particular night. I watched one couple walk away because they couldn’t get seats. I watched another post-golf threesome leave because they couldn’t get seats; two more couples opted for tables as did a solo gentleman. Cocktail blockers are what I call them, people whose only reason for being there seems to be preventing other people from getting a seat. I did a quick calculation. At a loss of about $4 a head, I was down about $40 on what I could have made on that seat.
But then, no one ever said life was going to be fair.
“It’s just not fair,” the cocktail blocker said, shocking me to my core.
Had I said any of that out loud?
“My son is acting out,” she said.
If she was immune to the fact that nearly 20 people had come and gone, unable to sit, while she enjoyed her one glass of house wine, two plates of bread and innumerable water refills, I was reasonably sure she wouldn’t notice my indifference.
“Oh, yeah?” I said, involving myself in the other minutiae
that makes up most of my job: glass washing, order taking, cashiering, direction giving, change making and occasionally psychoanalyzing.
“I just don’t know what is wrong with him,” she continued.
“Well?” I said, rustling up whatever professionalism I could and putting the lost $40 on the back burner.
“I think he’s been drinking.”
Now, I do have some experience in such matters.
“What makes you think that?”
“He’s not doing very well in school.”
“What grade is he in?’
“He’s a sophomore “… no, a junior “… no, he’s a sophomore.”
“According to the dictionary, ‘sophomoric’ means, ‘conceited and overconfident of knowledge but poorly informed and immature,’ so there’s that,” I said.
She simply stared at me.
“Anyhow,” she said, “I don’t know what to do.”
“What have you tried?”
“You know, everything.”
I got the feeling that particulars were going to be out of the question.
“He just does whatever he wants to do. Just like my ex.”
“Hmmm,” I said, realizing that this was all slippery slope.
“I never know where he is or what he is doing.”
“No, my son.”
I really have to start paying more attention.
“Where is he now?”
“He moved in with his girlfriend.”
“No, my ex.”
“No, I mean where is your son tonight?”
“I don’t know.”
“Your ex has him?”
“No, it’s my weekend.”
Obviousness reared its head in the ensuing awkward silence.
“I have to make a call,” she said finally.
I don’t know the substance of that call, but judging from the quickness of her exit, it was going to be good for one son and for one mother — and not too bad for a bartender and five more seated guests either. Reminding me that bartending is often much more than simply mixing drinks.
In honor of Mother’s Day, I offer these thoughts:
• Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, it doesn’t matter; if your kids don’t come first, then you don’t deserve a celebration on either.
• “Neurotics complain of their illness, but they make the most of it, and when it comes to taking it away from them they will defend it like a lioness her young,” wrote Sigmund Freud. Odd choice the lioness; one wonders what Freud, himself, might make of that.
• “If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves,” wrote Freud’s protégé cum rival, Carl Jung.
• Transference is a phenomenon characterized by the unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another, and it was embraced by both Freud and Jung.
• Mother is a title that is given; Mom is one that is earned.