IT WAS ONE of those things — two couples, different in every way, sitting down almost simultaneously. Metaphysics, science fiction and esoteric cosmology might have cornered the market on the idea of multiple dimensions, that drastically different objects (and realities) can occupy the same space at the same time. Take it from one bartender, it happens every day and often in a space only 3 by 15 feet.
I recognized the couple closest to me. They had always been fun and friendly. Physicists will tell you that objects seek the path of least resistance. So with that axiom in mind, I stepped up to them.
I provided Couple No. 1, the recognized duo, with a pair of easily rendered extra cold, extra dry martinis, gin with olives, and vodka with a twist.
Pleased with my success I stepped up to the other couple, Couple No. 2.
“Can you turn the music down?” the woman asked in lieu of ordering.
“Can you put the tennis match on?” the man asked.
“May I get you something to drink first?”
“But the music,” she said.
“And the tennis?” he said.
OK, I thought. Completing the requested tasks I returned.
“May I get you …?”
“Is there any way to turn these lights down?” she said with a grand gesture of the hands indicating great distress.
“How about a … ” I ventured.
“The lights,” she said squinting her eyes painfully.
When I returned Couple No. 1 had attempted to engage in conversation with Couple No. 2, and I do mean attempted because they now all sat in a rather awkward silence.
“Can we get two of your cilantro mojitos?” asked the man from Couple No. 2.
In answer I placed the cilantro in the bottom of two mixing glasses and reached for my muddler, that baseball bat-like implement behind every bar.
Muddlers are the mortar part of the mortar and pestle. The pestle part is the bottom of the glass. One of the oldest cooking utensils in the world, the mortar and pestle predates history. They are traceable as far back as 1550 B.C.
Oddly, for a tool with such historical provenance, muddlers are often wielded incorrectly by bartenders. The proper end to crush the ingredients is the flat end, not the round end. If the pestle itself were rounded then the rounded end makes senses, otherwise flat bottom glass and flat-bottomed tool makes the only sense.
“Use the other end,” he said, pointing at the rounded end.
“But … ” I started.
“I’m the customer and that’s how I want it,” he snapped. “Now grind up the cilantro really, really fine.”
I turned the aromatic herb into a disgusting mealy mess.
“Now squeeze in fresh lime.”
There’s nothing like being micromanaged, especially by someone so respectful and polite.
“You know,” Couple No. 1 observed, “you might want try ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ once in a while.”
Instead of responding, Couple No. 2 directed even more controlling behavior my way.
By the time I finished the cilantro mojitos with rum, sugar and soda water, sweat was running down my neck, making the already risen hair there that much more uncomfortable.
After attending to some other duties, I walked back just in time to overhear this:
“I have an idea, you drink your drinks and we’ll have ours and we won’t talk to each other,” said the man from Couple No. 1 in a tone that I’d never heard him use before. After which they paid their bill and left.
“That guy wanted to punch my husband,” said the woman from Couple No. 2, attempting to enlist my support.
“‘I’ve never seen him act that way before,” I noted.
“It happens to me all the time,” said her husband, “and I don’t know why.”
This reminded me of a passage in the Old Testament (Numbers 11:7): “The manna was like coriander seed (the seed of the cilantro plant) and looked like resin. The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar.”
It also says that those same people then complained about the food, which suggests two possibilities:
• The coriander was overmuddled.
• Those people were whiney and high maintenance, too.