I LOOKED AROUND the quiet little bar, and it dawned on me that we were now in our slow season. Every bar and restaurant has one. Some bars have their decks and docks loaded with folks in the summer; others have their fireplaces surrounded in winter. Sooner or later, however, there is a time for not much more than reflection — and cleaning, which I was reluctantly engaging in.
My glass polishing and reflections were soon interrupted by a man sitting heavily on a bar stool.
Bartenders learn when to engage and when not to engage. As in gambling you look for “tells,” the little signs that clue you in. Folded arms and a brusquely quiet manner had this situation looking a lot like the former.
“Why so glum?” I said, adjusting my vernacular to my newly arrived guest s perceived age.
From his look, I didn’t t think he appreciated it.
“My 50th birthday is tomorrow,” he said.
In my experience, 50 is one of the hardest birthdays. It is the tip of the mountain; the rest of the journey is down the backside. Sure, it beats the alternative, but for many it s a bitter pill to swallow. Add in a divorce, and you just might end up sitting at my bar. I bought him a drink and left him to his thoughts. Bartenders learn the rules of engagement, but customers don t. Soon a gentleman at the opposite end of the interaction spectrum sat directly next to the upcoming birthday boy.
“I m meeting two women,” he said, sounding pleased with himself. Said women arrived shortly proving it no idle boast, judging from their short summery tennis dresses, deep tans, and heavy makeup. One of the women (a yoga instructor in her mid-40s, I later discovered) immediately engaged almost birthday boy. Sometimes, it is not what or where but whom that fosters an interaction.
I don t know if Ms. Yoga thought birthday boy was a friend of her host or what? But she soon took quite a shine to him, and he to her. Her friend, engaging in the time honored strategy of divide and conquer, buddied up with the original host. Soon I found out that she was a beautician, who explained the makeup, and that both ladies were from out of town.
“What is there to do around here?” asked Ms. Beauty.
The host didn’t t reply, instead he kept telling a story about fishing lures. It was a story clearly neither the women nor the birthday boy were interested in. She asked again, and again the long story.
“I want to go dancing,” said Ms. Beauty, standing up.
“There s a little place down the street,” said Birthday Boy.
“Take me there?” said Ms. Beauty to Mr. Host.
Clearly divide and conquer was being taken to a new level.
“Just a minute,” said Mr. Host, finishing his drink and another long-winded story about bait. Ms. Beauty abruptly took Mr. Host by the hand and scurried out the door. Meanwhile, Ms. Yoga and Birthday Boy now took their shine to a new level.
“I like dancing too,” she said, looking deep into his eyes. I got the impression she wasn’t talking about the vertical type. He must have gotten that impression, too, because I thought I heard the words “my place.” They got up to leave but ran into returning Ms. Beauty.
“What happened?” they asked.
“He couldn’t t decide on what car to take,” she said, frustrated.
“We re going back to his place,” said Ms. Yoga, gesturing at Birthday Boy and making her intentions absolutely clear.
“Can I come?” asked Ms. Beauty.
“I guess so,” said Ms. Yoga, looking at Birthday Boy. He paid their bill and then looked at me.
“Happy Birthday,” I said.
“Indeed,” he answered.
Later that week he returned a different man. I didn’t t have to ask him what happened, his wearied but smiling demeanor was all the “tell” that I needed.
Later still, the two women returned for Ms. Beauty s own birthday. I have yet to see Mr. Host again, which proves four things:
Slow doesn’t t mean boring.
Birthday fantasies can be shared.
One man’s loss is another s man s gain.
Turning 50 might not be so bad after all.