Every so often, we’ll have a suspect drunk wander into the restaurant and belly up to the bar. An immediate reaction ensues:
1) Make eye contact to notice any erratic eye movement.
2) Lean in to pick up any smell of alcohol.
3) Plant water in front of them.
4) Mentally prepare for the unpredictable conversation that is to follow.
On this particular occasion, a man didn’t just wander into the bar, but was seated there by my boss. At first, I didn’t think much of it as I assumed it was a gentleman waiting for his party. I was dropped a hint that this wasn’t the case as my boss introduced me as, “The bartender. She’ll take vary good care of you, sir. Don’t worry.”
My boss was leaving the bar to return to the front when the man grasped him by the arm. “You know, I have quite a dilemma,” began the man, “I don’t know whether to stay or leave.” Accommodating as always, by boss offered him a seat in the main dining room. To both of our confusion, the man rejected the offer and proceeded:
“No, not stay or leave the bar,” said the man, “stay or leave the country.”
My boss- confused- smiled and walked off shaking his head leaving me with the freshly revealed mad man. He was seated at the bend of the bar, right where my well is located. So on busy nights, as this one was, I am at times anchored to a space of three squared feet slinging drinks as fast as I can. In other words, whomever is seated at the bend of my bar is the only person I can see or speak to until the rush is through. It was only 6:00p.m. and I had at least another two and a half hours before I was liberated.
In place, I pivot to grab a linen and set up for the man at the bar. Questioning his sobriety, I lean in and take a decent whif for any sign of alcohol. None. I fill a glass of water, place it in front of him and continue tending to the never ending ribbon of drink tickets spewing out of the machine.
I was about to start my automated bartender introduction, when he cut me off and began what would be known as the most surreal soliloquy my ears have ever been privy to.
“You know they’re rebuilding the Temple of Solomon? But the damn Arabs have the al-Aqsa in the way. But the blueprints are ready.”
Damn Arabs? I thought to myself. I have two brothers who are “damn Arabs.” Where does he get off?
“Oh?” I replied, completely and utterly dumbfounded.
“Yeah, they are. The Jews are ready. You know the Jews are the chosen people, so it’s only a matter of time before it happens. I wish I were born a Jew, although I consider myself to be an honorary one, you know.”
Hold onto to your skivvy’s ladies and gentleman, it’s only just begun.
“Oh?” I replied, completely and utterly dumbfounded, again. “So, when do they plan to break ground?”
“I don’t know, but I’m going to be there when it happens. I can’t decided between India or Israel.”
“For the Temple’s location?” I asked.
“No, to live. I have to get out of here. I have friends in India. They call this the land of the free, but it’s not. Everyone’s in jail!”
There was an element of truth in this statement. However, his left-field commentaries would continue to eclipse any half-way sane comment he would make. Was he drunk? Was he high? I couldn’t tell, but something definitely was altering his mind state. So began my investigation.
I leaned in to refill his water- that throughout the course of the evening I would refill 9 times- and took his order. I deeply inhaled for a second time, hunting for the scent of alcohol, but this time found an overwhelming stench of B.O.. I looked up and smiled at him as I tried to make eye contact, but he was avoiding it.
I proceeded to take his order. He ordered a Caesar salad with extra anchovies and another basket of bread. I hopped over to the computer to submit his order when he blurted, “I’m a mathematician, you know!” Which only means one thing: lousy tipper.
“Fantastic! So you’ll have no problem calculating the customary 20% tip then!” I reply, provoking a giggle from the other diners seated at the bar; also being subjected to this insane rant.
I drop his order, return to the bar and start shaking and stirring two martinis simultaneously. Circumstances required that I kick into high gear, but I was also trying to avoid further conversation with this man. So, the busier I looked the better. Yet I was still confined to my three-squared feet. I was trapped! Couldn’t this man notice that I was just a touch busy?
No. He continued.
“You know Israel is a pacifist state?”
“Is that a question or a statement, sir?” I asked while muddling my frustration into a quartered lime.
“A statement, clearly.”
“Have you seen the news lately, sir? The headlines would beg to differ,” I responded.
“Have you ever been to Israel?” he asked.
“No, sir. I have not been to Israel. It’s a bit dangerous to American tourists from what I’ve heard.” I replied.
“Well, it’s not,” he grumbled.
“Have you been?” I inquired.
“Well, no,” he began. “But it’s an amazing place. The Jews are amazing people! And when that Temple is being built, I’m going. I’m also going to run for office in Israel.”
I turned to look at him, and he once again avoided contact with me. I glanced at the coupled seated next to him to find that not only they were staring, but the entire bar was staring at him. Was he a religious lunatic who was going to start pushing some fundamentalist Judaism on me? Was he some rabid Zionist? I was preparing myself to receive a pamphlet or a campaign pin.
“You don’t say- campaigning, huh?” I asked.
“Yep, they could use help politically [NO SHIT.], so I am going to offer my services to Kadima. I’d be a great advisor. I’m more intelligent than Einstein. He was a Jew, you know.”
Wow. This man was entitled.
My jaw dropped as I turned to look at him. His eyes were fixed on his water-glass. I took his glass and filled it in hopes to make eye contact with our genius in the rough. I hadn’t a word to comment- but then again, what words would I say to a man more intelligent than Einstein?
My pager went off which only prompted my to shoot over to the line. I retrieved his salad (along with another basket of bread) and had an extra skip to my gate as I presented him with this order. Einstein would be eating now, buying me at least 5 minutes of peace. Wishing him Bon Appetite, my shoulders dropped in relaxation.
I made my way to the diners beside him whose eyes widened as I approached. A conversation about their fellow bar diner was clearly to happen once he left. Making small talk with them, I noticed in my peripheral vision that Einstein bowed his head in prayer.
Start time: 5 minutes.
But it really began at the stab of the first bite. I proceeded to keep a the peripheral eye on him and watched as he picked up his fork. My knees began to twitch as I anticipated that first bite, starting my 5 minutes. Come on, come on! I thought to myself whilst making conversation with the neighboring diners. He picked up his fork and was about to stab at a piece of lettuce, when instead he flipped the fork’s head into his palm and began using it as a conductor’s baton.
“Have you ever been to Europe?” he asked addressing my with the end of his fork.
“Yes. I have been to Europe.”
“It’s an evil place, didn’t you think? Only evil comes from Europe-” he stated as he swung the fork head out from his palm and impaled one of the anchovies.
Are you fucking kidding me?! First the stab at the Arabs which hits home, and now a direct strike? I went from miffed to peeved to irate and turned to respond to him.
“I’m European, actually. French to be exact. Do you think I’m evil?” I responded biting my tongue from unleashing hell on him. I stared him down as he shoveled lettuce into his mouth. The tables had turned, now as he was the one who had no escape route. I continued making drinks -shaking martinis into slushies in attempts to release some aggression- occasionally filling his water. The foot that he strategically placed in his mouth must have parched his palate, as I filled his water twice during the silence I was finally granted.
But I hardly enjoyed it. I was beyond annoyed and definitely insulted on two counts.
Einstein finished his salad and I removed his plate offering him dessert or coffee. He declined the offer, and to my surprise, looked at my in the eyes. Finally, I had a chance to see what was behind Einstein’s eyes to confirm if he was high or not. What I found was most revealing:
He was in his early 40s and had olive-toned skin. Salt and Pepper curly locks framed his angular face. He had a square jaw line with a hairline scar on the left side, that trailed up to his cheekbones which protruded outward sinking his eyes into their sockets. Two hazel eyes stared back at me with an anxious furrow between them. They were once round in shape, but through the evidence of years on his skin, were now pinned in to a slant of sadness.
The lines on his face didn’t denote laughter as much as trails cut for tears. He had a sadness on his face that I’ve only ever seen on a parent who has lost a child; a word too terrible for any language to fathom, hence its absence. There was sense of such loss in his eyes, yet I couldn’t pin what it was. Asking if he had lost someone would be most inappropriate.
I felt my face go from tense with anger, to softened with sympathy. Immediately, the furrow between his eyes subsided as he looked back at me like a guilt ridden child. He leaned in, and with it came a wave of B.O.. His chapped lips parted as he raised his hand to cup the side of his mouth faced the neighboring diners.
“Not all homeless people are crazy, you know.”
It became abundantly clear to me that he was a frightened, homeless war veteran that given his age, the Gulf war was to blame for. My heart sank as I realized that he had gone mad; completely mad and there wasn’t a single thing I could do about it. That sense of loss was from the loss of his mind. Not that it excused any of his behavior, but it certainly explained some of it: the Arabs and the prison comment.
He asked for his bill and paid in exact change. He didn’t tip a penny, but it didn’t matter- it wasn’t the $1.50 that was going to change my life. Asking for another glass of water, I offered one to go along with a box of bread. He gladly accepted and I abandoned the coiled mess of drink tickets that had collected on the floor, to go get it.
I returned with a paper cup of water and a large box of bread, and sat it on the bar in front of him. As he smiled, the scar on his jaw line revealed muscle damage only producing half a smile. He stood up and leaned over the bar and thanked me.
“I get a little nervous around a lot of strangers,” he said.
“I can understand that. I do too sometimes,” I replied with a big smile.
He turned to collect his bag and coat and was ready to walk out. I could feel the other diners looking at me wondering what had happened. What I had seen. What was said. I glanced over to find a puzzled look on the face of everyone at the bar top. Einstein as half way out when I darted down the bar to catch up.
“Hey!” I chirped in hopes to grab his attention. He turned and looked at me, a bit confused.
“Yes?” he questioned. I didn’t quite know what to say, now that he was stopped and everyone was watching this interaction. He was as mad as the Hatter himself, but I wanted to offer a word of comfort; something I can’t imagine he receives terribly often. My mind raced as I tried to put the words together that would bring him some light, and rinse the look of judgement off the other diners faces.
“India. You should go to India and see your friend.”
He nodded and smiled, “India. Well, that solves my dilemma doesn’t it?” and walked out the door.
That was two years ago, and I haven’t seen him since. I hope Einstein found his way.