Monday, August 12, 2013

On a lazy afternoon in Brooklyn

He sidled into my bar at about three that afternoon.  He always seemed to be sidling, that's what I thought was weird.  Never made a straight walk to anywhere; figured he was 4F during the war.  My drill sergeant would have had him peeling spuds till his fingers fell off for walking like that.  That's what I says to McCabe, I says, "Drill Sergeant Bankston would have had him peeling spuds till his fingers fell off."

He takes off his hat and sits next to McCabe.  Now McCabe, he's got a bum hand from a Nazi grenade, so he don't work much.  Tough to be a lathe operator with a bum hand, but what are you gonna do?  So McCabe don't work normal hours, but between his pension and his occasional work he gets by.  Anyway, as I said, he sat down next to McCabe, on McCabe's bum-hand side.  His left.  Little guy.  No, not McCabe, McCabe's a gorilla.  This guy I'm talking about.  Will you shut up and let me tell the story?

So the little guy sits there, next to McCabe, at the bar.  McCabe's drinking rock'n'rye, the little guy is just sitting there.  Ain't looking at me, or McCabe, or the TV.  Just kinda staring at the bottom of the back bar.  Nobody's sayin' nothin' but Vin Scully, and he wasn't saying a lot 'cause the Dodgers were down eight runs late.  Now, I been in this business a long time, I don't push my stuff on nobody.  I let them ask for it when they're good and ready.  Some guys walk in and start ordering, some just sit there looking at the peanuts on the bar for a little while, like this guy.  But he weren't looking at the peanuts, he was looking at the back bar, but kinda through it, you know?  Like he was looking at it and listening to something else at the same time.  Still, even when it's dead and there's only McCabe in the place, there's a limit, ya know?  I can't have him sitting there taking up space without buying nothing.  Them barstools get to be valuable property around five.

Just as I'm heading over to check on his deal, he finally looks up and around, notices McCabe.  Now McCabe, he don't like nobody bothering him when he's drinking.  "I don't like nobody bothering me when I'm drinking," he says to me once.  "I'm here to get drunk, not to bullshit, not to clown around, not to get laid.  If I got something to say I'll say it to you."  Saw him smack some joker with his good hand when the joker asked McCabe to pass the peanuts.  Anyways, he looks at McCabe, who's giving the little guy the cold shoulder.  Ya know how it is when you been married so long you can feel an argument brew in your wife?  I'm like that with the bar, I always know minutes before there's gonna be trouble.  So I goes over to where they were sitting and start cleaning ashtrays, hoping to keep the little guy from getting smacked into next week.

"Getcha something?" I asked the little guy.  "Shot anna beer?"

"Water," he says.  Water?  Not in my bar, I don't care how dead it is.

"Look, pal," I says, "Water don't cut it.  You want water, there's a fountain in the park, two blocks down the street.  Here, you get booze or you get out."  At this point McCabe starts playing with his change on the bar, making the silver sing.  I knew the next step would involve me calling the cops, so I grab the little guy by his lapel and, shall we say, guided him down to the other end of the bar.  He wasn't pleased, but he had no choice.

"Beer," I says, "or beat it.  Capeesh?"

He swallowed, hard, like he was trying to get a spoon of castor oil down his throat.  "Beer, then."  All this time, he's still looking at the bottom of the back bar.  He finally looks at me.  "And...pee-nuts?"  Says peanuts like he's never heard of the word.  It was then I noticed the earbud.

"What, you come into my bar listening to a transistor?"  Little guy's eyes get all wide, then he cocks his head and nods a little.

"Want to keep tabs on the Yankees game."  I let him go, shook my head, and went to the tap.  Some people, it's not worth it to argue.  Some are Catholic, some are Jewish, and you're born to it and have no choice in the matter.  There was about as much sense giving him grief about being a Yankee fan in Brooklyn as there was...well, with the whole thing, come to think of it, which was none.  Anyway, I get him his beer, and bring over the bowl of peanuts.

"Two bits."  He hands me a halfie and tells me to keep it.  That's more like it! I think to myself.  This guy's all right, even if he is staring at the back bar a lot.  I turned to check on McCabe, and just as I turn back, the beer and peanuts are gone.  I didn't even say two words to McCabe!  Anyways, he puts his hat back on and asks me one question:

"The bank.  The bank on the next block.  When do they close?"

I figure he's talking about the Columbia Savings Bank on the other side of the alley.  I tell him they're open 'til four.  He thanks me, sidles out like he sidled in.  Weirdest stuff happens here.

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