Paul the bartender is a nascent philosopher, opining on life’s larger mysteries with deft language and acerbic wit. Most of the drunks in the Irish Peddler Pub fail to appreciate Paul’s incisive commentaries, especially as they stare vapidly over their shots and beers at the big TV screens behind the bar.
Usually after being on a verbal roll, Paul will lean back on the counter behind the bar and make a wavy movement with his hand, indicating that he’s gone over their heads. This is for my benefit as I sit there, nursing my nightly martini before walking home to my lonely Forest Hills apartment.
This Friday evening I’ve come in for a longer haul since there’s no work tomorrow. There are innocuous 70s songs playing on the jukebox. The strains of Kansas, Boston, Journey, Linda Ronstadt, and others are sure to be playing all night long, but it’s nothing but background noise to me.
Paul gives me a thumbs-up while grabbing the Beefeater bottle. I like to watch as he splashes a small amount of dry vermouth into the shaker, swishing it with aplomb and then dumping it. He then free pours the gin, drops in ice, and takes a martini glass from the freezer. It is sort of like watching a skilled dancer going about his movements, as if Balanchine had choreographed the whole procedure.
Paul holds the long-stemmed glass filled with the nectar of perhaps lesser but very inebriated gods, drops the requisite three olives into it, and places it on top of a napkin. I stare up at him wondering why he uses three olives.
“What?” he asks.
Someone calls his name at the other end of the bar. He glances over his shoulder. “Have to give Mr. McCoy his boilermaker; be right back.”
I look at the drink, the olives staring up at me like three miniature eyeballs. Now I’ve gone and done it, I think.
Two attractive young women come in dressed in business attire. They obviously just got off the E train from Manhattan, now ready to have that cocktail and start their weekend. In the old days I would have attempted a conversation, but since the divorce and my wife and children moving across country, I just haven’t found it in me to get into the game.
Paul serves them both colorful drinks. I haven’t paid attention to what they ordered; it is meaningless to me. I think of the last time I spoke with my kids. Ella happily told me about Kindergarten, but Tommy’s struggling in school and angry, blaming his difficulties in second grade on me because I left his Mommy. How can I tell them that Daddy came home and found Mommy kissing Santa Claus (actually a very bad elf from her office)? Serves me right for leaving work early that Christmas Eve.
Paul returns and jabs his thumb toward the ladies. “Any luck?”
“I’m getting too old!”
“Who said forty is old?”
“Forty-four,” I say.
“Hey, that’s like the new 25.”
“Yeah, easy for you to say.” I figure Paul’s about 30.
Paul leans on the bar and grins. “So, you want to know about the olives?’
I sip my drink. “Yeah, it’s been on my mind.”
“Three is a perfect number – like the trinity, man: peace, love, and happiness.”
“Yeah, see one is a lonely number. One is alone and sullen.”
“Check,” I say.
“Hey, no offense.” I grin at him and take another sip. “Two is deceptive, because you think it’s better than one, but two is imperfect because if one leaves then the other is one again.”
“But with three there is always support. One can be sick or sad and the two help out.”
“But then that’s imperfect.”
“But better than one sick alone, right?”
“Three is a lucky number too,” Paul says. “What is three times seven?”
“Exactly. Another lucky number. All multiples of three are lucky.”
I’m not comfortable with these explanations, but I have nothing to say refute them. “Okay, so I guess three it is.”
“The Mets are losing again,” moans an old drunk at the bar. “What meatballs!”
Paul closes his book, jumps off the stool, and stands in front of the old guy blocking his view of the TV. “Do you understand the sublime nature of underdogs? There is something inherently beautiful in losing; that takes infinite more integrity than winning.” He goes on and on, and the old man sips his shot and drinks his beer with a stolid facial expression.
This is Paul’s venue for discourse. As he walks those boards behind the bar, he is a sage on the stage, speaking on all topics with authority, but I cannot help but thinking it’s mostly sound and fury signifying, if not nothing, very little at best.
I sip my martini and one of the girls leans toward me and says, “Excuse me.”
I turn and look at her pretty young face, the gleam in her eyes indicating that nothing much in life has disappointed her yet. What does she want with me? “Yes?”
“You know where Thai Kitchen is?”
“Not from around here?”
“No, just got off the train and saw this place.”
I lean back and point toward the door. “Go right and at the corner make a right. It’s on Austin Street.”
“Hey, thanks,” she says. They finish their drinks quietly and leave with no farewells.
Paul returns and says, “Were you hitting on those girls?”
“Well, no, but guess I scared them off anyway.”
“It’s their loss, Tom. Ready for another?”
I chew the olives and push my empty glass towards him. “Some more peace, love, and happiness.”
He smiles. “You got it!”
Photo credits: baltimoresun.com; martinimedianetwork.com; wikipedia
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