A beach bar. Early evening. These days, I only visit quiet bars that serve decent hamburgers in baskets. This bar allegedly has a decent burger.
It is anything but quiet.
There is a band. The musicians are supposed to be playing country. They aren’t. The lead singer has a voice that sounds like a recently maintenanced M4 Sherman tank.
There’s a man sitting beside me. He’s staring into his glass. He’s overdressed. He wears a loosened necktie.
The bartender refuses to serve him another drink. Then, the bartender gives me a glance which seems to say, “This guy’s tanked.”
He’s half-tight, all right. He introduces himself. We shake hands.
I shouldn’t engage him. I really shouldn’t. I know this. Drunk folks like me too much. They latch onto me like deer ticks on a German shorthaired pointer.
Take, for instance, the time in New Orleans, with my cousin. An intoxicated seventy-three-year-old woman forced me onto the dance floor practically at gunpoint. We danced a light bossa nova. We twirled.
She asked me to dip her. I did. Paramedics were involved. Her hip was never the same.
The man at the bar tells me his daughter died five years ago yesterday. He’s in town, visiting her headstone. His face looks swollen when he says it.
“You think you’ve gotten over the worst,” he says. “But you never get over your baby.”
He’s a mess. The bartender helps him outside for some fresh air. He collapses on a bench.
I should leave him. I should let him be with his memories. I should go inside and eat my burger.
But I can’t. I’ve got too much of my mother in me.
The bartender has taken his keys and called a cab. And here I sit. Babysitting.
He tells me about the time he took his girl to the zoo. How she acted when she saw the monkeys. She didn’t want to leave the exhibit. They stayed all day.
At zoo closing time, a uniform asked if the little girl wanted to feed the animals.
The girl went berserk.
Thus, father and daughter went inside the primate cage together. The girl fed chimpanzees and orangutans. She told her father she was happy.
The little girl talked about it for years to come—well into her high-school days.
That’s when the car accident happened. High school. She was with three other seniors. There was no alcohol involved. The girl was inexperienced, that’s all.
A transfer truck passed her in a no-passing zone. The girl swerved. They collided with the guard-rail.
His cab arrives.
The man crawls into the back of the minivan. He tells the driver to take him to a hotel.
Before he leaves, he says to me, “Tell people you love’em. Anyone you care about. Call’em tonight if you have to. Tell them folks you love’em. I know I’m drunk, but I’d give anything…”
He makes me promise. Then he hugs me. He smells like whiskey and cheap cologne. Chances are he won’t even remember me in the morning. But I will remember him.
The cab’s taillights fade into the distance.
I love you.