Piña Coladas at 3 o'clock

Piña Coladas at 3 o'clock

A Story by Deleted Barkeep

Life imitates ... something

How many bartenders have you heard start a story with the words "and in he walked"? And so he did, without a care in the world for all of the cliches to which his actions might subject an unsuspecting reader. "Make it a double", he said. I put a second umbrella in his drink, and waited for the usual tale of woe.

He looked like he wanted to tell it bad, staring at me like I wanted to hear it. If I was being paid for this gig, I probably would have pretended I did, but I wasn't. My bar was a ragged piece of cloth stuck on a piece of metal that should have been recycled a long time ago, a citybred campmate's idea of what a tent ought to be. We were halfway to where we wanted to get, and we were making this little stretch of nowhere home, our own little burn for just one night in a place we could never find again, even if we tried. It was three in the morning on a day which for me had begun at five, but the sound of the wind howling through the hills and my campmates howling at each other, over what I did not care to imagine, promised me an evening that would continue well past the break of dawn, no matter how many ambiens I dropped trying to escape it and them. I weighed my own options (bourbon or brandy) and then, deciding that both sounded good, flipped a coin, dropped a shot and started wiping down the dusty wooden planks that served as my countertop, waiting for my visitor to speak. And waited.

He was still staring on and off, not saying a word, like he was in a real bar and I was a real bartender, but what the ****? It was the mask I chose for tonight, so why not wear it? Figuring one good cliche deserved another, I cleared my throat and asked him "woman done you wrong", because it always seems to be a woman for some reason.. "No", he said, looking glummer than before, "man done me right".

I backed way the **** up. "More than I need to know", I said, quickly remembering where Burning Man started. "What goes on between you and your boyfriend ..." "****, man, no", he broke in. "It's not like that. Just because I love the guy that doesn't mean that I love the guy. Mind out of the gutter, friend".

"How'd he do you, then", I asked, "and if I hear one word about lubricants, you're out of here". Off to where would have been a good question, since camp had been set by a ten car convoy. Our boy wasn't going to get very far, but if I was going to be a fake bartender tonight, I was going to be a real fake bartender, **** it! He looked at me strangely, and started to tell his story. Sure enough, there was a girl.

There's always a girl.

He had met her during a date during one of his dry spells. "Long dry spell", I asked. "Is Nevada having a long dry spell", he asked. Got it. Go on.

Tina had met him through a dating service. "Don't look at me like that", he said, as I tried to wipe away a look I didn't know I had on me. "A city's a big place to get lost in for somebody who's just moved in. Catch 22. You don't know anybody, so you have nobody to hang with, so when people meet you, it's too awkward for them to stick around, and you don't get to know anybody". That was the chicken and the egg, not catch 22, .but I could tell he didn't need to hear that. I let him talk.

"I knew a few guys from work, and they were OK. No, you know what, they were downright decent, but I was the only American in the bunch. They were nice to me and all, but their English wasn't that good and my Spanish was terrible and they wanted to spend most of their time with their own people. I guess it's a way of forgetting that you're not getting back home any time soon; just bring your home with you. Cuba can be a little rough these days".

"So I hear", I agreed.

"I signed up for this service and the next day, Tina called. I guess that should have sent up a red flag, somebody calling that soon and then nobody calling for the next three months. What are the odds? What I didn't know at the time was the call was no accident. My future girlfriend had put a trace on me."

"Huh? She stalked you BEFORE you were dating, before you had even met?" This was hard to believe.

"No, she was stalking one of my co-workers. She had a thing about doctors, but not too many of us had a thing about her. Tina was nouveau riche in the worst sense of the word, white trash who had inherited a few million from a wealthy uncle when he died. This gave her the power that came with money without the discipline that having to earn it can bring. She wanted what she wanted when she wanted, and got angry when she got anything else".

"And you dated her?", I asked.

"Try hitting 30 without ever having even held hands", he said. "I guarantee you will not be seeing the world through clear eyes. You know all of those stupid stories your parents told you about walking twenty miles to school every day, through blinding snowstorms, even in July, and uphill both ways", he asked. Yeah, I had. "The thing about becoming a professional these days is that you can run into a lot of people who've told those stories so many times, that they've started believing them and expect you to follow in footsteps they never really left behind. It's kind of hard living up to somebody else's fantasy, so hard that you don't always have time to find out what your own are. "

He took a breath and continued. "You get out of school and people ask you 'can you tell me about yourself', the women especially, and there is no you, because you've never had a chance to be him. So yeah, I was open to dating freakshow". Reminding myself that I had chosen to serve him hard liquor, I nonchalantly slipped some iced coffee into the next cup I served him. "Sorry, didn't mean to be an *******", I said.

He calmed a little. "You weren't an *******. I've wondered the same thing myself, but that's how it is, isn't it? You take what you can get and then someday, when you've grown a little, wonder why you wanted it. Because if you didn't get it, you couldn't have grown, maybe? At that point, I hadn't grown enough to see that her interest in me was a side issue. Her real issue was in her exotic would-be lover Hans".

"Hans?", I asked, "Don't we have a camp member by that name? I mean, it couldn't be ..."

"How many Cuban emigre physicians named Hans do you suppose are running around? His mother had loved Danish fairytales and Tina loved him, at least in the sense of what she thought love was. She chased Hans but her wouldn't chase her back and she wasn't going to take that. Our girl hired a private detective who scoped out Hans' place of work. She told him to look for somebody who looked a little too trusting, like a good cult recruit, and to tell her as much about the guy as she could. She then bribed the dating service to fix her up with me."


"Because if you want to go after somebody's job, it pays to hit him from a direction he'd never expect to see trouble coming from, and I was dumb enough to make it work. I was on the review board for the hospital. I was also the man's friend. Imagine how surprised he must have been ..."

"About what?"

"Sorry, started thinking out loud. Guess that didn't make sense". A squeamish look crossed his face. "We dated for a while" "You and Hans?", I asked. "No", he said, laughing briefly and unconvincingly, "me and Tina. Tina got me to introduce her to half of my friends, and to tell her about the other half. Hans eventually, inevitably, came up. A look of horror crossed Tina's face when I mentioned him. 'You know him', she asked. Not like a brother, but I had known him casually for a while, and I guess he seemed OK'"

"'Jack, he's not OK," she said, telling a story about how he had abused her during an exam and how she couldn't get anybody on the board to listen to her. Of course, I listened to her. I was her ******* boyfriend."

"What does one do? I knew Hans and it didn't sound like him, but you're supposed to believe your girlfriend, aren't you? But when you get right down to it - why? Why is it so ****** virtuous to let that organ do your thinking for you?"

"I don't know", wondering if I was even supposed to have an answer to that.

"Maybe part of me was asking the same question. I went up to Hans and asked him if he knew Tina. He immediately blurted out that whatever she had said, it was a lie. I thought that sounded a little suspicious, that panicked answer to a mild question".

"Could be ...", I started

"No, not really. I didn't know Hans like a brother, but I knew him well enough that I should have had more trouble believing that than I did. I should have also stopped to think that being an escapee from a police state might make a person a little jumpy, especially when approached by somebody with an official position in an officious manner. If I were him, I would have been nervous, too. There's a phrase for what I stumbled into. It's called 'conflict of interest', and this is why you don't do that. Lying to yourself is just too ****** easy".

"Fine", I said, "you shouldn't have asked him that question. You're drinking the Bacardi distillery dry over that? Think you're going a little hard on yourself."

"If that was where I had stopped, maybe, but we young professionals are a thorough bunch, you know. I passed my observations along to the rest of the board, convincing myself that by recusing myself from the proceedings, that I had managed to avoid that conflict of interest, but that was ********. Board members listen to board members, even absent ones, and the shock that had registered on Hans' face, as he felt the coming of his betrayal of a friend, became that betrayal as I fooled myself into seeing something that wasn't there."

"Self-fulfilling prophecy", I said, "he did it to himself".

"Did he", my nonpaying customer asked. "Our system of law mandated that response. 'Silence implies assent' is a legally supported piece of nonsense that goes back to the common law. Our staff attorney told me as much. Say nothing or say it too slowly and you are guilty. Say it too quickly, and everybody thinks that you sound guilty. That's a mighty narrow target I left a stalker's target needing to hit".

"Then how'd he manage to go on this trip", I asked. "You make it sound like you sent him up or at least trashed his career".

"I think I almost did both", my confessant said, sipping a little needed coffee. "and I know you're trying to sober me up. I guess I have been rambling".

"No", I said, "maybe you were annoying me a little at first", quickly adding as somebody started to get up, "but this explains a lot that I wasn't understanding. Come on, everybody's been talking my ear off through the whole trip and half of it hasn't even made sense. Wouldn't you be a little cranky?"

"Maybe not enough to put a bottle of habanero sauce in somebody's bloody mary, but I guess I see your point", he said. "You heard about that story?", I asked him "Yes", he said. "You know it's been exaggerated", I said. "Can we get back to Hans", he asked. Fair enough, I guessed. I had asked for this story. "Sorry", I said. He continued, barely stopping to catch his breath.

"Hans, already scheduled for a hearing, was spending his days looking for a lawyer who wasn't too sensitive to take his case. Meanwhile, believing every word Tina had told me, I nudged her into seeing a lawyer or her own, and then, the strangest thing happened. The word 'deposition' came up, along with the word 'perjury', and all of a sudden, Hans wasn't the only one I had seen with that haunted, nervous look. Tina wasn't willing to swear an oath."

"That seemed a little strange to me, so I asked her about some of the details she had shared with the board, when I sat there silently with her, 'for moral support', as I had explained to a board too willing to accept that explanation. Chronologies shifted, details were inconsistent, and I soon knew what I had been a party to, all along. I broke up with Tina and told the board what I had heard. She then tried to accuse me of the same thing she accused Hans of, saying that we had worked together during that abusive examination that had never occured, but by now her story wouldn't have convinced Andrea Dworkin"

"So, you did the right thing in the end", I said.

"I sold out somebody I knew to get a little nookie and then lied to myself about what I was doing. My application for sainthood may be a little slow in getting approved. When word got back to Hans about this trip I was going on, just to get away from the craziness, he decided to come with and give me a little craziness of his own, telling everybody in the caravan about those hearings, making sure that I'd get as much heat from my campmates as he got from that committee. It has not been a relaxing trip".

"I guess that it wouldn't be", I said. "Sorry you came?"

"A little, but not as much as some. Tina is not the only one who knows how to put a bribe to good use, especially when somebody else is so full of herself that she can't ever pass up the chance to tell everybody every tiresome detail of how she's living her life to the max, everywhere she goes, which these days is everywhere I go. Finding out what her vacation plans were was pretty ******* easy and with a small outlay of cash, I was able to help expedite her travel arrangements, on terms I found agreeable, purchasing a little loyalty from somebody I paid to volunteer to be her traveling companion. You know that car that just pulled in, about ten minutes ago? Somebody thought that she was going to roadtrip to Monterrey, and so she shall. She's just going to take a short detour with us, as we cross Arizona, renewing her old friendships with those of us who have missed her so. Call it a hunch, but I'm guessing that my fellow campmates are about to be a lot less fascinated with me than they were, a few hours ago".

The sound of shouting picked up in the background, a sound that I knew would be our constant companion every time we stopped. "Oh", I said, my ears already starting to ring, as I began to pour a double. "I thought that you didn't make those", he said. "It's for me", I said. "I think I'm going to need it".

© 2011 Deleted Barkeep

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Added on September 13, 2011
Last Updated on September 13, 2011


Deleted Barkeep
Deleted Barkeep

Chicago, IL

I've been to Burning Man. My playa name is "That (expletive deleted) Barkeep". It got gifted to me at a no-name backyard burn, where I taught a few unruly participants a valuable lesson: "Free boo.. more..