Part 1 of 10 from the NOTES FROM THE BREAKDOWN LANE series:
It was late afternoon on a Sunday when they came in. The bar was empty, but I didn’t pay them much mind at first anyways, as I was there to watch hockey and there was nothing particularly remarkable about these three. One guy was older, a sort of gray-haired athletic type, while the other guy was younger, on the cusp of middle age and with a doughy face that screamed of too many Bud Lights out on the golf course. The girl that was around his age too, and looked like she might have been quite pretty at one point in her life. But now she just looked depleted and worn out, like someone who had aged a little too quickly, and she had a nervous, apprehensive air to her.
“May I pet your dog?” she asked.
“Of course. Just offer him a nose kiss first,” I said, indicating to her to let him smell her hand. But she was already instinctively offering the back of her hand to him, for him to sniff and investigate and get comfortable with.
As I was watching the girl pet the dog I could see the two men starting to get into it a bit with the bartender. It was about his face mask. “It’s really a courtesy thing, and it’s our policy,” the bartender flatly explained. The two men kept on grumbling, I could tell, but between the dog and the girl and the hockey game I had my attention pretty well occupied, and figured I had these guys pretty well pegged anyways.
“That one’s going to be trouble,” the bartender told me after they had all moved on outside to the patio.
“Which one?” I asked.
“The guy drinking Bud Light,” he said. Of course he was drinking bud light.
The older guy had pet my dog before they went out to the patio, which I didn’t much care for because not only had he not asked permission but basically completely ignored the fact that I was even sitting there at all. But he’d had a nice way with the dog, so I let my hackles down about it and let it slide. Now though, looking out on the patio, I could see the younger guy had something ugly stirring in him.
“Ha. What makes you say that?” I asked.
“He’s just got that air to him, man.” the bartender said, concentrating more on the pint glasses he was cleaning than anything else. “The kind of giving me shit he was giving me about wearing my mask. “I’m like ‘Come on dude, it’s a public health thing.”
“Yeah,” I said, and turned back to the hockey game. I had been double-vaxxed now for about a month, so I was pretty lackadaisical about the whole mask thing at this point myself, and wore one when coming and going really out of a sense of courtesy to others than any real concern about my own health. But I knew the mindset of the anti-maskers, and wanted nothing to do with that particular brand of bullshit this afternoon.
But I was snapped out of my sports coma just a few minutes later by the sound of a bottle of Bud Light being thrown into the trash with force. They had come back inside behind me, and Pudge Face was looking like a real tough-boy now. He said a few words to the bartender which I didn’t catch and started to head towards the door.
The bartender snapped his fingers and called after him firmly “Hey, you need to pay your bill before you leave.”
The guy turned back. “Don’t ever snap your fingers at me again,” he said.
“Don’t ever try to walk out of my bar without paying again,” the bartender quipped. But he was a pro, and said it in a way that bordered on almost playful, intending not to escalate things. The girl looked on and smiled nervously as pudge face just kind of stared back at him in response.
Fortunately for assholes like that, there always seems to be someone on hand to hold them back from showing how tough they really are, and this was no exception. The older guy slid over to pull him aside and talk with him in hushed undertones while tossing his card onto the bar. The bartender coolly rung up their bill with the backdrop of this scene playing out behind him, two tough guys personally aggrieved by this bullshit world where someone else has to wear a mask to do their job, and yet they still have to pay for what they ordered. How magnanimous, then, of the older guy to step-in and clean up the situation without it turning into an all-out brawl. A true statesman our forefathers would be proud of, for sure.
They left without further incident, and the bartender didn’t bat an eye and just went back to cleaning glasses. Just another day behind the bar in our post-truth world, I guess, another quiet and barely visible skirmish in the age of the great culture war, that has been drummed up and unleashed on our land like a plague of locusts. A brainless met puppet, filled with white strife and all the venom of last night Tucker Carlson show can’t walk into a bar on a beautiful Sunday afternoon without having to get his daddy-in-law to hold him back from exploding on a fellow American for simply doing his job. Welcome to America, bucko.
But those are just the times we live in, aren’t they? And this tiny exchange was little more than a drop in the boiling cauldron of the toxic stew that has been quietly oozing through our county every day for decades now, like some kind of invisible lava that’s sole purpose is to warp everything we ever thought we could hold true and dear about the stars and stripes, and what they still mean to the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - even as I sit there drinking cold beer and watching hockey on a Sunday afternoon.