Bars were not a place she frequented with any regularity, but she took a deep breath and walked in. The smell of stale cigarette smoke was almost suffocating, and the stench of pungent liquor hung heavy in the air like a dense fog.
Scanning the room, she surveyed a crowd of rambunctious patrons, telling raunchy jokes, cheering for whatever team was winning on the television, and guzzling drinks like they had just returned from the hot, dry sands of the desert. On the last stool at the end of the bar, sat a man who seemed to lack awareness of the sounds and smells and hell-raising customers.
She took a seat one stool away. The bartender walked over and said, “hey there. What’ll it be?” After she ordered a Club Soda, he nodded his understanding, and when he sat the drink in front of her, said, “I’ve never seen you around here before. Are you new in town?”
“Not really,” she said. “I’ve just never been in this bar.”
He said, “my name’s Gilmer but most folks around here just call me Gil.” He was an older gentleman, maybe in his mid to late fifties and lacked the profile of the traditional tired, gruff, weathered bartender often portrayed in movies and books. He was of average height, average weight, average build and had average looks, other than his piercing light grey eyes that matched his hair.
“Who might you be?” he asked. She smiled and said, “my name is Fleming.”
“Well Fleming. Welcome. How long have you been sober?” She wasn’t sure if she was more insulted or more surprised, and asked him what made him think that she was a recovering alcoholic.
He said, “recovering alcoholics come in, order a Club Soda and just sit there and look at it. I think it must be some sort of right of passage or something, but I don’t mind. I’m not a drinker myself but I’ve seen my share of drunks, and owning a bar tends to shed light on what alcohol can do to a person. It can get ahold of you and before you know it, you’re its slave. Some are able to shake it but most aren’t. I watch these people and wonder what their lives are about. Some are just here to have a good time and raise a little hell, and some are here to drink their sorrows away.”
With an all knowing wink, he said, “that doesn’t work you know, and never has, but they don’t understand, and they don’t want to hear it. Tears don’t come from the brain. They come from the heart, and some sorrows…some sorrows are just to hard to bear, I think.”
Fleming wondered if alcohol had gotten “ahold” of him, but didn’t ask. Instead she asked if he owned the bar. He smiled and said, “I do. I’ve owned it for almost ten years now. It just kind of fell into my lap you might say.” She laughed and said, “fell into your lap?” He smiled and said, “it’s a long story.”
“Do you enjoy tending bar?” she asked. “Yes and no,” he said. “I have a Masters’ Degree in Psychology, but as I said, this bar just kind of fell into my lap.”
Fleming wasn’t surprised about his degree. Gil not only didn’t fit the normal profile of a bartender, he didn’t sound like one. Just from the few words they exchanged, she could tell that he was an educated man. She could also tell that there was a depth to him, a rare understanding of the human condition. “Maybe someday,” she said, “you’ll tell me your story.”
Before he could say anything, his attention turned to the man sitting on the last stool, who stood up, pulled a Benjamin from his leather wallet, tossed it next to his empty glass, turned and walked out. Fleming looked at Gil and said, “what’s his story?
The question went unanswered when they both heard a commotion. “Geeze,” Gil said as he slowly looked toward the other end of bar. “Excuse me for a minute.” Fleming watched as he sauntered over, talked a bit, poured two draft beers and sat them down in front of the men who were having a rather loud “discussion.”
He walked back over and said, “that’s Larry and Mel. They’ve been friends since they were little boys, and they get into arguments over the stupidest things. Tonight, it’s about who was the best soccer player who ever lived. I’ll tell you, sometimes they act like an old married couple.” Fleming laughed and said, “it doesn’t seem to have been very serious.”
“It never is,” said Gil. “I go over and tell them to calm down, give them a free beer, and then they’re best friends again. Sometimes I think the only reason they have those little tiffs is to get a free beer.”
He shook his head and smiled as he continued. “Larry works at Earls’ Tire and Lube. He’s been the mechanic there since he dropped out of high school, and is probably the best mechanic in this entire county. People have been known to come from other counties to have their cars worked on, because he’s the best, and he’s as honest as the day is long. He fixes cars and promises that when he gets through with them, not only will they run, they will purr.”
“Larry’s a real ladies man,” Gil continued. “He’s a sworn bachelor and says he intends to stay that way. I tell him that he’s not getting any younger and one day, some little filly just might sweep him off his feet. He always laughs and says, ‘hey, I may not be the sharpest crayon in the box, but I’m smart enough not to end up like Mel’.”
“What do you mean…like Mel?” Fleming asked.
Gil was a little more somber when he said, “Mel…now Mel is a cut from a different cloth. He was quite the ladies man too, and sharp as a tack. He was a little more ambitious than Larry, and had high aspirations. He used to always say, ‘I’m going to be rich and famous some day, and I’m going to be a millionaire before I’m thirty’.”
Gil shook his head and laughed when he said, “I’ve never seen two people who were more different than Larry and Mel, but for some reason they forged a lifelong friendship. After high school, Mel went to college, got a Master’s degree, graduated summa cum laude and…now…and now, he owns Earls’ Tire and Lube.”
To be continued_________________________________
Another re-post. Some changes made.