Elaine is my bartender. She is my bartender because she’s the only bartender who’s ever bothered to learn my name. She’s my bartender because when I was walking home from the train station after two and a half months in India, she said, “Wow! You look so skinny!” and then gave me free beers. She is Brazilian, 26, and speaks English with a half-Brazilian/half-Boston accent (a lilt to behold, truly). She’s engaged to be married to a house-painter.
Need I say more? She and I get along just famously.
Dan and I are at the bar after work. It was a long day of work perched atop a roof three stories high on some half-assed, non-OSHA-approved staging that we decided to set up to, you know, at least pretend we were professionals. But that’s not what I’m driving at. I’m trying to say: Bar’s crowded, but there are a couple of seats near the end of the horseshoe. We take them. That’s what reasonable people do to empty seats. They take them. They shoot the shit with Elaine.
The bar that Elaine works at is, at 5:30 in the evening, still filled with middle-aged men. And me and Dan. I guess we’re getting there. But, whatever. This is usually how the bar is in the afternoon and early evening: townies tugging on seventy-five cent PBRs as another day flops past.
It’s like any other day at this bar.
Except this time there’s this one guy. I only noticed him earlier because he had a David Ortiz t-shirt on. Ortiz is a baseball player on the Red Sox. Ortiz is the pariah of the day here. So I’m a bit wondering why dude would rock the David Ortiz shirt like he was loving every minute of it.
Anyway, I noticed dude, but didn’t notice what dude was saying.
Elaine did, because he was saying it to her.
“Some days are better than others, I guess,” she tells us. Dan asks her what’s going on. She looks… bad. “Work. This guy over here keeps staring at my boobs and telling me how attractive I am. Telling me he wants to suck on my nipples. Like, what the fuck?”
“Which guy?” I ask her.
She points, “This guy,” who’s two guys down. Huh. Ortiz-guy.
Elaine goes to pour someone a beer. Ortiz-guy, I think, realizes he’s been outed, tells her that he’s ready to settle up. Elaine comes back.
Dan: “I can’t really do anything, because I’d probably hit the guy. I’m on a bit of thin ice right now.” Dan had court this morning, and Dan would probably hit the guy, because Dan’s like that. Elaine insists that she wasn’t trying to imply that we knock the guy over. We believe her. She wasn’t.
Someone else orders a beer, and Ortiz-guy asks for his check again, and when I glance at Elaine, she is ever-so-barely holding back tears. And really, what else can a motherfucker do right now?
“Look,” I say to dude as I stand up, walk over to him, and tap his shoulder, “You really can’t do that. You really can’t talk to this woman that way, any woman that way. This woman is working in a stressful job, and you’re saying rude things to her, and it’s not like she has anyplace to go. She can’t walk away from you. So you’ve got her trapped and you’re saying rude things to her.” I start to shake. I wonder if everybody shakes when they’re angry. I suspect that it’s adrenaline and testosterone. But I don’t really know shit about biochemistry.
“Apologize,” I demand.
“I already did,” he says, and this is true, for the record. Dude apologized when Dan and I started staring at him. A little wimpy, “Sorry” when he noticed that he’d made a grown woman cry.
“Say it again. Say it out loud. You just can’t do that shit.”
“I’m sorry for what I said,” he tells Elaine, and the bar, and Elaine ignores him because she should.
“Fine,” I say, and go back to my stool, and I sit there and try to think about how to not shake, and wonder why I said, “Fine,” when nothing is at all fine. Dude tips poorly (still staring at him, yes) and comes over to me. My fists clench.
“I’m sorry to you, too, that you had to do that. It wasn’t right,” he says as he puts his arm around my shoulder.
I don’t believe him. I take his arm off my shoulder. “Next time, cut yourself off a bit earlier,” I say. He leaves. Unceremoniously.
Elaine thanks me for sticking up for her and I go outside to smoke a cigarette, and when I get back inside a regular, whose face I recognize, says, “Hey partner, thanks for doing what you did. I was about to say something myself.” And I wonder, really? Because all you fools were sitting around looking exactly like you were not about to say anything yourselves.
I tell him No Problem. I drink two more beers. I feel momentarily heroic for doing the right thing. When performing a moral duty is treated like an option by a bunch of middle-aged drunk guys, it can feel pretty good to be the one who sees it for the obligation that it is, and acts.
But I don’t feel heroic for long. I never do.