Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I guess even the bartender needs a good, stiff drink once in a while.

The aisles were full tonight at Kroger - people stocking up on frozen dinners (fyi: Lean Cuisine, Smart Ones and Healthy Choice are all running at about the same price point, all save for the el cheapo, lower end HC meals - $1.69), Thanksgiving dinner ingredients and jugs of milk for tomorrow's cereal.

I was on a mission to find my fixings for lunch, casing the shelves for something ambiguous and insignificant. Tuna salad? No. Ramen. NO. Crystal Lite? Okay. I toted my basket up and down every aisle, just checking out the merchandise, when I noticed a familiar face.

He used to be my bartender. I mean, not just any bartender - but MY bartender. The guy who I visited at least three times a week. My dear friend and I would perch on a bar stool on any given afternoon, sipping Blue Moons and noshing on pizza, savory apps or extra generous slices of BonBonnerie's Opera Cream Cake.

We would trade stories and kindness with our friend behind the bar, receiving in return extra pints of beer on the sly. Our checks were always closed with generous tips.

Tonight, my blond-tipped friend was intently eying the juice section.

I spotted his form while stepping toward his direction. His antsy stance jerked back and forth between the varieties, contemplating the ramifications of his selection. My bartender-cum-friend was intensely eying the plastic bottles lining the shelves when I offered my cheery hello.

The response was decidedly frazzle wrapped in courtesy, and so I immediately knew this would be the briefest of conversations.

He didn't bury the lead - my acquaintance was wrought with emotion after a charged argument with his ex-fiancee, a situation, he shared, complicated by a nine-month-old baby.

Ten different shades of awkward washed over me, but I maintained my polite disposition and took a step toward the greeting cards on the other side of the aisle, physically preparing for my quick exit.

The man said he was at the store, trying to blow off some steam (aside: the grocery is the last place I consider when needing to dial down the emotion). I attempted to lighten the mood with a smile and a gesture, saying the liquor was in the opposite direction.

A sad state of affairs, and yet I saw this coming from a mile away.

I remember bumping into this guy last January. I was with a few of my gal pals, barhopping in Hyde Park. We walked into an establishment where I discovered this gent getting his drink on in a kilt. He was flush-faced and jovial at that place in time, slamming down Irish beer and clinkng glasses to toast the impending birth of his child. Our bartender-friend's celebration was in full swing as he offered that his pregnant fiancee was at home, alone on a Saturday night.

That's an equation that's hard for any chick to swallow, much less an engaged chick with a baby swiftly approaching.

The whole scenario - the story about the break-up, the baby, last year's bar encounter - it made me wonder: Have I ever done something that someone else saw coming?

Was there ever a moment where a person - a stranger, really - knew me better than myself? An occasion where someone could plainly see something I was blind to?

Now, that's something to sip on.

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