I slide up to the bar at Café American. I just finished a ten hour shift. The Bistro had a lousy night – twenty customers total. But it was still a hard day. I need a drink.
“The usual?” the bartender asks me, holding up a frosted martini glass.
“Not tonight,” I reply, “Black Label on the rocks please.”
“One of those days huh?”
The barman scoops some ice into a glass and pours me a double. I didn’t ask for a double but I’m getting one. Its little courtesies that help waiters get though the day. The bartender lays a cocktail napkin on the polished mahogany counter and gently rests the drink on top of it, as if he was putting a small child to bed.
“There ya go,” the barman says, “To your health.”
The melting ice in the sweating amber glass clinks softly. I stir the scotch gently with a straw. You have to let whisky soften a bit. Besides, anticipation’s half the fun. I stare at the liquor bottles arranged neatly behind the bar. They’re lit from underneath. I always thought that was cool. I remember reading an article about avant garde bartenders making drinks into edible cocktails – pastes, beads, and candies that transform back to liquid in your mouth. Ugh. Give me whisky any day.
Suddenly a hand falls on my shoulder. I turn around. It’s Rick, the owner of Café American.
“So how was your night?” he asks.
“Terrible,” I reply, “How was yours?”
“We didn’t break any records.”
“The phone drove me nuts today,” I remark, “You?”
“We had two hundred people call for Mother’s Day reservations,” Rick groans.
“You booked up?”
“A week ago.”
“People are crazy,” Rick says, “Do they honestly think they’ll get a reservation now?”
“It was tough saying no to all those people,” I say, “I had one woman start crying.”
“Some of them got desperate,” Rick admits.
“After saying no a hundred times I felt like the Grinch Who Stole Mother’s Day.”
“If they loved their mother they’d’ve made reservations months ago,” Rick says.
“You’re right,” I sigh, taking my first sip of scotch.
Rick flashes me a smile. “Enjoy your drink. You deserve it.”
“We all deserve it,” I reply.
Rick laughs. “Stop by on Sunday after the madness if you can.”
“If I can still walk? Sure.”
“See you then.”
I drink my drink and let the tension dissolve away. I must have argued with a hundred people today. I enjoyed telling some people they couldn’t get a table Mother’s Day. But other people, though no fault of their own, couldn’t make plans until now. Families can be like that, separated by distances physical and emotional. That was kind of sad.
I sip my drink. I won’t see my own mother on Mother’s Day. I’m breaking a promise I made to myself. I’ll call. She’ll understand.
Outside rain gently starts to fall. Cars hiss through wavering streetlamps mirrored in the slick pavement. People run inside. A silence falls on the street. I finish my drink and go home.
But I still feel like the Grinch.