“People actually drink at 7:30 in the morning?” asks a friend who works in an office far, far away from here.
“Oh my God, seriously, you have business at that hour?” asks another from another city.
“They must be complete and total alcoholics,” frowns another who lives close by.
Probably. Maybe. Actually, I don’t know.
Because just when you think you know, just when you get your smug I’m-serving-you-and-judging-you-at-the-same-time attitude in full-blown arrogant mode, just when you figure you’re so much better than they are, you realize you are not.
Because you have never faced the uncertainty of death from an unseen enemy. Because you have never worn a uniform that garnered not one ounce of respect when you came home from death’s uncertainty. Because you don’t know what it is like to have the unending nightmares and bad dreams from which you pray for escape when you fall asleep at 6 p.m. and wake up to begin your day at 2 a.m.
By 7:30 a.m. it is mid afternoon to these tired guys who are likely your age, but are so much older. Time for a beer. Or several.
They are never annoying. They are never demanding. They never get drunk. They simply drink their beers and listen to the Pandora “Alternative Country” station I play on a Bose dock through my iPhone because my bar has no music unless I play it this way.
“Man, I woke up at 1 this morning. I hate it when I do that,” says Joe.
“Hate that,” says John.
As they study their small mugs, please-no-pints of Miller Lite, I am at a loss for conversation. I turn up the music instead.
“Hey RG, looks like your daughter is calling,” laughs Joe.
This is the downside of playing music through a Bose dock on your iPhone that doesn’t seem to work unless you allow calls and texts to come through, albeit on silent mode. The names and texts still flash across the screen.
“I’ll catch her later,” I smile. I am afraid to touch the damn phone because it takes forever to get it to again produce the soothing sounds of an “Angel from Montgomery” duet by Bonnie Rait and John Prine through the Bose dock when I do.
I check my beer stock. I wipe down the bar for the tenth time in a half hour. I empty ashtrays filled only with ashes. I steal a glance at my boys’ haggard expressions and wild gray hair partially pulled back into ponytails. I try to envision what they looked like in the 60s–so young, so naive. In a way, they still are, if I listen to them, look at them just so.
“Who drinks beer at 7:30 a.m.?” laughs a friend.
“How do you stand it?” wonders another.
“Why don’t you work in a tourist bar closer to home?” asks someone else.
Because I don’t know many fru fru drink recipes. Because I despise blenders. Because I want to be the one bartender in this tiny Keys town who gets these guys who go nowhere else because they cannot. They just can’t.
Because in our ways, we know each other’s limitations, we embrace them, and we never tell on the other. When my daughter calls. When a beer tastes mighty good at 7:30 a.m.