There are two things that I always loved about working in that rag-tag bar in Beacon Street, Cambridge Massachusetts.
One was the sparse crowd of customers, a circle of melancholic will-o’-the-wisps taking a drink after a failed exam at Harvard.
The other reason, and by far the most important, was that I got complete freedom to choose the music.
That evening I put on “Closing Time” by Tom Waits -God I love that album- and oh boy was it fitting for that kid.
He was slouched over the counter, as if he was trying to dive in his pint Kentucky Bourbon Ale.
Maybe he read too much of Harry Potter and hoped that beer had miraculously become a Pensieve.
His broken heart was dancing all over the rim of the glass to the smoky rhythms 0f Ol’55.
The voice of Waits explored tentatively the room with its texture of ash and aged whiskey, lingering in the shadier corners of my dimly lit bar.
-cool sound- the kid muttered taking a sip.
I smiled as if my own child had been praised.
He was a slim kid, probably 23 or 25, hair and beard treated with the same love he probably gifted to his bedroom. I would bet that he hadn’t made his bed in at least two months.
Maybe I’m a bit of a sadistic bartender, but I definitely used to prefer that kind of customers, and that time I took a special liking to him. Can’t remember his name, but in my mind he will always be Tom.
I poured myself one, explaining the ins and outs of the album, chatting a bit with the guy, he was interested and quite talkative.
Some new customers arrived, and I went on with my job, mixing Metropolitans and Negronis to my usual suspects.
At one point a bunch of people entered, probably a whole class of already tipsy students. As much lighthearted as begrudged they started cracking cheers at an extra-loud volume
-I raise my cup to the shiny bald scalp of Prof.White, may his asshole always be itchy!- one shouted lifting his cocktail, accompanied by a few laughs.
I joined the cheering with a sip of my beer, keeping up with the increased clientele, keeping an eye on Tom, that had gone back sulking on his drink.
The drunken invaders had occupied the room. Needless to say most of the people there were guys, something of my place did not seem to appeal to girls, still I didn’t care, nor did my customers. Usually.
When the door opened, and the tiny bell above it rang, all the heads in the room turned to look at the new arrival, and after a few seconds of scrutiny everyone turned back to their affairs, not Tom though.
The girl had black bobbed hair, and wore a bit too many bracelets to my liking, but she wasn’t ugly.
She had to squeeze through the crowd to get to the counter, she had a tiny physique, but she spared no compliments to open herself a passage.
Tom’s eyes got glued to her, from the door to the counter he didn’t miss a step.
I noticed him stand up, grabbing for a moment his stool as to move it towards her, but he stuttered and sat back.
I made her a Moscow Mule. I named her Martha, like the song that was playing when she entered.
To the music you cannot lie, she doesn’t listen to vain words, and even though Martha wore her sadness with much more elegance than my Tom, she was no different from him, and his wide pupils had noticed that, long before he could realize it.
It was a fun game, following the glances the he threw at the girl, and giving life at his thoughts. When he squinted a little it meant the he was just indulging on dirty fantasies for the night, while when his mind was flying to a life of peace and family he slightly tilted his head to the right, and last when Tom pulled his chin backwards, that was when he was thinking that a new girl would have just meant a new scar.
The night was growing darker, and the room was still crowded, when she moved to the door. Once again I see his eyes light, just for a second, before his chin went back resting on his neck.
She was going home, and he would have never seen her again. Better this way probably.
Better drinking a good old beer and going to sleep.
-Bro She has not payed, yet.- I pointed to the window, there she was smoking a cigarette.
I just moved a bit the the pieces on my chessboard.
Tom stood up, looking at her through the window, I saw his Adam’s apple swing up and down on his throat, following the roller coaster of his thoughts.
He gobbled his pint in a second, taking his aim towards her looking through a small slit between his eyelids.
With his newfound courage he stood, started marching towards the door, but the tides of the crowd were much stronger than his attempt and like waves crashing on a shore, a bunch of dudes thick as a pine tree rebounded him, smashing his back to the counter, where his stool had already been stolen.
Squeezed in between two shoulders that looked like had just popped out of a football match, my dear Tom stretched his arm like the tongue of a chameleon to reach for the stout that I was handing him.
The poor guy’s face was the exact recreation of the clocks in Dalì’s famous painting, his cheeks dangling limp over his leaning chin.
The girl was submerged in the ocean of bodies, and lost forever for my poor Tom.
At the very least I used to serve the best brews on the market, you couldn’t find a better potion for the soul in the whole continent.
It was getting late, I let the music slowly fade out while one by one most of the customers go away.
Tom got back to his stool, gaining also a bit of breathing room, as the brutes around him left the room. He went back to hold his head with the arm propped up on the counter.
Glances start darting around, and after a few moments his eyes find Martha, alone and drinking with an empty seat to her side.
I could never tell if he noticed, but her eyes reciprocated his search, with subtle movements below the eyelashes.
As the brown beer slowly dropped from his glass, I observed Tom’s head tilting to the right the more he looked at her, kidnapped by her moves, her style, everything hers.
After the call Tom turned to me, and ordered two Moscow Mules, his eyes sparkling.
By the time I handed the cocktails he was bobbing up and down, a smile on his face.
The golden and crimson cloak of the trees along the Charles River had always had an otherworldly look to me. Those intense hues were painted by the hand of an artist to my European eyes, and always made me feel like there magic could happen.
[Disclaimer - Sorry to Tom Waits for butchering his work in my take of "I hope that I don't fall in love with you" ]