Lamar sat down across the bar from the bartender-manager who had her sleeves rolled up to her elbows and was forearm deep in soapy water. She looked up, wiped off two Collins glasses.
“Hey, Lamar. Where’s your buddy Neeko?”
“Hey yourself, Reagan. Neeko fell in love. Stay put, you’re workin’. I’ll get my own pretzels.” He sat back down with a basket of salt free mini pretzels, something that, at one time, had been a one-off between him and Reagan. It was now a kind of hit with the young downtown health nut in a bar hipsters. Reagan wiped two wine glasses with a bath sized bar towel and set them in a green square restaurant dishwasher basket, dunked two more in the soapy water.
“Neeko being in love have anything to do with you all the time shoving him in that direction?”
“All I said was when the opportunity to put some poetry in your life comes along, take it. His wife’s been gone ten, eleven years now and his two girls were gettin’ worried about him and workin’ on me to fix it. Like I know a bunch of single women and could fix him up. I think it’s because they don’t want him and his reprobate friends drooling on their carpet more than any altruistic reasons. I was just an enabler. He’ll come up for air, it’s football season.”
Two more glasses wiped, two more dunked.
“I didn’t know he had daughters. How many?”
“Two. The youngest was twenty or so when her mom died. Been harder on them I think than Neeko. Weddings, grandkids, no mom, no gramma. He busts ass making himself available, I’ll give him that. But from what I can tell I think girls need their moms for as long as they can keep them.”
“True.” She held a wine glass with lipstick still on the rim up to the light, sighed, dunked it and got after it. The soapy water looked like a shark attack was going on in the sink. “I have a daughter and I wonder sometimes what would happen to her if I fell over behind this bar. You’re right, dads are great, even though she doesn’t have one. But the things I thought I’d never hear come out of her mouth? No man would know what to do with it.” She held the offensive lipsticked wine glass up, spotless. “Girls and all that shit out there. Sorry. But you know? I’m just glad she talks to me. If I was gone…Jeez, I hate to think.”
“No need for sorry and I do know. Had one myself. Except we had to pry her open to get her to talk. Yours talks to you?”
“Sometimes I think just to shock poor dumb mom. Like she came from the stork or somewhere and before that I lived in an all girl’s library where I studied how to be a bartending single parent and part time caterer. With a doctorate, according to her, in over punishing my children.” She shook out the glasses, wiped them down, racked them and grabbed two more. “Come on, Lamar. What’s the joke?”
“You have a dishwasher.”
“No, I don’t. It’s broken.”
“It’s just broken, Lamar. And there’s Zen in washing glasses. Or so the price of a service call tells me.”
He raised his eyebrows, gave her the “and?” look.
“Broken, Lamar. Just broken. Move on, nothing to see here, folks.”
“You’re not telling me why or how it’s broken because you’re a woman and think maybe you broke it?”
“It’s fucking broken, Lamar. Next.”
“I got your Vitamix fixed.”
“That was because you were nice and they were being shits where I bought it and you got me the letter from that lawyer that made them sit up and say ‘yes ma’am, here’s your new Vitamix in fewer than four hundred pieces.’ The dishwasher is broken, nothing you can do, thanks.”
“You’re a woman, Reagan. Right?”
“I’m not sure how to answer that. I don’t expect man junk from you and that’s sure the opener for some.”
“I wanted you to verify it, that’s all. And I got you to. Bar manager, mother, caterer, student.” He grinned at her. “Child discipline Nazi. All that. I know now you screwed up the dishwasher somehow. And I can guarantee you’re a woman because of those answers. I asked you about a mistake, you shut it down. I asked you a question that set off all kinds of female here-comes-the-bullshit alarms and you took a step back.”
“Shit, Lamar. Now I am worried.”
“Don’t be. I have another question, and it’s broader, and there’s not much man bull in it. Ready?”
She shook out the glasses, made a face. “Like I have something else to do and can run away?”
“I ask women questions and for some reason it pisses them off or runs them off, sends them into radio silence. I don’t know if it’s the questions, or the way I ask them, or what it is. I thought us being family and all you could help me out.”
“What are you asking them? I mean, there’s questions from a man, and then there’s questions. From a man. If you catch me.”
“Tell me a story.” He watched the glasses drip when she stopped mid flight and cocked her head to one side.
“I thought we were talking about you not being able to ask a woman a question.”
“That’s the question I ask. ‘Tell me a story.’ It seems simple enough to me. Here’s another part of it. I ask a stranger, like a bank teller, or a nurse. I find one of my old ‘get them to talk’ lines, and I’ll get a small story. I might dig for the whole story, but I’ll never get it. I ask someone who knew me back when to tell me a story? A whole story? I get two lines and a flat line. Even my fascinating wife. Part of the anecdote. Highlights, sound bites. That’s it.”
“I’m not sure I understand what you want from these women you ask, and maybe that’s their problem, too.”
“Just a story. Look, I say something offhand to a nurse about the bad waiting room TV and how the guy must be high. She says she was in Haight Ashbury, in the time. Tells me about guys and their weak lines for the summer of love and how they weren’t any better than usual guy down the street nonsense, they just happened have fringe vests, need a shower and be in San Francisco. Great story, good details. But I ask, ‘How did you come to be in Haight Ashbury? What part of your mind sent you there?’ Like I’m looking for motivation to the surface story. Oops. Look at the time. The more someone knows me, or knew me, the worse it is.”
“Why do you want to know?”
“What good is ten percent of a story? How can there any humane empathy in that? Guys tell me stories, more anyway, before they back up because they feel exposed. In my old business? Blood on the floor. We had to communicate on a number of levels. If your heart was broken, or your mother died, or you got divorced or scratched your perfect copy of Are You Experienced or forgot where you were in the middle of “Louie Louie” you had to stay in tune and finish it anyway. Here it is. My heart. My pain. On the table. Stand up straight and work it out. We didn’t sit on it, cover it up like it was something so ugly or personal no one could see. Because when you depend on each other to tell a whole story there’s no place for secrets of your own. Creativity comes from experience, and all experience isn’t sunshine, lollipops and prom orchids. I ask people about their lives? Especially women? I might has well have rung the digital doorbell in nothing but a diaper and an eye-patch with a dagger in my teeth and blood on my hands.”
When she stopped laughing she dropped the last two glasses in the square green basket, stacked it on the other four and picked up his pretzel basket for a reload. She came back around the outside of the bar and sat by him, leaned an elbow on the bar and pulled a couple of pretzels.
“I see what you’re getting at, now. How guarded people are about anything besides the ‘cute grandkids, is that your dog?’ FaceBook nonsense, but damn, Lamar. They may think you’re a nut case, or trying to expose them. There could be a million reasons. And truly, men are one thing, women are another. We aren’t Google. You can’t just go all advanced search on a woman and hit ‘story, please’ and complain when it comes back empty. Our histories aren’t, well, Goggle-able. We share what we share, and the rest is ours. We’re taught that from the time we’re born almost. We keep them in the memory album with love letters and either way boyfriend dumps and virginity and baby teeth. And no man has the key to that drawer because we don’t think you’d get it if we opened it.”
He twisted his Coke glass, knew he’d just heard a major truth and wasn’t happy about it. “They ought to be Google-able. There ought to be a filter for them in the search, so you own up, tell your stories. Like I should be able to ask for a story and hit the ‘select more estrogen’ button and actually get all of one.”
“And that will help you how, Lamar? If you ask a woman a question she doesn’t want to answer, you can click your estrogen button all you want, you’ll still get nothing useable.”
“It would help because it would be just like asking and hitting that button in real-life, without it telling me to give it up, get out from under foot and go mow the yard.”
“Funny guy. You’re welcome.”
“Yes, for your answer. Now go home, hug your lovely wife Marie, don’t give her any shit because she’s a woman and smarter than you are and feels things you’ll never understand.” She backed off the stool, draped the towel over her shoulder. “And Lamar? Mow the yard.”