beer," said the nervous young man in the new panama hat. He watched
the big, barrel-chested old bartender carefully draw the brew and pave
off the head. The man reminded him of one of those expressionless polar
bears at the zoo as he waddled with an awkward suppleness up and down
the length of the counter.
were only two customers in the bar, himself and a sullen fellow who
stood at the opposite far end over a double whiskey. The young man put
one foot on the bar rail then quickly removed it and looked to see if
the blade-like crease had flattened at the knee. It hadn't. He made
a motion with his shoulders as though jumping rope and his jacket rose
up and settled down neatly on his neck. Now he felt all in place again.
He cautiously rubbed each of his gleaming shoes against the back of
the opposite trouser leg in turn. He glanced out the window and glanced
out the door and tapped his breast pocket. He wondered why the bar wasn't
full of thirsty people, since the humidity had reached some kind of
record. He wanted to run his finger around the inside of his damp collar
but he feared disarranging the twenty-seven minute knot of his tie.
He felt like a man in a steam room trying to show off a fur coat.
the beer was brought he gulped it without pause until it was gone.
He sensed the bartender observing him and was embarrassed.
don't drink, really," he apologized, pulling at the cuff of the
sleeve he had just bent at the elbow. The bartender held a toothpick
in his mouth thoughtfully, and when the young man spoke it tilted
like an alerted antennae.
just that I'm so dry," the young man continued lamely. "I really
wanted a coke, only I didn't think you would serve just a coke."
matter," the bartender said. "Relax."
can't relax in this suit on weekdays," the young man said.
toothpick raised questioningly.
guess you must have seen me walking up and down outside this window
for a while before I came in." The young man's hands shook a little
as he plucked out a pack of cigarettes, scarcely disturbing the
contour of his coat which he immediately pulled straight. Then
he glanced out the window and glanced out the door and tapped
his breast pocket and smiled weakly at the gimlet-eyed bartender.
"What's your name?" he asked.
the bartender said.
young man leaned on the bar with great care. " I like to know
the names of people I talk to. It makes it easier to talk."
toothpick stuck straight out at salute.
young man pushed the beer glass aside. "Do you know anybody patronizing
this place named Johnson?"
toothpick wiggled uncertainly.
don't want you to think I'm nosing into anybody's business," he
added hastily, crushing the unlit cigarette into the nearest ashtray.
customer at the far end banged his glass. While the bartender
went to refill, the young man hurried to the door, looked this
way and that, then came moodily back to his place. The bartender
returned and folded his hands across his belly. The young man
leaned over to him.
in a helluva pickle, Sam," he said. "My future father-in-law's
going to meet me here any minute." He looked at his watch. "He
should have been here already. I never met him before, and this
is where Sue picked out for us to meet. I don't know what the
hell to say to him."
toothpick poised high, mulling the problem.
a wonderful girl. I've known her over ten months. We suit each
other like a diamond and a ring." He patted his breast pocket.
"That's what I've got right here, in fact. An engagement ring.
I'm in the jewelry line. I work for a very big company. They promised
me a raise as soon as I get married."
short man with a white goatee and dirty white shoes entered and
ordered ale. Sam served him, exchanged a few words and drifted
swear, if I didn't have someone to talk to now I'd go out of my
mind," whispered the young man.
toothpick rose sympathetically.
been taking her home three times a week and she won't even let
me come upstairs. She lives in one of those brownstones. She said
she'd be a half hour late today so her father and I could have
that time together."
goatee finished his drink and left. They watched him go out.
says he's always late for appointments. When Sue and I kiss goodnight
in the vestibule I always have the feeling that he's watching
us through the keyhole. Were you ever married, Sam?"
sighed. The toothpick drooped.
Sam. She must have been a fine woman. But can you remember anything
about the whole business? Was it tough meeting the family? I meet
hundreds of people every day and I like it. But now, it's just
torture. And right in the middle of the week, too."
he sleeps all day."
toothpick moved puzzledly about. "Why today?"
I get Tuesday morning off. And he said he'd have a little time
around lunch. She said he works at night, too."
dressed up to meet him and all. I felt- well- like it was the
biggest deal of my life and I wasn't going to louse it up. But
I'm practically going nuts because- because- "
toothpick eased forward, curious.
wouldn't believe the things that went around in my head, Sam."
toothpick cocked sideways, asking.
like- like maybe her old man was a lush and she wanted me to see
what I was up against first hand. That's like Sue. She's square.
She's honest. She might look at her old drunken bum of a father
and say to me, I can't leave him, Harry. He'll have to live with
Sam said, his eyes alerted to the door. The young man jerked his
head around swiftly, but there was no one there.
could I say? I love her. I love her so much I decided that no
matter how much of a drunk he was I'd try everything. Alcoholics
Anonymous, psychiatrists- everything!" He looked sheepishly at
the bartender. "Oh, hell, Sam. I guess this is no place to talk
about things like that."
toothpick jerked about.
okay," the bartender said, wiping off the counter. The young man
removed his hat and fanned himself. A man appeared in the doorway,
swayed there a moment, then turned about and went back in the
direction he'd come from. They both watched this. The young man
let out a deep sigh and flipped his hat back on his head.
"And that's not all," he said. "I've got a good job, but I'm not
making a mint. In fact, when they promised me a raise when I got
married I knew it wasn't going to be much to crow about. I'm practical.
I never fell for any of that movie stuff. When a guy gets married
in the movies he doesn't have to be earning more than a hundred
bucks a week and he's got one of those nice houses, and a car,
and an electric lawnmower. Well, I couldn't even afford a push
lawnmower, to say nothing of a house. We're just going to have
to live in one of those small flats and use the bus. And if the
fare goes up any more, we'll walk."
wiped the perspiration from his forehead with his handkerchief.
"But that's not what I had in mind to tell the old man. I had
a fast spiel figured out. I was going to blow about what a big
job I had. I was going to wear an expensive rock I borrowed from
the store. I was going to talk about the next raise like it was
a junior partnership. I had a story all worked out that would
have made her old man throw us both into a cab and rush us down
for the blood tests before I could change my mind."
looked despairing. "But I couldn't do it. I just couldn't do it.
I'm too honest. I can't throw the bull. If it comes right down
to it and he begins asking me a lot of questions, I'm liable to
lose Sue like that!" He snapped his fingers. His wristwatch caught
his eye. "Half past twelve?" he cried. "He's a half hour late!
I better phone her. Maybe something happened. Maybe the old drunk
fell down a flight of steps or something and- "
fished in his pocket and shakily produced a couple of quarters.
"Can you change one of these for me, please?" he asked.
the bartender was looking up at the door.
was standing there, bright and sweet and alone.
Harry!" she cried, running up to him. They kissed. "Well, how'd
he do?" she said to Sam.
toothpick perked up and Sam held a bottle of champagne before
I'm so happy, Pop!" she said.