Three years ago I was here at this bar in the Gables where the beer is cheap and the lighting is nice and there was a guy I’d sometimes see, more of a regular than myself, he’s got a stocky build with a neatly-kept goatee, thick hands like a laborer, and he’s always talking to somebody. Always here alone. When he hasn’t hooked somebody into conversation his head is constantly swiveling left-right, left-right, or he’s tryna make eye contact with people across the bar (it’s an oval shape).
One day he sits beside me (this is three years ago) and asks what I’m reading. I show him the book and he inspects it with a pinched brow, rubs his beard, reads the back. Hands it back after a long time.
Says it sounds “fascinating, truly.”
The phrase is weird, forced. Stays in my head.
Immediately after that he volunteers some details about his job. Vice principal at a middle school.
He’s drunk, but composed.
Starts telling me about how he’s the school-wide disciplinarian. A shadow through the halls. Says that when he steps into the cafeteria during lunch, some 300 kids in a single room, the place goes quiet.
He goes on and I listen and when I finish my beer he tells the bartender to pour me another.
Larry buys me two more beers after that one and drinks two more of his own and he talks with passion about his work. Squinting and tapping the side of his head while explaining the psychology of pre-teens. That they’re more clever and capable than they seem. How he uses reverse psychology to make them behave.
When I finally manage to slip outta the conversation he’s financed my entire buzz. I avoid the bar for a while afterward for fear he’ll use familiarity as grounds for interrupting me.
Passing the bar one day, a few weeks later, I see him eating on the patio in silence with his wife and two small kids. There’s no beer in front of him and his wife, in an undersized tanktop on the opposite stool, watches traffic with her chin on her palm. The children are playing on phones.
Couple days ago I’m there at the bar again with a notebook, I’m writing about Bernie’s secret wedding, and who sits next to me but Larry. First time in forever. Don’t think he recognizes me.
I’m scribbling, focused, and he chats with the couple to his left for a few minutes ‘til they leave.
Almost as soon as they’re gone I feel his eyes on me, looking over my shoulder at the page, and I figure he’s maybe reading what I’ve been writing and I wanna throw myself over it like that kid in Child’s Play 3 who saves everyone from the grenade but before I can react he goes, “Your handwriting is beautiful.”
I look at him.
He’s stroking his goatee, studying the page, nodding his head. “Absolutely beautiful. Truly.”