Ray worked every night at a grungy dive bar that clung desperately to its place at the edge of town. The bar straddled the past and the present, unable to fully commit to one or the other. It was a depressingly dark establishment with an ancient cigarette machine outside of the single bathroom, brown water stains on the ceiling tiles and a glowing touch screen juke box was mounted on the wall. A flat screen tv played a college basketball game over shelves of dusty liquor bottles and entertained the few customers seated around the bar.
Ray inspected a glass for lipstick and nicks around the edges before wiping it down and stacking it on shelf under the counter. A man with an American flag bandana wrapped around his grey hair sat at the far end and stared into a glass that he considered very much half empty. Next to him, a skinny man with large, dark square glasses watched the basketball game and made comments between plays and during commercial breaks. He sucked down the rest of a bottle of Bud Light; he rattled it on the counter and cleared his throat to get Ray’s attention.
The customer was foiled in his attempt when another man with a wrinkled t-shirt, messy hair and bleary eyes walked in a side door and swaggered towards the bar.
“Hey pal, you need another fire ball?” Ray chose his words carefully and reached for another glass to wipe down. There was a definite difference between want and need in his business.
The man gave Ray a sloppy smile, “You are good, man. How do you remember every time what I want?” He swayed to the left and then slowly to the right like a tree in the wind, somehow, his trunk stayed planted.
There was no rush to take the man’s money or to refill his glass with the liquid that would continue to destabilize him. Ray could take his time with this man, he had him right where he wanted him without concern that he would quickly leave or cause trouble with the other patrons. He had a sense about his customers, like who would leave a tip and who would tip over. He prided himself on his professionalism, his ability to be present without prying, to engage without judgement.
He was there to serve the people and he had no qualms about over-serving those who asked for it.