Occasionally, when I’ve forgotten to eat breakfast, I will leave the office and walk to a nearby sushi spot for lunch. Today, I decided to hit a much closer and slightly less appropriate venue. I went to a dive bar for work lunch.
In my defense, they make excellent pizzas. And gin and tonics.
I don’t particularly like eating lunch alone in a restaurant. It’s a bit like walking into the school cafeteria for the first time. I always feel just a little watched and a little wrong. But I’m also a champ of fake it ’til you make it, so I rolled up to the bar and asked for a personal pizza and a gin & tonic and made a light comment about how gorgeous the day was. The bartender, a cheerful woman a decade or so my senior, gave me my beverage and suggested I enjoy it outside on the patio.
Great idea, I thought, I can sit and write a bit in peace.
The patio turned out to be less “garden space” and more “smoking cage.” It looked like a little corner of parking lot where some old couches, a couple office chairs, and a busted patio set had been abandoned…and then someone threw a chain link fence around it and said “voila! Patio.” There were three women on the two couches drinking bud light around the coffee table. There was an old dude at the little patio set, wiry with a belt length beard, clothed in safety orange. I froze in the doorway, clutching my beverage and my bag, unsure what to do. I couldn’t turn on my heel and run, I’d already been seen. “Mind if I grab this seat?” I asked him.
“Help yourself,” he said.
One of the women piped up. “Careful, you might poke your butt there.”
“Oh yeah,” the dude said. “And I think that’s the one with the busted arm. Is that the one?”
“No, you’re in that one. Hers has the tears in the seat.”
Another woman chimed in. “And it leans forward.”
I looked at the chair, leany and busted and the farthest away from the group. I sighed. The bar inside had been nearly empty. So many lovely, solitary places to sit. But it would look weird and stuck-up just to bail now.
“Well okay, I guess I’ll just join you ladies then,” I said with strangled cheer and sat delicately on one of the low, leather office chairs around the coffee table. I took a big sip of my drink and played with my phone, wondering when I could leave without looking like a basket-case. The group – it turned out they were something of a group – went back to conversation.
There was a skinny blonde lady, late 40’s I’d say, and her best friend who was darker and comparatively plump. (I’m also comparatively plump next to this blonde lady. Her ex used to deal coke, let’s say.) The other woman turned out to be the blonde’s mom, I think, but she doesn’t talk much so we can mostly forget she’s even sitting there.
Blonde lady is definitely the talker in the group. She starts in complaining about some lady who reads too many books and knows crazy words, like the one in Walgreens they use to say razor. “Dipi-something,” she says. I pull out my laptop so I can pretend to work, since that was my lunch plan anyway. It seems a little awkward in the company, but less so than drinking my G&T and staring at them. She’s in the middle of a story about helping a friend move and I’m only half listening when I hear, “So that’s about when I lost my finger.”
I look up. Sure enough, half a finger on one hand. Now I’m interested because I’m always telling my kids they’re going to lose a finger. She wasn’t playing with doors, though, turns out.
“…It was bleeding like crazy, blood’s just pouring out, and I’m sitting in the room at the ER and here comes Charlie, panting like he ran the whole way, and he’s holding my crushed fingertip. yelling, ‘I found it, I found it.'” Charlie, I said, what the hell do you think they’re gonna do with that? ‘Can’t they sew it back on or something?’ he asks. I mean, It just looked like a bit of raw hamburger at the point. He had to scrape it off the bottom of that heavy ass box thing!” She’s laughing and shaking her head. “So he throws it in the garbage. Of course I jump right up and go fish it out.”
Tree-beard asks, “What the hell you do that for?”
“Well you know, this was back when I had that Alligator whelp living in my bathtub.”
The words are out before I can think, “Please tell me you did not feed your finger to your alligator.”
Blonde, surprised, “That’s exactly what I did.”
Brunette, “Where the hell did you get an Alligator?”
Blonde, “Didn’t you ever meet that thing? This was back when I used to clean apartments. I was cleaning this empty apartment and he was just laying there in this tank thing and I just thought ‘Damn, that is one cool looking fish.”
I have so many questions.
Brunette, “So you took it home?”
Blonde, “Hell yes I took it home! Tank and all. Well you know, I didn’t know what it was so I took it to the reptile guy and he said it was an alligator and I should feed it raw meat or live animals. Mostly I just fed it hamburger, but I wasn’t about to let that finger go to waste.”
I have to ask, “Weren’t you afraid he would develop a taste for your flesh and come after you while you slept?”
Dead silence as they all wonder what the hell is wrong with me. Tree-beard laughs, he gets me; he also reads too many books.
Blonde. “Nah, He never even snapped at me. You know what did happen, though, is when guys would come over, after that, anytime they went to use the bathroom…I had to put him in the bathtub, you know, because he got too big for his tank. And I don’t bathe…I mean, I bathe, I take showers, I just don’t take baths, so I put him in the bathtub. And after that, whenever guys would try to use my bathroom he’d jump at ’em and tried to bite their little willies off.” She wriggles her pinky finger for emphasis. I nearly choke on an ice cube.
The bartender appeared, then. “Do you want to move inside to eat?”
Me, “No, I’m good here.”
Brunette. “So what happened to the alligator?”
Blonde. “Well all my guy friends, you know, they said they wouldn’t use my bathroom anymore and I had to get rid of the alligator…”
Tree-beard. “What did you name it?”
Blonde, confused. “I didn’t name it.”
We’re all shocked. How do you NOT name the pet alligator that lives in your bathtub? We all supply potential names revolving around the idea that the gator’s a willy-eater. I liked “Peanut.”
Blonde. “So, anyway, I had to get rid of it. So I called that reptile guy out there in Monroe and I asked, do you take donations and he said, sometimes, what you got? I said ‘that’s all I needed to know!’ and I hung up quick. So then my boys and I all grabbed the gator and we got him into a big cooler and we drove him out there and we dropped him on the porch and I banged on the door and hollered “WE GOT A DONATION HERE” and then we RAN to the car and got the hell out of there.”
I ask, “Were you afraid they wouldn’t take it.”
She looks at me like I’m a bit slow. “Well, you know it’s illegal to have those things.”
And that’s about when I had to go back to work. They thought they’d scared me away.
“Oh no, this is my new favorite place. That story might end up in my book.
Tree-beard’s grinning at me, “Well she ain’t gonna read it anyways.”
You have to think…… if she lost her leg, she could have feed that little guy for weeks.
And if she lost her head…well, she’d probably be none the wiser.
I laughed out loud a few times! I lived in Tampa for two years and found a few places where a story such as this might have unfolded…I could ‘hear’ this conversation – awesome writing! Thank you.
Thank you! Alligator tales are much more rare around these parts, that’s for sure.
This reminds me of the kid’s book, Lyle the Crocodile, only for adults! It makes you wonder what the next noontime conversation will be. You just can’t makeup stuff like this.