Uncle Gus finally made it out to an actual night spot last night. It was a tough struggle, an internal struggle. I had promised myself that I'd treat myself if I finished a certain project, a written project. Well, I did, though I'm not completely happy with it. It will need rethinking and editing. But it is finished. Does that count?
I pondered this while I cooked some dinner (when did I start calling that meal, "dinner"? It was always "supper" when I was growing up, and "dinner" was synonymous with "lunch." Only rich folks called it "dinner.") and then took a shower. Gus hadn't shaved in a couple of days, and was looking homeless, which really I am only a short step away from that condition. (Why do I keep wanting to refer to myself in the third person? Is it because of being cooped up with two dogs? Alone in a city filled with people, and so I've had to become my own companion? Uncle Gus just ain't certain. But rest assured, there will be no volleyball with a face scrawled on it in Gus's future!) So, all the parenthetical comments aside, I got cleaned up, shaved, and found some decent clothes to wear. It's not a healthy thing to live in solitude, not for Gus anyway.
The dogs were looking at me, knowing full well that something was up. I told them to behave. Of course, they weren't going to behave on their own. I had to put dining room chairs on the couch, close doors to rooms they didn't need to be in, raise the window blinds so that doggy noses didn't wreck the slats, make certain there was no food on the counter, or even a dirty plate, and make certain that dogs could not get to the garbage. Having done these things, Gus ventured out into the steadily colder and very windy evening. And walked almost a half a block before he came back for the keys to the minivan.
I parked a block away from Buster's so that nobody could see the minivan. Not that it's anything to be ashamed of. Beggars should not be choosers. But still...
Buster's was busy. I had thought that on a Wednesday evening things would be fairly quiet. But this was not the case. If I had been there to eat, there would have been a wait for a table. As it was, I was allowed to pull up a stool at the bar.
I should say right now that I've eaten at Buster's before. I've never had a bad experience there. Their fries, their burgers, even trout on cedar slab, they're all amazing. But that's back in the day when Gus wasn't on such a tight budget. Oh, those were the days, of hanging sheet rock all day and then stopping in hungry and thirsty, and being able to just toss a couple of bills out on the bar and say, "Feed me!"
Anybody who knows me knows that I like to sit at a counter. I like to be able to watch the action behind the bar, or the counter, to watch the people rushing back and forth, and gracefully keeping out of each others way.. It's a magical thing, this dance they do around one another, keeping orders in their heads. There seems to be a sort of Zen to it, a certain state of mind. And that's what was going on tonight. From where I sat, I could see four people cooking. There were two who were working the grill and the fryers behind the bar. And there were two more working in the kitchen. The bartender was right there with a beer list, which was easier to look at than the twenty-odd taps that lined the back bar. I ordered a stout from Bell's. Oh, man, that was a good choice. It had a nice thick brown head on it, one I could have spooned and eaten. This beer had a lightly smokey flavor to it that worked pretty well with the chilly wind outside.
There was a guy sitting next to me who seemed to be hitting on a girl, and she didn't seem to mind. They went back and forth for a while as he tried to convince her that she could even move in to his building, there was a vacant room. "It even has its own bathroom," he said. It didn't seem to work. But the conversation stayed light, and they seemed to part as friends when it was time for her to go. He wandered out a little later, after she drove away.
I decided, even though I had eaten, that I should at least have a snack. I ordered some onion rings. And you know how in most places they just grab a bag of frozen onion rings and dump some into the fryer? And then they serve them up, and people eat them and say, "Oh, they have good onion rings here!"? Not at Busters. This guy opened up a container of sliced onions and another container of batter, and dipped those rings in the batter and then into the fryer. When they came out a minute later, they were gorgeous, a perfect golden brown. The coating was crispy, the onions were sweet. They have good onion rings here!
The grill was busy, with burgers and steaks and sliced beef all sizzling away. The cook stood there, sliding his stainless steel spatulas across the cook top, scraping the fat into the little trough at the front, turning the meat, and dropping toppings onto the burgers. At the same time he kept the fryers full of freshly sliced French fries, sweet potato fries, and more onion rings. His movements were smooth, and unhurried, but he got everything out quickly. It was a pleasure to watch.
A couple of women took up the stools that the couple beside me had just vacated. The one closest to me was an older, kind of frail-looking gal. Her companion was white-haired, but robust. She sat down and asked me what I was drinking. I didn't realize that she was talking to me at first. But then I woke up. "Ummm..." I said. "I don't remember." She laughed heartily. Her companion seemed a little confused. I got the feeling that she wasn't accustomed to taverns, as if the other person was kind of attending to her, showing her something new. I suddenly remembered that I was having the stout, and I told her. She decided that it sounded good, and went back to helping her friend choose a drink. Her friend ordered root beer.
And the entire time I was sitting there, watching all of the activity going on around me, I was thinking, "I should ask them if I can hang with them while I have a second beer. We could just talk about stuff, ask each other questions, etc. But I didn't. I should have. I don't see how it could be a bad thing. Do other people have that same...well, impulse? Or is it a yearning, to just say hi, just for the conversation, to find out about a total stranger or to only connect?
I ended up finishing up my beer and my onion rings and heading back out into the cold. I looked back as I put on my coat and saw that my space had already been cleared, and the two women had picked up their menus to see what looked good.