Beer and a Bump
The Chester Club and Oyster Bar only takes cash. Which is good, because the pay-phone hanging on the wall, and the jukebox, only take quarters. There is a long bar along the right wall. There are two pool tables on the left. It is the only establishment in this skid-mark of a town that is open after 2pm. It was dark, raining, Rosie was parked for the night and I was famished.
I stood at the door and did not knock, because it was wide open to the night. The Club part of Chester Club made me wonder if I was even allowed in. My long vision is good, so I made out, in the neon gloom, a chalkboard that says what’s for dinner. Oysters and burgers. I realized the bartender was staring at me. She had a - seriously, don’t eff with me – vibe going on. She looked like she could go two rounds with Muhammed Ali. She called out to me. “You gonna come in, or you gonna stand there? If you’re waiting for the fuckin Maître de, it could be a while.” I bellied up to the bar.
Every other human at the bar appeared to be male – the preferred parfum was fish. It was Cammo Couture and I was glad I had put a hoodie over my jeans - because I usually dress up a bit for dinner. I was freezing. I looked up and down the bar. The preferred beer was Bud or Bud light - in cans. The bumps were Jack Daniels. Down at the end, I saw a guy with what looked like Rainer in a bottle. I pointed at him and said “I’ll take the bottle – no bump.” End guy nodded his head at me. I contemplated what alliance I had just made. I knew I was not getting a glass with the bottle. I wondered aloud about my food choice. “Guess, maybe, this is the place you oughta eat oysters.” Man on my right spit tobacco on the floor at my feet, and said “Only tourists eat oysters in August.” I was relieved because I don’t actually like oysters. “You get a lot of tourists in here?” He looked me up and down. “Nope.” I ordered a burger.
The game was on the TV up in the corner, but most people were turned around watching the pool tables. An ancient man who might have been mummified sat on a folding chair in the other corner, he had a lap full of money. I wasn’t playing pool.
While I waited for my burger, I attended to my beer and stared at the cooler in front of me. It was completely covered in bumper stickers. The sticker consensus was Pro-pot, boobs and bikes, and anti-Meth. This encouraged me, because I have boobs and a bike, and I guess I do approve of pot over meth. My plate arrived – I was the only person in the place eating food. I did not care. Girl’s gotta eat. The Bartender dropped back into a story aimed at the spittin man, which I had apparently interrupted with my hunger. The burger was perfect, the fries were hand cut and miraculous. The story beat both. It was about a local who just went to the State Pen for stabbing his own father. “I punched him in the nose, right here in this bar, not a week before he did it – I should have hit him harder.” she said. “He was born outa his mother’s asshole” said my right-hand mate.
About the time my burger is carried away and my beer is replaced, a young couple comes in. The only two places are to my immediate left. Dude sits by me. He orders a Bud and a bump. She orders a fruity cocktail and a bump. I decide to try some conversation. I ask him if he has a pick in the game. He counters with a statement so racist, I can’t repeat it, about the players who don’t look like him but make money he never will. He follows up with a homophobic slur against the same players. I decide to talk about bikes. I gain a little traction there. After a short convo he declares his intention to piss and goes to the back.
His wife slides over to me. She has another drink and bump. She gets a wooden coin with her second bump - turns out you get one with every third drink. It gets you a free drink. I admire her prize – she lets me have it. “Doesn’t look like you’re ever going to get to your third.” She laughs. The coin says the bar is rated by The New York Times – this is when I realize that I am sitting in the seat of the impossibly possible.
I ask if they have kids, and turns out they have a 9-year-old daughter. She is obviously proud of her, and I get the parent-teacher conference report. I tell her about my 9-year-old grand-daughter and we agree that at 9, girls are really cool. We reminisce about being 9, and having a full slate of girl powers that have not yet been turned in to acquire woman powers. She says her girl is starting to get a little bit of sass. I launch into my standard Mother’s Union lecture # 14, about how important it is to train girls to say ‘no’ by letting them say ‘no’ to you once in a while. “How are they gonna learn if they don’t practice?” She laughs and says “I actually agree with that – but you need to repeat that to my hubby - he’s big on obedience” and she goes out front for a smoke.
He slides over, calls for another beer and bump, and side-eyes me. I re-calibrate and repeat my basic premise. “I know you want her to be able to say ‘no’ to some jerk someday, right? You’re likely not gonna be there when it happens. How is she gonna know how to do that if you don’t teach her how to do it?” He looks puzzled. He wants to argue with this but he can’t figure out where to grab the argument. I plow ahead. “You’re the father, and the father needs to take control of this. You pick the time and the topic, make sure it is not a health or safety thing – something you don’t actually care that much about. You watch for your moment. It needs to be a time when she really wants to say no to you but is naturally afraid to do so. Then set it up so she wins a small battle. An intentional retreat on your part. Let her ‘no’ stick. This has to happen every so often for a while.”
He blinks a couple of times and says “But she has to do this respectful like.”
“Of course! but it can be strong and respectful. I am sure you do this all the time by demonstrating what strong and respectful looks like. You could even get your wife in on it, and play-act the whole thing in front of her sometime.”
He takes a long draw and then purses his lips and stares at the ceiling.
He looks at me like he sees me for the first time. He speaks what may be a novel sentence for him.
“I cannot argue with this – you have given me something to think about.”
I finished off my bottle with an equally long draw. I wished the house a good night. Took my wooden coin and walked off into the night.