Of Bars, Booze, and Bartending - Proving "Coughlin's Law" Invalid Since Feb '05

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

They Hate Each Other in Public

One of the most uncomfortable things a server or bartender has to endure is the "Couple Fighting." We're the middleman by default; we're the peacemaker, the seamstress trying to sew the patches together for them, in an attempt to save them from public humiliation, somehow. We try to pretend everything is groovy, while they subject us to their personal anguish, but they've decided to come out into the light and torture each other in public, so their bitter differences become our problem. There's really nothing more frustrating in this business; nothing more heartbreaking. Still, I have to keep peace at the bar and make certain everyone's happy and having a good time.

Plus, I'm not the doctor. I'm not qualified. I'm good at what I do, which is pouring booze and making small talk.

I find them selfish. It's thankfully uncommon; most couples dining or drinking out are happy and jovial and good sports. There's always the exception to the rule, though, and this couple was a doozy.

They arrived half-crocked, honestly. They both had visited Italy recently, and the woman got a real kick out of impressing me with her rudimentary Italian. She couldn't decide on which Italian wine she wanted, so she decided to taste them all, providing a lecture on the history and region of the wine after each sip. Sweetheart, that's why I'm the bar manager; I choose the wines I think you'll like and then I sell them to you. I already know what you're telling me. I just nod and pour, though, because it's also my job to be polite to you. And you don't need the added tension; clearly, I'm a more considerate person than you.

I side with the husband for a moment, because she's obnoxious, but he was aloof in all fairness. They arrived in a shit mood, but halfway through dinner, they really began fighting. I have no idea what the argument was about, but it was clear they weren't happy. Snipping, sniping misery. I did my best to just let them be, tending to my other customers (Belgian Eddie paid a visit; banner night for Jen!!). I cleared their plates and she demanded her Limoncello.

Her husband demanded the check, and I became the middleman.

"Limoncello?" I asked, looking at him, doing the best to turn my eyes into question marks of guidance.

"No. Check."

"Fuck him, give me the Limoncello!"

What am I supposed to do? I eye him, I eye her. They eye each other in utter hatred. Hatred. I choose the path of least resistance, pour a Limoncello, print the check, and serve both at the same time.

He slaps down a credit card, says to his wife "Sign it," and walks out the door. She nurses the drink and starts chatting with Belgian Eddie (of all people), wiping tears from her eyes. I hand her non-absorbent scratchy beverage napkins, and feel horrible for her.

The entire episode makes me question the institution of marriage. Her husband does emerge, maybe twenty minutes later, to collect her. I hope they're OK, even though it's clear to me that they won't ever be OK.

Could we be much closer if we tried
We could stay at home and stare into each other's eyes
Maybe we could last an hour
Maybe then we'd see right through
Always something breaking us in two

- Joe Jackson, "Breaking Us In Two"