The stranger appeared in the doorway drawing on a pipe. Between his fingers on the stem, I see the Dunhill dot, and on one raised pinkie, a curious ring of diamonds, like a star salesman might wear who won a trip to Hawaii or maybe a cruise to the Bahamas. He owns the look of an achiever, the kind who opens his knit collar so you can glimpse his sunburned neck and the thick shrub growing out of his shirt. He must have just gotten back from one of those, “You’re a winner!” seminars and gotten the million dollar treatment. Cause he is high on himself. That’s for sure.
He traces the room for someone, maybe anybody. I am jostling around in my handbag, in line for the ladies’ room. You got to have something to give the attendant when she hands you one of those little white towels. You can’t get out of there without having to pass by her to wash your hands.
I come to this bar every Thursday for the free hors d’oeuvres, between five and seven o’clock. Ladies’ night at Margie’s. Get here early and you get the good stuff. I usually stock up to carry me to payday. It’s a good idea to go to the bathroom before you come though. Right after the half-priced rounds start, you cannot fight the crowds.
I don’t know what made me take a second look. But then I realize I know this yahoo! It’s Sammy from the neighborhood! Sammy Karos, the little Greek guy who threw up every time he rode in a car – some kind of inner ear thing—and then he made you swear on your life to keep it a secret. I wonder what made me think of that?
Bet Sammy is no boozer. Nah. You can tell the kind of guy who is a boozehound by the flared nostrils and the glazed eyes, and the stupid way he shakes ice in his glass like he can’t believe it’s empty.
Just standing there, Sammy looks too nice for a boozer. Khaki nice. He seems anxious, yet ready. I watch him, his eyes intent. I cannot tell who or what he is searching for. It is someone though. He has that, “I know why I am here,” stare. You just know he’s the kind who goes to a bar to meet someone he already knows. I used to do that, too, but when Rena got married, her husband said he had enough of us going out at night so much.
Here was Sammy, not having one clue that it’s me, Jorie Hooper, across the room, holding down a stool with my jacket. Used to be a guy would just come up with a drink, thrusting it. “Here sweetheart, it’s on me.” Or they’d yell to their bartender buddy, “Get a seven and seven for my girl.”
It’s nothing like that now. The young girls get drinks free, tossing their fake smiles. And when they get up, three guys try to save a place. It’s funny. I never see any of those girls in the ladies’ room except to check their make-up. All those guys hovering‘round them. I watch to see if the girls even know what’s going on. But they don’t. Really funny.
I can tell that Sammy Karos doesn’t like silly girls, cause he’s not looking their way. Nope. He’s gazing above the crowd. Finally, I prop open the ladies’ room door slightly, heading back in to catch him without being obvious. I spot old Jerry at the bar. He works for an express mail outfit and nearly asked me out until I told him I was a “regular”. Switched off like a light. Guess he thought anybody who came every Thursday was not the kind of girl he wanted.
The first time I came to Margie’s, I just graduated. My friends brought me for ‘a taste of night life.” After I got home that night, this older man called, maybe 60. He promised to take me on a business trip, possibly Hong Kong. He needed my passport number. I didn’t call back. He sure took a special liking to me. Maybe I drank too much.
Best get done quick before the shrimp kabobs are gone. Plus, I need to pay for my drinks. I push through the crowd, shoulder first. And then I stop and turn in the direction of Sammy. Why not?
Suddenly, I figure out why Sammy doesn’t come in all the way. He has to puff outside. I know Sammy Karos. He’s no big deal. He used to make his little schnauzer dog do tricks, and my brother and I paid for the show. It was in Sammy’s backyard. I swore I would never walk across the street again for any guy who had an act. Dumb dog.
I watch Sammy flash a dental smile as he leans over to share something with a waitress. She whispers something back that causes him to grin even wider. I don’t recall his smile being so great, like a manhole cover pried open. As I move closer, I practice, “Jorie Hooper, Joeree Hooper. Joeery Hoooopurr.” But something completely different comes out.
“It’s been a long time,”
“Do I know you?” Sammy said.
“Jorie. Nice to see you. Imagine ‘ol Clarky’s dead?”
“Yes. Ten years. Maybe 15. I remember your dog, too. Would you excuse me?”
And then he walked out through the doorway before he even really walked in. That was exactly what I meant about Sammy. He wore that better than you look, like a salesman who wants to qualify you, and if you aren’t a prospect, well, that’s it. That was how it was with Sammy, I wasn’t part of his deal.
I really should try some other bar. This one is getting kid of stale. Sammy and his tricks. Isn’t that the funniest thing? A guy with a dog that rolls over and you pay for it?
Kathryn Friedberg has been writing for others most of her adult life. Now, she is turning toward fiction. Kathryn holds two journalism degrees from Northwestern which helped her have a meaningful career heading towards public relations for a major insurance company. Kathryn spent time as a radio host for a major network as well as doing public speaking. She looks forward to enjoying this next chapter as she shares what I have observed and cared about.