Mitch walked into the bar by himself.
The crowd had gone down and the people were all quiet and thinking to themselves. Most people had gone home to their families. It was Christmas Eve and the place stank of beer and booze. An air of desperation filled the place. All was calm, but not all was bright.
The lights from the Christmas ornaments dangled across the walls. There was a feeling of holiday cheer that could be, but only for a moment. That is until a feeling of loss filled the room and minds of it’s occupants. Very few of these were willing to say much more than the ordinary hello, or the mundane nod to one’s neighbor.
Mitch was very unthoughtful about the whole thing.
He stood at the door waiting as if someone would come shake his hand and say hello. And Mitch rolled his eyes, and proceeded to walk to the bar room counter.
The lights were very bright behind the bar, unlike the lights that ran across the room behind him.
The bartender came up and looked at him as if to say that he expects a drink order any second now. This came as a matter of relief to Mitch.
“I’ll have a beer”, said Mitch.
And he thought to himself that he might have more later.
The people behind him in the chairs and at the bar felt like ghosts. There was nothing that really grabbed his attention. The TV was on. Sports analysts laid out the latest scores. Another TV had the news. It was all kind of lost in the mist of the place.
People were talking, but Mitch didn’t hear what they were saying. They made it sound important but it couldn’t really be. The discussion just sounded like talk. And most of it sounded like talk from people that wanted people to hear. Anyone would do. It didn’t matter who would listen. They wanted affirmation; assurance that things would be alright. That their opinions mattered. And if someone would listen, that would be fine. If not, they would just move on to the next person.
But Mitch was not so cynical after all.
A young lady sat at the corner of the bar, and Mitch noticed she was thinking by herself as well.
“What brings you here on this night?”, asked Mitch.
The woman looked down, smiled a little. She proceeded to take a breath and look up at him to engage in conversation.
“Nothing. Just couldn’t find anything else to do”, she said.
“My mind couldn’t stop, and I needed to think”.
“I’m fine though.”
He looked at her for a second.
Mitch said, “I don’t have anywhere to really go. But this place works as good as any”.
She started looking bored. Then, taking her purse, she got up and said,
“I think I’ll go. Maybe there is something I need to do after all”.
Mitch watched as she walked outside of the bar .
He looked over at the bartender, who looked up at him.
Mitch shrugged and drank his beer, sighing as he looked around.
He caught himself wondering what she had to do.
Who was she anyway? Where did she have to go?
She must have had a date to go on anyway. A man must have been waiting for her.
After all, she was very pretty. It is possible that she had other plans. Maybe she stopped for a drink while on the way to a family event. I should be going to a family event. Or maybe she is just going to another bar.
Oh how my mind wanders, he thought.
Regardless of her situation Mitch decided to pick up and talk with another drifter.
Mitch got a pitcher and joined a fellow sitting at the tables behind him.
The light had a strange glow off the wall, that let off the faintest hint of Christmas, and he felt slightly inspired.
“The names Ralph”, claimed the man.
“I hope you can stay a minute, I don’t have anywhere to be any time soon”.
“Of course”, said Mitch.
“There are plenty of reasons why we should talk right now, not least Christmas. And I noticed you were alone, and looked just as bored as I am.”
“Quite so”, said Ralph.
“It’s easy to come here during the holidays. There aren’t any problems. No sentiments, or rules to speak of. It is just me. And all of you, who happen to be in the same situation as I am in”.
“And what’s that?”, asked Mitch.
“Nothing. Absolutely nothing”, replied Ralph.
“Aha. Ha Ha.”, laughed Mitch.
They both agreed that he was right, and had a good laugh about it.
“Maybe we should say that nothing can interfere with us here, and that is what we want. We want to be left alone. Not bothered.”
“There is too much to think about. We have too much that is good that comes from our own thoughts that the holidays, like Christmas, gets in the way of.”
“Absolutely”, proclaimed Ralph.
“Take that girl that you were talking to earlier.”
Mitch looked up with hesitation.
“She thinks she has more important things to do”.
Mitch looked down at his beer.
“Well, that may be. But not from my perspective.”
“How so ?”, asked Mitch.
“Well, I think she didn’t give you the proper respect,” said Ralph.
“She thought you were only there to get her number, or give her Christmas kisses, or whatever. But she did not think that you came with good will. So she left.”
“And now she is doing whatever everybody else does during this time of year, and it does not make any sense”.
“You just have to look at it and laugh”.
“Yep”, Mitch said.
The air got cold. And a the clock struck 9.
A couple people left, and gave the bartender their tab money and tips.
Mitch sat their thinking with Ralph. He became a part of the scene. If more people came in, they would just see that he was a part of the ghosts, and that there was a little light on the wall next to them.
My mind couldn’t get any weaker he thought. It was at this hour he felt the most tired. This is after the first brief wave of the evening has passed, and he realized that he is a part of the environment in the bar.
“What do you think all of these people come here for”, he asked.
Ralph responded by first looking around and giving an I-don’t-know with his body language.
“There really is not much to say”, he stated. “Nothing other than perspective. People feel a certain way and they come. There could be many different reasons. None better than that they feel at home here. They feel at home when they are lonely, or away from things. They just want a drink, so they come. And they feel bad about it mind you. So bad that they are afraid. People are afraid to get up and walk out because they have a home here, and afraid they will lose it.”
Mitch gave a stare in disbelief.
“No, I swear”, said Ralph.
“That’s the way it is. The bigger and grander the holiday, the more our kind likes to go out and find this place. It is always there. And in some ways these people have meant more to us than our own family. They don’t say anything. They assume nothing. They accept us, because we are one of them. We seek and need and learn from each other as we sit, and observe. We have become each other in a sense. And that is the best way to be.”
“How come you know all this?” Mitch sipped his beer while asking.
“Because I have been here for a while, Mitch. Every Christmas is the same routine. I come in, I sit, I leave. I learn. The more people I see and meet, the more I find agree with me. We are all pleasant people really. And when it’s time to go, we go. No harm, no foul. It is simply over; whether for a while, or forever. Either way, I do not really care.”
Mitch was getting confused. His own thoughts kind of differed deep down. He had his own thoughts. Although the beer spoke for most of them at the moment, he certainly was not going to let some stranger tell him exactly who he is, or what he is all about.
“I sort of agree”, said Mitch.
“My mind has definitely been changing here recently. This place does bring it out of me. Why be so unassuming? I know why we are here. We have a place deep down that is, sort of barren. We need a little light now and again. This place provides that. For better or worse, there is something to be learnt from this environment”.
“Indeed”, said Ralph.
“And you know”, added Mitch, “this place is really starting to give off a little of the ole’ Christmas spirit”.
“I can feel it too”, added Ralph.
“No, I really mean it though. Its kind of getting warm deep inside, and my eyes are starting to perk up, and yes, it could be the alcohol, but by gum, I feel it!”, cried Mitch.
“That’s nothing at all”, barked Ralph. “Don’t let anything get to you that’s not prime and real.
“Welp, it’s time I be rolling off”, he said.
“Good night my friend”. And with that Ralph was out the door into the cold, dark night.
I’ve had a few, but I’m not nearly ready to go, thought Mitch.
I wonder what the bartender has to say about this place.
The bartender was cleaning out cups when Mitch came up.
“What you need, my friend?”
“Nothing”, said Mitch.”What time does this place close?”
“Midnight. You want another drink?”
” I heard what you and that guy were talking about.”
“Yea, I’m not so sure he’s far off from the truth.”
“Yea, he comes in here all the time. Sometimes his ideals get the better of him, but his thoughts on our clientele aren’t too far off.”
“Well, people come in here during the holidays”, the bartender said, “they are just looking for a welcoming place. They need something, and are scared to leave, because the real world is quite different.”
“Quite different, how?”
“The real world, with work, friends, and family can potentially bring you down. A lot of these guys that come in here are not ready for that.. They don’t want that. I think they need this place.”
“So is that why you are here?”, asked Mitch.
“I’m here because it’s my job. If I need extra money, I work the holidays. Now, the reason I work this job is because I’m good at it, and I like people. So I see what these people are like, on a day to day basis. Every once in a while we get someone like you, who is new, and doesn’t get the vibe of this place. That’s fine. But we still notice that. There is no difference here.”
Mitch took a quick shot of bourbon. He looked over his left shoulder and a man just threw his drink down. Another man got up. They started pushing each other. One guy threw a punch and landed it square on the other guy’s jaw. Mitch walked over and tried to pull one guy off. The man struck Mitch in the face. And the instigator tackled him and Mitch to the ground.
The bartender came up and broke up the fight. One of the brawlers continued to give him guff, and he got thrown out.
Mitch was given a tissue and some ice for his bruise.
A woman started talking to him, taken by the action.
“I’m Rosie”, she said. “That’s quite a welp on your cheek, honey”.
“I think I’ll be ok, but I needed things to pick up this evening.”
“That’s fine, but if you keep that up, you’ll be spending Christmas in the hospital rather than at home with your wife or your girlfriend.”
“I don’t have neither.”
“What? Your joking. Certainly you have someone to stay with tonight. It’s Christmas Eve.”
“No. I’m getting away from things tonight. Not sure really why, but I needed to get away”.
“Ok”, She said. “Well, listen. I don’t have much else to do either. My husband died last year, children are all grown up, and all my relatives are out of state. I’ve come here once or twice before, and enjoy it’s simplicity.”
“Simplicity?”, said Mitch. “Well, I can understand that.”
“Why don’t you visit your family out of state? They might be able to give you some of that Christmas cheer you are needing?”
“No”, she said. “There’s too much for me here.”
“Here?”, Mitch said with disbelief. “This place is a little sad and dark to me. What do you like about it?
“It’s a place to get away..to find myself. Having a drink makes me feel better. But just being able to talk with strangers and old acquaintances can change my day. I like it.”
Mitch looked at her and laughed.
“Well”, she said, “isn’t that why you are here?”
“Basically”, he said. “I really didn’t know why I came. Talking with the people in this bar has given me some perspective on why. My mind is filled with too much. I’m single, and my family lives far away.. I just didn’t feel the need to go visit. There is just too much going on. And I am fine with being single, but I feel a little lonely from time to time.”
” I know that is the truth”, said Rosie.
The lights in the room glowed brighter for a moment. A man came from outside through the entrance to the bar.
“Mama”, he said.
“Oh my gosh, what are you doing here.”, said Rosie.
“Is that your son?”, asked Mitch.
“Yea”, she said.
“Why don’t you get in the car and come home, we’ve been waiting for hours”, said the son.
“I have way too much, going on, plus I have been talking with this young man here”, she said.
Insisting, the young man came up beside her, saying “ok, lets go”, until she finally gave in.
“Alright”, she said. “Young man, good luck finding your place. It may be here, or it may be somewhere else. Regardless, have a Merry Christmas, ok?
“Ok”, Mitch said. And he got up and started walking towards the back.