Hardly Noticeable

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Do you know what makes time travel possible?

The first—and only—time I’d visited Nebraska was the day before I flew to the ROK. My car broke down just outside Lincoln, so I locked the doors, grabbed my backpack and wallet and trudged the five miles into town. I walked into a sports bar and ordered a beer and tried to figure out what to do. The bar was filled with an assortment of lifers and University of Nebraska students, at least that’s what I figured.
The place stank of the antique cigarette smoke that was continually reborn out of the fibers of chairs and booths. Fifty-year-old Pall Malls clawed their way to the surface of the swiveling barstool I plopped down in next to an old guy wearing a baseball cap that said “Fishermen have longer rods.”
“Can’t sit there. That’s Hep’s seat,” he said. The man didn’t look up. He talked directly into the mouth of his glass.
“Excuse me?” I said. Surely this man wasn’t talking to me, the college-educated genius sitting before him.
“That’s Hep’s seat. He’ll be in ‘bout ten minutes,” he said in a slow drawl. He was gripping his glass tightly, I thought for a moment that he’d break it. He took his face from out of his glass, turned to the bartender and said, “I’ll have another blackberry brandy and bitters.”
The bartender walked to the old man and poured his drink stiff. I asked him for a beer and he obliged.
“Blackberry brandy and bitters, huh? I’ve never seen anyone drink that before,” I said. For some reason, I was—I guess still am—very keen on chitchat whenever I sat next to a stranger in a bar. The old man seemed nice enough, if a little reticent. Perhaps he didn’t like my eyebrows or the way I wore my shoes. Either way, talking to him was difficult.
“Yep,” he said taking a long swig of his blackberry brandy and bitters. The liquid stained the inside of the glass momentarily, the sides darkened and infused by its alcoholic heat. The old man squinted and his lips pursed tightly at the angry liquid descending towards his stomach. The alcohol was having its desired effect, I figured, since he let out a sigh and smiled.
“That’s a good hat,” I said, commenting on the obvious hilarity of his hat. “So, you like fishing, then.”
“Well then,” I said. I turned my body approximately 30 degrees away from him and pretended for a moment that he wasn’t there. But, of course, since I had just finished my first beer I was not about to quit talking. I swiveled on my bar stool and looked at the corner of the old man’s eye.
“I’m allergic to corn.”
“Say what? What’re you talking about, son?” the old man replied.
“I’m allergic to corn.”
“I heard what you said. Why’d you say it?”
“I just thought you should know. We are in Husker territory. I played football at Oklahoma, so I been here a few times before. I always like to tell Huskers about my allergies,” I lied. The bartender had given me another beer, and I pounded it.
“Oklahoma? Sounds like you’re some sort of Oklahomo,” the old man said without smiling.
“Aw mister, I’m just kidding. I actually played special teams for the Huskers for all four years,” I continued to lie. “I even started my last game as a senior. Only played two plays, but I did start.”
“Hell, you ‘bout gave me a heart attack talking about darn Oklahomos. Once Hep gets here he’ll wanna meet you. His son played for Nebraska, too,” he said. He called to the bartender, “’Nother blackberry brandy and bitters, Jose.”
“Well I’ll have to talk to Hep’s son, then. I’m sure I know him,” I said, realizing that I’d have to leave once Hep arrived. “You know, I can’t get over that drink of yours. I’ve never seen another soul drink something so interesting.”
“Well, let me tell you something, son. Now, I’ve been alive a long time, and I’ve learned some things,” he began. “You’re really a Husker then, right? ‘Cause no Oklahomo could handle this little bit of insider info. Good, good.
“Son, what I’ve got here is blackberry brandy and bitters. Tastes like shit, let me tell you. But blackberry brandy, that’s 35% alcohol by volume. Bitters, that’s 35%, too. And they don’t charge you extra for it. So the way I sees it, I’m getting 70% alcohol for the price of 35. That’s a deal, no matter how it tastes,” he finished. He tipped his hat towards me, I assume he wanted me to order myself such an exotic drink, but I demurred.
“That’s great to know. Seriously. I’m allergic to blackberry brandy, too, though. Can’t drink it or I break out in hives. Terrible. Tragic, even,” I said.
“There’s Hep,” the old man nodded towards the door as a lanky man walked in. “You was sitting in his seat, remember.”
“I have to go. It was nice meeting you,” I said and left the bar.

The kids didn’t really understand the story, but we worked out the math problem on the board and they did understand that 35 percent plus 35 percent did not equal 70 percent. They are really quite bright in every area except English language acquisition.


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