You can tell a lot about a person by how they wipe off a table. Floggin’ Brews has a policy that you can reclaim a dollar if you return your glass to the bar and wipe off your own table. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had one beer or five, you got a dollar credit for cleaning up after yourself.
I had never heard of such a thing, and over the years I’d worked at a number of bars and frequented a lot more. I asked Mikhel about it. “Where did you get the idea?”
He shrugged. “It was Boss’ idea. But it’s a good one.”
I knew better by now than to ask how he knew what Boss was thinking. Truthfully, I was a little afraid of the answer. Mikhel seemed entirely sane, but there was something a bit mysterious around the edges. And of course Boss was no ordinary cat.
Boss probably has some very good ideas.
“Okay, but what’s the point? It’s not that much trouble to go bus a table and make sure it’s done right.”
“The point isn’t to clear off the tables, it’s to make the customer feel like they’re contributing.”
I gave that some thought. “Because they’re helping take care of the place.”
“You got it.”
Since that conversation, I’d noticed how different customers had different styles of wiping down tables. Some gave it just a cursory sweep with one of the wet sponges available at the end of the bar. Some went methodically back and forth to get every bit of surface. Most just wiped off the portion of the table that had crumbs or water rings on it. But I’d never seen someone wipe a table quite like the woman I mentally named the Sponge Lady.
She came in with a group of six older folks on a Thursday afternoon. They ordered drinks, all of them nonalcoholic, and retreated to a back table. It appeared they were having a meeting of some sort. I also got the impression they were there on a dare. There were two guys and four women, mid-fifties to maybe 70 years old, and they were glancing around as if they were afraid of what they might see if they just took a good look. They clearly weren’t as comfortable as our usual crowd.
I watched as Mikhel stopped by their table and was hugged by one of the women. Clearly she knew who he was, and introduced him to the others.
Was she pinching his cheek?
“An admirer?” I asked when he returned to the bar.
“An aunt.” He looked a little sheepish. “My mother’s sister. She heard I was working here and brought her book club.”
I smiled. “That explains it. They don’t look like they have much experience with a flogger. Though I guess you never know.”
“True.” Mikhel gave them a thoughtful look.
Boss was making the rounds and had captured the attention of the book club. One of the other women was trying to get close to Boss, but She was having none of it. Boss managed to both stay out of reach and rub up against Mikhel’s aunt before strolling away.
When the book club was done, the group obligingly brought their glasses back to the bar. The woman who was unsuccessful with Boss grabbed the sponge and bucket, and proceeded to scrub the daylights out of their table. You’d think she was trying to remove pine tar, though they hadn’t eaten as much as a chip during the hour they’d been there. The sponge lady returned the bucket to Mikhel’s end of the bar, and he gave her the refund for the whole group. She stuck the bills in her pocket and hurried out. Mikhel allowed his aunt to give him a peck on the cheek before she left.
I’d forgotten about the sponge lady until a letter arrived a couple days later. Mikhel came out of the office, holding a piece of stationery, and set it down on the bar as if it smelled bad. “What do you think of this?”
I picked up the letter. It was written in an aggressive cursive.
To: Floggin’ Brews, LLC
Attn: Mikhel Kivi, Proprietor
Dear Mr. Kivi:
It has come to our attention that there is a cat on the premises of Floggin’ Brews. We write to inform you that this is a violation of the International Animal Alliance’s Code of Conduct, which prohibits animals being imprisoned to benefit a commercial enterprise. We are particularly concerned about this animal’s welfare since your establishment is a known haunt of miscreants and fetishists who may have disreputable ways to harm an animal’s body as well as its spirit.
Unless you provide proof that you have permanently released this cat to a safe space, we will have no choice but to report you to the nearest Animal Alliance affiliates, the city Board of Health, and the local media.
Chairwoman, Humans for Animal Freedom
I snorted. “Who is this person? They think you’ve ‘imprisoned’ Boss? As if.” By this time, Boss had joined the letter on top of the bar.
“A known haunt of miscreants and fetishists”? She says it like it’s a bad thing.
Mikhel ran a hand through his hair. “I think she might have been with my aunt’s book club.”
Of course. “The sponge lady.”
Boss gave a small exhale and stretched her front legs.
“The sponge lady?”
“Yes, the one who wiped down the table. She was really aggressive about cleaning it off. You gave her the refund while you were talking to your aunt. She wanted to pick up Boss but couldn’t get close enough.”
Mikhel nodded. “I’ll have to ask Aunt Grete.”
“Are you going to respond to that?” I gestured at the letter. It made me surprisingly angry that anyone would think we mistreated Boss.
He shrugged a shoulder. “That’s easy. We had an issue before we opened the bar and I’ll just send her a copy of the city ordinance.”
“There’s a city ordinance??”
“Of course.” He looked at me like I’d just asked him how to spell “beer.”
“What does it say?”
“I’ll let you read it for yourself.” He retreated to the office.
I looked at Boss, who was now stretching Her back legs. “Do you feel imprisoned, Boss?” She didn’t even bother to look at me as She jumped off the bar and landed near Her cream dish. It was empty. I quickly fixed that while Boss waited patiently.
Mikhel came back with the ordinance, which was dated just before Floggin’ Brews opened. Following all the “wherefores,” the ordinance declared that, since the bar was owned by Phosphor Kivi, a cat, and did not prepare or serve food, any regulation or law prohibiting the presence of Phosphor was unenforceable. The city council also commended Phosphor for contributing to the economic vitality of the neighborhood. It was signed by the mayor.
I looked up at Mikhel. “And this didn’t make the news?”
“Boss didn’t think we needed the publicity. And the council was fine with that.”
I’ll bet they were.
I read the ordinance again. “It says that Boss appeared before the council?”
Of course. You’d think I would stop being surprised.
I made a photocopy of the ordinance as Mikhel found an envelope and addressed it to Chairwoman Nancy Bruce. He slipped the copy into the envelope, stuck a stamp on it, and placed it on the end of the bar with the outgoing mail.
“We ought to file the letter, I suppose,” I said as I heard a brief rustle on the floor behind me. I turned and looked down. Boss had the letter in Her paws and was delicately chewing a top corner off into tiny bits. “Or maybe not?” Boss gave me a look, brushed off Her whiskers, and left the edited letter on the floor. I picked it up and put it in a file folder in the office labeled “Misc.”
We never heard back from Ms. Bruce.