Stopping By the Bar On a Snowy Evening

T.S. Eliot declared that “April is the cruelest month,” but he never lived through a Minnesota winter.  January is the cruelest, hands down, because you know that spring is still so far away.  And because things tend to break when it gets really cold or really snowy.  Things like the electrical grid.

It was snowing heavily outside, and there looked to be eight inches or so of new powder already on the ground.  The snow plows had come by once, but the streets were still bad.  I was grateful once again for the fact that I lived within walking distance.

Mikhel and I were starting the closing routine a bit early because there were only a few people left in Floggin’ Brews.  The mood was pretty downcast, and the mournful Johnny Cash ballad playing on the sounds system wasn’t helping much.

Scarlett and Emily Beth had been sitting in a booth for several hours. Scarlett was currently drinking Ommegang’s Wild at Heart, and Emily Beth was sipping an Ambergeddon by Ale Asylum.  The two women had been good friends and occasionally more than friends for some time, but there had been a falling out.  I wasn’t quite sure of the details, but it involved a guy named Lee who I didn’t know well.  Neither Scarlett nor Emily Beth were currently involved with Lee, but there was apparently some unfinished business between the two women.  The discussion, though civil, was not going well and sounded to me like a breakup.

I hate it when guys get between girlfriends. 

Bean was at the bar, nursing the latest in a series of Irish whiskeys – a blend named after The Dead Rabbit bar in NYC.  Bean had declared his intent to try all of the whiskeys Floggin’ Brews carried, but that was not something that could be accomplished in a single evening.   His ambition was a result of the fact that he had recently been laid off from his job as an illustrator for a technical magazine that had gone under, and was not optimistic about finding a new job in his field.

Boss was perched on a chair by a front window, watching the snow intently.  I happened to be looking in Her direction when I noticed Her sit up suddenly and swivel Her head toward the back.  She jumped off the chair, gave a quick stretch, and trotted off toward the back office.

I finished restocking the garnishes and walked to the back to see what had captured Boss’ attention.  I was surprised to see the Distributor just inside the back door, giving Boss some skritchies behind Her ears.   

During a blizzard seemed an odd time for a delivery. And the Distributor had dry boots.

The Distributor was one of those mysterious things about Floggin’ Brews.  I couldn’t quite place his/her/their? gender, or how they seemed to know when to show up and what to bring.  There wasn’t a pattern that I could see, and the plain silver truck always dropped off exactly what we needed, including things that no other bar could get.  I’d suspect some connection with organized crime, but that totally wasn’t Mikhel’s style.  Or Boss’ for that matter.   So the Distributor remained a mystery.

The Distributor leaned down toward Boss, then nodded and said something in a low voice I couldn’t quite catch.   Straightening up, they gestured at a handtruck piled with boxes and asked, “Where would you like me to put this?” 

It startled me and I jumped a little – the Distributor had never actually spoken to me before.  “Uh, in the storage room please.”  Which, of course, was where the deliveries always go. The Distributor nodded, pushed the handtruck into the storage room and started stacking the boxes on the floor.  Boss followed and jumped to the top of the pile as soon as it was finished to supervise the delivery.

I went back to the bar to finish cleaning up for the evening.  I was just about done putting the glasses back in their places when the lights went out.  There was a moment of stunned silence;  the lights flickered briefly and then went out and stayed out.

Three people spoke at the same time:  Bean said “What the. . . .”  Beth Ann said “Fuck.”  And Mikhel said “Stay put, everyone.”   A click and a battery lantern shown out, casting shadows across the room.  Mikhel put the lantern near the till, and Scarlett and Beth Ann joined Bean at the bar.

A flashlight beamed from the back, and the Distributor stuck their head in.  “Looks like a tough night out there.  I’ve left some extra supplies, just in case.  Take care.”   They handed me the flashlight, gave a nod, and walked back into the dark.  The back door made a “snick” as it closed.

Scarlett’s eyes were wide.  “Who was that?”

Mikhel answered.  “Our Distributor.”

Since I had the flashlight, I said “I’ll go check to see what we have.”

I headed to the storeroom only to see two glowing eyes in the dark.  I knew immediately it was Boss, but I still jumped a little.    She was sitting on a plain cardboard box, and jumped off it as I approached.

“What’s in the box, Boss?”  She gave me a look but said nothing.  “Okay, I’ll check it out myself.”  I picked up the box and headed back to the bar.

Mikhel had pulled out several more emergency lanterns by the time I returned.  I put the box on the bar and opened it up.  It was half filled with large pillar candles, the kind I hadn’t seen since I’d been a kid in church.  A box of matches.  A roll of pink athletic adhesive tape.  A free City Pages weekly.  An old slim book entitled “The Tao of Go.”  The contents puzzled me, but I laughed out loud when I unpacked the last item:  a box of cinnamon PopTarts. 

My favorite!  The Distributor clearly knows what they’re doing.

We set the pillar candles directly on the slate floor near the stairway to the loft.   There were easily a dozen of them and it took me awhile to light them all.  The snow was getting even thicker outside.

Mikhel said, “Hey, folks. It’s pretty bad out there, and we might be better off sitting tight for the night.” Our three guests visibly relaxed and started to look at the assortment of things from the box.

Once the candles were lit, I glanced at Scarlett and Beth Ann.  Beth Ann was holding the roll of athletic tape, and Scarlett had an expression on her face that was both wistful and a bit self-conscious.   Beth Ann moved her bar chair closer, and they started a low conversation in a tone that was friendlier than I’d heard all night.

Bean had pulled a lantern close and was looking through the City Pages.  I noticed he read the Dan Savage column first, and then was flipping through it aimlessly until something caught his eye.  He was reading whatever it was very closely.

Mikhel had picked up the Go book and was turning it over in his hands.  “Hey, Mikhel,” I said in a stage whisper.  Something about the dark, and the snow, made me want to be quiet.  He looked up, and I gestured toward the candles.  “It looks like a fireplace.”  The clustered candles had a soft warm glow, and the wrought iron of the spiral staircase looked a bit like a chimney. 

Mikhel gave a broad smile and nodded.  “Not quite like Callahan’s, but it’ll do.”

Bean spoke up.  “Wow.  I can’t believe it.  Wow!”

“What is it?”  I asked.

He gestured toward the paper.  “This job.  There’s a job listing here.”

“In City Pages?”  I was a bit surprised – in my experience, that periodical was more useful for finding out which bars had decent entertainment that week.  It was one of the last places I would look for a job ad.

“Yup, see?”  Lee handed over the paper, which he had folded open.  The ad was on the center top of the page, and was from a start-up online news organization that was looking for an illustrator with technical experience.  It included a bunch of words and initials that didn’t mean anything to me but clearly did to Bean.  “They’re looking for someone with my exact experience!”

Mikhel offered Lee a shot of Owl Rye #1 on the house to celebrate the opportunity.   Bean thanked him warmly.  “I hope you don’t mind if I suspend my trip through your whiskey list?”

“Not at all,” answered Mikhel.  “I’m relieved.” 

A giggle came from Scarlett and Beth Ann, and I saw the two of them embrace.  I took the whiskey bottle over with a couple glasses and asked if they’d like some as well.   They agreed and I poured some in each glass.  “So.  Do you have a history with pink tape?”

“Sort of,” said Scarlett.  She sipped the whiskey and then admitted, “Well, actually, yes.  We do.” 

Beth Ann smiled.  “But, uh, it’s kind of a long story.”

I nodded and gave her a wink.  “That’s great, and you two feel free to keep that on a need-to-know basis.”  Beth Ann laughed and reached over and squeezed Scarlett’s hand.

The power stayed off.   We blew the candles out and left one lantern on at the bar.  Mikhel provided pillows and blankets from the aftercare area, and then stayed at the bar to read The Tao of Go while the rest of found a place to bunk down. 

I ended up on a couch on the loft, and Boss surprised me by curling up at my feet.  I slept better and longer than I expected, and woke up all of a sudden.  A glance at my watch told me it was 8:10 a.m.  The sun was shining outside on a sparkling white world.  The snow plows had been out, the walk had somehow already been shoveled, and the power was back on.  I could smell fresh coffee, and when I made my way downstairs I was somehow not surprised to find that Mikhel had produced a box of fresh pastries, and a plate with two freshly-toasted PopTarts.

I picked up a PopTart and nodded at the pastries.  “Where did these come from?”

Mikhel shrugged.  “The box was in the storage room.  You must have missed it last night.”

I saw the Go book on the bar, next to a notepad full of writing and a Go board full of stones.  “Good grief, how late did you stay up?”

He shrugged again.  “The book was interesting, I couldn’t sleep.  So I figured out a bunch of stuff.”

Scarlett, Beth Ann, and Bean soon appeared, and everyone grabbed some coffee and a pastry before bundling up and heading out into the bright street.    All three were smiling and chatting with each other as they left – an entirely different energy from the dark moods last night. 

I helped Mikhel put the candles back into the box and put the lanterns away before putting on my coat.  Mikhel was once again bent over the Go book.  “Aren’t you going to close up and go home?”

He gave me a wave.  “In a few minutes.  I’m still trying to figure out something.”

I headed out the door and was immediately grateful I’d kept my sunglasses in my purse.  The light was blinding and it was reflecting off about 18 inches of fresh snow.  I made my way across the freshly-plowed street and glanced back at Floggin’ Brews as I turned the corner.  A small figure was opening the front door. I was certain it was Shen, the Go expert Mikhel was in awe of. 

I laughed out loud.  Next shift, I was going to have to ask Mikhel whether his Go game had improved.

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