I get a pretty fair cross-section of humanity at Floggin’ Brews. I get people who look for well-curated beer lists, and people who look for companionship (for good or bad), and people who have found companionship in communities of like-minded folk where relationships are made and explored. Mainly, I get people who need to find my place.
And I get people like Bobby. But then, no one is like Bobby.
It was a quiet Tuesday night at FB. No munches tonight — it was the fifth Tuesday of the month, and there’s nothing regularly scheduled for such days. Boss had been out of sorts all day, and I notice that She slept oddly. Most cats will twitch a little during dreaming; Boss was running a marathon in Her sleep. To tell the truth, I was tired because I hadn’t slept well the night before myself. I thought about quietly locking the door early.
Bobby came in out of the darkness.
I had known Bobby for years, and I respected his air of quiet reserve and sad eyes. “Deep waters”, my Tädi Marta would say. He was pretty unremarkable to look at him — slender, receding reddish hair, pale English complexion — but there was something about his eyes that belied his simple demeanor.
“Long time, stranger,” I said as he settled onto a barstool. “What can I get you?”
“Dark mead, if you have it. Long shot, I know.”
“As a matter of fact, I have some Hidden Legend back here.” I reached for a glass.
“Not at all. Times have . . . improved for me. Here ya go.” I had opened a fifth-sized bottle and poured some into a cool glass. Bobby stared at it.
“Dare I ask if you have penny ale?”
“No, I don’t, Bobby, nor cold bacon. Those days are long gone, and for the better.”
“I suppose so.” He took a sip. “Reminds me of . . . well, maybe not better days but certainly old ones.”
I cleared the table for the only other customer I had who had just left, and came back to find Bobby quietly drinking.
“You hungry, B.?”
“Not really, but yeah, I should eat something.”
I brought out a couple of egg salad sandwiches I’d made for myself (Nick and his food truck don’t come on Tuesdays) and offered him one. He chewed a bite and looked at the sandwich.
“White bread, huh. It’s a thing with me. I still remember what I did one time to get it.” He chewed thoughtfully.
Bobby seemed broody. “So, how’s that mead?”
He stared at his glass. Finally — “Mikhel, how long do you have to live before you figure shit out?”
“Hell, I don’t know. I haven’t lived that long, for sure.”
There was a heavy silence. Bobby finished the sandwich, and took a long drink to finish his glass.
“Here, let me buy you one.” I reached for the bottle and poured another.
“I won’t say no to that.”
Another heavy silence.
“So, what’s on your mind, Bobby?”
It all came out as one long sigh. “I’ve seen so much. I’m beginning to think I’ve seen it all. There are no surprises, good or bad, any more. I think I may finally be ready to pack it in.”
Oh boy. “How long has it been, for you?”
He looked at me with those eyes of his and chuckled unmirthfully. “Oh, I don’t know. A very long time.”
The silence hung heavy again, and there was Shen standing at the bar. “Good evening, gentlemen.”
Shen does that. He could teach Boss how to move quietly.
“Good evening back atcha. May I get you a cup of good black tea?”
“It is late. Perhaps a good green tea? How are you, Robert?”
Bobby looked up at Shen and gave him that long hard look of his, while I tried to become invisible and gather tea makings.
Finally, “How did you know my name?”
“It’s not that hard to figure out. You have the eyes of someone who has seen very much in his lifetime.”
Bobby went back to his glass. “Yeah, yeah, I’ve seen it all, I think.”
How can someone’s smile be warm and enigmatic at the same time? “Perhaps. But how can one be sure?”
Bobby’s voice got edgy. “When I have seen all the loss I want to see.”
Were it not for Shen, that heavy silence would have returns in spades. (Even the ice maker got quiet.) Shen gestured at one of the tables. “Do you play Go?”
Bobby started to dismiss Shen’s attempt, but thought better of it. “No, I cannot say that I do.”
“Would you indulge me if I offer to teach it to you?”
Bobby thought for a long moment, and got up. “Why not? Old dog here might have a trick.”
I made Shen’s tea and poured Bobby a Spotted Cow. Hidden Legends dark mead is 12.5 ABV, so I thought he might do better with something lighter and tasty.
Three hours, and lot of hushed conversation later, Bobby stood up, shook Shen’s hand warmly, and nodded to me as he got his jacket.
“Things any better, Bobby?”
He smiled, and it’s the first time I’ve seen him smile in a very long time. “Yeah, yeah, I am feeling better, actually. Mikhel, your friend there has got something I guess I was missing. It was good to see you, man! And thanks for the lessons, Shen. All of them.” And Bobby walked out into the night.
I turned to Shen, who watched Bobby leave and then returned to his board. “Thank you, Shen, whatever it was you did.”
“I did very little other than show Robert that life will always bring about surprises, both good and bad, and that it is his job — our job — to find the good aji.” Shen gestured at the board.
I looked at the placement of stones and whistled. “He’s that good?”
“He plays as he can. He understands aji well, he just needs to be reminded of what can be done with it.”
[For those who don’t know Go, here’s the Wikipedia definition of aji.]
“The closest English one could use is ‘latent potential.’ From the Japanese term aji (味), meaning taste, it refers to played stones’ lingering ability to open various avenues of play. Though not all aji is pursued or taken advantage of, it bears on the course of the game.”