It’s a Thursday night and I’m having a martini at Cafe American. On my way over I walked past The Bistro. It was the first time I’d seen the place since I left. As I peeked though the restaurant’s front window a weird sensation churned in my gut. It was the same feeling I had driving past my boyhood home after my parents sold it and the new owners moved in. I could see the usual wait staff running food and chatting with customers. If anyone saw me they didn’t let on. The Bistro looked busy. It also looked like the dark side of the moon.
“So,” Arthur, the cafe’s bartender says, “You’re not working at the Bistro anymore.”
“How long did it take for that news to travel the waiter grapevine?” I ask.
“About thirty minutes.”
“No one’s surprised you left,” Arthur says. “They’re just surprised it took so long.”
“No one’s more surprised than me,” I reply, looking into my drink.
“You gotta admit,” Arthur says, “That place has blown through a lot of staff.”
“That’s true about a lot of places,” I reply.
A customer walks up to the bar and asks for a Manhattan. Arthur and I let our conversation hang in the air while he makes the drink. Its a pleasure to watch Arthur work. All his movements are precise and economical. Not a movement or drop is wasted. Arthur passes the cocktail across the bar, rings it up, and hands back the change. A few seconds later he palms his tip off the wooden countertop, grabs a towel, and walks back towards me.
“So whatcha doing now?” Arthur asks, toweling his hands dry.
“Oh,” I reply, “A little bit of this and that.”
“Working in a restaurant?”
“Not yet,” I reply. “But soon.”
“Want to work here?”
“Thanks, but no thanks,” I reply. “I want some of my watering holes to remain sacrosanct.”
“I hear that brother.”
“How’s things with you?” I ask.
“Auditions, auditions, auditions,” Arthur replies, half smiling.
“Same old,” Arthur says. “How’s the writing thing going?”
“Harder than I expected,” I say. “But thank God for computers. I can’t imagine typing this all out on a typewriter.”
“Computers are great,” Arthur says. “Until they go wrong.”
“Ain’t that the truth.”
“My old computer was so infested with porn I had to throw it out,” Arthur says.
“No way,” I reply, taking a sip from my martini.
“I’m not kidding.”
“Couldn’t you reformat the hard drive?”
“My ex brother-in-law tried to fix it,” Arthur says, wiping down the bar with his towel. “He’s a computer geek and even he couldn’t do it.”
“What the hell were you looking at?” I ask.
“Nothing illegal,” the bartender says, suddenly defensive.
“I swear,” Arthur says. “I’m surfing the net, minding my own business…”
“Looking at naked women.”
“Perusing all the wonderful smut the internet has to offer,” Arthur continues, “When a porn demon possesses my laptop.”
“Yeah,” Arthur says, throwing up his hands. “A million pop-ups start exploding on the screen.”
“Oh no,” I mutter.
“And it wasn’t just meat and potatoes sex stuff,” Arthur says. “Not naked girls and big boobies.”
“Of course not.”
“It was the filthy degenerate monkey house porn,” Arthur says. “Sick stuff.”
I start cracking up. “Monkey house porn?”
“Do you need me to draw you a picture?” Arthur asks.
“Thats OK,” I say quickly. “I know the internet can be a sick place.”
“The internet’s only a window into the wackiness,” Arthur says. “It was always there, just hidden.”
“I don’t know about that,” I reply. “Maybe on some level the craziness was always there. But the internet’s exacerbated the situation.”
“Masturbated the situation?” Arthur says out of the side of his mouth. “That was a mortal sin in my house.”
“Exacerbated the situation,”I say, laughing. “You grow up Catholic?”
“Not just Catholic,” Arthur replies. “Catholic in Oklahoma.”
I drain the last of my martini. Arthur points to the empty glass. I nod.
“So,” Arthur says, pulling a frosted glass out of the freezer, “I had a millions pop ups. It took me forever to close them. My ex-wife saw them.”
“I’m not gonna even ask what she was doing there.”
Arthur just smiles. “So the computers completely fucked,” he says. “Ran slow, acted weird – the works.”
“Didn’t you run a virus scan?”
“This isn’t a virus,” Arthur cautions. “It’s a porn demon. Virus scans are powerless against it.”
“I don’t think the church exorcises computers,” I say.
I chuckle to myself. Every Catholic diocese has an official exorcist. I used to know the one from mine. Its a secret, mostly ceremonial post. Despite what you see in the movies, Linda Blair scenes are few and far between. Something tells me the Church isn’t gonna whip out the bell, book, and candle to save a Duo-Core processor.
“I’m sure,” I say.
“That’s too bad,” Arthur says. “My brother-in-law gave up. I had to throw the damn thing in the trash.”
“I don’t know whats worse,” I say. “You buying a new computer or your ex brother-in- law trying to fix it.”
“I learned my lesson,” Arthur says, pouring my drink into the frosted glass. “I had to spend a grand on a new computer. No more internet porn for me.”
“Why should I go online when theres a perfectly good video store down the street?”
“You’re incorrigible Arthur.”
“That I am,” Arthur says. “Probably explains why Ive been divorced twice.”
Arthur slides two olives into my martini and places the chilled drink in front of me.
“To your health sir,” he says.
“And you,” I say, raising my glass.
The door to the bar swings open. A leggy blonde walks in. She looks around, takes off her coat, and plops her cute butt on the stool next to me. She’s already a bit drunk.
“Hi,” she says, flashing me her baby blues.
“Well,” I say, “Hello there.”
“What are you having?” the girl says, pointing at my drink.
“A dirty Ketel One martini.”
“Mmmmm,” the girl purrs, “I’ll have one of those.”
I slide my untouched drink towards her. “Why wait?” I say gallantly.
“Why thank you!” the girl says happily.
“Arthur,” I say, “I believe I need another drink.”
Arthur shakes his head. “Coming right up, sir.”
“My names Waiter,” I say to the girl. “What’s yours?”
“Jenna,” the girl replies.
In the background I hear Arthur chortling. I bite my lip to keep from laughing.
“What a lovely name,” I say.
“Man,” Arthur says winking, “That porn demon gets around.”
“Huh?’ the girl says, looking befuddled.
“Nothing,” I say, “You just walked into a conversation.”
“You’re not making fun of my name are you?” the girl asks the bartender.
“Not at all Miss,” Arthur says, trying to keep a straight face.
“Good,” the girl replies. “Because there’s no way my parents could predict my name’d be used by a porn star.”
“You’re much prettier than she is anyway,” I say, pulling the heat off Arthur.
The girls blue eyes widen. “You think so?” she asks, shifting her long legs towards me.
“You should be in pictures.”
The girl looks at me with a trace of suspicion. “Are you teasing me?”
“I only tease the people l like,” I reply.
“So?” the girl says, brushing the hair away from her face. “You like me?”
Before I can reply a young man comes up behind the leggy blonde and puts his arms around her.
“Hey Jenna,” he says, squeezing her tight.
“Hey baby,”the girl replies, giving the man a kiss.
“You get us a table?” the man asks.
“I need a table for two,” the man barks, holding up two fingers. “Can I get a table here?”
“Of course sir,” Arthur replies, grabbing some menus. “Follow me.”
“Jenna,” the man says, “I’ve gotta hit the john. Order me an Absolut and cranberry when you get to the table.”
The boyfriend walks towards the mens room. Jenna turns back towards me and smiles.
“Thanks for the drink,” she says, running a fingernail along the rim of her martini glass.
The girl’s looking for a reaction. I’ve been in this situation before. I’ll be in this situation again. Even though I’m aggravated I can’t show a hint of emotion. When in doubt, play it like Bogart.
“Here’s looking at you kid,” I say, raising my glass.
The girl stares at me for a moment. “You’re a funny guy,” she says.
“My dear,” I reply, “You have no idea.”
“Well,” the girl says, mildly confused. “Have a nice evening then.”
Arthur and I watch the girl slide off her stool and stride into the dining room.
“You wanna buy her boyfriend a drink too?” Arthur snickers.
“Shut up Arthur.”
“Next drink’s on the house,” Arthur says sympathetically. “You look like you’re gonna need it.”
I watch as the blonde girl disappears behind the curtains separating the bar from the dining room.
“I probably will Arthur,” I mutter. “I probably will.”