Monday, September 23, 2013

At the "Friendly Bar"

Richie named it that.  We got off of the Tube at Earls Court, our station, and Richie spotted it across the street.  "C'mon, let's have a pint," he said.

It was clearly an old building, but the pub was well-kept-up with a crimson pressed tin ceiling and a long, faded red cushion on the banquette that ran along under a side window.  Neat little tables with chairs faced the banquette.

The place had filled up and the only vacant seats were on the banquette between two men and a really fat lady.  We approached and I asked if anyone was sitting there, pointing at the space.

"No, no!  sit yerselves down!" came the genial reply of the two gents.  The lady patted the space next to her and gestured welcomingly.  Gratefully, I started to sit down, but the space was so narrow due to the lady's bulk that I almost fell into the man's lap on the banquette.  I sat down and then down some more and finally bottomed out so to speak on the boards supporting the "cushion."  I apologized profusely to the man who waved it away.  "No worries, luv."

Richie went to the bar for a pair of Stella's (they finally put on a second shift to accommodate us) and I looked about me.  The lady was looking at me with open curiosity.  

Of course, she started talking to us.  Her accent was "foreign" but I couldn't tell from where.  Richie point blank asked her if she was from the Caribbean and she smiled mysteriously.  She said that she was going to be late for an appointment -- she'd only been sitting here trying to decide between a cab and the Tube.  She said that London's Tube was not very accomodating for the handicapped passengers.  

She said that with her great weight, she found stairs terrifying and exhausting.  But cheerfully added that she was happy being fat!  I told her that she was being a "fat-ist" like being an "age-ist" and she roared with delight.  

She turned to Richie and said that for him, she would make the time to answer his questions.  He leaned forward with interest.  Since she was nearly sitting on me, I didn't have any trouble hearing her as she launched into her difficulties learning French!  "A bit off topic," I thought to myself. 

Again she told Richie, "You can ask me anything!" 

"No, No" we protested sincerely.  But she never gave us a chance to ask anything as she launched into learning English, Spanish being her first language.  She asked me if I spoke French and I answered in it.  She responded (in English) about how hard English was to learn.  I would bet she speaks as much French as our cockatiel...

While I was thinking that, she kept on talking and waving a free hand.  The other hand was digging in her purse.  She pulled some money out and asked Richie to go to the bar for her for two shots of Bell whiskey in a small glass and a "baby" beer, adding graciously that he could have a drink on her.  He declined and went to the bar.  Later, he told me that when he ordered her drinks, the bartender looked up and said, "Oh. Her."  Clearly she was no stranger to the place.  

Now freshly fueled (she'd dumped the whiskey into the "baby" beer) she relaxed, seemingly forgetting her appointment which was quite possibly a conversational ruse at best.  She continued to be as dramatic as a Mexican sunset, waving her hands, making faces and talking incessantly.  She complimented me on my beauty (further proof she was loaded) and admired Richie's hair.

Desperate to say something nice back to her, I focused on her make-upwhich was flawless and I told her so.  She gasped in studious surprise and yelled, "That's the exact opposite of some of what my friends say!  Thank you! Thank YOU!" and lurching toward me began loudly kissing the left side of my face!  It was like being caught at Pompei but with cascading fat, not lava.  With every smear of lipstick on my face she said, "SMACK!"  I was appalled as you can well imagine and shrieked, "No! No!"

The men on my right thought this was hilariously good fun and very nearly slapped their thighs in glee.  Shortly after, they got up to leave, thanked us for the unexpected comedy turn, waved genially and departed.     

Then a tall, exceedingly thin black man wove into view.  He was clearly a happy drunk/drugger who greeted us by saying, "What are three lovely ladies doing in here?" the implication being that our beauty transcended our surroundings.  Richie turned his head and the poor guy hastily back pedaled, a routine reaction to the back of Richie's head.  He apologized profusely; Richie merely nodded.  It wasn't the first time and unless he gets a haircut, it won't be the last time either.   

The man could have been in his 50s but there was no way to know his age. For sure this was not his first beer of the day.  Nor, possibly, his first joint.  If I'd had the proper tools I could have taken out his appendix then and there, no anesthesia needed. 

He was enjoying the music only he could hear and from time to time favored us with a line of song.  He volunteered that Bach and Mendelssohn were his favorite composers.  I couldn't resist and slyly said authoratarily, "And Bobby Darrin..."

"Like, like" he said blissfully and sang another line of something.  It was as bizarre an hour as I have ever known.  Being enveloped in cascading fat was extremely disconcerting let alone the SMACK SMACK.  The fat lady looked ominously near to pouncing again and I knew we had to get out of there.

I looked at my watch, tapped it and said, "Richie, you know we promised to meet the Smythe-Braytons" and he said, "Yes, yes - let me finish my beer."  He did and we fled to the dubious safety of the street and its rushing traffic, all of course driving the wrong way.  The Kings Head up the road was much quieter.  For the moment, I'd had enough pub joviality for a day. 

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