A Most Unusual Encounter
Steve Pause - June 21, 2006
I feel that the following story marks a fitting way to re-start what never should have been allowed to die (DFFQI). It was penned with haste, and as a result is not extremely well written, but it's completely true, and is the kind of story that needs to be recorded and shared with those that will understand and appreciated its significance. Let the good times roll.
• • •
The plan was for me to meet a bunch of old newspaper coworkers at Beff's in Delmar. Josie was the most recent to give notice, and the routine called for a night of boozing at the bar closest to the newsroom. Needing my father to be my driver for the evening, I had to arrive about an hour early as to fit his schedule. That was fine with me, as the pints were half priced until 7 p.m. and an extra hour meant more high-quality, cheap beer.
Of course I realize as we're half way to the bar that my phone was not on person, meaning my former colleagues would have no way to contact me. Couldn't be helped.
I arrived and proceeded to drink, not like a fish as usual, but slowly. I didn't want to be completely wasted when they showed up. I even ordered some nachos, which were much larger than I anticipated, and by the time they arrived, I already had too much beer in my system to make a meal of them.
Looking for a way to pass my time, I began to jot down notes on the back of a place mat. Notes for a story to work on for Giant Robots Fighting God -- the new DFFQI incarnation.
About forty-five minutes pass, and as I start my fifth beer, I hear the door open in the distance and I turn to see if it is my friends.
It's not. So who is it that sits down, not next to me, but leaving one empty seat for awkwardness?
(Pause for dramatic effect.)
I had seen him there perhaps two months before, on the night we all celebrated my liberation from the concentration camp that was the newspaper. I was beyond wasted at the time, and vaguely remembered having shouted across the bar at him as he was walking out after dinner.
Something to the effect of "You're the reason I became an English major... and now I'm unemployed!!"
He had been gracious and stopped to chat for a moment, about what I don't remember.
Now, he sat beside me, a lone wolf with no company to chat with, and with that awkward empty barstool between us.
We exchanged an equally awkward salutation in which he said he was there for "the half-priced pints. You can't bear it." And for a moment I just sat there sipping my freshly tapped beer. I felt a tension in the air, as if I should say something, if for no other reason than to apologize for our previous meeting.
Instead what I uttered was "I'm not drinking by myself, I'm waiting for some friends to show up."
After another few awkward moments of staring down at my beer and place mat, which I was suddenly unable to write on, I turned back to him.
"So I gotta ask you... why are you still there?"
The man laughed a precisely controlled laugh and returned "You know, I've been asking myself that question a lot lately" and proceeded to tell me how the "demographics" of the school have changed since my departure.
It was at that point that the situation was reaffirmed for me: I was sitting at a bar, having a beer with the high school teacher who had the most influential impact on my life as anyone, a man who everyone revered as a serious person who demanded the kind of respect that goes with the name "Generali." For non-Maginn people, the effect might be lost, but it should be understood that it is the kind of situation that I never, never expected to find myself in.
I mentioned that I was taking notes on a story for a website and dropped DFFQI roster names. We chatted about other old names, every now and again a person walking between us to order a beer from the bar. Then I went back to staring at my beer.
As if it wasn't Twilight Zone enough, someone came down and sat in the seat between us.
It was Mrs. Generali.
Mr. G introduced me as a former student and there was a moment of conversation between myself and the Generalis. Mr. G made fun of me for not being able to put a dent in my nachos which were still sitting on the bar.
Then he and his wife began their own conversation, which left me to sit by myself and wonder just what the fuck was happening. I didn't want to think about it too much, because I figured my brain would explode.
So instead I pounded my beer.
The bartender came round with another one, a Spaten (a pint for $2.50, as Mr. G said, can't be beat), as I had been drinking all afternoon. I fished in my pocket for a few bills, at which time the man behind the counter uttered the five words that in all of the parallel universes in existence I never thought I would hear. Ever.
"This one's on Mister Generali."
I turned and looked four feet down the bar, and Mister Generali just smiled, and all I could do was the same.
Just what the fuck was going on?
I looked down at my watch, and saw that it was already 5:45. My former colleagues were supposed to have been there at 5. Figuring that they were a no-show, I ordered a Powers whiskey on the rocks and downed half of it. Sure enough, as I stood up to go outside for a cigarette, I saw not Rod Serling to wrap up the tale with an anecdote about life as I expected, but Josie and a train of old faces looking to start drinking.
I tried to explain the situation, but the whiskey worked quick and it came out sounding childish, something along the lines of "That's my high school English teacher, the man who helped me become an English major." Somehow that didn't accurately capture the moment, but it was all I could muster.
We all sat outside on the patio chatting, and after a while, Mr. Generali, and his wife, exited the bar. He waved, and recalling the awkwardness of drinking by myself, I said "See, I wasn't just making it up, I really was waiting for friends."
And with that, Mister Generali walked off into the sunset.
• • •
Now, I've drank my share of beer in my short life. Some might even call me an "alcoholic." But I'll be damned if that wasn't the best beer I ever had. The one that Mister Generali bought for me. On a warm early evening in May 2006.