Life at the Center:Teetotaller meets Bartender and Valentine Heroine. Vol. 43, February 2017

Did I tell you I’m a teetotaler? Yeah, I’m really boring. Pretty much my whole life – just too much of a control freak to want the slightest mind-altering substance on board. Really, in excess it’s been very damaging to certain family members, and I’ve never seen it add to anyone’s edification. In my work and social life, my lack of interest in going out for a drink has lost me more than a few friends…

So Cliff and I are flying from New York recently and I strike up a conversation with our seatmate. Guess what his profession is…Bartender! Obviously this conversation will be going nowheresville.

Or will it? I could dive deeper into discussion, intrigued by a life I don’t have much real understanding of. In this case, my curiosity gets the better of my preconceptions.

“What’s the best part of your job? I venture to ask, wondering what could possibly redeem the job of helping people to get drunk. I really have no idea where this conversation might go.

“Well, the best part is the worst part,” he replies. “It’s the people.”

“How so?’

“Alcohol reveals people’s truths. They can’t cover it up. They finally get honest about themselves.”

Hmm, that’s something for me to ponder. There must be a reason just about every community in the world finds a way to loosen people’s normal ways of interrelating and perceiving.

He continues, “And on a good evening I get to conduct a fantastic party. Everybody opens up and gets along. Then of course there are the ugly times. That’s the worst part of my job. Not all our truths are that great.”

Even though I now see some value in people opening the lid on their secrets, I challenge him about alcohol revealing truth. “Have you seen that alcohol allows people’s highest truths and spiritual insight to shine through?”

He doesn’t give me a straight answer, instead launching into a well-educated discourse on Plato’s Divided Line and the differences between reality and the illusions of reality. I invite my husband Cliff to join the discussion, which is on the verge of going over my head… I haven’t expected us to go into heavy-duty philosophy in a conversation about tending bar!

He then takes the line of thought into advanced mathematics and nanophysics…! I innocently ask what he might know about the fascinating 11 dimensions that I’ve heard about in String Theory. Our seatmate gives us a very cogent explanation of the theory until he no doubt realizes that the fuzzy look in my eyes means that he’s WAY out of my depth.

He now brings up Magical Realism in art, which happens to be a favorite topic of mine. And that leads us back to New York City and the arts, to the Broadway shows we’ve just seen and our backstage visit at the musical Hamilton. Whew! Back on solid ground again. And our seatmate is fully conversant in the realm of theater as well. Turns out I’m talking to quite the renaissance man…pretty well blasting my stereotype of a barkeep out of the water!

Back at home, I come across a blog blog on how to be a more interesting person: Be interested in OTHER people. Open our minds and hearts to others, even – and especially – to those whom we might not immediately recognize as sharing common ground.

And I realize that was quite the rollicking conversation between the teetotaller and the bartender. Maybe he really enjoyed the opportunity to bust through boxes other people have tried to put him into because of his job. I was just interested in him, and as a result I got to take him out of my mental box.

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