I read his obituary in my hometown paper. Truth be told, I was startled, but not entirely surprised. His obit read in part: “lived life by his own rules” and “survived by his wife and three children.”
He was the same age as me, and we had gone to the same high school. After that, we lost touch until about a year ago. I did not recognize him when he walked up to the bar. He was balding, a bit overweight, and walked with the aid of a walker.
In between gasps of breath, which were abetted by a tube connected to his little oxygen tank, he asked me my name. Not an odd occurrence to be asked for my name these days, but one that I always take in stride.
It was his name that threw me for a loop.
I am by no means old, and neither was he, so I found it hard to believe that the hunched over person in front of me was my high school friend.
“They say I’ve got lung cancer,” he said.
“That is terrible,” I replied.
“Doctors,” he said with scorn and derision. “What do they know?”
He had always been rebellious. He was the first person I ever knew who lost his drivers license. He had caused such a commotion at a simple traffic stop that he had been hauled off to jail on our lunch hour. That certainly was the talk of the school. He was also the first person I ever knew who was suspended from school.
“Nobody tells me what to do,” he was fond of saying back then.
“I’ll have a bourbon, neat,” he had said, closer to the present, coughing slightly.
In the bar business we are conditioned to be aware of over-serving people. But when it comes to personal health choices the waters tend to get murky. If a pregnant woman orders a glass of wine, who are we to decide if she has weighed all the possibilities and decided that a little wine might just help? It really is a slippery slope. I have watched a woman downing a martini with one hand while supporting a breast feeding baby with the other. I have seen fathers feed their infant children raw shellfish and mothers leave their children hatless on outdoor patios. We are servers, not moral police. If what someone is doing is not illegal, what are we supposed to do about it? We have certain responsibilities, but only certain responsibilities. And we can lose our jobs if we overstep them. Covid has certainly pushed those responsibilities to the forefront. As well as what certain people’s expectations are of them, as well.
The last few months I have heard of people wanting their server/customer service person fired for asking them to wear a mask. Now I am hearing about people wanting the same people fired for not asking someone else to wear a mask. Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. Welcome to the world of customer service.
My high school friend probably wouldn’t have worn a mask. Nobody ever told him what to do. He was just that type of person.
“Hey bartender,” said another customer. “There’s someone smoking a cigarette right outside the front door.”
Twenty feet from the front door is the law. It is even marked with white tape at our establishment. And you’d be surprised at how many people stand well within that line. The reason for which I will leave up to you to determine.
There stood my high school friend puffing away in between hits from his oxygen tank. A tank that had a warning on its side reading: “Danger! Oxygen! No Smoking! No Open Flame!” I managed to get him to move, begrudgingly, to the white line, the smoking thing I left up to his family.
“He won’t listen to anybody,” said his wife, refusing to go outside.
I’m not sure what my high school friend ultimately died of, his obituary didn’t say, but it probably was a competition between several things. I did get contacted by his family shortly after the obituary ran. He had left considerable medical bills in his wake and his family was opening a Go Fund Me account to help with them.
Leaving me with these thoughts:
-Living by your own rules is often a euphemism for not living by any.
-Being a maverick if often lauded in American culture, that is, until there is an emergency.
-Narcissism is the word for extreme self-centeredness; if you believe the doctors.
-Never listening is not the same as never being told.
-Doing things your own way is admirable, at least until you expect someone else to clean up the mess.
-R.I.P. old friend. You passed way too young.