The weather outside was not frightful, I mean, it is Northern California after all, which meant a t-shirt and shorts for the gentleman, and a tank top and yoga pants for the lady. None of which is offered as a judgement, merely as an observation.
Drinks had been ordered, and drinks had been made, and delivered, the only thing left was their quiet enjoyment.
Much is made about drinks these days, and sure drinks are important in the fluidic environs of a local bar. But more important than the potables and the sometimes portentous production of such, is the atmosphere that surrounds them. Much like the difference between a cafeteria and a restaurant, where one is designed simply to eat while the other offers dining, most bars are designed for socializing not just drinking, at least the really good ones are. They ain’t called social clubs for nothing.
And the best way to socialize is to converse. And it was during this conversing, someone had brought up Buddhism. Don’t ask me how or why, because I couldn’t tell you, but that is how freeform conversations go, they ebb and flow just like the crowd in a bar.
“I knew a waiter who was at Cronkite Beach once,” I said, adding an ingredient to the conversational mix.
I then relayed the story as I knew it. That waiter had been sunbathing when his foot was struck by an errant frisbee. He sat up and looked around noticing an older bald man standing in the low surf gesturing at him. His gesture was clear: “Throw it to me.”
The waiter rolled over and threw it to him. Pretty soon he and the bald gentleman were having a good old time throwing the frisbee back and forth, chasing down errant throws, and demonstrating different catching techniques. The two men never spoke but communicated purely through the joy of flinging a spinning disk at each other.
After about a half an hour, two more bald men appeared. And then a fourth, and a fifth. Then came a woman with a close shaved head. Eventually the waiter and the original man broke off their game as a crowd began to form. It swelled and swelled until there were several hundred people on the beach.
I took a break from my story, made a drink for the hipster couple at the end of the bar, changed the channel on the TV for another couple before finally returning to the original couple.
“Well?” said the woman in the yoga pants.
“Well, what?” I asked coyly.
“Who was the bald man?” she blurted out.
“The Dalia Lama,” I said.
“That’s a great story,” replied her companion. “I have a beach/religious figure story too,” he added.
His story involved Pope John Paul II’s visit to San Francisco in 1987.
“I was out at Muir Beach and had heard that SFO was stopping all flights to get the Pope’s plane safely off,” he began.
“I was laying there soaking up the sun when I noticed a TWA 727 flying low in a slow arching turn,” he said.
Both his companion and I were now listening more intently, watching him make a slow curving motion with his hand, arching his body sideways while doing so.
“The plane was much lower than most planes and I could clearly see the windows,” he said.
I had stopped shaking what I was shaking, and she had stopped sipping what she was sipping. Even the man sitting next to them was now listening.
“I looked up through the wispy fog and saw a man sitting in the window. We made eye contact.”
The shorts clad storyteller stopped, cleared his throat, and then took a long sip of his meticulously crafted cocktail, before clearing his throat once again, following that by a much shorter sip.
“Well?” asked his companion.
“Well, what?” asked the storyteller.
“Who was it?” I asked surprised by my own impatience.
“It was the Pope, and he made a sign of blessing,” he said.
“Really?” asked his companion.
“Really?” asked I.
“Really?” asked the man sitting next to him.
“No, not really,” replied the storyteller.
“I mean, I saw the plane, but there’s no way you can see in a plane window at 2,000 feet,” he added.
He took a long sip of that same drink and smiled wickedly.
Leaving me with these thoughts:
-“Never let the facts get in the way of a good story” someone somewhere once said. And I’m sure they did it with a wicked smile.
-Atmosphere creates the best stories, just ask Hemingway, Fleming, or even Bourdain.
-Without hyperbole Mark Twain’s “whitewashing the fence” is just a story about a kid painting a fence.
-Unfortunately, I now have my doubts about that waiter’s Dalia Lama frisbee story too. Just saying.