Never do in December, what you will need to apologize for in January

It could have been a smoky, dimly lit bar with jazz playing. But it wasn’t, because there’s no smoking in bars, and, well, jazz hasn’t been a staple in them for years. However, it was still a bar, and if there’s one thing a blinking neon cocktail sign still signifies it’s comfort — or anonymity.

The bartender was polishing glasses, not so much because they needed polishing, but because modern glass-washing machines use sterilizer as a final rinse, and if the glass is not allowed to dry fully that bleachy taste lingers.

The bartender may or may not have known this. It could be that in the doldrums of January, he had nothing better to do.

A man entered the bar and looked around. Newcomers always do that. Nobody looks around quite like a newbie.

“Can I see a beer list?” he asked, furthering the conviction that he had, in fact, never been there before.

“A shot of tequila,” he said, while studying the list intently.

“Any particular kind?” asked the bartender, still polishing that glass.

“It’s a shot. It doesn’t really matter.”

That’s not necessarily a belief that many hold, but a shot of tequila is only going to be on your tastebuds for a second, so it probably really doesn’t matter much. Sometimes it’s about the journey, and sometimes it’s about the destination.

She walked in about five minutes later and it seemed like he was genuinely surprised.

“Hey,” she said.

“Hey,” he replied.

Before she sat, she too looked around.

Every new customer is a potential new regular. Much of it depends on the bar, some of it depends on the bartender and very little of it depends on the drinks, contrary to what you may have been led to believe. Anyone can make a margarita, but whether it is a good margarita depends wholly on the bartender and the bar (for hiring that person) — not the other way around.

“I’ll have a margarita,” she said.

“But not too strong,” she added.

“Maybe I’ll have a shot of tequila,” he said, acting like it was his first of the evening.

She eyed him narrowly. They both sat in silence until the drinks arrived.

“Well, what did you want to talk about?” she asked.

“I just wanted to say,” he began before looking at the bartender, who took notice, and walked away to the other end of the bar to polish a different glass, as if being 5 feet further away changed anything. But it did. It was neutral ground. And that became obvious once the man started explaining.

“I just wanted to say I was bummed about how things went at your parents’ house,” he said.

She folded her arms.

“I didn’t mean to drink so much,” he added.

“What do you mean, ‘you didn’t mean to’?” she asked.

“Well, since you said you were driving …”

“That didn’t mean you could get drunk,” she replied, cutting him off.

“Well,” he said.

“No, not ‘well.’ There was no excuse for that.”

“If you hadn’t brought the wine …” he began.

“We were going to dinner at my parents’ house. Was I supposed to not bring anything? You certainly didn’t.”

“But it was my favorite wine,” he said.

“That doesn’t change anything. You embarrassed me in front of my parents. Again.”

If there is one thing we learn from the holidays, it’s that stress doesn’t cause problems, but it sure exacerbates them. Just compare a busy bar in December with a busy bar in January — same problems, totally different reactions. Nobody gets that worked up over something in January, unless it’s about something that happened in December.

“You caused a scene,” she said.

“Only because I had too much to drink,” he answered.

“And whose fault was that?”

“You brought my favorite wine.”

The conversation was getting circular. And it wasn’t the first circle for the two of them. But it sure seemed like it might be the last.

“I’ll have another shot,” he said, gesturing for the bartender — nominally out of earshot — to come back over.

“You’re joking,” she said.

“Well, we are in a bar,” he said.

“I think you are missing the point,” she said.

“That I am trying to apologize?” he asked.

“First of all, you are not actually apologizing. And secondly you are not ‘sort of apologizing’ because you think you were wrong, you are ‘sort of apologizing’ so I won’t be angry at you,” she said.

“What’s the difference?” he said, drinking his tequila shot.

“The difference is everything,” she said, getting up and leaving her untouched margarita on the bar.

“Well, I’m certainly not going to apologize to her if she acts like that,” he said to the bartender several minutes after she left.

The bartender just smiled for two reasons:

• That guy wasn’t going to have to worry about apologizing to her anymore.

• Neither of them were ever coming back.