Every Tuesday afternoon, five friends played pickup basketball, then went to their favorite bar and grill for a bite to eat. They made quite the melting pot: a Roman Catholic, a Protestant evangelical, a Je wish guy, a Muslim, and an East Indian Hindu.
The men walked into the bar loudly replaying their games and slid onto their bar stools. The bartender looked up and smiled. He held no particular metaphysical beliefs and was always amused by the moments of combined hoop-and-mouth shooting this bunch of irregular regulars brought in with them.
He gave a welcoming pat on the bar and said, “What’ll it be for you guys today?”
The Roman Catholic said, “I’ll have a glass of Italian red wine, that kind from the seven sacred hills of Rome, and a thin white wafer to melt in my mouth. Because,” raising his voice so everyone around could hear, “I feel so great after our game today that I’m going to text my priest and take Communion right here—have that whole transubstantiation feeling, the body and blood of Christ, right now.” He crossed himself, made a wrist-shot gesture, and pointed to the sky. “And, oh, by the way,” he went on, “when we came in, I noticed that woman sitting over there. See the one with all the papers who looks like a saleswoman? I’ve seen her on TV. She’s a radical Planned Parenthood type. She pressures businesses into getting abortifacients into their health insurance. She’s probably here trying to sell your boss on it, too. Would you please speak to her? God abhors that, and if she keeps coming around, well, I’m outta here.”
The bartender smiled, nodded, and turned to the Protestant evangelical. The evangelical cocked his head at the Catholic and said, “Oh, he thinks he’s so special, always looking down his nose. I’ll just have a beer with a bacon cheeseburger. I don’t need all those trappings. That’s dead Christian stuff. I have a living, personal relationship with Jesus. He and I talk all the time. And that’s the real heart of Communion. I’ve already been baptized as a special, born-again child of the Father, so I don’t need anything more than that. And, oh, by the way”—he lowered his voice—“check out those two men over there by the window. They keep nudging each other kinda funny, and one just put his arm around the other. Would you please ask them to leave? The Bible says that’s an abomination. They’re disgusting.”
The comment about being special had given the Jewish guy a start. “Born again? Special? You?” he said to the evangelical. “You and Saint Holy Whiner over there are just hand-waving grandstanders. You’re not from the twelve tribes of Israel. I am. We’re God’s chosen people. And I’ve noticed every Tuesday we come in here that you don’t even know how to eat. You go for pork, beef, and cheese—together!? Sheesh!” Then he turned to the bartender. “I’ll have a glass of Manischewitz wine and a kosher matzo ball in chicken soup. And, oh, by the way, that guy at the end of the bar has a jacket on with a Syrian flag on the back. Would you please ask him to leave? He’s scary. Keeps looking around all nervous, like he might be plotting something. Sinister, you know? Have to watch it. Can’t be too careful with people like that.”
The bartender looked down to the other end of the bar at the man in the jacket and smiled, then moved over to the Muslim guy who was looking quite hungry. “I’ll just have a glass of plain water,” he said. “It’s Ramadan, and I can’t eat anything until after sundown. The Qur’an says I have to fast, cleanse my body. Even water is pushing it a little. But Allah will understand because it’s hot, and I just played really hard on the court. And, oh, by the way—catch that woman in that group toward the back, the one in the low-cut red dress. It’s pure trouble. Would you please ask her to put on a jacket or a shawl or something, or else to just leave so decent men can eat? It’s shameful before Allah, and she’s just asking for it.”
The bartender raised an eyebrow at this, took a deep breath, and moved down the bar to the Hindu, who said, “I’ll have a glass of Chivas on the rocks because it reminds me of Shiva the Destroyer, and I destroyed these guys in one-on-one hoops today. I want to watch Chivas melt those ice cubes like I melted these brick throwers. Plus, I’d like a big plate of saffron rice to sanctify the occasion. And, oh, by the way, see those two guys all dressed in camouflage sitting at that table over there behind us? They’re hunters. They’ve been out killing some animal or other. Brahman killers. Totally bringing bad karma in here. Probably have a deer thrown in the back of that big camo-painted truck outside. Plus, they reek. Would you please ask them to leave? You can smell them all the way over here.”
The bartender just nodded, finished his note for the cooks, and said, “OK. Got everybody. It’ll just be a few minutes on the food, but I know what you guys need, and the kitchen can handle it. I’ll run your cards and bring everything out together.”
As he turned to enter the food orders into the computer and pour the drinks, he glanced in the big mirror behind the bar. His face reflected back in the sparkled light off the rows of bottles lined up beneath the mirror. He saw himself smiling. Yup, he thought, another fun Tuesday with these guys. They always have so many more games going on besides just basketball. So, OK, he thought. Let’s play.
A few moments later, one of the guys signaled the other hoopsters at the bar that the bartender was going around to all the people at the tables they had pointed out. Oh, good, they thought. He’s really doing what they’d asked.
By the time the bartender came back over with their food and drinks on a big tray, they were deep into loud one-upmanship, bantering and comparing jump shots and theologies.
The bartender said, “All set,” and started to serve. First he set the glass of Manischewitz and the kosher matzo ball in chicken soup down in front of the Catholic guy, who jerked back with surprise.
“Wait. That’s not my—“
The bartender interrupted, “Hope your priest on the phone knows how to do Communion with Christ-killer food,” he said. “I’ve heard that it’s quite good for a special Mass on forgiveness. Scrumptious, too. And, oh, by the way, the Planned Parenthood woman over there? She’s an obstetrician. She innovated an improved technique for managing obstetric emergencies that has now saved thousands and thousands of women and their babies nationwide.”
Next, the bartender placed the Muslim’s glass of plain water down on a coaster in front of the evangelical. “There,” he said. “Nothing special. I hope you and Jesus have a good talk about your Father and how spiritually nutritious these waters are, same as from your born-again baptism. And, oh, by the way—those two guys at the table by the window who sometimes lean an arm on each other’s shoulder? One of them plays linebacker for the Packers. The other is a philosophy professor at the university. They’ve been together for years, and they say they’ll pass along your kind regards to their two daughters. They also said they’d be happy to talk to you anytime out in the parking lot about your ‘abomination’ syndrome—either intellectually or physically.”
Hearing all this, the Jewish guy looked a little alarmed as the bartender moved over to him and, with a great flourish, set down the evangelical’s foamy beer and bacon cheeseburger. “Kosher as all get out,” the bartender said. “It comes with an exceptional dispensation from Hairy Tony, our resident rabbi of the grill back there who fired it up with all the flaming menorah blessings of Jehovah just for you. And, oh, by the way, I happen to know the man at the end of the bar with the Syrian flag on the back of his jacket. He’s a pediatrician for Doctors Without Borders. He’s been coming in recently since his last stint in a bombed-out hospital in Aleppo. He often does seem nervous because of PTSD. But today, he’s meeting with a couple of other docs about forming a team to go back in there. So, yes, sometimes he’s a little jumpy, and he also keeps looking around at the door a lot because the others are late.”
By this point, the fasting Muslim guy was sitting fence-post upright. He seemed to bristle like barbed wire as the bartender carefully picked up the frosty glass of amber Chivas on the rocks and a dark blue bowl full of yellow saffron rice that the Hindu guy had ordered, placed them gently on a tray, and slid them slowly down the bar to him.
“I don’t know Ramadan from ramen noodles,” the bartender said. “But I do know that I’m in charge of the clocks around here—opening time, closing time—and I want to fully accommodate you. So I’ve set the clocks two hours ahead, and it’s now officially past sundown. So, please, bon appétit. You’re one of the lucky ones, you know. You don’t have to go hungry. And, oh, by the way, I spoke to the young woman back there in the low-cut red dress about your request that she cover herself. She said that’s her favorite dress. She wears it when she feels good, and she feels good here with her friends. She’s charming. And helpful, as it turns out, because then she made you an extraordinarily kind offer. She said it sounds to her like you’re not so afraid of her dress as you’re afraid of a woman’s power. So she said if you’d like to face your fear by seeing even more, she’ll be lifeguarding in a bikini tomorrow at Copper Beach. That’s the one just past Pier Seven. There, you and Allah can get a good look. Plus, she said, it’s a short pier where you and Allah can take a long walk. She said she phrased it that way so as to avoid recommending to you an anatomically impossible sex act, which she thought might offend your delicate sensibilities. Very considerate, don’t you think?”
The poor Hindu at the end of the row for sure now didn’t know what to expect as the bartender winked at him and handed him the Roman Catholic’s order of red wine from vineyards on the seven sacred hills of Rome and a little white, melt-in-your-mouth wafer on a doily.
“I’m sorry,” the bartender said. “You’ve had to wait the longest and you’re probably really hungry. But I’m sure you’ll understand that Shiva the Destroyer evidently zapped your bowl of saffron rice down to this little cracker—just like Chivas melts ice in a glass. Still, though, by some apparent miracle—maybe courtesy of your friends the Christians down there—you’re not left with nothing. That Chivas ice water somehow got converted into wine. So here you go.
“And, oh, by the way,” the bartender continued, “I had a very moving conversation with the two guys dressed in camo at the table behind you. They’re not hunters. They’re in the National Guard. They’re all sweaty and dirty from practice maneuvers out there in the heat today. Their big camo-painted truck outside isn’t carrying a dead deer. It’s full of first-aid supplies, rescue equipment, and bottled water. You probably didn’t notice that there’s a third glass of beer on their table, in front of an empty chair. It’s for their buddy. He’s the one who died saving that little girl from the submerged car in the big flood over in Pine County exactly one year ago today.”
The bartender stepped back. He looked into each of their faces. They just stared. Blinked. He scanned up and down the bar and looked around the room. Everyone seemed content except the five players. “Anything else?” he asked.
The guys looked back and forth at each other and sat quietly for the first moment since they’d arrived. “Buzzkiller,” one of them said. They swung their legs off their stools and walked to the door in a low chorus of mumbles and head shakes.
The bartender looked at the array of food and drinks they’d left behind on the bar. “Hmm.” It was time for his break, so he walked around to the customers’ side of the bar and sat down to the abandoned feast. Laughter and murmurs of conversations from the patrons surrounded him. He said softly to himself, “I love Tuesdays.”
He looked up and again saw his own face in the big mirror. He noticed that he looked quite perky—full of delight actually—smiling, with a new sparkle in his eyes. Maybe it was just the reflected glint off all those glass bottles in rows beneath the mirror. No, he said to himself, it’s more. All the gifts of the world are laid out right there before you. You can either take them or leave them and be glad and grateful for that. And, he thought, if you want to see the face of any god of any universe at any time—and, if you’re so inclined, give it a nod as you catch it in whatever game it might be playing—just catch the glint from your own eyes in the face in the mirror. We’re tricky bastards, we humans, he thought, chuckling, surprised then to see himself wink. It’s all right there. Smiling.
The next day, the bartender took the day off. He got out into the sunshine—and took a walk down to Copper Beach.