Too often judgement calls must be made when a customer walks into the bar. Before pouring a pint, building a cocktail, or pulling the tab on can of cheap beer the bartender must try and know his customer.
One afternoon, a few years back. A haggard waif of a man walked into my bar. He took of his jacket, folded it neatly and placed it on the bar stool beside him He was wearing short sleeve t-shirt that revealed arms mottled with cheap looking tattoos. He ordered a beer politely. And then retrieved a book from his jacket. I scanned the title and saw it was a Walt Whitman anthology. That is heavy reading that I might have managed three decades ago in a high school English class I disliked. The man had a few beers, read a few pages and then retrieved the Globe and Mail from the end of the bar and flipped to the editorial section. He turned the pages methodically, making sure not to crinkle the edges with his well wrinkled and rough hands. As he drank he always placed his glass exactly where he had picked it up from.
He asked me what I thought of the upcoming election and where I weighed in on the Reform Party. We discussed federal and provincial issues as well as developments in the Middle East. He was very well informed.
The man politely asked me where our washrooms were situated and limped away slowly. I guessed him to be in his early sixties. But I had to know. He did no look the part of university graduate, or librarian.
When he cam back out I asked him. “How long were you in for?”
“Thirty years. How did you know?”
” Just a hunch. Jailhouse tats, a lot of fight scars. The methodical way you do everything. You obviously had a lot of time to read because you are very well informed. A man in jail has a lot time to educated himself which you obviously have.”
“I was too dumb when I was a young man but spent my time getting smart. I’ve been out for a year or so and speak at schools about the importance of right decision making.”
I didn’t pry but he volunteered his life’s story and it was fascinating. I’ve run across several former residents of Club Fed and have been lucky enough to be regaled by their life experiences.
I treat every book the same. Until I read the whole thing I cannot judge it by it’s cover.