Friday, September 15, 2017

The Curse (Part 1)

In May of 2002, I was entering the excruciating final marathon stretch of my web site, Chowhound (as described in the first installment of the series I wrote about all that). Someone had offered to connect me with a wine industry mogul who might sponsor the site, so I'd flown to California, where it turned out that this had been an idle bluff (here's a lesson I wish I'd never learned: when life starts really crumbling, a very few angels arrive to help, but demons are also attracted, to rub salt in wounds for no perceivable reason).

This person needed to cover herself by manufacturing a reason not to present me to her big fish. It involved explaining to me what a terrible, awful, and undeserving person I am. So this woman - who I'd never previously met - went full throttle to deflect from her own awfulness, managing to press several buttons I hadn't even realized I had. This echoed a scene several months earlier when my girlfriend at the time manufactured a savage, hurtful fight so she could stomp off angrily as cover for a week-long vacation she'd scheduled with the guy she turned out to have been two-timing me with all along. Good times!

(I'm not insightful because I was born that way. I'm insightful because I've been through multiple wringers. If your computer keeps breaking, you will eventually become deeply expert at computers. By that token, I've learned things about human behavior and associated mysteries via some expensive schooling!)

I'd spent a precious, irreplaceable $700 for absolutely nothing. But one reason I know I'm not a terrible, awful person is that in times of stress - and of inebriation - I only get friendlier. I'm a kindly drunk. And so I headed to one of my favorite beer temples, San Francisco's Toronado, still trembling, but smiling wanly as I entered and asked for a delicious half-pint of Drake's ale. The bartender asked me to repeat - I wanted a half pint? Yes, so I could try more beers! This is my favorite bar, and I don't get here often, and I want to try to catch up on the good stuff!

My beer was poured. I was served, and I tipped more than half the price of the beer. I'm usually a good tipper, plus I over-compensate on bad days. I didn't want anything to go wrong here. Something inside me seemed to have broken, and I needed to hunker down and enjoy what there was to enjoy (resilience is my coping mechanism).

I ordered another half-pint of something else, the bartender served me with a detectable sneer, which I ignored, and I again received my glass like precious cargo and tipped an additional couple bucks. I drank blissfully, imagining myself to be radiating good vibes, relieved to have put a horrific scene behind me.

The third time, I was brought a full pint. I smilingly pointed out that I'd ordered a half. Woopsie!

"No, you really didn't" he replied. Taken aback, I reminded him that I'd been drinking half pints all along, and that I'd explained I'm from NYC and wanted to try as many local beers as possible.

"You ordered a full pint. And I'll charge you for a half, whatever. But I do not want to take any more bullshit from you tonight. I've had it with you."

All blood drained from my face, and I asked where I'd gone wrong. Was it my friendly demeanor? My grateful acceptance of the beer? Or maybe my excessive tipping? I wasn't challenging him; I truly wanted to know! But he couldn't find words. He just scowled and moved on to the next customer. I was one step from being thrown out of a bar. My favorite bar.

This was the beginning of a very strange, very painful period which I and a few friends would come to call "The Curse".

Continue to Part Two

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