The Green-Eyed Monkey Business
The view at Mike's Booze school was that nothing in recent history brought bartending back from the mundane servitude of premixed drinks more than the martini. True, to a purist, the classic James Bond "shaken not stirred" martini drinker was long gone. This new wave of chocolate, watermelon or the ever popular appletini was a godsend. Mike's rather straightforward and politically incorrect opinion was that they were really "Chink restaurant drinks without the umbrella." Yet he conceded that the martini had changed the cocktail world for the better. Now a bartender could experiment. The more exotic the ingredients, the more panache that went into making it, the higher the price point. It was akin to charging twenty dollars for a basic chicken breast entree when it was labeled as suffused with pomegranate essence, Herefordshire cream and Indonesian saffron.
At ten bucks a pop, the martini or margarita bar tab for two people having a leisurely meal is easily forty dollars. At night's end the wait staff and bartender pool the gratuities. My PhD cohorts were slaving away as adjunct professors, pulling in twenty-five grand teaching five courses a semester. Here I was set to double that working six nights a week from five to ten. All I had to do was look great in a bow tie, be circumspect in any political conversations, sound reasonably intelligent when discussing best sellers or current movies, and ogle Donna's attractive body when the opportunity presented itself.
Besides having my days free to read Proust and Günter Grass, I had health and dental insurance; and though I saw little future in what I was doing, it would do until something better came along, especially with Donna in the picture. It wasn't exactly a head-over-heels infatuation, but she was the type of woman I gravitated to and could see myself settling down with.
The Green-Eyed Monkey Bistro opened in September. With a week of hectic bartending under my belt, it came as a shock one Tuesday evening to see Jackie give Donna a back rub at the far end of the bar. Nothing really strange about a seated massage between business partners, is there? But it was followed by an endearing nuzzle, some intimate whispering, and my precious Donna spinning the bar stool around to deep kiss Jackie. Now I knew how Dante felt when he learned that his beloved Beatrice had married.
I don't know why I didn't spot the relationship between her and Jackie at the outset. Replaying the mental video tapes now, the fact that they were much more than business partners is rather apparent. It was a Beauty and the Beast leitmotif, akin to the Aristotle Onassis and Jackie Kennedy pairing of years gone by. Why would an attractive, cultivated woman like Donna choose such a rough-edged, wide-bottomed life partner as Jackie? Were some women really that great in bed? It couldn't be money, wit or charming social skills. Jackie could spit long distances and blow her nose using one finger with the best of professional athletes. But, as with any adolescent male, that appeared to be the extent of her appeal to the weaker sex.
My main observation regarding gays is how much of their behavior is overstated. It's a caricature of a caricature. I've rarely seen women do the limp wrist thing, yet that's what most gay men will copy, to say nothing of the lisp and a dozen other specious affectations. The same holds true for women acting masculine. Jackie had the habit of rolling up her tee shirt sleeves, selecting the widest possible belt, and slicking her hair back in a style that would have done a Sixties rock group proud. She always sat with her legs crossed in a figure four and rarely spoke ten words without swearing, "fucking bullshit" being the mildest epithet.
I enjoyed the work, and they took very good care of me financially. I put my torch for Donna on the back burner and used my literary talent to proofread the ever-changing menu. The bistro was a success. They had found their niche with regard to price point and the food was excellent. We were closing in on the first-year anniversary, making plans for a celebration that would thank the regulars and attract new patrons. Donna wanted to redo the interior and tinker with the food offerings, nothing drastic, but she was of the opinion that change is the life blood of the restaurant business. I parroted that opinion as well when she asked me, but I had no way of knowing that I was taking sides against Jae until she straddled a barstool one night, ordered a double Jack Daniels with a beer chaser and let me have it.
"So she's got you under her thumb now."
There was no sense playing dumb regarding the subject matter. "I was agreeing to be nice, Jae. That's what employees do to keep their jobs. If you want, give me your opinion and I'll bow down before it as well."
"Forget it," she said with a dismissive wave of her hand.
I know enough about women, gay or otherwise, to know that when they suggest forgetting about something they really mean the opposite. "I take it you're against a redo of the dining area."
"Not the way she wants. She's found some fruity asshole, and I do mean fruity, who wants to pad his bank account. I handle the books; I know what we can and can't afford. She lives in an ivory tower."
Jae shook her head in dismay and beckoned another Jack Daniels. I fixed a single this time and made busy wiping glasses, knowing that my role, as set forth by Mike's Bartender's Bible, was to listen and console.
"She's so sensitive. Every little thing sets her off. I can't yell at her any more. I have to tell her how much I love her every twenty minutes. She wants to go away next weekend to a romantic inn, visit some four-star restaurants and sample their menus. She talks about selling this place in a few years and opening up a bed and breakfast in Vermont. Can you see me, the poster girl for dykes, putting heart-shaped chocolates on pillows and flipping blueberry pancakes?"
I didn't know how to answer so I avoided it.
"What would be your idea of a nice weekend?"
"Christ, I never think about myself anymore. Everything's always about her." She sat back, her drink balanced precariously on her knee. "To tell you the truth, I'd like to go to some honky-tonk place, shoot pool, guzzle beers, and eat food that drips down my shirt, maybe Hampton Beach or visit the Les Canadians at Old Orchard Beach. I'd love it if we went to a hot club, danced until I couldn't stand up, came back to the motel, and I fucked Donna's ass off."
She checked my face for any reaction to the last segment. Evidently I held a poker face quite well. "So, that's my dilemma. I love her, but she wants to turn us into people who think alike. I truly don't know if it's going to work. Sometimes I want to up and walk away, but I'd die without her and the business would go to hell in a week. I'm just depressed; I'll take a two-hour Jack Daniels vacation tonight and be back at it tomorrow."
"I don't know if you like baseball. The Red Sox are playing Sunday afternoon. If you'd like, we could scoot down, catch the game, inhale a few sausage grinders, and crawl into a pub or two before we have to be back here. Sundays are usually slow anyway."
She perked up. "That sounds great." She caught herself. "This isn't like a date?"
"We're buddies." I invented a new handshake, and we ad-libbed our way through it. No, it wasn't a date in my mind, but I'd feel better in public with her if she'd wear decent slacks, forego the Doc Martins and lose the biker image for a day.
I got my wish. She hadn't dressed for a Daytona Beach racing event. Yes, she was an embarrassment but only in the cute way truly nutty sports fans can be. She wore a Red Sox cap on backwards, an overly snug GO SOX tank top which, thank god, didn't show that much of her ample cleavage because it was covered by an official Boston game jersey that stopped at mid-thigh. She had on blue soccer shorts largely covered by the aforementioned jersey and knee high red socks which were garishly complimented by scuffed blue-and-white running shoes. Fortunately she left the huge foam finger, cow bell and air horn in the closet.
On the ride down Route 95 she filtered through my CDs and pronounced my musical tastes, largely classical, as "faggy." I countered with tales of Mozart's womanizing and mentioned other lusty composers, leaving out Tchaikovsky for obvious reasons. As we neared Fenway Park and became stalled in traffic, she opened up a bit. The only major league baseball game she'd ever attended was after she'd come out of the closet to her family, and her dad had taken her and a younger sister. She thought it was a nice family experience until her father began making cracks about how nice it must be to go into the women's room when you were horny and "get your rocks off."
As the afternoon wore on and after a few beers and two Fenway Franks, she filled in more of her sexual history. There were tales of crushes she had on girls as far back as eighth grade. I'm sure those beside us and in the rows fore and aft enjoyed hearing the prurient details. "You know, if a guy asks a girl out and is turned down, what's the biggie? But when a woman mistakes the signs and is turned down by another woman, whoa, you're labeled a 'perv' and the word spreads like wildfire. Ironically, it can be a good thing because other lesbians know what the score is and you can get dates. It's that first contact that's a nerve-wracking killer."
The Sox were victorious in extra innings. It was late, so we forewent the pub scene and joined the multitude heading north. Whether it was the beer and sun or the many hours she'd been putting in at work, she fell asleep as we crawled through Boston traffic, rarely getting out of second gear. When I looked over at her, I smiled. She was like a little child who'd been on a wonderful outing. She'd agonized in the souvenir shop before selecting a pink Red Sox's cap for Donna which now nested in her lap. But, at second glance, one could see a conflicted, thirty-three-year-old woman who had fallen hard for the wrong person. I suppose there was some self-interest on my part. If I could drive a wedge between Jae and Donna, then maybe I could be next in line for Donna's affections. The fact that my beloved was gay wasn't something I considered an obstacle. There resides in all humans an idea suggested by Euripides that we can change the course of events if we only try hard enough. Hannibal crossed the Alps, did he not?
Donna changed the dining room décor. It wasn't to my taste and Jackie privately railed against it, but the customers didn't mind and business was as brisk as ever. Their relationship ran hot and cold. Either they were all over each other or not even on speaking terms. It wasn't uncommon for Donna to ask me to tell Jae that the linen supplier had shorted us again, despite that fact that she was only three feet away.
Jackie and I often had a drink together. We'd have a nightcap after we closed, and sometimes she'd stop by my apartment during the day to vent and have a beer. Despite the fact that she could be a royal pain, I liked her. Balzac opined that every man should have seven women. Though the number was arbitrary in my view, I saw his point of having a female to fit various roles--one for sex, another for intelligent conversation, a third to produce and rear children, etc. Jackie was a drinking buddy. We also enjoyed sports, even talking Donna into springing for season tickets to the Portland minor league hockey and baseball teams, some to be doled out to customers but others to be used by Jae and me. Furthermore, I tended to agree with Jae's side of the argument most of the time. She was an excellent business woman with an eye and ear for what people wanted. She was correct, Donna's ideas came from an aesthetic rather than practical side--garnishing the meals with fresh, edible flowers a costly case in point.
Jackie revealed that she had never been with a man. She'd had a number of one night stands and an affair with a married woman, but Donna was her true love. When she wasn't busy being needy or pouting because she couldn't have her way, the princess, as Jackie dubbed her, was all anyone could want in a companion.
This is not to say that I wasn't aware of Donna's viewpoint. I lent a sympathetic ear to her position as well, though it was accompanied by wine rather than Budweiser. Her conversation always began the same way, "I love Jackie but--." I did my diplomatic best to mediate the chasm and was often successful. My reward was a hug and peck on the cheek from Donna and a "So she's tied a knot in your dick too" from Jackie--an observation that wasn't that far off base.
They had their ups and downs for three years, but then a few things happened that brought matters to a head. The first element was a legalization of their union, something akin to legal gay marriages in nearby Massachusetts. Jackie proposed the idea, thinking it would appeal to Donna's romantic nature. A honeymoon to Hawaii was included. Donna vetoed the idea. She thought that any publicity concerning their relationship might adversely impact the restaurant, perhaps turn it into a gay and lesbian hangout, something they had purposely avoided up to that point. Then Jackie approached the adoption issue. Donna felt they barely had time for the business, let alone raising a child. Both these agenda items might have been the tip of some deeper iceberg baggage they were toting around. I sat with both separately and on one occasion, together, but no compromise was reached and a split occurred.
Jackie moved, unofficially at least, into my apartment. She just kept coming over with a change of clothes each night until the closet was full and continued a nightly crashing on my couch after a few drinks and a regurgitation of all the hardhearted things Donna had done during the day. When it became apparent that I had a roommate I went to Donna and confessed, "I'm on your side. There's nothing between us. She sits on the couch and drinks, then passes out until morning." Though I didn't say it outright, I implied that I was happy to be a spy, taking notes on Jackie's next move if, indeed, she had one.
We had grown enough as an establishment to close one or two days a week. During the winter it was Sunday and Monday. When the weather warmed up, it was Monday only. Sunday night, therefore, was the time Jackie upped the ante of her boozing. When I left at eleven one night, she and Donna were at a back booth talking, although it was more Jackie's pointed rhetoric being delivered to a subdued Donna.
I was home long enough to shower and almost get to sleep when Jackie stumbled into the apartment and headed for the living room couch. The TV blasted long enough to bring me to complete consciousness. Someone wants attention I thought and was resolved that she would have none of it. Then I heard the unmistakable sounds of puking that were not coming from the bathroom.
I dragged her into the shower where she slumped down as I dowsed her with warm water. There was a mild yelp, but then she lifted her head heavenward and let the gentle spray do its job. I went back to the living room with a bucket of soapy water and began damage control. She had tried to make it to the window, a point in her favor, but detoured to my favorite TV chair instead. I did the best job I could and crop dusted a can of Mystical Spring air freshener over the area.
When I got back to the bathroom she had moved out of the nozzle's direct path but was seated on the drain, her back against the wall, the water rising on all sides. I gave her a cold blast which had a sobering effect and then fished her out. I stripped off the wet clothes and stuffed her into an extra large University of Maine sweatshirt. During this process I became aware of a risqué tattoo featuring two green monkeys, one holding a banana like a dildo.
An hour later she was on the couch drinking black coffee, a plastic bucket by her side in case another wave of nausea struck. The cause of this drama was the news that Donna had officially broken off their personal relationship; in fact she had found another life partner--a man. When those words assailed my ears, my own world came crashing down as well. If there had been a bottle nearby I might have chugged it, then thrown up in the apartment as well. How stupid could I have been! Someone had beaten me to the punch. While I, clad in camouflage, had spent months creeping through the underbrush toward to my goal, another predator had strolled up and nonchalantly tipped his hat as she grazed on the grassy plain.
Jackie said she'd done everything she could to win Donna's favor at the last minute. "I told her I'd do all the things she wanted, but she said it was too late. We'd grown apart. I think I'm one of the few lesbians that ever scared her partner straight." Her weak attempt at humor was quickly punctuated by a bout of dry heaves.
The next morning I gave Donna a call and then went over to the Monkey. As I pulled up, a short, squat gentleman dressed in khakis, a teal Izod polo and a matching belt depicting spouting whales was just leaving. He got into a Honda Accord that had a magnetic door sign advertising a national real estate chain. Donna was inside dressed in jeans and a promotional Green-Eyed Monkey tee shirt. Judging by her drawn look, the night hadn't gone well for her either. She wore rubber gloves and was sweeping up broken glass.
"Quite a mess," I said bending down to hold the dustpan.
"Let me do it, you'll cut yourself."
I backed off and let her work.
"It's been coming for some time. I go to bed with a knot in my stomach, and when I get up there's a whole nest. It's as much my fault as hers. We're both stubborn. I told her I didn't want to be involved anymore. I still love her, but we are hurting each other too much. Then Dave's name came up since I've been spending quality time with him the last few months. She accused me of some things, and I didn't deny them very well. I said that, if she could live with you, then I could be with Dave. She went nuts saying that yours was a platonic relationship and started throwing things. I haven't checked behind the bar, but she pulled a nutty, grabbed a whole bottle of vodka, broke the top off and chugged it. I don't know how she didn't cut herself to pieces. I ran upstairs, bolted the door and called Dave. By the time he got here, maybe fifteen minutes later, she was gone. I figured she'd go to you."
"She threw up all over my living room. She probably had alcohol poisoning, but I got her calmed down and now she's out like a light on the couch. What's going to happen to the business?"
"Dave wants to buy her out top dollar. If she won't sell then she can buy me out, and I'll start over somewhere else."
She turned and swept some more. I stared at her lovely behind and wondered if she had a matching green monkey tattoo, envious of Dave Hammond, who would be privy to such knowledge. I grabbed another trash bag, and we double-bagged the shards of glass. I picked up a mop and began working on getting the booze stains out of the hardwood floor while she talked.
"For the past year I've been so lonely. I was jealous that she had you to talk to. I don't know how many times she mentioned your name as having come up with a solution to a problem. There were some women I was attracted to but then Dave came along. He was so supportive. His wife passed away from ovarian cancer two years ago. I don't know what I am, bisexual I guess, but Dave accepts that--very few men would."
I wanted to drop my mop, run over to her, fall to my knees and swear that, except for bestiality, I could be tolerant of any proclivity she might have. But I didn't. I rinsed, squeezed the mop thoroughly, and began a second pass of the area with clean water.
She'd grabbed some paper towels and was wiping up the bar. "As I get older I'm not as sexual as I once was, not that I was ever a dynamo. Jae wanted it every night. I'm not built that way. Sometimes I just want to cuddle."
She finished her project, came over and stood next to me as I worked. I stopped and used the mop as a crutch to lean on.
"I can't express how much I like you," I said and then waited for a response. None was forthcoming so I continued. "Being in the middle tears me apart. I feel like a child whose parents are divorcing. If I'm nice to one, the other will think I don't care. And when the decree is finalized, where will I live?"
She took my hands in hers. "I'd love to have you come with me if I open a new place or stay here if I can keep the Monkey. But, if you went with her, I'd understand that too. She needs someone strong in her life right now."
She reached up and kissed me on the cheek very close to the mouth. "You bring so much class to the bar area."
Ah yes, the heartfelt words every man deeply in love wants to hear from a woman. I wanted to gamble right then and there, declare my libidinous intentions, rip off her clothes, and solve the green-eyed monkey tattoo debate on the now pristine floor, even if there was a slight Clorox aroma in the air. But I didn't. I hoped she would keep the bistro. I'd try to convince Jackie that that was the best course of action. At least I'd be close to her that way. I hugged her and said that Dave Hammond was a very lucky realtor, which was truer that she ever imagined.
It was very dark back at my apartment. Jackie, still in the oversized sweatshirt, was sitting on the couch. "I was vacuuming and I sucked up a lamp cord; it short circuited something. I don't know how to fix it. All the other apartments are fine."
I plunked down beside her. "It's over. She's with the Hammond guy now."
Jackie threw herself over me as if protecting me from a grenade blast. She was weeping and muffled a wet, "I love her," into my shoulder. I didn't say anything though I wanted to. I tried getting up to reset the circuit breaker, but she pinned me even tighter. There's a line early on in Macbeth, "As two spent swimmers that do cling together/And choke their art." That's me--king of the literary allusion for what happens in my life. What other earthly reason is there for a PhD?
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