I was talking to a friend at the bar one night, right at it, arms up on it. The pub was crowded, near Christmas, one of those nights where people are all out trying to find just where the hell their holiday cheer has gone, and this guy reaches over me with his mug, his big sleeve-rolled-up arm over my head, his sweaty pits right at nostril height.
“Hey,” he says, trying to attract the waitress’ attention, “How about some service here?”
“You’re fourth in line,” she says.
“I’ve been waiting ten minutes now for a damned pint!”
“Still fourth.” She somehow presses five pint glasses between her hands on the way to the dining room.
“Son of a bitch,” he says, but at least his arm lowers, and I realize that my friend is saying something interesting after all, something about cell phones and the restructuring of oral culture, which is the sort of thing he talks about.
The waitress comes back in, starts filling another set of glasses, and the arm is back over my head.
“Come on, just get me a pint,” the guy says, sounding like a threat.
“Third,” she says, “third in line.”
“Just fill it, bitch.” He reaches across me to grab her wrist, his bulk knocking me from my stool and pressing me against the bar.
The waitress breaks his hold by turning to the thumb, then grabs him by the arm and pulls him sharply forward, all in one motion. His off balance body falls toward her, and his chin hits the bar loudly enough to stop conversation.
“Bitch?” he says, the word full of question, as if he cannot quite comprehend a world where a waitress only just on the plus side of five feet can split his face open on a bar top. He dabs at his chin, checks the blood. “I’m calling the cops,” he decides at last. “That’s assault.”
“There are twenty people here who saw you put hands on me first.” She throws him a bar rag. “This is for your chin. Now go home.”
He seems not to hear her over the sight of the blood on his fingers. “I should smack your stupid…”
“Don’t threaten me,” she says, back to pouring pints, her voice even. “Twenty people, remember. Now leave, or I’ll call the cops myself.”
“Bitch,” he says, one last time, but defeated now, and he turns through the door.
There’s a long silence at the bar, as if everyone is afraid to go in search of their conversations. Then my friend catches the eyes of the waitress, lifts his pint in her direction. “Wow,” he says, “I’ve never loved you more.”