No Tab, No Tip

I was reading in the bar one night, reading Hemingway’s Nick Adams Stories, if you’re interested to know, and this guy sat down beside me. He was wearing a winter coat and a heavy backpack, neither of which he took off, so he had to sit on the front edge of the stool to keep from falling backward.

“What can I get you?” asked the bartender.

“One of those,” he said, pointing to the tap nearest him, his words noticeably slurred. “Actually, make it two.”

The bartender had already begun pouring the first. “Who’s the other one for?” she asked.

“For my friend in the corner there.” He jerked his head back in no particular direction.

“What friend?”

“The blonde girl.”

“I don’t see any blonde girl.” The bartender gave him his first pint. “I’m just going to pour you the one, and I’ll get you to pay for it now.”

“No tab?”

“No tab. That’s five-fifty.”

“Well,” he said, “No tab, then no tip.” He laid a five and two quarters on the bar, snapping the coins against the wood. I could see a fair amount of cash showing when he opened his wallet – at least a couple of fifties and a whole wad of twenties. “Can I see menu,” he asked, but the words were unrecognizably slurred.

“Excuse me?” the bartender said.

“Ah men-you,” he said, drawing out all the vowels.

She placed one in front of him. He flipped it open with an awkward flourish, almost hitting me with his elbow, scanned down the page with intent.

“Excuse me,” he said after a minute, and he did nudge my elbow now. “Do you want to split a burger?”

“Um… no,” I said. “I’ve got some wings coming.” He looked offended. “Thanks for asking though,” I said. “The burgers here are really good.”

He flagged the bartender. “Could I order half a burger?” he asked.

She looked confused. “Half?”

“Yeah. Half a burger. I’m not spending twelve bucks on a burger.”

“No,” she said. “They don’t come as halves.”

“Well, could I just get the burger? No fries or salad?”

“Sure.”

“How much would that be?”

“Twelve dollars.”

“But it’s just the burger.”

“And the burger is twelve dollars. Do you want it or not?”

“Fine. I’ll have the burger.”

“With fries and salad or without?”

“With, of course. I’m getting my twelve dollars’ worth.” He slid the menu down the bar and finished the rest of his pint. “And can I get another beer?”

“Sure. That’s seventeen-fifty all together.”

He put a twenty on the bar. “I want two-fifty change,” he said. “No tab, no tip.”

“I heard you the first time,” she said. She handed him his change.

“Tell the kitchen to put a hurry on it. I’m starving.”

“Sure. I’ll tell them that the no tip guy needs it right away.”

“Thanks,” he said.

A waitress arrived with my wings. They were gone by the time she returned with the no tip guy’s burger.

“Hey,” he said to me as she put the plate down, “It’s not too late to get some of this. I’ll sell you half this burger for six bucks.”

I shook my head and pointed to the pile of bones on my own plate. “Thanks,” I said, “but I just ate.”

He shrugged, then took his fork from his paper napkin and began banging it on his almost empty pint glass. The room hushed, looking for the source of the noise. “Attention,” he said. “I’m selling half my burger for six bucks. You can have half the fries and salad too. Just six bucks.” He surveyed the room expectantly, but there was no response, only a few chuckles before people returned to their conversations.

The no tip guy stood by his chair, the plate still proffered, but no one was looking at him anymore. He put the plate on the bar and sat again. “What’s the matter with people?” he said. “Twelve bucks for a burger.” He still made no move to eat it. “Excuse me,” he said to the bartender. “Can I get another pint?”

“Five-fifty,” she said.

“Start me a tab?” he asked.

“No tab.”

“No tab, no tip,” he said, and he put exact change on the bar. He took a bite as she poured, and then he said it again, his words muffled both by alcohol and by a mouth full of food, “No tab, no tip.”

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3 comments
  1. jordanvetro said:

    I still remember you telling me not to be afraid to record the strange things we hear, to learn the peculiar way that people actually talk. I still don’t feel like I get the kind of great source material you do – though it’s probably just that you’ve learned what to remember and write down. This was great.

    • Jordan, I also embellish reality outrageously. Remember, it’s not a lie if it makes the story better.

  2. jordanvetro said:

    I definitely appreciate that. I’m also applauding your trained eye which finds exactly which bits of reality to embellish, and just how to do it. I love it.

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