Monday was not a good day.
We buried my Aunt Sheila that morning. She was a lovely lady who always lived life to the fullest, and whose struggles with the disease that killed her were heartbreaking.
And, just like in a bad comedy, other things went wrong. Directional snafus. An incident with the rented van. Clothing getting caught on said carnivorous van and getting torn. Other stuff. Like I said, not a good day.
We headed out of Long Island after the post-funeral reception, after the hugs had been given and the stories been told and the pictures shared. The family had driven all the way up from NC the night before, myself and my parents and my sister and her two children (who did their uncle's heart good by singing along with the Muppets playlist he'd queued up, and who successfully retold one of Fozzie Bear's best jokes). We'd started at 9:30 in the morning, hit the hotel at nearly midnight, and were still shaking off road dust the morning of. So everyone was tired and drawn when we piled back into the rented van to head south, slaloming along the Belt and over the Verrazano, and across the arch of the Goethals Bridge into Jersey and points south.
It had been decided by mutual consent that we wouldn't go all the way back that night. No doubt we could have done it if we'd pushed, but really, we were in no shape. So I got us a couple of hotel rooms at a Best Western just south of Baltimore, and we pulled in at a reasonable hour and unloaded. Mom and the kids went up to one room, where my nephew insisted on watching the dying minutes of the Bruins-Caps playoff game. Dad went up to the other, took off his shoes, and settled in to watch a little TV and relax. And my sister and I went over to the bar next door to grab a beer, because, by God, we each needed one.
(Note: My sister, while I stepped out for a minute to deal with something, also bought me a couple of fingers' worth of Glenlivet. I like my sister.)
And we sat, and we talked, and we sipped our beers - Blue Moon for her, Sam Adams Alpine for me, both draft. She also chatted with the woman on the stool next to her, who was chowing down on a bowl of chowder, and both of us talked to the bartender, a striking woman who'd apparently played soccer at the University of Maryland and who discussed the minutiae of breaking down a bar at the end of the evening with my sister, who's a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and thus knows such things.
Eventually, my sister wandered off to bed. I'm one of the all-time great drink nursers, a trick I learned from my dad, and so my scotch levels tend to go down slowly. So I sat, and I talked with the soccer-playing bartender some more - when she learned I lived in Durham, she began going off about how the soccer pitches at Duke are oddly shaped, and how she'd gotten this close to scoring a goal there once, and how she was glad I wasn't a Duke fan because, really, well, Duke fans - and I sipped scotch.
After a while a couple came in and sat down, and ordered drinks made with Malibu. They'd just gotten in from San Diego, where the weather was apparently terrible, and they were in town to pitch the Navy on the green products their company manufactured. They were friendly, and we chatted, and they chatted with the bartender, and they talked about tungsten coating on light bulbs that would oxidize and disinfect the air, and I talked a little bit about video games, and the bartender took a picture of my business card and passed it along to a friend of hers who wanted to make games.
And then, in a friendly way, one of the folks from San Diego asked me if I believed in the Bible. Now, there are three things you don't talk about in bars with strangers: politics, religion, and sex. (It used to be taxes, but let's face it, taxes are politics these days). Our bartender had reminded us of just that fact as a guy on the other side of the bar spent the entire evening going off about various political topics, loudly enough to drive away the entire UMBC Women's Volleyball team, who'd come in earlier to watch the tail end of the Orioles-White Sox game. (Orioles came back from down 3 and won in extra innings, in case you're interested. Which you're probably not). But here I was, being asked if I believed in the Bible.
I thought about it for a second, and I took a sip of the Glenlivet - the Sam Adams was long gone - and I said, "I believe in the laws of the physics, man's inhumanity to man, and the inability of two Philadelphia sports franchises to ever win a game on the same day."
There was a second, and then they laughed, and I laughed, and the bartender laughed, and we were on to something else. We swapped business cards, and I finished my drink, and then I went back to the hotel to grab a couple of hours of sleep before the alarm went off.
The laws of physics. Man's inhumanity to man. The inability of, well, never mind. Doesn't matter if that's what I actually believe or not. It was the right thing to say in that time and in that place, and it led us out of a place that might not have had as many laughs. For that night, and I think for a lot of nights, that's more than enough.