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Friday, Dec. 24, 2004
In a continuing episode of weirdness, my Christmas present imploded yesterday.

How, you would ask, did a Christmas present implode when for all intents and purposes it wasn’t Christmas yet? Simple.

I got what I wanted back in September, when Ally allowed the spending of large sums for this lovely Toshiba, and my lap has been uttering contented sighs ever thusly.

I was updating my resume (yes, you read it right), and for whatever reason I was not on AC power but using the battery since I was ensconced in front of the old desktop computer at the time. Desktop unit being situated on . . . well, a desk, in a room which we refer to as the Pseudo Office. The laptop usually hangs out in the family room in the vicinity of the recliner.

For some reason the laptop didn’t like being on battery power and it shut down with virtually no warning. Just went to black screen before I could even utter a proper “Wha the hell?” or anything.

And no amount of plugging, unplugging, shaking cursing or screaming could get the laptop to turn back on. I mean, I was seriously concerned that I had fried something internally on this barely three month old unit. Given that a whole bunch of newly updated financial and company information was on the hard drive, I was not in my right mind all night. This was serious stuff, folks.

So this morning I called the Toshiba help line. Shaking just a little. But I got right through! (I mean, somebody picked up right away, after 307 touches of numbers at the menu prompts. That’s to be expected, right?) I got a guy! A guy who spoke flawless English and had his shit together! And in less time that it will take me to finish this paragraph, he had me run through some plug and battery exercises, got the demons purged from the Toshiba, and leisurely wished me a good holiday. My laptop runs just fine, even if I am a bit leery about turning it off now . . .

This incident reminded me of two things. Firstly, there are still a few Tech Guys in the world who know their stuff. There aren’t many, but boy when you get one it’s almost a religious experience. Complete with girlish squeals from the customer. Secondly, even though I’ve been messing about with computers since before my college age daughters were born, I still know nothing about them, I am not conversant with 99% of the software out there, or even the operating system that runs the fool things. Which scares bloody hell out of me.

I’ll say this. That Tech guy gave me back the only Christmas present I’ll get this year. But it was a darned good one, and I told him so.

There’s a whole network of barmaids and bartenders (there are differences, you know) who’ve run through my life at the Watering Hole. The Greek is something of a legend for finding and hiring them, they wander into our lives and we train them as only good customers can, they serve their time and then vanish in a moment. Then the process starts all over again. The Greek doesn’t seem to hire for longevity, but for looks and a lively personality and, of course, for their proclivity towards the sale of overpriced adult beverages.

But there is one, the one exception, and my heart broke yesterday for her.

I'm going to use her real name because to do so would be the only respectful thing. Lindsay got hired along with two of her sisters several years ago, and she was just a waif of a kid, barely 20 years old, and the Greek set her to waitressing and cleaning and back barring and all the other schlep jobs. The oldest sister got the bartending gig and the other was a waitress as well.

About six months into her employment the only thing most of the regulars had to say about her was how quiet she was. Barely spoke, although she had a beautiful smile and was very efficient in her work. A regular demon for all phases of what she did, always showed up on time, never bitched (if you have any dealings with the bar or restaurant business, you’ll appreciate how rare that quality is). It was as though she lived for the general drone of dullness that cleaning tables and moving food and drink called for.

Somewhere along in there something came to light, I don’t know if her sisters let it slip or what, since I can’t imagine Lindsay ever saying anything about it. A story resurfaced, one that had been the horror of this area a couple of years back.

Lindsay had two toddler boys who, on the cusp of a hot summer day, fell into a swimming pool. They had been left unattended at a babysitter’s house for a moment. By the time they were missed, and discovered and pulled out, one of the boys had died. The other was unconscious, and was rushed to the hospital. He was in a coma for a long time but recovered with significant brain damage. Alive, but not really alive.

It was a story that had the entire community in an uproar for weeks, the newspaper went on a crusade about gates around swimming pools, there was much television coverage and it eventually resulted in an ordinance being passed concerning fencing around pools in general. It was due to Lindsay’s boys, it was their legacy.

Like I said, none of us at the Hole knew anything about Lindsay being the center of this whole tragic shit storm until it leaked. I’m certain that she would have preferred that it stayed that way, because why on earth bring it up in that environment, after all? It didn’t suit her tenor, that being cast as an unfortunate mom, or a sympathetic character study or anyone deserving pity. That just wasn’t the quiet Lindsay. She who quietly rocked, and wanted for nothing more.

Years passed and she was eventually moved into bartending, and everyone could see it coming. The speedy, streamlined waitress took to slinging drinks like it was second nature. There was no one faster, or smoother, or more accurate in her work. And another thing. All of a sudden she’d matured, right before our eyes, she’d grown legs and stuff. She became gorgeous, and had green eyes and that thousand watt smile was coming out more often.

There wasn’t anyone I’d rather have serve me, and stand by with an amused look when I told her about my day, and see her chuckle. You get close to these girls, in a platonic way, you consider them friends and they consider you a semi-harmless old fart with a happy wife and, there’s no way to get around it, a generous wallet. Tipping is not optional for a good bartender, and Lindsay was a damned good one indeed.

She and I had a conversation about her outside life just a couple of times, on slow days. I wasn’t one to prod or pry, I knew enough about her tragedy to know it wasn’t something that she wanted to go into a tremendous amount of detail about. But it did come up one day.

“I won’t be here for a couple months, Outfoxed. Thought you might get all worried about me if I didn’t let ya know.”

“Really? What, you’re on vacation or something?”

“Naw. It’s my son, I need to take him to a place for a while.” And she was her normal quiet self, wiping the bar and adjusting a longneck or two.

I sipped, and considered, and she gave me the slightest sideways look that said, “It’s okay, you can ask. I don’t mind.”

“Something for some tests, eh?”

“She leaned elbows on the bar edge and sighed. “Yes, they think they’ve got a program that will help, some experimental stuff. He’s made enough progress and I think he’s ready” Some gentle questioning revealed that he hadn’t spoke, maybe couldn’t speak at all, but responded with looks and grins and limited movement.

I also found out a lot about the girl. A girl who spent every possible hour at her sons bedside, either at home or in one hospital or another. Who had a boyfriend who had volunteered to take several classes to learn how to deal with the boys handicap, how to deal with the mother when she broke under the strain. A boyfriend who we at the hole knew and liked and were rooting for.

I sipped a couple extra beers that lazy afternoon and spun out my time with Lindsay, she of the green eyes and shy smile, and bid her goodbye with a hug and my best wishes. And a pretty healthy tip, too.

It started a pattern over the next year, Lindsay would be off for months at a time at this middle-of-nowhere treatment facility with her son, and without warning would show up at the bar and just slip right back into her bartender job as though she’d never left. The Greek, a gruff and surly fellow who never hesitated to fire anyone for any reason whatsoever, never said a word about the arraignment, though if he had I suspect that a fair number of us regulars would have taken him out back and had a little talk. A short and heated talk.

Because Lindsay was our girl. There were a couple dozen grown men who would, without question or discussion, open wallets and checkbooks and raise a grand in ten minutes if she were to ask. She never did. I don’t know how she paid for the life she was going through, but she never asked for a dime.

Generally every Christmas, we gave it to her anyway. Christmas Eve parties at the Hole were the biggest night of the year for the employees, and the regulars and semi-regulars alike would shower tips on them in a gluttony of giving. It’s just something that was understood and quietly accomplished. That little come hither tilt of the head, and Lindsay would trot over to my stool and I’d slip a fifty or a hundred in her hand and she’d get this look, I swear (and I’m coming to tears just now writing this) it was a look of just pure and shining gratitude, that I knew a little of what she went through, and for all the joshing and hilarity and multiple beers that I knew her sadness and wanted to ease her road in the only good way I could. She’d look, and I’d get a hug out of it, and I’d say, “Hang in there another Christmas for me, lass.”

I did that for 3 years running. Exactly the same way every Christmas Eve.

I was certainly looking forward to doing it one more time until I got the call yesterday. From a long ago bartender who still directed traffic at another Hole, and kept up with all her old friends. She called, and I listened.

“It’s about Lindsay, Outfoxed. She told me to let a few people know so she could spread the word without having to be there. Oh God this is so bad . . .”

“What, Angie? What’s going on?”

And her voice broke and I knew what it was already. “It’s her little boy, he died during the night, something about developing pneumonia but he’s gone, Outfoxed, he was her whole life . . “ and the voice broke again and she was inconsolable.

I sat, and was still. Sometimes there are not even thoughts good enough to stop the shiver of what life could be, or why. I got up and looked at cloudy gloom in the sky outside, and wondered and loved and made do with the fact that there was no answer for this. Not one at all.

I made it all the way until the afternoon when Ally came home and I was sitting in the big chair watching television without seeing anything on the screen, and she knew by the look on my face. I told her, and grabbed her as she grabbed me and we wept like children. We have raised without effort three of the best and brightest and are so incredibly lucky in our life. Lindsay will never know that, the luck or the grace or whatever you’d choose to view it as, the light that came to her and flickered out without pity.

A day before Christmas Eve for this little one, and his incredibly resiliant mother.

I get too close to these people, their tragedy is palpable and their grief is quiet.

Lindsay, your life is as precious as that of your son. I raise a warm hand to his memory, and the courage that you have. Bless you honey.

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