This happened when I was drinking in a bar a few years ago. It was on a weekday after a gruelling workday when I felt the need to have a few stouts. I don’t usually drink dark beer, but I guess, the occasion called for it. All I could remember is how upset I was about work and I couldn’t wait to go to the nearest place to unwind. Anyway, I finally found one. It was raining hard out and what’s worse, I wasn’t able to check the weather app before heading to the office. All I had was the day’s newspaper that I used as a shield. As I entered the bar, the bell in the doorway chimed, which prompted the barkeep to emerge from whatever he was doing underneath his station. For a moment there, I had a funny picture of him in my head that he spends most of his time down there, just waiting for the cue of the chime until his services are needed. Of course, I didn’t manifest any of this so as not to get in trouble and thrown out right away. Besides, I wasn’t in the mood to begin with. I ordered whiskey, neat, to shake off the cold. It took three shots before I got settled in, then I ordered beer. Only a few people were in the bar, it being a weekday, which worked for me fine since I could use a lot of quiet that evening.
I stayed as far as I could from anyone. I think most of the patrons there got that. The people who were there had that look. You know, that “leave me alone, unless you’re some hot chic or you can solve all of my problems” kind of look. I was soaking wet from the rain, I felt worse. I was literally dripping from my seat. I sat away from the door and the windows, which meant taking the center of the bar where it was warmer. Behind me, was the aisle and a few tables where customers sat and there was a pinball machine stationed at the south wall. I tried to light a cigarette but my lighter won’t work, so I asked the barman for one.
Half an hour had passed, and the door chimed again. This time, it wasn’t some shady, grumpy guy, soaked in the rain, but someone very different. The man who entered got the same look as I got when I entered, only he wasn’t a stranger. The barkeep told me that he considers it a phenomenon how that chime gets everybody’s reaction on a weekday but almost none when it is a lot crowded on weekends. “Even when the chiming goes non-stop, nobody would turn, believe me.” Then he laughed it off and waited for the man to make his approach.
“What’s up, Barry?”
“Yes, the usual, please.”
I would have preferred to drink alone but he sat right next to me and downed his drink. I wanted to tell him off, or probably just move at the corner, but I was too tired to make an effort and I didn’t want to give up my warm spot. He was well dressed, he wore an expensive black suit; the linings looked sharp — not a lint on it — and it was tailor-fitted, probably Italian. Despite the heavy onslaught the rain was bringing, his hair still appeared to be in place. I thought he must have arrived in a car with a chauffeur perhaps, but it was highly unlikely since the bar was on a backstreet, there was no way a car could pass through. He sported a clean pompadour, like one of those haircuts mafia had during the prohibition. He was like a movie character who decided to step out of the film strip to have a drink.
The pompadour guy was a bit chatty though for my taste. He and the Barry guy went about a lot of stuff and they seemed to genuinely enjoy the conversation. When I unearthed the lighter from my pocket (to give it another try) I noticed something strange, something out of place — Johnny wasn’t wearing any shoes. He wasn’t barefoot, no, but what he had on was a pair of beach slippers. At first, I thought that his shoes were rain-soaked, but I didn’t see a drop of rain on him. He was completely dry. I must have been rudely staring at his feet that he began noticing me. When I sensed this, I immediately looked away and tried to act casual to avoid further damage of any sort.
“They’re pretty aren’t they, old sport?” He talked like Fitzgerald’s Gatsby. He’s also beginning to look like him too, except for the choice of footwear.
“Yes they are, I mean, I didn’t mean to stare, I’m sorry.” This I delivered sincerely.
“Don’t beat yourself about it, old sport! I would do the same if I’m in your shoes — only, I won’t wear any.”
“Wh-What? Excuse me, I don’t think I follow.”
“Sorry, old sport. I thought you already knew. It appears that Barry here hasn’t been a very good host.”
“I’m sorry, Johnny, I thought you wouldn’t come tonight.”
“That’s alright; I didn’t plan on going either.”
The barkeep then turned to me and said, “I was supposed to let customers know about Johnny’s choice of footwear before he comes in the bar. I mean if there should be new faces coming in, such as yourself.”
I didn’t know what to say. Then the barkeep continued, “He pays me for it. Adds more tip, I mean.”
“Why is that necessary?” Somehow, I regained the courage to ask a question.
“Simple, old sport, simple. So I don’t have to repeat my sorry tale.”
“I wouldn’t call that sorry, Johnny.” Said Barry.
“No, old sport, don’t worry, we’re good. Don’t feel bad about it, okay? Besides, it’s been a while since I’ve told anyone about it. You’ve done your job well, Barry.”
“Thanks, Johnny. That meant a lot” Relieved, Barry stepped back to resume his bar duties.
“Well, how about it, old sport?”
“What about it?” I replied.
“Do you want to hear the story?” He pulled out a cigarette case and lights a stick. He’s dashing with how he did the whole thing.
Obviously, I didn’t want to hear it. I was still hung up on what happened that day at work, but I also didn’t want to offend the Gatsby guy again.
“Sure, let’s hear it.” I lighted a cigarette myself. My trusty lighter finally worked.
“Well, I have this condition.” He started. “As you can see I dress up for the occasion, and I do it all the time, except of course I don’t wear shoes.”
I nodded to imply that I was interested and listening.
“You could call it a compromise. You see, I’m in sales — international trade if you will. For as long as I bring in the dough, I get to wear whatever I want.”
“I understand.” I readjusted my seat to face him. “But why not pick an attire that would match your… I mean, that.” I of course referred to his slippers.
“Well, old sport, my good friend, it’s because I want to wear suits! Besides, I don’t know anyone, or have heard of anyone having the same kind of style! I’m one of a kind.” He sips on his martini.
“If I may be frank, why don’t you wear shoes?”
“Ah! Straight to the point!” Gatsby guy slammed his hand on the bar top.
“Well, old sport, you know how we all have nightmares? Huh, do you, old sport?” He leaned towards me, it was extremely close, I thought he’d give me a kiss or something. I didn’t respond and waited for what he’ll say next.
“Well, old sport, what if I told you I didn’t wake up from mine? I mean, every time I wear a pair of shoes, it just takes me.”
“Take you to where exactly?” I lowered my tone to match his, we were almost whispering.
“Here goes, old sport. When I was a kid, I think I was in grade 3 at the time; I woke up late for school. My parents were strict as hell, about punctuality most especially. So I crammed and was trying to get dressed even if I was still half-awake. On the way, boarded the school van, I noticed something twitching in my left shoe. At first, I thought it was just a spasm or a throbbing vein from all the hurrying that I did. I was asleep during the second period when I felt the twitch again. But it wasn’t a spasm or a vein that was causing it for sure. I mean, I could feel something moving in there, in my left shoe. It was somewhere mid-foot beneath the arch. I was seated at the back row so the teacher didn’t notice me. It was a public school, and at that time, a class was comprised of forty to, sometimes, fifty students — so no teacher ever noticed anyone. I thought that my foot was rebelling against me, that it wanted to go back home and get the entire body a well-deserved sleep after the baseball practice the day before. So I tried to sneak up on it, I untied the lace, and gently pulled out my foot. Even with great anticipation, I still wasn’t ready for what I saw next. A rabid-looking mouse jumped out of the shoe! I screamed and my classmates did too. The mouse ran off around the classroom but it didn’t know where to go. Many of my classmates climbed up their seats and they were screaming non-stop in disgust. Nobody saw that the dreaded thing came out of my shoe, I would have been so embarrassed. But a bizarre thing happened. The mouse went back to my abandoned left shoe on the floor, to seek refuge, I think. It stayed there for the longest time until our teacher got the janitor to take care of the thing. Of course, the janitor had to take the shoe with him to avoid the further commotion. When he got back, he returned the empty shoe to me but I didn’t want to touch it anymore. I went home barefoot.”
“You were traumatized.”
“Yes, I was, old sport. But not because of the mouse.”
“What do you mean?”
“That’s the wonder about kids, old sport. Things are just so much clearer to them.”
I said nothing.
“Sure I was traumatized about the whole thing, but it wasn’t because of the mouse. It was the janitor’s action that shook me.”
“So that’s the reason why you don’t want to own shoes.”
“What? I didn’t say I don’t own shoes. I said I don’t wear them.”
Dumbfounded, I drank what’s left of my stout.
“You see, old sport, after that day, I realized that the mouse treated my shoe as its shelter, its own home. And after a series of therapy sessions, the doctors and my parents tried out many ways on how to reverse the effects on me. You know, they tried to fix me. Well, you see, I didn’t need fixing at all. It took me a while, but I finally found a way to cope with it. One day, I placed a little piece of cheese inside of a shoe and eventually started doing it for all the shoes I had. And guess what happened next?