Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Thursday, June 26, 2008

On the House

"Hospitality is making your guests feel at home, even if you wish they were."
-Author Unknown

I know of a pub owner, an elderly man in a small village in Ireland who is renowned for his curt, razor-sharp manner and an alarming tendency to bellow insults at his customers.
His rudeness knows no boundaries and he strikes me always as a caricature, an exaggeration of a miserly fellow from one of Charles Dickens' more heart-rending novels.
A cousin of mine brought her friend into the pub one evening. The latter was unfamiliar with both the area and the pub owner except that which my cousin had warned him of beforehand.
"Whatever you do," she advised, "please, please don't ask him for anything extra."
He stood at the bar and asked, with a genuinely innocent intent, if he might get a few lumps of ice inside his drink.
The pub owner looked at the newcomer with distaste. His single eye was like a glinting chip of the requested ice. His lip curled.
He spat,"you can have ice. Stand outside in the cold with your glass, you'll get your ice."
The pair crept to their seats, iceless, like frightened mice. The fellow would not try something like that again.
I attended the place some time ago for the birthday celebration of somebody who knew somebody else who knew somebody related to me.
As midnight crept by, the pub owner, as is his weekly custom, passed around an enormous tray of complimentary sausages, bacon and sandwiches. Whatever else one may say about him, he surely fed his customers well.
I was not certain about whether to accept any of the food: if I took a superfluous amount I might suffer from his wrath.
I watched a woman hesitate, sizing up the different offerings.
"What will I have?" she mused, fingers dangling, playing silent piano chords over the warm snacks.
He roared at her to hurry up and get on with it. He did not notice that I jumped a good number of feet into the air at the thunder.
Somebody else made the dreadful mistake of saying "no, thank you," which led to the pub owner shouting about ingratitude and the terrible waste of his hard work.
I quite considered vacating the building when I observed him verbally tearing into a customer who selected too much food.
"Don't take it all!" came the mighty growl.
A friend seated next to me was not at all hungry and had no appetite for greasy food but dutifully took some small pieces when her turn came and hid them under the table.
I considered it a fortunate occurrence that I was actually hungry and I consumed a couple of sausages with shaking fingers.
One wonders how he manages to have any patrons at all. There must be a reason.
It is this: the atmosphere, the jovial spirit among the customers on any given evening is not to be surpassed by any other pub for miles. There is always live music and singing, uproarious laughter and genuine warmth, and while the pub owner remains solidly behind the bar cleaning glasses- he employs nobody- or serving drinks, the party is unbroken by his surly demeanour.
One must understand that these people do not visit the pub for him, but for the company of their friends and family. To tourists, however, it is a mild form of entertainment to watch such singular behaviour.
When Spouse visited Ireland last year I wished for him to know of this infamous pub owner, wanted Spouse to experience first hand something unique and special. Like my cousin before me, I strongly urged Spouse not to ask for anything extra, not to look the pub owner in the face but to simply sit back and watch the performance. I knew that Spouse had never seen such an ill-mannered businessman.
As it turned out, he never did see any of what I wanted him to see.
The pub owner behaved like a decent fellow all evening long: he never raised his voice, neither did he bark any caustic answers. When passing the sausages around the pub he was, if not meek, then at least cordial.
"Come on," he would say, "have a few more. There's plenty to go around."
I looked about the pub for the fellow's twin brother I was convinced must exist, for I felt sure that we were being duped.
He provided drinks during the evening with not a single opinionated comment, no sarcasm and not a hint of the crudeness we were all familiar with.
I sat for hours but, despite my waiting expectantly, he showed none of his usual traits. It had never happened before and other customers made mention of it afterward.
I was rather disappointed and, half joking, apologised to Spouse for the rather dull show. The evening as a whole, on the other hand, was thoroughly entertaining and was indeed a get-together worth remembering for years.
I still have great difficulty reconciling the contentious pub owner with the almost-amiable man who Spouse met and who none of us had ever seen before.
I am again reminded of the curious, ever-surprising nature of people.


Pappy said...

I've heard if you can't hit it or drink it, it is of no interest to an Irishman. Great story once again The. I have gone back and read the posts I missed while I was away and you didn't disappoint. The poem was another winner. Jesse Jeans in this house. You need to do a chap book of those Irish story poems. Pappy

Beth said...

hmmm, I wonder why he was different. Perhaps he did remember you and did notice you jump in fright when he had bellowed. Perhaps he noticed you with spouse and wanted to give you both a special evening. Perhaps his bad manner is an act. Or perhaps he is on new medication, has fallen in love or started a blog....who knows.

Pauline said...

I had to chuckle at the fact that when an unexpected rudeness didn't occur, you were disappointed. I have given up trying to make sense of human behaviour.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Texican, I'm really glad you went back and read some posts, and particularly that you liked the Jesse Jeans poem! I do have a lot of those stories, I could put them together. They do have a theme...

Beth, you might be right. After all, Spouse was a stranger in town and he might have been conscious of that. Then again- he wasn't very nice to my cousin's friend who was also new... so I don't know. I like all your possibilities. We just don't know about people, what pain they're in or what they're feeling. It's hard to avoid judging them but we really don't know what's going on inside a person's heart.

Pauline, I try to just let people be, and while I wonder about them, I do know they're all different- even from themselves on certain days! It makes life interesting.
I was half-disappointed because I thought it a unique Irish experience and wanted Spouse to share some of that pub atmosphere.
Then again, it's nice to think that we had a lovely evening.

Jaime said...

"His single eye was like a glinting chip of the requested ice. His lip curled."
I love this! You are such a good story descriptive! This sounds like a scene from a movie.
I would love to see this man in action...being a people watcher, I think I would be quite fascinated with him and his gruff you think he was a teddy bear inside all this time?

polona said...

ohhh... you tell these stories so well... it's funny that we feel disappointment when somebody acts in a friendlier manner than we expected... we are strange creatures, are humans...

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Polona, thank you!
It's true it was odd I was disappointed but I wanted to show Spouse one typical thing and it didn't even happen. But we had a good evening all the same.

Please look around, explore my writing, leave a crumb:
I welcome comments and thoughts.