I typed the previous entry on Friday night at a little place called Gurmán, which does not cater to the kids and so is crowded and smoky at different times. I wandered in out of the soft rain and chose a small table. There were a few guys leaning on the bar, but only one table was taken; a guy in a blue windbreaker that identified him as a transit worker sat at the opposite end of a row of three small tables. With a glance I surmised that he had been there for a while.
Normally I start with tea, but Gurmán doesn’t really seem like a tea sort of place. When the girl finally decided to stop by my table I ordered a Mušketýr (rhymes with “Musketeer” and with “beer”), and after coming up dry for new words to write I set to work editing some older ones.
The guy two tables over asked me something in czech. I thought he wanted to know what time it was, but I was a bit tentative when I answered. I’m pretty sure what I said was correct, but he apologized and asked me the time again in broken English. I answered again, he thanked me, and turned back to his beer. For a few minutes, anyway. Before long he was back. In czech he told me his name, Petr, and I told him mine, DÅ¾erý. In english he asked if I could look at something on the Internet for him. “PromÃn, nemám Internet,” I said, or something like that. He returned to his beer.
A short time later, when we were both wondering if the beer girl was ever coming back, he called out my name. I don’t remember what he opened with, but it was obvious he just wanted to talk. Wait — I do remember. He called me a workaholic. I explained in a mixture of languages that I had been lazy all day, so now I needed to work. This time there was no avoiding that the guy wanted to converse. We began to chat, but my eye was on the dwindling battery meter on my computer. I really did want to wrap things up before I ran out of electrons. Finally I did something which is very difficult for me; I asked the guy to give me ten minutes while I finished my work. He was a little affronted, I think, but more apologetic. “Deset minute,” I promised.
The battery actually lasted longer than ten minutes, but in the meantime Petr joined the guys at the bar and some of them moved to a table. I kept working and a few more people came in, and the service went from “rare” to “almost never”. After perhaps twenty-five minutes the computer surrendered to entropy, just as I had managed to score a precious beer after intercepting the beer girl on her way from the bathroom. I felt the covetous eyes of those around me as I nursed my hard-won nectar. I let my eyes be dazzled by the flickering lights of the American action film playing on the plasma screen at the far end of the bar (not that far away), sipped my beer, and let my mind wander. This was my state when Petr passed my table on his return trip from the bathroom. “May we please buy you a drink with us?” he asked, very earnestly. Obviously I had no choice.
And so it was I found myself sharing a table with tram drivers, sharing almost no words between us. They were pleased that I identified the Becherovka by its smell. I tried to ask them if it was my fault that the tram barn doors were closed, but once they realized that I wanted to know more than just what the tram barn is called in Czech (I never found out), they thought I wanted to take a picture with the doors open. I never did explain that the doors to the barn had been closed ever since they chased me and my camera away a few months before. (It seems there was a terror alert at the time.)
It was getting late, and before long it was just Petr and me at the table. Petr was quite drunk, and the beer girl had implemented the “cut off through bad service” policy. It took me a while to realize that we had lost the “almost” in “almost never”, and not long after that I wished Petr a good night and made my way out into the cold and dark.
At that moment, I didn’t feel like going home. There’s nothing wrong with home, but I decided to continue my downward trend and turned left out the door and headed for the Herna by the Metro Station. I should look and see what the name of that place is someday. I don’t go into that place often. I’m received warmly there, but it’s difficult to work. Often when I go there, I stay too long. Friday night is a case in point.
I was happy to see that Pavel was there, and a couple of other faces I recognized. I had been drinking, but they were way ahead of me. There was a debate going on over which Irish whiskey was better, and there had been quite a bit of research. One guy, let’s call him MartÃn, has always been a cheery conversationalist, but this time his head was on the bar and he was not moving. “He’s fine. He just needs a little nap,” Pavel explained. I sat and while the debate continued to my left, the guy to my right struck up a conversation with me. His tone was oddly aggressive, however, and before long I let the action on the other side of me absorb my attention.
I began to feel a strangely hostile vibe in the place, but as long as I had friendly people to talk to, I was all right. Eventually, after I had reviewed the Jameson side of the whiskey argument myself, another guy on my right struck up a conversation. He was much friendlier, but I think I might have annoyed him by not being impressed enough when he told me that he worked for the big movie studio here in town. When he told me some of the movies he had worked on, I said, “You must know my brother!” and described fuego’s jobs on those same films. I think he took that as one-upsmanship, even though I really just wanted to find out if I had run into a mutual acquaintance. So that potentially friendly conversation died young.
Pavel slapped MartÃn’s back and his head popped up like a jack-in-the-box. “DÅ¾erý!” he said, and happy conversation resumed for a while.
I may have things out of sequence, because I suspect I was talking to the movie guy when the fight broke out. I was looking down the bar in that direction, at least, when the scuffle started behind me. I turned and MartÃn was in a hockey-style grab-jackets-and-swing-fists-without-aiming type of scuffle with another patron. Pavel moved to intervene and I backed him up, gently pushing the newcomer back while asking “ProÄ?” over and over. It didn’t really matter why, and I wouldn’t have understood if he told me. He seemed to be alright so I turned and put my hands on MartÃn’s shoulders and drove him back.
Before long Pavel had MartÃn in a taxi, the other combatant was back at his table (one of the few nestled between the slot machines in that place) with his friends, occasionally mouthing off to other people around him. Not long after that another guy started a conversation with me, this time making no attempt to disguise that he was trying to provoke me (a singularly pointless exercise in those circumstances), or trying to get me to say something he could use as a provocation. Eventually after about his third declaration of “I don’t speak English” (after he had initiated the conversation in that language) I tried to use as much Czech as possible, which was so slow that eventually he made one last gambit by accusing me of snubbing the German language, then went away partway through my tortured, multilingual explanation of why I chose French in school. After all, he could hardly use my attempts to speak Czech as a justification to be offended, and I simply wasn’t capable of putting together a sentence complicated enough for him to take the wrong way. Or much of any sentence, for that matter.
After that things mellowed, but the air of hostility was still there. I was just on the edge of it; I get the feeling that most of the anger was between groups or individual regulars, but they had enough left to throw some my way. I was even caught up in it a little bit toward the end, annoyed at those people for working so hard to be annoyed by me. As they say in Get Crazy, “Anger is a bummer, Neal.”
I don’t know what time it was when I got home. I puttered around for a bit and tried to pour as much water into my system as I could, but before long I flopped unceremoniously into bed, unscathed but not particularly looking forward to Saturday morning, which fortunately came along not long before Saturday afternoon.