Chance encounters with strangers provide color and drama to our otherwise humdrum lives, wouldn't you say? Saturday, Jon and I went to the Tin Whistle, our favorite Irish pub in Charlottesville to listen to some Irish music. It was a 5:00 pm event, so we planned to just have a beer or two and then walk home for dinner. We were very lucky and got two seats at the bar, in a cozy corner by the window; the perfect vantage point for people watching. I soon became aware of a lot of energy a few seats down the bar, where a man with a Scottish accent was holding court with a couple of locals. He was wearing an unusual shirt with an old-fashioned laced closure. When he got up, I noticed he was wearing a kilt. Stewart plaid, in case you're interested.
We were contentedly silent, enjoying the music, until Jon ordered his second beer and impulsively asked the bartender to buy a beer for the Scotsman, since it was his birthday, a fact he had overheard. That is just like Jon, by the way. Myself, I am so introverted I can barely handle day-to-day interactions with shopkeepers and bus drivers. Jon, on the other hand, is extroverted and has made friends with perfect strangers all over the world.
Conversation ensued. First, he and Jon engaged in a comparisons of their tattoos. This was followed by competition about who had eaten meat from the least appealing type of animal and then a debate about which tastes worse, seagull or bear. Seagull, obviously, which the scotsman had eaten and described with a Scottish word that means tough and chewy. "It smells a bit rotten," he admitted.
As amusing as all this was, I was starting to get hungry and to long to return home to cook our dinner of mushroom burgers and the gingerbread I'd made for dessert, and to settle in to a quiet evening with my books and knitting. Jon paid the bill, we slid off our stools and waved good-bye to the Scotsman, who uttered an expression of dismay. How could we leave before he had had a chance to return Jon's hospitality? "What are you drinking? What are you drinking?" he demanded. Jon chose a shot of Jameson's. He asked what I was drinking and when I demurred, he bellowed down the bar, "IF YOU'RE DRINKING WITH A SCOTSMAN, YOU'RE DRINKING WITH A SCOTSMAN."
I realized, faintly horrified, that I was expected to order a shot. You can't exactly ask for a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc in a situation like this. I have done a shot once in my life, when I was 18 and attended a party at my college. Someone handed me a shot of Jack Daniels, and in my innocence, I knocked it back like a practiced barroom floozy. Well. That was a shock, let me tell you. Once I recovered from the burning throat and not being able to breathe, I promised myself then and there that I would never, ever do a shot again. I have this irrational need to be able to breathe at all times.
Whenever I've been out and someone suggests a round of shots, I quietly make myself invisible, and so have managed to avoid shots without losing face, all this time. And now, here was a man in a kilt, looking me straight in the face and asking me to order a shot. I couldn't do it. I told the bartender that I'd like a small Harp's lager and she kindly gave me a half pint glass, not quite full. The Scotsman looked surprised, but only for a second. He and Jon downed their whiskeys and I gulped as much of the lager as I could and then we left.
All this banter and drinking happened across the middle-aged couple from Williamsburg, having a weekend vacation in Charlottesville, who sat between us. They were included in the conversation and sometimes even participated, but mostly I think they wanted to eat their bangers and mash. Oh well, as the Scotsman probably would say, "If you're eating at the bar, you're eating at the bar."