Caught In The Middle

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I watched her at the end of the bar.

She was talking into her cell phone, quietly. I could tell by her body motions that she wasn't happy. She was upset. I knew probably what it was about.

Her ex.

"Tori" and I worked together at the bar. The place just opened, under new ownership and it was late winter 2002. It was called "Dipper's". What a terrible name for a bar in such a superficial town. Probably should have just called us "Dorkbar" and be done with it. The owner was clueless about things like that, and simply named the bar after his childhood nickname. Must have been a rough childhood if that's what your buddies are calling you.

I was counting the money and watching her get more upset. She finally ended the call and sat there, looking out the window at the end of the bar, with her back to me.

What do I do? What can I do?

The ex, in question, was another bartender in town, named "Jim". Jim was a local, born and raised, and I knew him for about 8 years. Nice enough guy. Before he even knew her, Jim was my local bartender at a pub near the PATH. Our group of regulars were close. We would see each other a lot, some of us dated each other or met a girlfriend or boyfriend through our network of friends. We even did things outside the bar, with other "regulars" like camping trips, movies, sports games, BBQs. I'd call Jim a friend at the time.

Unfortunately, I was caught in the middle. Tori and Jim met a year prior. They knew all the regulars, we all used to get drunk together on the weekends. Then...things turned.

One thing led to another, with the details getting lost in the muddied waters of time. Jim found someone else. Tori didn't. She was slowly excluded from Jim's world, and this also caused some good tension.

In a town like Hoboken, here are social circles. They exist everywhere, i'm sure. Our most prominent social circles would be the local pubs and bars. Many people frequent the same bars each weekend, and get to know the bartenders and the "regulars" of the bar. If you do it long enough, you make new friends that are regulars. People you mostly see when you head out for a Friday or Saturday night, at the bar, and friendships are formed. Sometimes disputes are created. Drama is par for the course in Hoboken.

What was once a big group of regulars started to fracture. Some of them were more friendly with Jim than Tori. Some were more friendly with Tori than Jim. Jim didn't like this much. He didn't say anything. He would just slowly exclude me from his social circle. He would say things behind my back. He would just poison my reputation, where his friends and regulars weren't as warm and friendly as they used to be towards me. I didn't know this was going on until later.

Me? Well, I liked both of them at the time. I worked with Tori at the bar. She and I would work as a team. We would play loud, thumping music and have more fun serving drinks to the customers than the customers would have themselves. Bartending was never a job in those days. It absolutely was something I could have done for the rest of my life, with my friends coming to the bar to play darts or Golden Tee, and we got to play the music we wanted to listen to, while drinking & doing shots with our customers and friends. At the end of the night, we would count up our tips, go home with a pocketful of cash and sleep in until the next day. Tori, myself and "our" regulars would hang out a lot even when we weren't working.

It was hard for me because I didn't want to take sides. I wanted to be friends with both Tori and Jim. Jim wasn't a forgiving fellow, and the fact that I worked with her meant that I was on her side. The fact that I worked in a "rival" bar didn't help matters. Soon I started to notice that I was getting the cold shoulder from Jim and those who were his friends. Some tried to remain diplomatic, but the writing was on the wall.

"So, what happened?", I asked Tori.

She turned to me, her eyes red from the tears that stained her cheeks. She hastily wiped a hand across her face and gave me a half-smile, as if to say, Isn't this just pathetic?

She softly said, "He told me: 'Don't bother coming over.'"

Jim and his entourage (guy & girl regulars & other employees) would often close the bar, go into a back room and play cards or videogames while sipping on some beers, and smoke cigarettes. Sometimes we would invite some cute girls who were drinking at the bar to stay after closing too. I used to be part of that crew. Every Friday or Saturday at 3am, when everyone was walking home from the closed bars, we would be secretly hanging out. It was kind of cool, because we would have all the lights turned down, and there was that 'if we get caught we are in trouble' quality about it. We didn't care. The owners used to hang out with us also. Most of us had bar-cards and worked at the bar from bartenders to card id-checkers. Those were some fun days.

"Ah, well,", I started, "They probably aren't going to do much anyhow.", I tried to downplay it. But it wasn't what they were doing that bothered her, it was the fact that he basically said "Get lost" to her. I had heard that Jim had someone new in his life and I can understand why he didn't want his ex-girlfriend coming over to the bar at 3am. I was still, at the time, welcome to hang out. But I wasn't about to ditch Tori and go to the other bar for some late-night drinks.

We talked some more. Counted our money. We turned the lights down low at our bar, and sat there, talking. I was always a good listener, and been known to dispense some fairly good advice on the other sex. I told her things would get better. That she would find someone else. She was too smart, charismatic and beautiful not to. I told her a lot of things. I just hated to see my friends hurt.

Time passed. Weeks turned to months and the winter turned to spring. Tori and I enjoyed good times at Dipper's. Jim would grow increasingly distant from me and from anyone who was friendly with her. I lost a friend and gained another, at least for short term.

Eventually my prediction came true. Tori did meet someone very nice. They dated. They were engaged and married. She moved away, and I basically lost another friend. That's the way it is in Hoboken, lots of "temporary friends". Sure I still see her maybe once or twice a year, but this was someone I used to be out with at least every weekend (either working or not).

I feel bad, in a way because I am still friendly with Jim's friends. I ask them to explain it, and they just shrug their shoulders and say, "You know how Jim is. He holds grudges."

In a way it bothers me to be caught in the middle, even to this day. I didn't feel like I did anything wrong, aside from trying to be friendly to both of them. I think sometimes in life, no matter what you do, it still won't be the right thing.

Such is the cycle of life, in our town.

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This page contains a single entry by Furey published on February 8, 2007 12:00 AM.

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