Mike is the kind of friendly guy who just assumes people in the bar want to talk to him, and he’s right. His opening line grabbed my attention.
“All my wives have been bipolar,” he says with a weary-eyed sadness.
He pauses and sips his beer as the weight of his statement sinks in.
He follows up with, “I was even married to one of them,” and he busts out laughing and slapping the bar.
I spit my whiskey not so much because of his joke, but because I think his reaction to his own joke is funny.
“Hi, I’m Mike,” he says as he sticks out his hand to shake.
“I’m Robert,” I say as we grip-n-greet.
Mike’s hands aren’t big, but they are callous covered and strong. There’s black dirt, a lot of it, under each of his fingernails. Mike is a working man.
“Ron, you’re not from around here,” he says.
“My name’s Robert,” I respectfully correct him before asking if it’s that obvious.
“From the look of your maps and camera I can tell you’re traveling, but from the look of you I don’t think you’re going anywhere special,” he says.
Glancing at the hobo in the mirror over the bar, I see Mike’s point. My clothes are dirty, my face is sunburned, and the whiskers on my chin have gone to seed.
“You’re right, I am traveling,” I say.
Mike cocks his head in a way that lets me know he wants to hear more. So, I spill my guts. His eyes sparkle with tears when I get to the part about my Dad’s Alzheimer’s. I’ve hit a nerve with Mike.
When my story is finished he looks at me and says, “Paul, I’d like to buy you a drink.”
That’s when I give up all hope of him remembering my name and I decide to answer to whatever he calls me this evening. The drinks come and we toast to my father. I look down and away from Mike when I think I’m about to cry. Mike reaches over and rubs my shoulder and tells me it will get better.
“AND CHEERS to every one of my bipolar wives!” he yells across the bar.
A man’s voice from the back of the bar yells, “I love that joke every time you tell it!”
I’m laughing again. Apparently, Mike’s worked this room before, and his material is getting a little stale.
Mike has been a construction worker for 30 years. He says it’s been a good trade, and he has been able to live all over the country — moving from one big job site to another. He does rebar and form framing for concrete contractors. Mike says the work is hard, and it keeps him fit.
“I could keep up with every 20-year-old on a job site until about two years ago,” he says while rubbing his hands, “but now I feel every one of my 50 years. It’s getting hard.”
We sit and talk for a couple more hours. It feels good to just be with someone. Eventually, it’s last call, and I’m tired. I shake hands with Mike and then head for the hotel stairs. A warm, soft bed is only about 50 steps away.
“Goodnight, Steve,” he yells at my back.