Five nights a week for two years.
Every evening at five past seven.
Of course it also happened the other two nights of the week, except that I wasn’t there. Those were her nights.
Five past seven was when Marcello the Romanian went home to walk his dog.
A sea change.
I really couldn’t tell you why we called him “the Romanian”.
He was the only Marcello who sat at our bar. For that matter, quite possibly the only Marcello in Tel Aviv.
And it wasn’t like we had a shortage of Romanians.
Like Sara’s boyfriend, who was just known as The Thug.
Five past seven. Marcello would look at his watch. Swivel around to check the clock. Wipe his eyes. Blow his nose. Announce that it was time to walk the dog.
Everyone would nod politely and say, “Oh? How’s Mickey?” as if they hadn’t asked it yesterday.
And he’d shake my hand, nod at the waitresses, and make his way out.
That was my cue.
Dim the lights. Turn the radio off. Music!
Officially evening. At last.
Afternoon was for the regulars and drunks (imagine Venn diagram with large center).
Simona would pretend that she’d just happened to be stopping by. Her hands shook so much she had to press them up against the counter to light her cigarette.
We were just hoping she’d get bored and move on after one drink, seeing as how we were the only place in the south of the city she hadn’t been eighty-sixed from yet.
The men at the bar argued and made stupid bets. And argued about making stupid bets and made stupid bets about arguing.
Sometimes side bets would build up on top of the main bets. Betting on the outcome of the bets was everyone’s favorite pastime.
Sometimes it was entertaining. Sometimes hellish.
But you knew if you could just make it until five past seven, everything would change.
The grumpy old men would go home to their wives. The cokeheads would take off to the next bar. The cab drivers would head out to their shifts.
And it would turn from a quiet dive bar into an ironic dive bar. University students, hipsters, writers, people who thought it was fun to go to an old-timey hole-in-the-wall with old world food and way too much attitude.
People who actually read the beer list. And asked about the pasta of the day (always the same, but fun to ask).
It was good, mostly.
Evening into night. Sometimes night into morning. Different. But fun.
Unless Dushek was there.
And then you were in trouble.
If Dushek was there, things would get worse after Marcello the Romanian left, not better.
He’d bring friends. They’d drink aquavit. And be rowdy. And break things. You’d think men in their sixties couldn’t cause that much havoc. But you’d be wrong.
And they could go all night.
Dushek hated me only slightly more than I hated him. It brought him pleasure to make me miserable, and it brought me comfort to be obnoxious to him.
He couldn’t be kicked out. Because he had something on the owner, there was no recourse except to keep pointing out how much business he was actively losing us.
And hating him, of course. That took up a lot of my time.
But for some reason, it was the music that got to me.
There were all sorts of things to hate about Dushek:
His smug, self-centered, overbearing, conflict-loving obnoxious way of being in the world.
The way he was always louder than everyone else, no matter how loud it got.
The way he’d take his shirt off after a few drinks.
The ashtrays he’d fill with cigarette butts and pumpkin seeds faster than you could clean them, and always ended up setting the trash can on fire.
How he would just walk behind the bar when he wanted something.
And change the temperature on the thermostat instead of asking the waitress.
And his friends with the grabby arms.
Oh, and the way he’d narrow his eyes and hiss “Go back to where you came from, whore”.
As if I could. As if I was that easy. Believe me, if I could have been anywhere else then, I would have.
I could have put up with all of that. But not the music.
He always wanted to listen to Santana.
And then the entire album on repeat for hours.
Since he’d already run off the rest of the clientele other than his friends, there wasn’t anyone to object.
After a while I hated that song even more than I hated Dushek.
One day it disappeared.
Well, it didn’t disappear.
Somehow the CD got dropped into a vat. And was then fished out and dropped again. And then broken into several pieces. And possibly also stabbed with a cigarette. A tragedy.
Dushek was too cheap to buy a new one. And eventually he did something to really piss off the owner and he was kicked out.
And I moved to work at another bar, where we had Polish mafia instead of Moroccan mafia (much easier to deal with), and amiable potheads instead of cocaine in the bathroom. And no Dushek.
There’s this woman who works in the office next to the Playground.
She has a CD player that she keeps outside her office, using our shared hallway as a sort of waiting room for her clients.
Plays the same album all day. On repeat.
At a volume that is just loud enough for me to hear all the time.
No, not Santana. Though yes, that would be hilarious.
It’s the Buena Vista Social Club soundtrack. Which I used to love. ln fact, I learned all of Level 3 of Dance of Shiva while listening to that album.
And now I don’t love it anymore.
In fact, I’m pretty sure I never want to hear it again.
Not then. Now.
So it’s been oh, ten years.
Stuff has changed.
I have learned all sorts of things in the meantime about sovereignty and forgiveness and setting boundaries and saying no.
And I still go a little crazy when I hear the same song over and over again.
Obviously I’m not going to drop her music into a vat of anything, though. Instead?
Haven’t decided yet.
Maybe I’ll buy her a new album.
Of something else.
Maybe I’ll play my own music. Maybe I’ll tell her it disturbs my clients.
There are options and choices. Now is not then.
There are peaceful places. Now is not then.
And guess what? At five past seven in the evening she leaves. And it’s over.