"Hi there! This is RJ? I was in the bookstore/bar a while back, you're Amy right?" said the chirpy voice on the other end of the phone. "I'm with Albany Jewish Federation of the (something or other) and I'll be bringing a group in to have drinks and snacks in two weeks, how does that sound?" It's a bookstore, with some beer and a few tables and chairs, not a VIP lounge but hey, I'm not going to try and stop you.
I didn't say this, and RJ continued: "Just want to make sure you can accommodate us? We'll be spending probably $100 or more, so it'll be good for you guys, okay?"
Had I ever talked to this RJ before? It felt vaguely familiar...And the Federation, they did good work, I was sure...something involving the blind? I remembered a really good thrift store on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
RJ called again the next week. "Hi there, just checking in! So - we'll be coming in next week, we like to call our little get-togethers Gin & Juice."
"RJ, we don't serve that kind of alcohol here," I said, wishing I could make her disappear forever. At the same time, I couldn't stop myself from trying to be helpful - it's a disease I have. They should have a federation for people like me, The Meek & Mild.
"Next Wednesday, 5:30 PM? See you then!" And she hung up.
Wednesday, 5:15. The beer has been mostly foam for days until the cooler repair guy can come. Pouring one decent pint takes ten minutes. The customers are all prefacing their orders with "I'm really sorry to make you do this, but - could I have a beer?" I'm in a bleak mood - stupid foamy beer, stupid pocket-sized copies of The Art Of War all stacked up by the cash register - what, do you pull this book out when you're waiting in line at the farmer's market or at the bank, preparing to do battle with the manager about your overdraft fee?
Please don't let the blind Jewish contingent show up, I think - the place is crowded and the beer is foam. I send vibes out the door, up the Hudson River to Albany - go to Pump Station, go to the Low Beat, go to Applebee's, just don't come here cause I can't help you.
Still - I promised RJ. Or, I didn't promise exactly, but I didn't tell her NO. So I sort of save a table for the contingent and keep an eye on the door. If they're one minute over fifteen minutes late - that's it. Sorry.
"Hi, Amy! It's me - RJ! We're here!" There are 4 or 5 people and a baby carriage or two. This is manageable, the Federation people mostly had the good sense to stay home. But the ones who are here are thirsty, and hungry. They order drinks, they order snacks. Dirty dishes and glasses pile up across the bar while I fill glasses with foam. The regular happy hour crowd take pity on me and start helping by picking up snacks and drinks and carrying them to RJ and her group.
And then more of the Federation gang arrive. Not a blind person in the bunch - instead they're all toting one year olds. Asking for water for the kids, in tiny cups. Gin & Juice...Gin and...Jews? Gin and juice -
The phone rings. "Have you got anything by Bemelmans?"
"Oh yes, we have plenty of the Madeline books -"
"No, not Madeline." The woman's icy voice cuts me to the quick. Sor-ry! I tell her I'll check but RJ's grinning at me, asking for more chips and salsa.
A member of the group comes over in a little while asking if I can look up a book for him.
"It's by Bemelmans," he says.
"We have plenty of the Madeli-"
"No, uh-uh," he shakes his head. "Not those."
"God that's so crazy," I say. "A woman just called for a non-Madeline Bemelmans book. Was there something on NPR?"
"She called me and told me to ask," the man says. My head is spinning. I pour a beer for the yoga master, who's on the phone and motioning for a refill by pointing his glass towards his preferred tap. "Yes, master, I live to serve you, you no-tipping motherfu-"...I don't even know what music I'm playing tonight, it's a pathetic playlist called Everybody Indie! on some discarded iPod. So that's what Animal Collective sound like...
Gin and juice- I finally figure it out after RJ has paid the tab. It's a playgroup for parents and toddlers. RJ has been doing this for a while - calling bars, dangling the Jewish Federation name and conveniently leaving out the part about bringing a load of tiny tykes in for happy hour - you're kidding, right? I should've said no. But I wanted to do good.
For the Federation.