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Sunday Journal: A cold beer, and then a kindness coldly rejected

On the way home from my office one Friday evening several years ago, I stopped in a local tavern. It had been a long day at the end of a tough week, and I wanted to relax a bit before going home to my wife and daughter and undertaking the numerous weekend tasks that demanded my attention. What the spot offered in convenience was equivalent to its lack of luxury. Its windows bore a light layer of grease, but were gaily adorned with multicolored neon tubing twisted into various beer logos. Mottled orange carpeting was threadbare from the tread of unsteady feet, stained from years of spilled beer. So it was a comfortable enough spot to go for a quick drink, but not a place I'd take my wife for dinner.

The bartender stood behind the bar's far end reading the sports section of a tabloid newspaper spread before him. He greeted me amiably and I ordered a draft of the local beer. Little light found its way through the front windows, and illumination was primarily from dim fluorescent tubes recessed in soffits behind the back bar to provide just enough of a glow for patrons to count their change. Several bowling trophies lined the opposite wall.

Halfway through my cold draft, a rather nice-looking fellow about 30 years of age walked in, glanced up and down the bar, and sprang nimbly onto the empty stool beside me. He was somewhat shorter than average, but with a trim athletic build, sandy hair and a tanned complexion that suggested a sportsman, or at least someone who spent a good deal of time outdoors.

"Will you buy me a beer?" he asked, without looking at me.

His clothes hinted he might have been a bit down on his luck, so I asked the bartender to give him one on me. My new companion chose the most expensive imported brand the tavern carried. He sipped his free beer thoughtfully, and then asked, "Can you spare a few bucks?"

"I'll tell you what," I replied. "I have a lot of yard work to do this weekend and I could use some help. How about my paying you $10 an hour to work with me?"

"I don't know how to do that kind of thing," he said quickly and took another long pull on his import.

"It's easy," I reassured him. "Mostly just basic manual labor, routine grass-cutting, edging, trimming shrubs, that sort of thing. But I'll be glad to show you how to do anything you don't have experience with."

"I don't have any tools for that kind of work," he said, shaking his head from side to side.

"That's okay," I encouraged, "I have all the tools we'll need."

"Well, I don't know where you live," he replied, brushing a sandy lock of hair off his bronzed brow, "and, besides, I don't have a car or any other way to get to wherever that might be."

"Oh, that's not a problem," I countered. "I'll be glad to pick you up tomorrow morning. How about right in front of the tavern here at, say, 8 o'clock? Would that suit you?"

He thought about this latest offer for a moment without looking up from an intense scrutiny of the label on his beer bottle. "Let me put it this way," he said at last with exaggerated enunciation, "why don't you go f--- yourself?"

"I'll take that as an unqualified no," I said, attempting what I suspect now was a rather weak smile, downed the last of my draft beer, and rose to make my way homeward to my multitude of weekend chores.

"Take it any way you want," he replied under his breath.

I waved goodbye to the bartender, and started toward the door.

"Wait a minute," the fellow called out, turning fully around on his stool and looking me straight in the eye for the first time.

"Yes?" I asked, expecting some sort of apology for his vulgar rebuff.

"How about buying me another beer?" he said.

Stuart Clark Rogers is a retired clinical professor of marketing at the University of Denver and author of "Marketing Strategies, Tactics, and Techniques," published by Quorum Books. He lives part of the year in St. Petersburg.

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Sunday Journal: A cold beer, and then a kindness coldly rejected 05/02/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 2, 2009 4:31am]

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