On most occasions, there would be some excuse given in a cleverly written e-mail response. A genuinely sincere regret but a decline of the invitation, nonetheless. It wasn't that he didn't like these people. He liked them fine enough.
What Jan Hernïk didn't like was the superficiality of most of the events to which he was invited. And the, sometimes, likewise atmosphere of these Don't Miss It!!! gatherings. It just wasn't worth it. He had his own, outside-of-work crew that he rode with.
Most of the people he knew at his office were of the same age. A few years out of college, maybe five. The I Know We're Out of College But Let's Live Like We're Not, Especially Now That We're All Getting Paid crowd. And a wonderful crowd, at that. There was simply no need for him to attempt immersion into this particular faction. One was enough.
"25 Fabulous Years of Jesse!" was the subject line of the only new e-mail message in Jan's unread messages when he returned from lunch. A hefty lunch hour clocking in close to ninety minutes. One e-mail.
"I might actually be able to get some work done this afternoon," was the almost subconscious thought trickling over his mind.
"Let's see what this is all about, then," was the very conscious idea he had next. The e-mail read:
COME CELEBRATE WITH US!!!
Our OLD friend Jesse is hitting the big 2-5 this week!
Let's send her into old age in style!
Join us Thursday night, downtown at Excellence right
Happy Birthday Jesse!
A fairly predictable message, given the subject line and whom it was from. But there was something different about this one. While glancing over the message, Jan cought a flash of a name out of the list of many recipients. Kristi Korver. He immediately wondered whether she'd be attending. Shortly afterwards, he decided he was free on Thursday.
Tuesday and Wednesday passed, if not unnoticed then definitely uneventfully. In contrast, the office held a bit of a festive air on Thursday. Not so much that there's nothing getting done. An anticipatory, festive air, it might be called. Jan could sense it but was unaffected, mostly thanks to his preoccupation with his own anticipation. Any other refusal to get swept up in it all was courtesy of what the locals call past experience.
It wasn't until Jan walked through the doors at Excellence that he realized he had probably made a big mistake. The place had only been open for three months. It showed. Somehow, the slew of young people, chatting and texting and drinking and texting, either didn't notice or chose to ignore it. This was Excellence, after all.
After a few cursory, "Hey, how's it goin'"s, to a few people he left only forty-five minutes ago, Jan found a spot at the end of the bar, closest to the front door. It wasn't an official roll call but he happened to notice Ms. Korver was late for class. No connection, whatsoever, with his parking spot.
"She could very well be out sick, today."
That was the odd phrase bouncing around his head as he tried to gain the attention of a bartender. Any of them would do. In the meantime, he took the opportunity to have a good look around the place. And wonder what that phrase might mean, while knowing full well of the instant conversation he had just finished with himself.
Excellence, he noticed, was an attempt at the newest twist in contemporary, fancy-pants, see-and-be-seen bars. Bars that have been infesting the nightlife scene with vigor, as of late. The bartender, who managed to find his way to Jan's end of the bar only after all the ladies present were freshened, did nothing to enhance the atmosphere.
"What can I get ya," he mumbled.
"I'll have a Bass Ale, please,"Jan replied, then adding in his head, "Sorry to have bothered you, ass-hole."
"Glass or pint?"
Hernïk is a Danish name. While the Danes enjoy well their fair share of beer, it was Jan's mother's heritage where he staked his claim. His mother was from England and he had visited her family back home on many occasions. As he grew older, and able to join his uncles at the pub, he eventually grew to appreciate a good pint of ale. As well as a good pint of lager, bitter, stout, or any other finely crafted brew.
Jan thought about the consequences but still decided to ask, "Is that an Imperial Pint?"
"A what pint!? It's a pint. You want one?"
On most occassions, the thought of, "Why bother?" is followed with a dismissive, "Yeah, sure," just to get the encounter over with. Something on this occassion was different. Screw this guy.
"I'd just like to know the size. An Imperial pint is measured and is a full 16 ounces. What people around here call a pint glass only hold 12 to 13 ounces. That's not a pint."
"What's the difference? It's a beer."
"The difference is that you don't even know the difference. If you're going to call yourself a bartender, you should probably know how to pour a proper beer! You make all these neon, fuck me drinks all night but you can't pull a decent pint for shit. Have some fucking pride in your work, man. Jesus. Sorry... I'll just take a Coors Light 16 ounce... please."
After some hesitation, the bartender begrudgingly fetched Jan's beer. Jan left a tip of conciliatory value, took his beer, and turned from the bar. Standing a few feet behind him was Kristi. By the pleasantly bemused look on her face, she had undoubtedly been standing there long enough to have witnessed the dialogue at the bar.
"Hi," she said, "I'm Kristi."