Have I no compassion?

In my job I deal with the public, every day and in every mood and circumstance. A man, or a woman,image walks into a bar and most of us know a punchline that could round off that statement with a laugh.

But why do we walk into bars? For a whole variety of reasons, I can tell you. Some people are thirsty and want a drink. Others are tired and want to take the weight off their feet. Some want to use the toilets. Others are hungry and figure a bar is a good place to have a decent, no nonsense meal in congenial surroundings.

Those are some of the most obvious reasons but they barely scratch the surface. Yesterday, a lady came in to the bar because she’d just come from an interview and signed a contract to work in the health industry in Abu Dhabi. Delighted with her good fortune, she treated herself to a glass of wine and a light snack. She spent most of her afternoon there, sharing the news of her good fortune with family and friends, on her cell phone. She had a heavy bag with her and asked me for directions to her hotel. In the end, she had another glass of wine and decided to take a taxi to her hotel. We had a laugh and I congratulated her on her good fortune.

But while she was enjoying her good fortune, another regular but unwelcome visitor, one of our local street beggars and hustlers, was not having a good time and decided to share his discomfort with some of our guests who’d chosen to sit outside, in the spring sunshine. Now they were all sitting within our licensed seating area, separated from the street by a wind breaking glass and metal barrier. I intercepted him before he shuffled to the first table, his open hand, outstretched. This happens every day and sometimes, several times a day. He walked away.

As he left, a young man in a mobility scooter, arrived and I opened the door to facilitate his entry. He asked me to find him a table, which I did. It turned out he could walk but only with assistance and only then, very slowly. He parked his scooter beside the table I found for him. Then he asked me to help him to the toilet. Unfortunately, as our bar is in an old building, there are no facilities for disabled people and the toilets are down two flights of stairs. So I walked with him to the stairs. He held my arm, as tightly as he could, with both his hands. He was a determined young man. We got down the stairs and I helped him to the toilet and stood outside, waiting for him to finish. When he’d completed his ablutions, I helped him back upstairs and to his table. All this time we carried on a conversation about the pub and the kind of food he might have. He was interested in eating something that was popular and particularly Irish, maybe some fish. But after I’d told him about our fish pie, our salmon dishes and the beer battered fish and chips, he settled on Beef and Guinness stew. Intrigued by the notion of stout in a dish, he asked me some detailed questions about the makeup of the dish and, in the end, he loved it, washed down with a couple of glasses of Guinness.

No sooner had he left when I was confronted by a woman who’d walked in, off the street and who asked me, ‘have you no compassion?’

The subject of her rage was our homeless vagrant friend, mentioned earlier, who had by now curled up, asleep, in the street, directly across the road from the bar. Why did I not help him? Why did I not call an ambulance?

I explained to her, with all the patience and goodwill I could muster, that I knew the person in question, that I’d already had an encounter with him and that he was simply sleeping.

She didn’t like that. No, she had done volunteer work, she was a Christian, she would never pass a person lying in the street without inquiring about their welfare. So I told her the same person’s regular spot on the street was standing by the ATM, intimidating lone females, that occasionally he tries doing the same with our customers and just the previous week had threatened me with a bottle. But that’s all in a day’s work, I told her and if she felt compelled to be concerned for his well being, she could go right ahead. My job was keeping this chap from bothering my customers. And though she seemed a little dazed by my response, she accepted it. I wondered why the burden of this exchange had fallen to me and not the manager on duty, who had pointed her in my direction. And ten minutes later I wished she had hung around to see two junkies fight over a spot by the ATM and I stood watching, helpless and hoping they didn’t come my way.

In many ways and for a whole raft of reasons, you can say, it’s all in a day’s work and these are the things you have to deal with. You don’t sign up for fun and games, 24/7. First, you have to make that possible, so you scrub and clean and prepare. And always remember, no matter how much you prepare, people will and do surprise you. Take Trip Advisor, for example. It’s a great idea, on paper and it does help a lot of travellers as it’s other travellers, sharing their experiences. But somewhere down the road, that has changed or is changing. For a start, angry customers are the most likely to write reviews and they will, inevitably, be bad. Never mind that you’ve served 99 satisfied customers (who haven’t written about it in Trip Advisor), it’s that one customer who has had a bad experience, who will. The trick is, of course, don’t have dissatisfied customers and that, in my experience, is impossible. But that’s a story for another day.

My final tale is about a customer I encountered on a sunny, summer evening, last year. Himself and his three companions had had a few drinks. They were happy, getting a little messy but manageable. Then one of them went off to a local shop and bought a stash of peanuts and crisps. Now, since we don’t sell either of these items and have a full menu of decent meals available for customers, I felt this was taking a liberty and setting a bad example/precedent for other customers. So, I told them so, respectfully, and asked them not to eat their snacks on the premises, pointing out there were plenty of snack options available on the menu. They didn’t argue and put their snacks away. Or so I thought. Five minutes later I was walking by their table when one of them suddenly slumped over their table, clutching his throat while one of his female companions began to scream and shake him.

I ran over and took a look. There was an open packet of peanuts on the table and the man was having trouble breathing. In fact, his face was such a high colour, it was turning from puce to an angry blue. The girl was still screaming and his other companion was staring at his friend, slack jawed. I pushed the man upright in his seat, got both my arms around his abdomen, under his arms. Then, my hands joined in a fist, I jerked forward, driving my joined fist into that space at the centre of his abdomen, below his ribs. He sputtered and coughed out the peanut I suspected was caught in his oesophagus . His female friend stopped screaming and sobbed, silently. The other one still stared, slackjawed. Not a word was said and they left, five minutes later. Did they say, thank you? No.

So, regarding the question of whether I have any compassion? I must answer, yes. Whether that’s a good thing, I don’t know, anymore.


Published by

Dermott Hayes

writer, poet, film maker Publications: Tito's Dead, crime novel...(2014); Postcard from a Pigeon and Other Stories (2012); So Different, a biography of Sinead O'Connor (1991)

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