Eat, Drink, and Be Gary
How as a culture we can become more tolerant and curious about each other?
I’d been expecting the news.
But it still comes as a shock: the death of a friend.
I’d been out the Saturday before Hallowe’en, slumming through my neighborhood thinking about buying a used hat. Winter was coming and I needed something to keep my head warm.
So it being mid-afternoon, I stopped at a local café for a beer and maybe a bite to eat. It wasn’t one of my favorite haunts, and I had no desire to linger there.
I was sitting at the bar and, when I turned around, there was the old gang — former employees of the Muddy Pig (now defunct), one of my favorite watering holes in St. Paul.
The look on their faces said it all.
One of the bartenders, Lisa, came over, joined by Thea and Kristian, another bartender and server, was there with his young daughter Violet.
“Gary died on Thursday,” they told me.
“Oh man,” I said, eyes welling with tears. “That’s terrible.”
They all gave me a shoulder-rub and we caught up about his last days. They mentioned another restaurant was having a holiday party in his honor sometime in January. I said I’d try to make that.
The title of this post was a saying that someone at the Muddy Pig left constantly on the chalkboard: “Eat, Drink, and Be Gary.”
I didn’t know a lot about my friend because he was a man of few words. He was ten years older than me and we disagreed about music often. When Gary didn’t like your choices, his face clearly showed it. I always appreciated Gary’s honesty.
I usually saw Gary when I made appearances at the Muddy Pig, just after they opened on Sunday mornings. I’d unfurl my local newspaper and have brunch there, and Gary would wander by my booth saying, “So is it Bloody time?”
“Bloody me up, Gare.”
I always made sure I tipped Gary as best I could, even back in the days (not too long ago) when I was underemployed. I loved the Muddy Pig because I could hang out there for hours, catch an old movie on the overhead TVs, or read the NY Times Gary usually bought, and banter with the staff or bartender of the day. It was a low-impact venue, and I loved it that way.
The owners ended up shutting down the Muddy Pig in June 2018. Gary was diagnosed with stomach cancer on the heels of that. After he was let go, I occasionally saw him at other watering holes, unemployed and lingering over his New York Times. I wish I would’ve bought him a drink at those times.
An observation about people who are acquaintances (or even friends or family) in your life. It occurred to me when I ran into the Muddy Pig gang, and I think I even said something to them about it: Isn’t it amazing how little we really know about anybody?
We come into this life alone and over time get to know others, but it’s always within the context of our own biases and experiences with them.
My fear these days is we’re less tolerant of ambiguity and generally “fear the other.” Maybe if I’d reached out more when Gary was reticent to talk about his life experiences, maybe I would’ve discovered new connections beyond our random chats. Relationships (especially casual ones, with coworkers or people we see somewhat regularly) take effort and time. I wonder how as a culture we can become more tolerant and curious about each other; what tricks we can learn to be more generous and kind?
After all, the clock is ticking for everyone.
The news about Gary came on the heels of other losses in the past 10 years: both my parents, a longtime family friend, my brother’s mother-in-law and brother-in-law, both to cancer.
It goes without saying:
And even though I’d been thinking about this post since last month, with the holiday coming upon us I couldn’t wait any longer to get it out. The message is clear: Life is too, too short.
As the late Warren Zevon said, “Enjoy every sandwich.”
So, get out and be merry. Meet new people, attend volunteer events, and for heaven’s sake, be yourself.
Just like Gary would’ve done.