It was a dreary New Year’s Day in Oxford, Mississippi and all of the great restaurants on the Square were closed. After an afternoon of football and frozen daiquiris at a deserted college bar, we wandered over to the only open restaurant, a pizza joint.
We crowded around a table in the back of the surprisingly packed place, just opposite the three-seat bar. My group—my husband and our two college kids—had settled into the menu when he walked in. His gray hair was long and disheveled but it matched his beard, so unkempt that if it weren’t for his obviously very expensive all-weather coat and a runner’s insulated water bottle, we would have thought he was homeless.
As he sat at the bar, he looked around the small space meeting our eyes but not smiling. Strange for a town full of friends who just haven’t met yet.
I overheard him ask the young waiter for a glass and another glass of just ice. He proceeded to pour the clear liquid from the bottle into the glass of ice, complete a quick swirl and drain the tumbler. The waiter was concerned and suggested some food from the menu.
“I usually don’t eat in pizza joints, especially here,” he announced as he filled the glass with a little more ice and liquid again. “I always eat at City Grocery when I’m in town.”
“They’re all closed for the holiday,” the waiter explained.
“My name is Chico. I’m just stopping in town for a few days.” He pulled a cell phone from his jacket and called someone so he could justify drinking alone. He ordered some food, finished the non-water in his bottle and left.
This whole time I kept an eye on him, thinking he looked very familiar. When I got back to the hotel, I checked the back page of my book for the author’s photo. Sure enough, I was looking at a photo of Chico, just under a different name.
I’m so tempted to use his lie the next time a waiter introduces himself.