Captain, Barmaid and Me

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The comely, curvaceous and clever barmaid shot me a knowing glance before facing the Captain to ask the obvious. “Another glass of wine Denis?”

There are only two possibilities: yes or no. And we, Cassie and I, knew the answer even before the question was posed. But the Captain, an appellation Denis earned for his cap, his authority, his salty appearance and the stylish confidence with which he sailed through life, had not yet collapsed his wavefunction by observation. He luxuriated in the mixed state of neither yes nor no.

“I'm uncertain. A carafe seems too much, a glass too little. And I have so much to do back on the boat tonight I really should head back. Then again, I'm here now. It's a little frustrating, actually.”

She faced him as she has many times before, and her reply was as much for my benefit as his. “I'll come back.”

She would too. See, she and I were entangled in ways none of us quite understood. The Captain would make up his mind at some point. Her wavefunction and mine, without directly communicating, would collapse simultaneously into a satisfying sense of “knew it all along.”

After checking on the other customers Cassie returned. “Yes or no, Denis. What'll it be?”

“Are those really the only two possibilities? Yes or no?” mused the Captain.

“Yes, Denis, that's it. Yes or no. And I'm going to step out for a cig, so let me know or it'll be a minute.”

“No, Denis. It's not ‘yes or no.’” I was in a mood and wanted to extend his mixed state, see how long he could maintain the uncertainty. It took almost no energy on my part at all as he took the bait. That's part of the trick, you see. Hit him with a lot of energy and he'll collapse to the here and now almost instantly. But sneak up on him gently and his indeterminate state will linger much longer. Don't ask why, that's just how it works.

“You think so? You mean I can just sit here, exactly here, and savor the moment?” I had Denis now. He could run with an idea like this, like music or poetry, adding variations to the theme.

“It reminds me of the time my wife and I were driving our VW van through the north African desert country. We were camped for the the evening and a motley group of locals showed up. I broke out my guitar, they broke out their hashish and we all had a fine evening singing, each in our own language, not at all minding that we didn't understand the each other.”

The Captain was on a roll. He could yarn like this for hours, perched solidly on his barstool. We all knew Denis as a Local, reliably bound to this town, his boat and the bar. But he had another side to him. The Traveller. We observed only the Local, because that's the way we looked at him.

But he presented differently, apparently, to others. Constantly on the move, jumping from place to place, sharing the local cuisine and mores, delighting in the diversity as only a true Traveller can.

Which was he really? The Local, hanging around? Or the Traveller, constantly on the move? Aren't there only two possibilities?

“Yes or no, Denis.” Cassie was back from her break and tending to the customers again.

Her eyes darted knowingly in my direction, warming to the game. I would gently try to draw him out, keep him in the mixed state. Part Local, part Traveller. Neither drinking nor not drinking. She would inject more energy, try to shorten his time of indecision and make him choose.

“Was that Morocco? Algiers? Tunisia?” I wanted to get him moving again. Off his chair and back into the VW van in his mind.

“Yes or no!” Cassie’s energetic counter threw Denis. He looked at her, then me, then her. His lips feigned confusion, but his eyes smiled at the challenge. How long could he be both Local and Traveller? How long could he be both drinker and not?

“Did I ever tell you about my idea for chocolate mole sauce? I first thought of that while working down at the Oyster Bar on Chuckanut Drive. Tony could whip some up here, and wouldn't that just be a great addition to the menu?”

Point Denis. He'd entirely changed the subject on us. Cassie’s shoulders dropped a half inch and she lifted her hands off the bar, turning palms outward and up, and muttered “whateva” as she moved on to other customers.

One moment he's Traveller. Now he's Local again. And still he's not decided “yes or no,” the empty glass in front of him testimony to indecision.

Time passed with more tales. Moorish Spain and paella. Venetian sarde. Greek kokoretsi. And a lengthy exposition on his own chocolate mole. That VW of his covered much of the Mediterranean in it's time. But Cassie brought him home.

“That's it Captain. Last call. Yes or no!”

Denis winked at me. He'd decided alright. “I think I'd like an Angry Orchard, with just a taste of Mac and Jack on the top.”

And there it was. Cassie’s energy had finally collapsed his mental wavefunction to a seemingly definite state. But Denis carried the day, demonstrating there were not just two possibilities, but an infinity of variations, mixed states and superpositions possible. Nobody understands how, but he's always part Local, part Traveller. He's neither and both.

A kind of contradiction, as all my good friends are. My world, you'll notice, is not only stranger than you imagine, but stranger than you can imagine.

Yes? Or no.

About the Author: 
The author once had an idea of where he was going, but now isn't even sure where he is.