Two Floors Is Not Enough
When I moved to San Francisco two and a half years ago, I lived in a tiny hotel-room-turned-apartment in Pacific Heights. My then-fiancee was not yet able to move to California with me, so I moved on my own. Almost a year later, after a wedding in Denver, we were ready to settle into married life in California. We chose a gorgeous apartment in Nob Hill not too far from the Ritz Carlton and China Town. Aside from the amazing views, beautiful decor, and charming facade, the biggest benefit was that it was one of the only apartments available at the time that was big enough for Jessica, myself, and our 80 pound golden-doodle Jasper. Then, I found out the bad news.
Being a cellular/RF/embedded security consultant, the last thing I needed to hear was that literally two floors directly above me lived the one and only Barnaby Jack. Out of all the apartment buildings in San Francisco, I just had to pick the one where the most brilliant embedded researcher I knew was only an antenna away from intercepting all my hard-earned research! Of course, this wasn't an actual concern for me. In reality, I had heard nothing but good things about Barnaby, but I had also encountered him only briefly in person. Regardless, it was a funny coincidence and I brushed it off as nothing more.
Over the subsequent months, we'd bump into each other around the building, emit our brief pleasantries, and go on our way. But, the most hilarious encounter was actually outside our building at a place you'd never expect Barnes to be: a bar.
Look At This Freaking Guy
After a particularly painful night of reverse engineering, I passed out around 4 or 5am, frustrated that I hadn't even achieved one iota of success. I awoke only a few hours later to my wife gently reminding me that I had agreed to spend the afternoon with her. I slowly rousted myself about, dehydrated and squinting, as I prepared for our afternoon. The first stop was Chantal Guillon, possibly the best shop for French macarons in the bay area. After a veritable injection of sugar, we proceeded to walk around the Hayes Valley neighborhood. From shop to shop, we paced, briefly stopping to glance at this and that. The purses, the cute small dogs, the shoppes with new fall fashions. I was barely holding it together when Jessica suggested we stop for some actual protein.
Exhausted and ready for a nap, I was barely able to keep my eyes open. We wandered into a corner restaurant somewhere along Hayes and plopped into a table in the corner. Jessica faced the window to watch passers by as I faced toward the inside of the restaurant, attempting to shield my eyes from what, to me, was blinding sunlight. I'm sure everyone else considered this "the afternoon", but the light was so strong I had to keep my sunglasses on even indoors.
Across the room I could see two figures huddled at the bar. A fashion forward and attractive young lady sat tapping her finger on her martini glass next to a huddled lump of a grin deeply inspecting what looked to be a glass full of scotch. Granted, this was barely after noon on a Tuesday, so I chuckled to myself "who would possibly be this drunk on a weekday".
Then, I realized that the bartender, who was tending readily to these two giggling masses of clothing and grins, was staring at us. Now, this wasn't out of the ordinary, per se. My wife stands approximately six foot one with long brilliant red hair. I, on the other hand, am a short stocky black-Irish half-Spanish pool of exhaustion. We make for an odd pair and are often the subject of stares, smiles, and snickers. Because I often find this an amusing source of entertainment, it doesn't bother me. But, in this case, it bothered me. The two sharky grins kept looking over at us while swirling their swill in their hands, snarking at the bartender, who would then bare her teeth in our direction. I was too tired for this bullshit, so I had just about enough. I stood up and walked over to the bar.
The bartender looked astonished as I walked a bee-line to the cackling two, but there I was - ready for battle. "Hey!", I said, as the hulking male turned from his chalice to meet my aggression. "Barnes?!" I practically broke out into laughter.
"Holy shit, mate! That's you?!", he roared. Barnes didn't even recognize me any more than I could recognize him. For months of living in the same building and bumping into each other weekly, he was so off his kilter and I was so exhausted neither of us could recognize one another in a darkened bar, middle afternoon, on a Tuesday. We both blushed a bit at our error. Barnes remarked "I thought you looked ridiculous sitting over there with your sunglasses on indoors."
"Oh! I was up all night and I have really sensitive eyes....", I replied in that matter-of-fact way you react to something completely ridiculous you know you've done.
"Fuck it! Let's have a drink, eh?!" The perpetual pirate, Barnes moved right on from the awkward start of our encounter to celebration. "You're drinking with me!" He motioned for the bartender, who now had a huge smile on her face realizing that a physical confrontation ending with a short black-Irish half-Spanish man to clean up off her floor mid-afternoon was not, indeed, in the works.
The bartender poured two shots of top shelf liquor into glasses. I was too tired to remember the name, but I remember the way Barnes raised his glass and looked through it, almost inspecting the amber translucency for any potential misstep or soot. None could be found, and he motioned his glass to me. "To neighbors! And to a damn fine Tuesday afternoon!", he rallied.
"Cheers, mate!", I teased, and we tossed back the booze.
I never knew Barnaby well. But, to me, this afternoon was perfectly representative of him. He was a man who could turn sour milk into 18 year old scotch, with nothing but a smile and a wink. A man who lived each day to the fullest. And a man that would turn any enemy into an instant friend.