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Peculiar Stranger at 93 Townsend
A true story about an unexpected encounter that taught me a lesson worth learning.
A couple years ago, during summer vacation, Melissa and I visited one of our favorite restaurants in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. The place was named 93 Townsend for its address on Townsend Avenue, and we went there for our anniversary dinner.
We stumbled upon the restaurant the prior year when we instantly fell in love with its food and atmosphere. It has an old-fashioned, handcrafted bar that seats up to 20 people and about 15 tables sprawled around an L-shaped interior. This particular year we were pleased to snag one of the two tables beside the front window and adjacent to the bar, just as we had the year before.
In a classy joint like 93 Townsend, you’d never expect a patron would need to consider seating strategies away from the bar. It didn’t occur to us even when the man seated alone at the end of the bar started talking to us.
The hostess had just seated us and mentioned something about turning down the lights to set the mood for our anniversary dinner. I hadn’t noticed, but I guess they were a tad on the bright side. Ten seconds later, the lights dimmed and the atmosphere grew warmer.
“Wow, you two have some pull around here,” said the man seated at the bar. He was only three feet away from me. “You walk in and the lights go down. Must be important people.”
“We’re not important,” I responded, “just distant relatives of Moses. He could part the Red Sea. We can dim lights.”
The man laughed. “What other abilities do you have?”
“Oh that’s it. Moses got all the good stuff. All we have is the light thing.”
That was it, so I expected, just a little friendly banter between patrons. The man began to talk to the bartender as we looked at our menus. After ordering our meals, Melissa picked up a box of Trivial Pursuit cards on the table and began asking me trivia questions. I got lucky on the first three questions, which never happens; but I was stumped on the fourth. That’s when the man blurted out the answer.
I looked to my right, and he acted embarrassed.
“I’m sorry. That was rude. I just couldn’t help myself.”
“Hey, that’s fine. I certainly didn’t know it,” I assured him.
But the man’s disruption did have me wondering how long he’d been listening to our conversation. Let’s just say it was a red flag that had me questioning if our request for this table was a bad idea.
The trivia answer was in response to an entertainment question about a movie from the 1950s. This got the man chattering about old movies, which then got him reminiscing about the days of radio when his family would gather and listen to radio broadcasts in the living room.
His favorite show was Gunsmoke. Melissa and I admitted that we never knew it was a radio show prior to being a TV hit. He then gave a rather lengthy discourse on how John Wayne turned the part down. At this point, I wasn’t sure if he was talking about the radio show or the TV show. This got him talking about William Shatner who played a role in Gunsmoke, the TV show, which somehow led him into doing impersonations of what I guess were present-day Shatner comedy routines. Yeah, things got a little weird.
I began noticing that the man’s storyline tended to drift. I remained friendly but guarded, waiting to figure him out. I’d been in this situation before and knew that once you let the cat in, it’s sometimes near impossible to get him back out the door.
The man steered us into a rather intellectual conversation about the psychology of storytelling, comparing imagination-stirring radio with spell-it-all-out-for-you TV. He told an interesting story about New York University offering a course on psychology and cinematography, and this was when I recognized that certain words in this man’s vernacular were in stark contrast to his appearance. He was an intellectual in sheep’s clothing.
Observing the man as he spoke, I estimated he was in his sixties. He wore tattered jeans and an old, white tee shirt, which were out of place for the stylish restaurant. He was drinking a glass of wine, which seemed out of place for his rugged appearance—the dainty wine glass struck me as too sophisticated for his aging boxer physique. His hair was gray and shaved close to his head. His hands were callused. His arms were muscular. And his voice was gruff like Rocky Balboa’s manager, Mickey.
As he chatted about one subject and then the next, Melissa and I learned his life story. His name is David. He’s originally from Vermont but left there 18 years ago when the company he worked for closed. He then hopped into his pickup truck and drove to Boothbay, Maine looking for work, where he found a job as a carpenter’s assistant. That position led him to work as a handyman-slash-caretaker for a local homeowner while taking carpentry jobs on the side. When his primary employer objected to his taking side jobs, he asked for a raise because he wasn’t earning enough to repair his broken-down pickup truck. His employer refused, so he left that job and started working for a construction company that paid better, where he continues to work today.
At least that’s the story I deciphered. Besides needing a dictionary to look up some of David’s words, I also needed an iron to flatten out his line of thought. Not everything was entirely coherent. I now questioned how many glasses of wine he’d enjoyed before we got there. Either that or he had a brilliant mind that was moving much faster than his mouth could manage.
David kept apologizing for talking so much, yet he kept on talking. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. On the one hand, I enjoyed his company. On the other hand, it wasn’t the romantic anniversary dinner I’d intended. I half expected he’d give us our privacy when our meals arrived, so I remained patient. Yet for ten minutes after my lobster macaroni and cheese and Melissa’s vegetable risotto sat on the table, David’s oration traveled from politics to sociology and religion.
It seemed that Melissa and I were not the only people to notice David’s rambling. People around the restaurant were staring. I saw the bartender secretly pointing our way while talking to another couple seated halfway down the bar. She’d given me the googly-eye three times already as she walked by with drinks in her hand, as if to ask, Do you want me to ask him to move? I ignored her stares as if I didn’t notice, because I didn’t want her to embarrass the man. I know Melissa well enough to be certain she didn’t want to shame him either. Besides, our meals were still piping hot, so I waited to see what would happen once we began eating.
As odd as the experience was, the more David talked, the more Melissa and I liked him. He was smart, funny, and gentle. He had his opinions but he wasn’t judgmental or pushy. In fact, his words revealed a compassionate character inside a man who simply loved people. I sensed he might be lonely, which is probably why he was sitting at the bar in the first place. I came to realize he wasn’t intoxicated. His social cortex was merely lubricated by the wine.
I finally surrendered to the possibility that David might talk through the entire meal. Once I got to know him better, I no longer minded. And when Melissa’s eyes twinkled at me briefly—as if to say, “I think he’s sweet”—I knew she was fine as well. That’s when my meal had cooled enough to eat it without searing my tongue, so I took a few bites.
In a twist of circumstance, I looked toward David to see his back to me. Intuitively, I felt he was trying his damnedest to give us privacy and turning his back was the only way he could stop himself from talking.
I was tempted to speak to David out of kindness, since I was sure he was aware of the bartender’s googly-eyes and the other patrons’ stares. He seemed too sharp to not have noticed. Still, I took the moment to focus on Melissa. I knew we could talk to David more after the meal.
The food was lovely. They couldn’t have crammed more lobster into my mac and cheese. And once we’d finished our main course, I brought David back into the conversation. He seemed moved by my effort to include him again.
As dessert arrived, the bartender whispered an apology to Melissa for our disrupted meal while David and I conversed. Melissa told her not to worry, that we were content. When the conversation turned to current movies, David and Melissa had a blast sharing their favorite titles with one another.
That’s when I saw the bartender ringing up our bill, so I walked down the bar and quietly requested that she put David’s bill on ours. I wanted to express to him with a gesture that we appreciated his company—we didn’t resent it. It would have been awkward to say it, and potentially embarrassing to him, so this silent kindness seemed more appropriate. The bartender seemed surprised at my request. I think it finally occurred to her that we truly did enjoy talking with him.
When I arrived back at the table after paying the bill, David was telling Melissa that his favorite movie of all time is Pay It Forward, a movie about random acts of kindness. Chills sprinkled down my spine. We chatted a little longer, but when David pulled his credit card out, Melissa and I said our goodbyes.
“We’re really grateful to have met you, David,” I said as I shook his hand.
“The pleasure’s all mine, Bob,” he said. “I feel like the two of you are old friends.”
Maybe we are, I thought.
David took Melissa’s hand, bowed down, and kissed it gently. A second later, he appeared nervous. His brain got in the way of his instincts. He looked at me to read my reaction. I smiled. He relaxed. Melissa gave him a big hug.
David’s eyes turned misty with Melissa’s arms wrapped around his shoulders, which had me wondering how long it’d been since he’d been hugged.
Melissa and I grabbed our doggy bags and left. As we walked out the door, I heard David holler in his gravelly voice, “Bartender! Check, please.”
On the way back to the car, Melissa looked at me and said, “If you give people a chance, you can see God in everyone you meet.”
Bob Olson is the host of Afterlife TV, author of two books, Answers About The Afterlife and The Magic Mala, and creator of the reputable directory of vetted psychics and mediums, BestPsychicDirectory.com. His newest venture is BOB OLSON CONNECT, a Substack newsletter where you can read his stories, listen to an audio of each article, and join his community of like-minded people.
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