The bartender is eight. He has an overgrown crew cut and glasses. He plays, so far, soccer and baseball and cello, although he is desperate to play football and, down the road, drums. He has been bartending for five days. He hatched his business plan seven days ago, drafting a to-do list on a tiny note pad while riding in the back seat of the mini-van: 1. six pack bear 2. seltzer and soda 3. tap water and cooler 4. bar name 5. straws.
He dispatched no. 4 post-haste, resolving to call his establishment The Non-Stop Buka Bar. He sought permission from his domicile's proprietors to rearrange the furniture in the dining room and set up his food-and-beverage concern there. The request was declined. He then successfully sought permission to rearrange the furniture in one corner of the living room, the place where coats are hung and boots and cleats tossed. He pushed the little wooden bench (under whose lid mittens are stored) away from the wall, suspended a sign from the ceiling with masking tape, and put out a plastic cup for tips. He received assistance finding the cooler in the attic and emptying the ice cube trays into it. He climbed up on the kitchen counter so that he could reach the family stash of drinking straws. He recruited an investor-cum-chauffeur to take him shopping for drinks. Finally, he was granted permission to put some chips in a bowl and place this on the mitten-bench, I mean bar, along with a stack of paper napkins and some cashews he found in the pantry.
The gala opening of The Non-Stop Buka Bar occurred this past Tuesday. The bartender's brother, sister, mother, and mother's boyfriend all attended, sitting on little chairs pulled up to the mitt-- that is, bar. The bartender's brother lent his portable speakers to the enterprise, and the bartender played T. Pain and The Game and Ludacris and Rihanna, all the while pouring drinks, removing bottle caps, wiping up spills (with a red striped dishtowel hurriedly fetched from the handle on the oven door), and conversing amiably with his customers. All drinks were on the house. Tipping was heavy, with several quarters, a few nickles and dimes, and one or two dollar bills finding their way into the tip cup. For some reason all of the customers, as well as the bartender, lapsed into fair-to-middling British accents while at the establishment, and no one spoke a word of truth.
I realize it sounds a bit debauched: having an elementary-school child whose current game of make-believe revolves around an alcohol-serving establishment. But this is a boy who spent years deeply invested in make believe. He has been Robin Hood and King Arthur, hero of myth and of legend, soldier of old, fairy child, sailor and pirate. More recently, rapper and hip-hop artist. More recently yet, Red Sox player: he can channel each pitcher, each batter, with an uncanny degree of faithfulness in his musculature, his countenance.
This is a boy who knows what it is to live unbounded by reality, at least for moments at a time. He used never to appear at the supper table without being clad in a costume of sorts: a homemade felt cap with a feather stuck in it; a fringed leather vest; a silk cape fastened with safety pin; a mask, a sash, a dab of face paint, a string of Mardi Gras beads.
And he does not censor the subject matter he takes for inspiration when venturing so seriously into realms of make-believe. He didn't when it called for swords and treachery, nor when it called for danger and death, and certainly not now, in the case of a bit of beer. Or bear.
The stuff of child play is serious business. And no wonder: the stuff of life is serious business, and what is child play if not one way of working out what it takes to be in life? But of course, it is play, not real. Or no: that's wrong. It is play and real. That's its magic, its potency. Its raison d’être. It wasn't just that his dream was respected; it was that it was realized. He made a space and we entered it. In bellying up to the bar, we reified his creation. He was something that night. No mere boy, but bartender, author, dreamer, king.