Over the past couple of decades in the service industry, I’ve had thousands of conversations with thousands of different folks. I’ve worked in bars as a bartender, obviously, but every other position as well: janitor, door man, handyman, manager, owner, bookkeeper. In all of those capacities, as one might expect, I’ve met intriguing folks. And, I’ve forgotten more conversations than I can recall, but collectively I can say the conversations have been my favorite part of any of those jobs. Picking up some trivia about a whiskey distiller or setting up a bar system so it runs better when at full capacity are terrific things, but the people that imbibe that dram or hang out on the bar stool are more interesting in the long haul.
One of my favorite characters that comes through the door these days is a retired FBI agent and Army officer, Doug Lintner, also known as Doug the Head. Despite retirement, Doug is one of those fellows who always seems to be working. He does consulting with law offices, teaches at NAU, and tirelessly volunteers his time to make our mountain town a little bit better place to live. He’s one of the fellows with whom I really enjoy catching up. And the key to a good conversation for a bartender is to go off the clock. (Some advice to new service industry folks: don’t get into big conversations while you’re serving; you need to give everyone in the pub equal time. Have your big chats on the other side of the bar.) The other day, Doug’s timing was good in that I was wrapping up my serving duties and finishing the work day. I sat on a bar stool beside him.
Doug being a former FBI agent and with former FBI Director Comey having recently testified to Congress, I wanted to get his take on national politics and whatever else came up. As it turned out, the “whatever else” was more interesting. Incidentally, his take on Trump and the FBI was that they’ll arrest Trump when he’s out of office. Seemed fairly obvious to Doug—almost laughably obvious to him—so we moved on to more important matters.
We talked about teaching. Of Doug’s various jobs, he’s spent some time studying and teaching history, particularly Irish and Scottish history. Once again, he’d be volunteering to teach at the Arizona Highlands Celtic Festival and leading a lecture on Robert the Bruce and war of Scottish Independence, as well as a lecture on the Battle of Clontarf where the Celts beat the Vikings in an open field battle just outside of Dublin in 1014. For my part, I was prepping an Irish Poetry of Resistance lecture, talking about the roles writers and poets have played in 20 century rebellions in Ireland. We kicked around some thoughts on how the battle of ideas shapes various battles on both the big fields of history and the day-to-day life that changes a society over time.
As we sipped a whiskey and spoke some more, a few other regulars popped in and out of the debate. Each person took a turn listening a bit, picking up parts and pieces of the conversation.
“Well, Clontarf wasn’t the last time, it was the only time the Celts beat the Vikings in battle,” someone added and went off with a Murphy’s.
“Robert the Bruce got a raw deal the way Braveheart portrayed him,” added another.
“I didn’t know that.” “Well, what do you think …?”
Doug laughed and smiled and conducted the conversation as it weaved in and out along the copper top bar. This was the opposite of social media where noise and sticking to your uninformed opinion drives the static onwards. The energy here was dynamic, the twists and the turns were many. It was a hoot.
After an hour or so I had to go and execute the other part of a good conversation: knowing when to leave. I’d added what I could, enjoyed what I heard, and might have even picked up a tidbit of knowledge. I quickly bought a round of whiskies for the collective crew. The words in the pub had been primed and were charged. Time to go. Incidentally, if you don’t want to rely merely on good fortune to catch Doug the Head, his lecture at Arizona Highlands Celtic Festival will be on July 15 and 16. More details are at www.nachs.info. Slainte.