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Joe's Neighborhood

Bartenders and astronauts

10/3/2012

Bartenders are imbedded in the American psyche, don’t you think? What isn’t there to like about a bartender? He or she is the modern-day pirate. Not ethically pure, by any means, and not overly empathic (we are just one customer among many), but pragmatic in their advice. And, most importantly, they are there to represent our wild side. Simple. Or is it?                

Tucked away on the north side of Locust Street, deep in the East Village, lies the small wonderful restaurant — Lucca. Jason is the bartender.              

Tall, fit, handsome, young and with a ready smile, Jason’s there wiping the bar, greeting the newest customer and talking to you.               

He fits the perfect bartender image: warm, witty and, without a doubt, your best friend. He swipes the bar, gives you a few words and waits on the front tables. Every woman and a few men, flirt as they pass. He’s kind, engaging and then back to pouring drinks. He is your man. And you’re caught in the flow, the rhythm of his work as he banters, wipes, pours, smiles and talks. Seductive.                

Take a sip of your beer.                

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Five middle-aged women tumble into the restaurant. Unsure of their surroundings, they herd up, grab the front tables and aggressively demand pretzels at this low-key, white-table-cloth restaurant. With a warm and welcoming smile, Jason responds that they have no pretzels . . . no peanuts . . . no popcorn. He then states: “My son probably left some Goldfish in the backseat of my car — can I get you some of those?” The women hesitate, unsure what just happened. Jason’s warm smile reassures them. They laugh. Wine is ordered. The rhythm continues — wipe, pour, smile.                

What did just happen? Jason’s son is named Nolan. He’s 3. As a single dad, Jason is Nolan’s day care. Every day around 6 a.m., he picks up Nolan from his mom and they hang. They get coffee from Zanzibar’s, peter away the morning and then they swim. Every day. Jason works at Lucca for several reasons; foremost, it allows him to be with his son. Quantity time.                

What’s going on here? Where is the wild and crazy bartender of yore? We know where to find the squeaky-clean preacher, the overly loyal cowboy and the fresh-faced farm girl, but where is the morally loose pirate? Jason leans across the flat surface, bar rag in hand and tells me in his soft voice that he is in fact adopted. “My son is the only blood relative I know,” Jason tells me. “Every day spent with my son is a gift.”                

Damn. And Jason’s son, Nolan, does he want to be a pirate? Nope. Dressed in the latest deep-space gear that looks suspiciously like underwear, he informed his dad he wants to be an astronaut.               

Who doesn’t — with the right gear and the right dad. CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www.joesneighborhood.com.

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