The Loophole


I arrive at the pub a few minutes after my friend. It’s a Saturday night in mid-September and we’re taking advantage of the last days of reasonable warmth to sit outside in the garden. The garden itself, however, is showing the sad signs of being prepared for autumn and winter. Several of the tables towards the back are rendered unusable under the burden of RESERVED signs, their benches bent forward to disallow sitting for those who haven’t mastered Yoga. Two storage containers are sitting in the back right corner, and will no doubt store extra produce and perishables through the autumn and more perishable perishables through the winter. The place is a bit depressing, and I can’t unremember drinkers in summery T shirts and dresses sitting on those benches having loud conversations just a month ago.

I sit. The big bald waiter drops my beer as my ass hits the bench. I think him and he grumbles a complaint. With another waiter, I would appreciate this and see it as a comfortable familiarity. But with this guy I attribute it more to the fact that he wants to save himself a trip and has gambled on my order. If I told him I didn’t want a beer, there would be a major problem.

My friend is drinking a glass of wine, a carafe sits next to his glass. We chat about the fun things we always talk about: language, teaching, books, writing, nipple-size, life. A far-off goal for our evening is for him to help navigate me through the treacherous waters of a Czech bureaucratic application. I have to register a freelance working license for some writing and editing and I have to go to the building with the form accurately filled out to be sure to fulfill my goal of getting the license. Somewhat accurately, that is, because they are notoriously tricky. And somewhat sure to fulfill my goal, because bureaucratic offices are notoriously capable of finding problems. In this case it could be a problem with the application’s information, the adjoining documents, my visa, the clerk’s current mood, or the way my hair looks. When I was registering my new address a few months ago, there was a problem three times I went. It took my five times to get my new address registered. I once heard that five times is the average. It’s pretty accurate.

The problem is, there’s always a loophole. The loophole is whatever allows the worker to not do the thing you want to do. A week ago I went for a haircut, always a dodgy endeavor. The woman came out and said “Do you have an appointment?” When I told her no she said “my colleague does walk-ins, you’ll have to wait a half hour.” I asked her: “Well, do you have time?” Her reply: “I only do appointments?” My reply: “But nobody is here.” Hers: “Yeah, but you don’t have an appointment.” I asked: “Can I make an appointment?” She shook her head and then she sat in her little office scrolling on her phone. I waited for ten minutes, roughly the amount of time a haircut for a man takes, and I was the only person there the whole time. I had been loopholed.     

The waiter comes back and my friend orders another carafe.

“No, you don’t have time. We’re going to close early.”

“It’s only 7:30,” my friend says.

Incredulously: “But it’s Saturday.” The only place on Earth a waiter might claim we are stupid for not knowing that a place closes early on a Saturday is in the Czech Republic. “You won’t have time for the carafe.”

“Just a glass then.”

The waiter bitches up a little storm and then marks the paper that serves as our check. He takes the carafe from my friend. There’s still enough in there for a glass and my friends calls to the waiter.

“I still have wine in there.”

“I’m getting you another carafe like you wanted. I have already marked it.”

“You said I couldn’t have a carafe.”

“Yes, but I marked it.”

My friend pours the rest of the wine into his glass and the waiter stomps off with the carafe, visibly upset, I suppose, that he’ll have to give us what we asked for, which was a full carafe of wine.

There are maybe five waiters at this place and this older man who looks like The Thing from Marvel comics is the only one who works with a set of personal rules and loopholes. He begins laying them down the moment you walk in or sit down. You can only sit at this table if you’re eating. This table is closed for repairs. You can’t have water in your whiskey, you have to order a bottle of water. This table is reserved at 8 o’clock, you can’t stay here that long. Later he’ll change the rules he so vociferously set earlier. Those people didn’t come, so you have to stay.

Going to a bureaucratic office can be similar. While registering my new address I was rejected three times for three different reasons. There was always a loophole. Not the right stamp, not the right name, not the right box checked, signature was off, how ugly my shoes are. Something. If you’re engaged in such an activity, you can identify the moment that the worker finds the loophole that allows them to say no, because it’s a moment that comes after intense scrutiny and it is marked by a smile.    

By the time my friend and I finish looking through the application, it’s clear that I’m going to visit this bureaucratic office numerous times before it’s done. Probably, experience tells me, five times. I go to the bathroom to unload and to cry a little about my future in bureaucracy. When I return my friend says that the waiter has told us that we can have something small before they close the garden.

We decide not to have anything more. We’re tired of the loopholes and the rule making, and plus our hearts aren’t in this garden anymore, a place that a month and a half ago was so warm and comfortable, and now is a makeshift storage facility for perishables run by an asshole. The waiter comes back and we tell him we’re leaving and we’ll pay.

“You don’t want anything else?”

“No.”

“But I already told the bartender you’ll be staying for another.”

“Nah, we’re done.”

He shakes his head, perhaps ticked that despite making another rule and setting another loophole, he’s unable to force us to follow this one. We leave and say goodbye, mentally preparing myself for tomorrow’s loopholes and hoping that the pub near that office won’t be such a pain in the ass.

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