Owl In

Getting to the bottom of the Owl Tree and its grumpy old owner

"I said, 'GOOD. BYE.' Leave. Go." Bobby began washing glasses.

"Hey, now," said the man sweetly, trying to smooth the situation. "What's the matter? We've never even met before. I have a friend that I have brought all the way from Australia --"

"See you, good night," Bobby repeated.

The guy, dumbfounded, retreated out the door. Yes, I thought, definitely Love Lost.

It was time for some nice music to carry me through the end of my beer. The Owl Tree has a great jukebox, with Sinatra, Merle Haggard, and '50s standards. I played Patti Page's version of "The Tennessee Waltz" and moved over onto the corner stool by the door.

I was sitting silently, and slowly it seemed that Bobby was warming up to me a bit. I had seen him talk very sweetly to his dog, so I knew that he had it in him somewhere. I sat and said nothing, and over time he became more and more open to making eye contact. He reminded me of a cat that will only sit on the lap of the person who is completely ignoring it. Eventually I got the nerve up to say something.

"Hey," I said, slowly and softly. "Can I ask you a question? I'll understand if you're tired of answering questions."

"Sure," he said, his face opening up a crack. Wow.

"So what's with the owls?" I knew that this question could very well gain me a one-way ticket out the door with a flick of his wrist, but I had to chance it.

"Oh, I just love them," he replied, a smile appearing on his face, his entire being drifting merrily into reverie. His shoulders dropped a bit, he leaned back on the bar thoughtfully, and his eyes widened. Oh my God, I had found it, the spot.

"I have loved them since I was 5 years old," he continued. He then went on to talk about owls, how mysterious they are, how beautiful, how people all over the world have sent him things for the bar, how in his home he has hundreds more. These days he has a lead on a stuffed snowy owl. The wing is broken, but he thinks he can fix that.

"I have only seen one owl in nature," he added wistfully; the look on his face was the one he must have had when he fantasized about saving his lover from the burning building. "It was in Marin. I was hiking, and there it was -- an owl! It hopped across a fence over to me. We considered each other, and then it left. It is a moment I will never forget."

I was so excited that I had broken through Bobby's tough shell. I wanted to go further. "I have my grandmother's owl collection," I said, a bit hesitantly. I didn't want to push the interaction.

"You collect owls?" he asked, genuinely interested.

Our conversation was cut short by more and more people coming into the bar, young travelers from Ireland and a few grizzled locals. Bobby immediately switched back into grumble mode, the despondency returning to his stiffening body. He helped each person with nary a smile or a word beyond "Thank you."

Two men had sat themselves to my left, ordered drinks, and proceeded to try to talk to Bobby. They didn't see me put my index finger up to get their attention and give them a look that said, "Shhhhhhh. Do not attempt to engage the barkeep."

"So," said the beefy one, "do you remember where you got all of these owls?"

Bobby shuffled over to the glasses and began polishing them. "No," he replied with finality, turning his back.

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