The characters that one meets in bars around the world are truly fascinating. Indeed, I have met many friends in this manner. This most recent international “freakspotting” was in Taipei, where Antonio works in my favourite bar. This is a friendly bar and one of the best in town – everyone likes meet up here with friends and to chat with the hospitable staff. Antonio, the manager, is a dashing Indian in his mid-thirties with an adventurous epic to tell that would make Homer’s The Odyssey seem like a dreary high school writing task.
“You should know that I work here only because I love it. My income really comes from my investments.” This is Antonio’s first line to his unsuspecting victims. Apparently after school he inherited his father’s $10 million property, completed a Master’s degree in psychology… then decided to work as a waiter. He was looking forward to retirement in 3 years.
With his fluent English, good looks and the confidence of a billionaire supermodel, Antonio sold his story all over town. He dazzled customers with his fine cocktails, fascinating tales and financial advice. Even more amazing was the fact that he did everything so well: top of the class at Oxford, Ritz Carlton’s Employee of The Year and World’s Best Dad to his baby girl. The ex-fiance and baby’s mum was on friendly terms with him. He even took care of his own mother at home.
Any friendly female who was dopey enough to befriend Antonio was invariably the victim of constant attention. I was of the lucky ladies who caught the sorcerer’s eye. Some people call it “stalking” but not this man – of course not. He would never harass a woman. He was merely showering particular ladies with unrelenting attention, bestowing upon her the chance of future happiness with an A-lister.
Unfortunately, he also liked to send naked photographs for himself. Grotesque, disturbing naked pictures which were very unattractive. For a handsome man, Antonio was surprisingly hideous in his natural state. I was quite alarmed to receive such photos. He has the body of a dropped duvet: everything seems to sag into one big sack of skin. The “attention” received by him was, however flattering, quite exhausting after about a week. Antonio often took things a little too far. It’s the marriage proposal after 3 weeks of acquaintance that pushes most of his admirers over the edge.
There were some things about Antonio that didn’t quite add up. He had cheap veneers on his three front teeth, which looked as if they’d been purchased in a novelty shop – maybe they’d been broken during a fight in a Chinese prison. His cheesy tattoos could have been the handiwork of a fellow inmate at a correctional centre. A friend of mine made the observation that he is rather like a duck, working so hard underneath to make everything look calm on the surface. Antonio, although friendly, had a frightening temper which reared its ugly head whenever he had a hangover or a fight with his “ex-fiance” – he started taking days off work and eventually collapsed on his break. He started to take several days off work… then would turn up with what appeared to look/smell like a hangover.
Apparently he went for numerous tests, although we never found out the exact diagnosis. Antonio started hinting at cancer and the fact that he had only a few months to live and therefore there was to focus on the only thing in the world that really mattered: himself. Everyone was to respect the wishes of Saint Antonio The Sick And Dying Bartender lest they were to be screamed at and refused service. All gifts and offerings were gratefully accepted.
I’ve nothing but respect for a good storyteller, an art I’ve tried to perfect for many years. Antonio, in the tradition of Homer, C.S Lewis and J.K Rowling tells a fine story indeed. It’s hard to know whether to applaud such talent or to suggest an extreme personality disorder. The truth of Antonio’s journey is not glamourous and inspires a sympathy in me that he would despise.
Antonio is an Indian immigrant with little education. He’s never managed to hold a job for any length of time, is shunned by frightened former colleagues. This unfortunate character is actually married to his “ex-fiance” and seems to collect ex-wives, whose relationships all appear to overlap. There are also at least 4 daughters floating around. It’s hard to say if he has any more because everyone has different information. Sadly, Antonio is estranged from 3 of his children and denies their existence. There is no master’s degree, no Swiss passport, no family fortune. Worst of all, there are no friends. This man knows everyone but has bonds with none of them. The downside of being a fabulous spinner of tales is that such people are often labelled as “bullshit artists” by the general public.
One pleasant piece of news: Antonio has totally forgotten about his life-threatening cancer. His shaven hair and eyebrows have miraculously grown back. He is as healthy as a horse and happily making up new stories with which to amaze and amuse his customers, perhaps even snare another wife.