It was after midnight when she opened the door to Bad Habits. She tossed her hair over her shoulder and went to the desk.
“Can I help you?”
“I hope so.”
“What did you have in mind?”
“Do you have a menu?”
“Of course,” he said, handing her a thick book.
“I didn’t realize there were this many choices,” she muttered.
“That’s just the first volume,” he said, placing another book on the counter. “There is a short list, if you’re interested.”
“That sounds more like it,” she said.
“The prices are next to each selection.”
“You’re welcome. Feel free to sit at the bar while you decide.”
She nodded, and made her way to the Art Deco bar.
“Scott Fitzgerald drank here,” said the bartender. “Zelda as well.”
“How interesting,” she laughed. “I don’t see how that’s possible, since you only opened three years ago.”
He grinned and put her drink in front of her.
“If you need any help making your decision, just ask.”
She started reading down the list in front of her. She sipped her drink and reread the list. The things she was interested in were not there, but there was a line that said, OTHER, so she took out her pen and wrote down her wishes. When she was finished, she went back to the desk and slid her paper across the counter.
The man picked it up and read it.
“I can give you what you want, of course, but I don’t think these two items are on any list, or in any book.”
“Well, those are the two I would like.”
“They’re a thousand dollars each.”
“I saw that in the small print and by the way, the bartender is a liar.”
“That’s the Bad Habit he chose,” said the man.
“I thought so,” she sighed. “Why would anyone want to be a liar?”
“No idea,” he said.
A printed sheet of paper came out of the machine next to the register and he placed it in front of her.
“This explains things. The Bad Habits you have selected will expire one year from today. If you wish to change anything during that year, it will cost five-hundred dollars to do so. You have chosen two Bad Habits, which are listed below. Please read through them and sign at the ‘X’. On a personal note,” he said, leaning closer, “are you sure you don’t just want to choose, starting to smoke or drink? You know, more…everyday kind of habits? I mean those are in the top five, along with gambling, cheating and gluttony.”
“No, thank you,” she said. “I’ve made up my mind.”
“Well,” he said, “if you’re sure.”
He stamped her sheet and fed it into a computer. He accepted her check, and then picked up the certificate from a machine that pinged, saying it was ready.
“Okay,” he said, placing the sheet on the counter. “For one year, starting today, you will be enrolled in the Bad Habits program. Your first Bad Habit will be to stop eating junk food and only eat organic and fresh foods. Seems as if you’re trying to break a bad habit, rather than start one, but who am I to say,” he snarked. “You’re second Bad Habit will be to stop letting strangers talk to you. Is that correct?”
“Are you absolutely sure about these things? I mean who knows who you could meet the love of your life at a bus stop, or while shopping for your organic vegetables.”
“I don’t care,” she said. “It takes up too much of my time, listening to everyone’s story.”
“You do realize that by choosing that one, that no one will talk to you. It will be as if you’re invisible.”
She frowned. “I didn’t think of it that way.”
“If you try and strike up a conversation, or ask for help, no one will answer you.”
“Yes, really. Remember that old saying, BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR. Perhaps you could just start with the first one and see how it goes.”
“Maybe you’re right,” she sighed. “Is it too much trouble to redo everything?”
“It will only take a few minutes.”
“If it’s not too personal, what are your Bad Habits?”
“Oh,” he said smiling. “I don’t have any, that’s my Bad Habit and it drives other people insane,” he laughed.
She laughed along with him, and as she took her new certificate and rewrote her check, he asked her out for lunch.
She accepted and they met at the Organic Vegetarian Deli, the very next day.
Photo: Manan Chhabra