Is there anything better than puppets?

I spent a few days earlier this week in Chicago for a trade show. On Sunday night, my teammate, Britney, and I ventured to a nearby Tiki bar for a cocktail after dinner. We entered the restaurant and descended the stairs to find the bar bustling with people. Lucky for us, a man arose from his bar stool just as we approached, and Britney gestured for me to take the seat.

We ordered our drinks, foaming with rum and coconut, and I quickly realized that I had seated myself right next to a friendly Saudi Arabian man who, albeit nice, was swimming in his fifth cocktail. We talked – he talked, rather – until he excused himself to use the restroom. I rolled my eyes at Britney, and she gestured to a pair of stools that had opened at the end of the bar. We gracefully slid down, leaving my seat open for the next poor soul. The bartender smiled knowingly, and I smiled back.

Safely secluded at our end of the bar, Britney and I chatted with each other and with the friendly bartenders who were kind enough to answer our endless questions about their flamboyant drinks. We took shots, and I asked Jon to make me something rummy and off-menu. “A daiquiri?” he asked. I nodded.

He mixed the drink and handed to me, and just as I took a sip of the boozy cocktail, I saw something out of my periphery. A tiny, plastic plane, flying past the right side of my face. It took me a second to realize what I was seeing; A adult man with graying hair and thick-rimmed glasses made a zooming noise as he teetered the plane from side to side with his hand, eventually landing the small plane on the bar in front of me. “What do you think of this plane?” he sang into my ear in a deep voice.

“Excuse me?” I asked quizzically.

Before I could turn to face him, I saw something moving on my left side: a small, plastic skull on a toothpick. A drink garnish. He bounced it up and down, hopping it all the way along my left to the drink in front of me. “It’s a puppet!” he exclaimed. “Is there anything better than puppets?”

“Huh?” I asked.

“Is there anything better than puppets? Is there?!” he repeated.

“Umm…?” And before I could think of how to respond because obviously there are ONE ZILLION things better than puppets, he turned and walked away. I looked at Britney, stunned. “What was that?” I asked.

“Puppetry!” she replied. We broke into fits of laughter.

Throughout the night, we watched the man moving around the bar. Performing magic tricks over here, cracking jokes over there. And just before he left, he came back to me. Of course, I didn’t see him approach, so I nearly jumped out of my seat when his voice rang behind me again. “Enjoy your plane!” he said dramatically before giggling loudly.

The next morning, I met Britney in the hotel lobby to catch the shuttle to the trade show. “Look over there,” she whispered as I approached. And sitting there on the couch, quiet and a little peakish, was the Puppet Master. We made eye contact with a flash of recognition, and then he looked away sheepishly.

I guess puppetry’s not as fun in the harsh light of day.

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