The pub wasn’t crowded given that it was mid-morning on a Thursday. In fact, the two young men were the only two at the bar and neither knew the other, although they both wore NYU sweatshirts. At some point, one said to the other, “I got out in ‘13. When did you graduate?” And with that, a conversation started and the two got to know each other quickly and soon forgot the football game they had been watching.
“And after that, I went to work for a publishing company,” the younger man related as they talked, “and then I quit to write a novel. That’s what I’m doing right now. Well, not right now, but when I’m at my apartment. You get the idea, right?”
The other one laughed and told his story. He, too, had started writing a novel, and when that hadn’t panned-out, he went to work for a publisher, which was where he was working at the moment.
The irony of their circumstances was not lost on them as they compared notes on how and how not to write a novel. And at one point, the other one asked, “Say, how would you like to play a little bar game? It’s kind of like ‘Liar’s Dice’, but more intellectual. Here, let me explain the rules.” The younger one agreed and for the next ten minutes the rules of this intellectual little bar game were explained to him.
Finally, the younger one asks, “So, let me get this straight. We both put money in the pot, and then one of us makes a statement. And the other one either has to accept what was said, or else forces the issue. In other words, prove it! Right so far?”
The other one nodded and added, “The money in the pot then goes to either the guy who made the statement and then proved it or to the other guy who forced the issue and found out that it wasn’t true. Yep, you got it!” But then he added, “But after each round, the amount of money each of us puts in goes up by a factor of 3. So if we start out with putting in one dollar each, the next time it is three dollars, then nine dollars, then twenty seven dollars, yada yada, okay?” The younger one said he understood and said he had enough money for a few rounds.
“So,” the other one suggests, “Let’s both put in a dollar and I’ll go first.” With that, both threw in a dollar each and the other one says, “Okay, I know what day of the week you were born on.”
The younger one smiled, focused his gaze on the other one and then said, “Go ahead, prove it.”
“You were born on a Thursday.”
The younger one continued to smile as he scooped up the two dollars and announced, “Sorry, wrong day. Now, it’s my turn.” They both threw in three dollars each and the younger one said, “I know four digits of your social security number.” The older one put out hands as if to say Prove it! as the younger one pronounced, “One, three, six, and nine!”
“Wow, so close!” laughed the older one as he picked-up the pot.
And so it went, back and forth, with no one really winning big over the other. But at some point, the pot grew to $2,187.00 and there was now quite a crowd around the two young men. This amount of money was significant to both of the men, and it was unclear whether the loser could come up with enough to make the next pot.
The small crowd was hushed as the other man took his turn, but not without first staring coldly at the younger man. “Okay. Here we go. There’s a tiger in the Men’s Bathroom.”
The crowd as one let out a gasp! Looking around at each other, they knew instinctively that there must be a trick here, but no one could figure out what the other man’s angle was. It couldn’t possibly be true, but then why would he make such an outlandish proposition?
Without moving as much as a finger, the younger man quietly asked, “Just let me get this straight. You are saying that there is a real live tiger in the Men’s Room. Not a stuffed tiger, or a picture of a tiger, or a porcelain tiger, but a real, honest-to-goodness tiger, right?” The other man nodded slowly.
“And I was here when you arrived. And for most of that time, it’s just been the two of us. And I’ve been to the Men’s Room twice during that entire time, and you haven’t gone even once. And you want me to just sit here and accept that statement?” the younger man said, his voice getting louder. “You must be out of your mind.”
The crowd seemed to agree as the other man just sat there and said nothing. After a moment, he looked at his watch and said, “Well, is there a tiger in the bathroom or not? Your call.”
The younger man looked at the pot and couldn’t help wondering if there was some sort of con game going on. Is it possible there was a tiger in the bathroom? Or some trick he hadn’t picked-up on? As the crowd urged him to call the pot, the young man hesitated. He finally gulped and stood up and said, “Prove it!” The crowd went wild with excitement as they moved quickly away from the table to allow the other man access to the Men’s Bathroom. But instead, the other man relented and said to the younger man, “Look, she’s gentle. She won’t hurt you. Just go up to the door, open it just a crack and say ‘Sabra’. That’s her name. She’ll just sit down and let you pet her. Yes, you can actually pet her!”
The crowd instinctively made a path for the younger man as he turned and walked slowly towards the Men’s Bathroom. His palms were sweating and he was breathing quickly as everyone pressed close to him as he approached the door. Taking one more look back, he could see the older man standing by the table, alone, watching, a strange look on his face.
Then, turning back to the door, his hand went out and grasped the stainless steel door handle. The crowd had gone hushed as they pressed in on him hoping to get a first glimpse of what was behind the door.
The younger man put his face close to the door, opened it a crack and whispered in a nervous voice, ‘Sabra’. Hearing nothing, he opened the door a bit more and repeated, ‘Sabra’, this time a bit louder. The crowd, in its eagerness, leaned in too close and accidentally pushed him through the partly opened door into the Men’s Bathroom and onto the floor. And there was no tiger. Others opened the stalls and found nothing.
Patting the younger one on the shoulders, the crowd noisily led him out to collect his pot and celebrate his victory, only to find an empty table and no other man.