Pictures to prove it

The guy at the bar had a story — and a cell phone camera

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"Look, here's a picture of her torso," said the stranger. I smiled nervously — very nervously. The mystery man wore Tommy Bahama gear from head to toe — high-thread-count camp shirt, khaki shorts, leather loafers. He had broad shoulders and the barrel-chest of a fellow who lifts weights but likes to drink beer too much to worry about ripped abs and cardio fitness. He had a neatly trimmed goatee and short, blond/gray hair, slicked down with a thick film of gel. I didn't ask, but he gave his age as 50, which looked to be true.

"Tommy" segued from a story about performing CPR on a bicycle accident victim the night before to a tale about a young woman less than half his age that he'd "handed off" to his buddy earlier in the weekend. He talked loud, on a lovely Sunday afternoon in the middle of the crowded Centro Ybor downstairs plaza. I couldn't tell if he was putting me on, was crazier than Katherine Harris — or both. But there Tommy sat at the outside bar of the Tampa Bay Brewing Company, knocking back a glass of the highly potent Moosekiller-Barley Wine Style Ale, thumbing through his cell phone to show me — whom he'd known for a matter of minutes — a pair of anonymous titties. Incidentally, his same-age lady friend was shopping less than 20 yards away.

Yeah, last Sunday was a weird one.

Tornadoes ripped through the area all morning while rain whipped through my open bedroom window, smacking me in the face after I finally made it home and crawled into my own bed around 9 a.m. It wasn't a pleasant way to re-awake. The cold air startled me.

On Saturday, I'd fried all afternoon at a pool party thrown by my friend since sixth grade, Stacey Green, sunburning on top of a previous burn. See, my Friday had been spent on assignment at Adventure Island (it'll make sense when you read our upcoming Summer Guide issue). My alabaster belly, back and shoulders had been cooked to a reddish-pink at the water park, so I left my T-shirt on Saturday, nursing my wounds with a slow but constant intake of Miller High Life while trading tales with a group of decade-plus-long pals. Yeah, our stories were pretty sordid, too, but hearing one from a complete stranger caught me off guard.

I had stopped by Tampa Bay Brewing Company on Sunday hoping to chat up somebody about the electability of Barack Obama, who had just made a fundraising stop at the nearby Cuban Club. I had arrived in time to witness the Senator from Illinois exit the building and answer the pressing question of "Cubs or White Sox?" (He picked the latter.) Obama was then rushed into one of those black Mercedes station wagons favored by presidential candidates. I slipped into the Cuban Club and grabbed an "Obama '08" souvenir, dropped it off in my car and then made my way to the Brewing Company, which recently relocated from 15th Street to Centro.

Tommy took a shine to me right from the start. I plopped down at the only open stool at the bar, and before I even got around to ordering a pint of Old Elephant Foot I.P.A., we were talking. Our exchange began with an accidental elbow to the ribs. "Sorry about that," he said. "I can't see out of my left eye today."

His left eye looked bloodshot, but not blind. I thought it inappropriate to ask how he'd temporarily lost his vision. My drink arrived and I took a long pull. I unfolded the newspaper I had been carrying around in my back pocket and read about Obama. Tommy's lady friend excused herself to do a bit of shopping.

"Mind if I take a look at that?" Tommy said as he reached for a section of my newspaper. "I think I saved a guy's life last night."

"Really?" I inquired politely. He obviously wanted me to ask. The life-saving story was a bit odd, but the one about the crazy 22-year-old was the showstopper. He'd met her at the car dealership where he's the financial manager. She called to get an extension on a check they were holding and paid a follow-up visit to show her gratitude.

"See, look," he said, handing me the cell phone.

What was I gonna do? Refuse? Impossible. I took a peek. A throng of Bucs fans cheered inside Raymond James stadium.

"Um —." He could tell by my reaction it was the wrong picture. He grabbed the phone from me and messed with it. Handed it back to me.

"Nice," I replied, trying my best to sound cordial. Like he promised, it was a photo of a young woman lifting her shirt to expose a thin waist and full breasts. The face was not visible. I felt creepy. He grinned proudly.

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