BAR STORIES, PART I

Drunk Text – Maudlin & Pugnacious

It’s Thursday night. That means it is a drinking night in the college town where I live. I live on the periphery, not just of the town but also of its society. I am too old to be an undergraduate, and too young and unmoored to be a family man. So, I drink to make up the difference. My plan is to go and have a few drinks with my last remaining friend. I make sure to confirm his availability beforehand. He shoots back a text that reads, “yep.” That is all I need to know before going off to the races. 

I spend the hours before beer doing my usual stuff. I wake up. I write a little. I read a little. I go to the gym (got to be swole for the pub crowd), and then I drink coffee. More coffee comes in the afternoon. I drink so much coffee that my blue eyes turn brown and my bowels liquify into sludge. I check the toilet and I check the mirror. Yes, I tell myself, tonight is going to be a good night. 

At 7 pm I arrive at my friend’s house. I have known him since high school, but we did not become close friends until college. Ever since then we have shared boatloads of beer and liquor together. Our friendship is almost stereotypically male. For example, in all the years that we have known each other, we have both experienced loss and tragedy. He lost his grandparents, while I lost a fiancé. He has struggled with direction in his life, plus the stress of his last job caused him to quit work altogether. He has been unemployed for the better part of a year. We do not talk about it. We have never talked about our personal problems with each other, despite hanging out between two and three times each week. Usually, these nights consist of us seated on his grandma’s old couch watching YouTube videos or playing video games. He always beats me, and I lie that it does not bother me. 

Anyway, on drinking nights we rendezvous at his place and pregame for a few hours. On the Thursday night in question, we shared an IPA six pack and listened to music from Reddit. The music included an eclectic mix of death metal, college rock, electronica, and folk. I liked probably 75 percent of the songs. We also indulged a shared passion for nostalgia. The most recent topic included a local DJ who resurrected himself as a podcast host ten years after retiring from the airwaves. We listened to the podcast. It sucked. Two older guys talking about COVID is as interesting as a colonoscopy. We both agreed that we missed the halcyon days of the 1990s. In truth, the radio show was rotten back then too. 

I much preferred two weeks ago when we trawled through a mutual friend’s highly detailed Facebook page, which stretched all the way back to 2006. It provided me with a sociological study. You see, the mutual friend in question began his life as just another townie meathead. Everyone knew him as the guy whose worldview consisted of hockey, alcohol, weed, and skirt chasing. The first four years of his social media posts confirmed this (as well as his unhealthy obsession with his own nipple rings). Things took a weird turn in 2011, when his long-term relationship turned sour. Emo posting became his thing from then until 2016. Since 2016 he has become just another psychic war victim of America’s nonstop politics. Think wall-to-wall images of Guy Fawkes masks, invocations of BLM, and discourses on the 99%. The man is truly something worth studying. 

We drank beer and rocked out with our chickens out until 10:30. An Uber was ordered. The amicable driver talked about pool tables, a sports bar in another town, and all the college females going out that night to a local dance bar. That latter topic intrigued us the most. We, the creepy old dude trio, agreed that the unseasonably warm weather and the upcoming “dead week” before finals meant that the downtown bars might be more crowded than usual. Excellent. Things were already looking up.

The first bar we hit is an old standby. It markets itself as a sports bar, but it also features several arcade games and three pool tables. Last Halloween we dominated a pool table there for hours until three tattooed hustlers with their drunk girlfriends pulverized us in record time. Oh well. There is always another night, especially when the brightness of your future is limited to weekly booze sessions at familiar pubs. We saddled up to the bar and ordered a round of beers. We traded orders until both of us were neck-deep in suds and a pair of Long Island iced teas. The bar was absolutely packed. Frat boys in sports gear and suits crowded around us. The girls…oh boy the girls! Every new girl seemed prettier than the last. Their uniform for the night consisted of thin tank tops, jeans, and bad fake tans. My eyes tracked the ones in dark colors and the ones in lighter tones. Blondes and light brown hair predominated, but a few raven-haired beauties of questionable ethnicity caught my attention as well. The heavy make-up under the lights made kabuki shadows all across the bar. I did not care; it warmed my cockles just to see women for change. I live in a world that swings from masculine to isolated. My two workplaces are almost exclusively male, and when I’m not at work I am either at home or the gym. The only time I see the opposite sex is when it is late, the moon is out, and I have enough money to waste on lager. 

But as happy as I was, the happiest man in the bar was the geriatric who got hugs and kisses all night. The gray-hair is a regular. I do not know his name, but I know he sits at the same place, wears the same bar merch, and always has at least three young college girls around him. They treat him like a zoo animal—a declawed and defanged species. That is why they flaunt their cleavage in his face or spread their tongues on his cheek. My friend and I both diagnosed the scene as sad, and we agreed to kill the other if we ever stooped to being such an old hound dog. However, maybe we are the ones who have it all wrong. The old boy seemed happier than the proverbial pig in shit, while me and my friend sat at the same bar and talked to absolutely nobody. In fact, from a certain point of view, we were the old guys in the bar too. 

The one highlight at that bar was seeing someone do coke in the bathroom. 

At one o’clock we migrated to another reliable bar. It is a small bar. It cannot be characterized as a dive bar given its situation on the street, and yet that’s the ambience it gives off. It is a bar for older people. The cowboys who go there play country music. Such songs played when we came in. We ordered more beer. It did not take long for the country songs to make me feel maudlin. So, with a five-dollar bill in hand, I hit the digital jukebox. Now, for those who know me, this should have been a worrisome development. My musical taste tends towards the extreme. I love metal. Death metal, doom metal, black metal, thrash metal. I also like noisy rock. Experimental jazz is a-ok in my book too. I basically like all the types of music that could reliably get one kicked out a bar if played. Thankfully for those in attendance that night, I decided to play some favorites that most would find agreeable: “Roxanne” by The Police, “Hate to Say I Told You So” by The Hives, “Rock the Casbah” by The Clash, and “Cat Scratch Fever” by Ted Nugent. I returned to my seat with a wide, smirking grin. I dutifully informed my friend that yes, it was time to rock. 

Except it really was not time to rock. When my songs played, the volume barely peaked above background music. Each track of mine received country song interludes too, with twangy, heart-sick men cutting in on my cock rock jaunt. Annoyed and bored, we bounced after less than an hour. I did not get to hear all of my songs. We also did not talk to anybody either. 0/2 on the night so far. 

The next bar proved to be the last. It too is cramped and plays to an older crowd, or at least I thought it did. When we walked in, I estimated that the average age of the crowd was a flat twenty-one. Rather than country music, the bar’s stereo welcomed us with the dulcet tones of Olivia Rodrigo’s “Good 4 U.” Spare me a minute to talk about how much I loathe this song. First of all, it is catchy. My toes tap whenever it comes on. If I’m in my car or some other safe space, I sing along. The song reminds me of summer, specifically this summer when I had a handful of incredible days and lots of not-so-great nights. It does not hurt that the singer is pleasant to look at.  Yes, I know she’s eighteen. And yes, I have already been booked at the hornt jail. They say my bail is three Hot Pockets and a handwritten apology note. 

But, deep down, I hate “Good 4 U.” Why? Because of the lyrics. Every sentence and syllable could have been taken from the break-up texts and emails from my last relationship. The self-pity, the irony, and the hurt. “Good 4 U” has it all. Ms. Rodrigo’s voice is eerily close to my ex’s, to say nothing of the fact that they have similar facial features. I hate it. It brings back too many memories. “Good 4 U” reminds me of the time, not so long ago, when I was a guy capable of having a relationship. Now I’m gun-shy, mostly because of said last gf.  The song also reminds me of the last time when I was elated to be single. When the anguished texts and accusatory emails ended, I felt free. Free as a naked jaybird in January. I loved the world and everything in it. Most of all, I loved falling asleep to Alex Jones or cryptid videos in my own bed. I loved waking up in the morning to no commitments. I loved scrolling through the dating apps with the assumption that I could, in due time, start the whole dog and pony show again if, and only if, I wanted to. 

That was years ago. Nowadays I rarely think about my romantic status (nonexistent), and I have not bothered with an app since 2020. Then a song like “Good 4 U” comes out of Los Angeles and hits me in the balls with a spatula. I hate it. 

The music choice proved to be a premonition that our last brew through before bed was going to be bad. The badness came in the form of a not-so-attractive young female with glasses. She stood behind us. My friend and I shared glances with each other because we could overhear the female in question threaten to start a fight with an unnamed male. The threats were audible across the bar, but only us two idiots wanted to talk to her about it. A night full of single women and plausibly interesting dudes and the only person we bother to chat up is a pugnacious twentysomething who immediately makes us hate her. After introductory pleasantries, the young woman asks us our age. We tell her to guess. She whiffs and says that we are about four to five years younger than we are. We tell her that we are men in our thirties. 

“You are guys are old as fuck!” she barks. The revenge of the gray-haired lecher at the first bar struck us and struck us hard. 

“I would kill myself if I was from that shithole,” she said after finding out about our hometown. 

Within ten minutes, the girl, who had just turned twenty-one, insulted our ages and our birthplace. I thought that I could not hate anything in the bar more than “Good 4 U,” but I was wrong. I did not relax until our combative friend picked a new crew of guys to insult. Then, just before closing, her ire turned to the two guys sitting next to us. She screamed incoherently at them. The one closest to me pleaded for help. He and his friend asked me about the girl and her deal. I told them what I could, which was nothing. I could not even tell them that she was drunk because she did not seem drunk to me. As the lights came on, I commiserated with the other innocent victims. I even put my college German to use, as one of the two targets hailed from South Africa (I mistook his Afrikaans accent for German, but he rolled with the language anyway). That made me feel good. 

As with so many nights before, we ended up at the pizza place. I ordered six slices for the both of us. I usually take mine with sriracha. We talked and flipped off the girl behind the counter. She is an old friend from our shared high school epoch. Her dad is friends with my dad, and I know three guys that she has made out with. One of those guys is me. Another, my best friend, actually broke into an abandoned apartment in order to spend an adult evening with her. It is all so weird. 

Another Uber took us back home. I slept until eleven. I thanked my lord and savior that I did not have a hangover. I decided to make the most of my late morning by driving out of town to the exurb of my youth. I stopped at my favorite local coffee shop, grabbed three hotdogs from another local favorite, and finally got around to visiting the used bookstore that has been in my personal periphery since about 2000. A simple twenty-dollar note netted me five books. I felt happy, elated even. My boozy morning made me feel better than the previous night, I realized. 

This is the drunkard’s dilemma. I have spent a significant portion of my life in bars. I have wasted hours fretting over my wardrobe. I have saved up money for the sole purpose of getting blotto. And for what? I have had lots of fun, but most of the time my nights out have been uneventful. I sit and chat with friends. I have not danced since college. I cannot remember the last time I met someone interesting at a bar. And when it comes to sensualism, my last hurrah was giving a chubby girl a shoulder massage. Yet, despite logically knowing all of this, I still get excited about the prospect of going out each week. I look forward to crawling through the bars. I tell myself, “Tonight will be different.” It almost never is, but still, I creep around and take slings and arrows from random heels. It is far from ideal, but it is the life I have. 

Cheers. 

— Arbogast is a poet with a blog. You can purchase his new poetry collection, “Nocturnes”, here