BAR STORIES, PART III

To All the Sloshed Sad Bois

Booze can be a panacea, but it can also be the thing that kills you. It is a slow-acting poison, although the morning after often feels like the late stages of something inoperable. The conundrum of the amber bottle, at least for me, is the fact that I use it to take the edge off, but the edges always seem to triple whenever I kick a few back. The more I drink, the sadder I become. Then when I consider dropping the habit, I look around and realize that drinking is about all I got, which is the saddest thought of all. Sure, there are friends. I also have this writing thing, for whatever that’s worth. But, even from the point-of-view of sober judgment, Dutch courage makes my bleak life a little bit more colorful. And, let me tell you goons something, the last few nights have been raining down color like a dyspeptic rainbow.  

It all started in January when my work schedule stabilized. Thanks to that and a recent raise, my flushed pockets and empty calendar cried out for entertainment. A few texts later and my lone drinking buddy and I had it down pat: Thursdays, Fridays, and the occasional Saturday were for getting blotto. As chance would have it, our first night out would be New Years’ Eve. Best of all, my friend’s roommate decided to tag along too. So, on a seasonably warm night in the mountains, the three of us dressed in our best flannel shirts and descended on the college town in search of…something. What we found was beer and lots of people. We arrived already feeling warm from a few shots and a couple of IPAs. (Editor’s note: I generally hate IPAs because they are the favored concoction of cockroach urbanites, but it is against my religion to refuse free beer.) The bar was buzzing too at ten o’clock, as the mixed crowd of old drunks, thirtysomethings, and college students commingled across tables already sticky with spilt liquor. There was some kind of shots special that night, but I stuck to three-dollar lager. My friends did too mainly because I was buying. 

Despite its reputation for raucousness, New Year’s Eve was not particularly rowdy for us. The most dangerous it got was when the free champagne was poured into red solo cups and left unattended at the sidebar. The mad rush did not become a stampede, but shoes were definitely smudged. Said sneakers did not die, but they did rest in piss (it’s a bar, after all). Lots of ABBA was played, and lots of girls on the verge of a brownout sang as well as they could, which was not well at all. As for myself, I talked to my brothers-in-beer and occasionally watched in horror as Pete Davidson and Miley Cyrus tried to out-cool each other while a gaggle of masked New York idiots hopped and bopped like grasshoppers avoiding landmines. I hated every minute of it. Even the Florida intermissions saddened me. The whole thing felt artificial, while the real world around me failed to deliver on expectations. We eventually left a few minutes after midnight. No kisses, no hugs, no salutations. We three amigos just got liquored up for nothing. I was the only one who witnessed anything memorable when I got in line for the bathroom.

As a general rule, taking a leak in a bar bathroom is not a good idea. If you can keep your seal intact, then please do it. I cannot. I have a bladder the size of a hummingbird, which is humorous until you learn that my father is fighting prostate cancer as we speak. He is doing well, but you should know that prostate problems are often genetic. My frequent urination is not a good sign.  At least it is not dookie, for taking a shit at the bar is so beyond the pale that I cannot even comprehend it. I and everyone I know has either puked in a bar bathroom or has peed in someone’s vomit before. However, I know no one who has taken a dump in a bar, or at least I do not know anyone brave enough to admit it. 

So, there I was with a urine-induced cramp. I had to go in the worst way. Just as my stomach was set to explode, an obvious transexual woman walked out of the men’s restroom. My physical travails became secondary to my keenness in observing the situation. I watched the faces of cowboys and college boys slacken. One dude burst out laughing, while another, who spoke in the usual patter of a Yankee, began openly debating the reality of what he just witnessed. 

“Was that a tranny?” 

“No way.” 

“No, I think it was.” 

“Holy shit, dude. That was a tranny.” He said all of these things to himself and out loud as the object of his seconds-long obsession slunk away back to the bar. If I had to sum up the mood with a word, the word would be “shock.” Everyone at the bar that night knew that such things could happen, but everyone assumed that our mostly rural red state would not be where it would happen. Color us fools, especially since I later saw a well-dressed man hand the transexual woman a wad of cash as they left the bar. I cannot confirm it, but this moment bore all the familiar hallmarks of a john paying a prostitute. Maybe he paid for sex. I prefer to think that his kink was public shock and awe. If so, then mission accomplished. 

Cut to weeks later. New Years’ Eve felt like a distant dream as I began preparing for my birthday. I am schizophrenic about my birthday. I cannot remember the last time I had a party, nor do I get much in the way of “Happy Birthday” texts or greetings. The last several years have seen me work on my birthday, and this year was no exception. I spent the day doing my usual routine. I got two or three texts in total. I’m not on Facebook, so my close friends have no idea when my birthday is. I also do not help matters by never telling anyone. I think there is something genetically coded in Celtic peoples to scorn compliments and avoid feeling “big” whenever possible. My people are so humble that it can be mistaken for self-loathing. That is certainly the case for me. After a day of simultaneously avoiding all mentions of my birthday while being kind of huffy that no one was giving me any special TLC, I ended things by joining a co-worker for beer and tequila at the bar. 

During working hours, the man in question was my direct supervisor. He is no longer there, having gone back to his old trade of welding. He is getting married soon, so I wish him many happy days, or at least better days than the miserable ones we shared together recently. Exhausted and smelling like ass in our uniforms, we saddled up to the bar almost before they closed. Fortunately, my ex-manager knew the owner well enough that she kept the lights. We traded rounds as we opened up to each other. Alcohol is so popular because it is a social laxative – it is Dulcolax for the tongue and hips. We both opened our holes and let it ride. It turned out that we had a lot in common: both were out-of-state transplants, both had served in the military, and both had a background in blue-collar work. As we swapped stories, I took in the bar around us. At one table was a familiar face. He had once played basketball for the local college team. Never the superstar, he nonetheless had a loyal following. These days he is better known for being a belligerent drunk, and on that night, he yelled across the bar about how he would never, ever let a “bitch get pregnant on him.” The long-suffering bartender nodded along, and when she would not give him a response, he went back to rapping along with Gucci Mane. 

The other patrons in the bar had the gloss and sheen of regulars. They spoke loosely and freely with the bartender. I christened them Salt ‘n’ Pepper, for one was white and the other black. I should emphasize salt here, as the white one could only be politely described as a BBW.  If I wanted to be crude and rude, I would have described her as a mattress with blond hair, but I am not going to do that. Suffice it to say that she and table salt know each other on a personal basis. Ditto for her and tequila, as she joined my soon-to-be-ex-manager in several rounds of the Mexican aphrodisiac. The liquor had its effect; the young lady made it clear in no uncertain terms that she fancied my drinking partner. She bluntly stated, in her best attempt at a bedroom voice, that she was willing to suck my friend’s dick in the bathroom. Her bold advances were rebuffed by the flash of an engagement ring, so she then moved onto the next best thing: me. I did not get an offer for fellatio, but she definitely put her paws out and reached for my manhood. I declined, and when I helped her into her friend’s car that night, I saw the familiar wash of shame clean out the place where lust had just been. 

Happy birthday, Arbogast! Congrats on not taking advantage of the rare bird drunker than you. 

One night later and I still needed something stiff. I drove my tired bones to my local and had three lagers all by my lonesome. A thin crowd at the bar included one couple. I hate couples at bars. The reason why is obvious. And yet I still drink alone from time to time, which makes the sad boi self-pity even worse. There I sit, again and again, only ever talking to the bartenders, which usually means I annoy Devlin, the kind-faced Irishman, until I decide to call it a night. That is exactly what happened. I went to bed angry with myself for being such a national embarrassment. What kind of dingus drinks alone? 

Don’t answer that! I do not want to hear the dreaded a-word. 

My beer-soaked birthday week was still not over. My usual partner-in-crime decided to make the next night a proper birthday party pour moi. Or at least that is what he said over the phone. In reality we spent my birthday celebration playing round after round of pool. My friend is a bit obsessive. So, when he kept scratching on the eight ball, and thereby handing me something like five technical victories, he demanded that we stay until he, the superior player by far, could fairly and squarely beat me. He did best me a bunch of times before the end of the night, but by that point it was immaterial. My birthday celebration became a forgotten memory as I bought all the drinks and left when he wanted to leave. Thus, ended what was supposed to be a night, hell even a week, dedicated to me. But little did I know while in the depths of my bitter ale despair, something wild was afoot. Let us call this unexpected hurricane Madeleine, and this is where the Madeleine saga begins. 

I actually had another woman on my mind when Madeleine came into my life. You see, there is this one bartender who I see all the time. She is young, she is pretty, and she wears clothing that is not appropriate for the public. The most I have ever seen her wear is a slingshot t-shirt. For the most part she works in either a tube-top or a glorified bikini top. It really is not fair to do this to old horndogs like me, but the good news is that she is approachable. She and I have chatted in the past, but only recently did I notice that her name had escaped me. I rectified that one night in the hopes of working towards further communication. The end goal? My first date in a year and a handful of months. So, full of unexpected piss and vinegar, I walked up to the bar and introduced myself. She told me her name (Madison), and we shook hands like it was the end of a successful business lunch. I practically skipped back to the pool table where my friend was once again in the process of trouncing me. I did not care. I felt happy for the first time in months. 

To celebrate, we headed next door to a sports bar that caters to a young crowd. And I do mean young; I cannot count how many 19-year-olds I have met in there. None have ever uttered a syllable about a fake ID, either. They go there for the specials and the weekly live music. We go there to look at the pretty young things. We are never disappointed in that regard. There are always gaggles (or murders?) of smiling females in their early twenties. Made-up and practically undressed, they are painfully close but always out-of-reach. Whenever I do wind up talking to one of them, it usually ends with an awkward laugh when they find out my age. That particular bar is my personal black mirror, for one of the regulars is my Zoomer double—same hair color, same haircut, and same beaky face. The difference is in the swagger, and the difference is extreme. While I slouch at the bar and maintain an air of aloofness, my twin shows up rocking a gold chain and a turtleneck, or a puffy white leather jacket. I am positive that he is a frat bro. I am also positive that he is slaying, or at least he is spending his nights the one female regular who is easily in the top five when it comes to the cutest in the bar at any given night. My Zoomer twin taunts me with what I could have been if I had never discovered Lovecraft. I sincerely hope that his only resemblance to me is physical. 

Well, while my Zoomer twin made moves, my friend and I decided to have a go at the mechanical bull. To be more precise, my friend talked me into hopping on the mechanical bull. I did so, and because I am not a hot chick, the operator wasted no time in throwing me off the contraption. Still, in those dizzying seconds, I had the privilege of listening to my friend tell all within earshot that I was a virgin. I am not a virgin just in case you had any doubts. I do not think anyone took him seriously, but some may have. I was definitely a virgin bull rider until that night, so he was not completely wrong. 

The virgin joke proved to be such a winner with my friend that he repeated it the next night at a different bar. The result, however, surprised all of us. Rather than be repulsed by the thirtysomething incel in their midst, one member of the fairer sex took it upon herself to deflower me. The round mound in the bob haircut earnestly asked me if it was true. I denied it. She then asked for proof. Rather than let me answer, she grabbed my collar and pulled my lips close. She did it a second and third time. The kiss was not great. No part of me held any attraction to her, and I’m sure she can say likewise. The kissing was an act of pity – a good Samaritan trying to help out a social leper. Or maybe she was just drunk and horny. The latter explanation seems sounder given that she also made out with my two other friends. She let one of them feel her up too, so yeah, I’ll go with just horny. 

On the opposite side of the bar, dressed all in black, was Anne Hathaway. 

Ok, not THE Anne Hathaway, but a young lady who could be her stunt double. The Gothic A.H. turned her eyes towards me for whatever reason and began talking about hockey. She went on about how hockey helmets are more aesthetically pleasing than football helmets. Her comments ranged from scrambled to stupid, but I listened along anyway. My best friend joined in, and soon enough we had made fast friends with her. She introduced herself as Madeleine. She spoke at-length about being a graduate student TA in the criminology department. In fact, prior to hitting the bar, she had been teaching students at a simulated crime scene. Madeleine threw around words like “blood splatter” and “defensive wounds.” She also threw around her hands like a Sicilian helicopter, and I had to duck a few times to avoid a flying phalange. Her gesticulations aside, Madeleine proved to be a good conversationalist. The vodka certainly helped, as did the mountain of Adderall she took before coming out. Simply put, she was wired. She would talk to me in bursts, and then run off and talk to others in the bar. At one point she abandoned the bar completely. Her absence was filled by a self-declared friend. An opposite of Madeleine in every way, the friend at least had Madeleine’s gift of gab. Chalk up another victory for the Irish, I suppose. Eventually, the raven-haired beauty returned. She dished out more compliments (“You know how to talk to women”) and flirted a lot before the night eventually ended. I can safely say that I left the bar that night smitten with Madeleine, and I was far from the only one. 

Another week came and went. Without bothering to plan in advance, my friend and I returned to our favorite pool hall. We bumped into some vague acquaintances. One of them bought us a round of bourbon. The other played Billy Joel on the jukebox, which seemed to bring everyone down. My eyes were mostly on the bar because Madison was working that night. I talked myself up in order to finally find the mojo I needed to ask her out. I heard Tony Robbins and his big ass teeth chewing my ear off. It worked. I got right up to the bar, asked for a drink, and then steeled myself for the awkwardness. The awkwardness failed to materialize. Instead, Madeleine materialized as the incredibly drunk woman next to me. Despite having eyes that moved around in her skull like hamsters move around in wheels, Madeleine recognized me. We started talking again. This conversation proved to be even more pointless than the last, plus it was shorter. I was cut off at the pass by my friend, whose thoughtless interjections caused Madeleine’s mind to cloud even further. Lost and hopelessly drunk, Madeleine left the bar and did not return. My friend and I went to find her. We missed her that night, so we consoled ourselves by talking to two creaturas, one of whom had a tooth blacker than midnight. Through it all I managed to completely forget about Madison. Madeleine had replaced her in the battle for M supremacy. 

My woeful recent bender ended the very next night. The Friday night crowd downtown seemed normal enough, but I learned quickly that the city had replaced the tap water with fight milk. Not five minutes after walking through the double doors of the first bar, a catfight broke out. I do not know what caused it, and it is possible that the participants did not either. All that mattered was that the one with curly hair called the blond in a black top a “slut.” They yapped at each other like rabid Pomeranians. The bar, especially its female patrons, whooped with applause and laughter. They egged it on. The guy next to me started laughing like a hyena. He said something in a thick Italian accent. I replied with my best Sopranos Italian. He laughed but ultimately walked away out of embarrassment. 

Speaking of cringe, the fight took a weird turn when one of the two geriatric patrons decided to enter the fray. Dressed immaculately in a Champion hoodie, shorts, and slip-on loafers, Old Man River shucked and jived in the middle of the fight like a blithering idiot. His intent was to mock one of the combatants and boy did it work. The whole bar erupted into laughter. The girl being mocked stormed off into the bathroom and did not return to her seat. While trying to get a drink at the packed countertop, I turned to my amigo and made him swear that he would shoot me dead if I ever acted like the man from the class of ’79. He thankfully agreed to murder me should that happen. We both agreed that everyone involved in the scuffle looked bad, and we both agreed that the old dude made us, the fourth and fifth oldest guys in the bar that night, feel uncomfortable. I got to stew in discomfort even more when the curly-haired girl’s friend decided to let the dancing fool feel her wrath. The little thing, which only came up to the bottom of my shoulder, let the grayhair have it. 

“Look at yourself in the mirror; you’re ugly,” she barked. “You have a little dick. You will die alone!” 

After making sure that I was not her intended target, I tried to break-up the fight by saying “hey,” “wait,” and “woah” a bunch of times. True to form, the old timer pulled off his shoe and held it right up to the girl’s face. From the back row it appeared that he was seconds away from hitting her. But, from my front row seat, I knew that he was using the shoe to taunt the girl about her finances. According to him, his Payless shoe cost more than her life. One has to admire both of them—their slams cut to the quick. I certainly felt it. The girl did too, and she responded by kicking the retiree in the shins. 

What followed was a strange lull in the excitement. Everyone went back to boozing as if the high weirdness had not happened. While my friend made moves at the bar, including a moderately successful schmoozing of a sorority girl who minutes before I had heard throw up in the bathroom, I stayed in my own little world and admired my surroundings. My Zoomer double was there with a hot date. Next to him was a gorgeous threesome, including one girl whose lips looked like they were friends will collagen. Miss pillow lips spent lots of time talking to a tanned and blond Asian, whose low-cut dress almost gave me that early onset coronary that grandma keeps warning me about. If I die like this, then it would be fitting.

Then, out of the blue, the fight started up again. The old guy got a drink thrown at him. In response, he started sort of dancing again. Busting a move must be his chief offensive weapon and his primary defensive mechanism. Interesting choice. We did not stick around for a third installment of the world’s dumbest duel. At midnight, we walked in the cold until eventually taking seats at our local. Devlin was there and seemed happy to see me. I ordered the first round. By the time we prepared for the second, Madeleine coasted towards us. Somehow, she looked even better in white. Her big, thick, and square-framed glasses also did her face wonders. I raced to get ahead of my friend to make the first reintroduction. Madeleine smiled at both of us. The conversation began instantly, and like every time before, it was about nothing. Madeleine is the Seinfeld of sex appeal, I guess. Whatever. I was back in the deep end. 

At one a.m., Madeleine invited us to a neighboring bar where her friends had a table. We agreed. The table included two other girls, one of whom I had met weeks prior. The other looked vaguely familiar as well. It turns out that she and I had made out previously during the summer, which made what was to come even more absurd. As the night entered its last hours, Madeleine went from buzzed to blacked-out in what seemed like seconds. She kissed my friend, and then transitioned to kissing some random dude who came to the table later. His friend got a smooch himself from a girl who had confessed to me weeks earlier that she was engaged. 

Yikes! 

While everyone wetted their whistles, I played a solitary game of Jenga and emptied two bottles of Miller Lite. On the second bottle, I heard what sounded like another fight. I turned and saw my former make-out partner verbally berating my stunned friend. She was telling him in no uncertain terms to leave the table. My friend had not done anything wrong; she just thought it would be better for him to leave because, as she claimed, Madeleine was not interested in him. 

Look, I am not a violent guy. I am not even all that aggressive, despite what my music collection may lead you to believe. That said, I do not tolerate people besmirching my friends, especially the only guy in the world who will hang out with me at a moment’s notice. I surprised myself by how furious I became. I got so lost in dressing the girl down that I only snapped back into reality when an unknown patron approached me to complain that I was making everyone feel awkward. I apologized but made a point of staying at the bar until my beer was finished. I drank slowly, making each sip seep with venom. When it was time to go, I filled up the night with four-letter invectives. Use any measurement you want, but I was far more angered than my friend. 

I have been as sober as a judge since fight night. Life has gone back to the tiresome routine of working, eating, and sleeping. The only coda to the whole experience was enjoyed by my friend, who got a late-night booty call from Madeleine. Sadly, for him he got the call at four a.m. but no booty. Things fall apart, I guess, especially if you are always sauced to the gills. I figure it is a given that we will see Madeleine again. Maybe not. A dude ripping into your friend like a Marine D.I. tends to sour people, and for that I am guilty but not sorry. My anger was righteous, but, if I am being honest, it was also the culmination of years of bad luck and disappointment. I have more money than ever, I drive a nice car instead of an old hooptie, and my apartment is clean and well-maintained. I break out laughing constantly. And yet, I feel more pathetic than ever. Each week my age and loneliness smack me in the face. Even a recent heart-to-heart with a trusted bro could not break me out of the funk. It just seems that, after years of traveling and even living abroad, I am slated to be a townie nostalgia addict. My fate is to go to the bars and get more decrepit with each bottle. Once upon a time I had social status. I had ten-plus matches on OkCupid. I used to have sex every week. I used to be a contender. 

Now, well, I do not even recognize that guy. I could not be that guy again if I tried. Do not mistake this for a pity party; the guy who used to be a player is the same hombre who made the three major mistakes that I am still paying for and will probably pay for for the rest of my life. If it is my life sentence to collect bar experiences, then it is still better than the alternative that I once volunteered for. Life, like booze, is a cruel-hearted mistress whose worst trick is giving you hope and amnesia. The night can always be good, and just like life, you cannot know until it is done. Sure, betting against disappointment and heartbreak is foolish, but some of us are born gamblers. Melancholic gamblers, but gamblers just the same. 

So, in that spirit, I’ll wager that the next drink is on me.

— Arbogast is a poet with a blog. His poetry collection, “Nocturnes”, is available for purchase.