Down At The Pub

By Sean C. Tarry
"None of this shit is actually happening," he said loud and full of drink, staring vacantly into the many bottles of whiskey, rum and other liquors that stood on shelved levels behind the bar.  "There are no civil wars in Libya, or the Ivory Coast, or any other of those dark, ill-conceived nations.  There is no poverty and degradation in North America.  Eastern Europe and Asia are not teeming with terrorists plotting against the ways of the western world."

He continued into a trance-like declaration, borne of the languor and drunken stupor that had taken him for a ride.  He could easily have been mistaken for a hopped-up fool ranting alone at the bar, knowing not who he was, nor why he was even there.  But he wasn't crazy.  He was with me.  A very old friend that I had come to know all too well to have even partly misunderstood the indifference and frustration in his voice.

I had seen him plunge headlong, on many different occasions, into paralysing fits of hysteria and depression.  But tonight was something altogether different.  He was starting to sound as though he had given up.  He was casting away from reality, and into a frightening world of retreat and submission from which only the mentally unstable speak.  We are living in rotten times I thought, and some of the best and most sensible among us are beginning to feel like everything is leaving them behind with neither any control over their own circumstances, nor an answer as to why this is.

"What do you think of that shit?" he asked me, slapping me on my arm, causing me to spill my beer. 

He was pointing at the large television screen, hanging from the ceiling above the bar, that was showing highlights from game six of the Stanley Cup Final. 

"Did you see the hit Stevens laid on Kariya?" he asked me, now laughing uncontrollably as his beer splashed around inside the pint glass.  "Another round sir!" he ordered to the barman/bouncer that was on duty, who shot the two of us a contemptuous stare that lasted about three or four seconds. 

I don't know what was going through the mind of that brute that stood about six feet away from us, but whatever it was, he had managed to curb it in time to pour our drinks; two pints of beer and two shots of Jameson's triple distilled Irish whiskey.

"Here you go fellas'," the barman said with a funny glint of readiness in his eyes.

"Thank you very much sir," my friend replied, and we swallowed the shots. 

He had been calling him sir, inflecting serious sarcasm on the word all evening, and it was really wearing thin the once amiable customer/employee relationship that we had with this man, who had not reacted up to then, but had certainly taken note of my friend's behaviour.  And I had assessed that things might boil over, and that I would definitely be judged guilty by association if I was not able to calm him down a bit.

"West Nile Virus doesn't exist.  And I've never heard of SARS," he bellowed, slipping back into his mantra of haphazardness and delusion.  "Fuck this!" he exclaimed.  "We are okay.  And I wasn't abused in lewd and disgusting ways when I was a child, ripe of purity and innocence."

"Shut the fuck up!" I said loud into his ear.  "What do you want to get out of this?  A beating from that giant bartender, or a barstool smashed across your back by one of these blighters in here?"

"There was no kangaroo trial for the West Memphis Three boys." he continued, seeming not to hear me at all.

What the fuck is going to end this torment? I thought.  I am stuck here with this blathering fool whom I am clearly unable to pose any lasting authority on.  We will be torn to pieces.  We'll be done for.  The two of us will be lost in a hazy swarm of inebriated violence.  They'll turn into a bunch of fucking animals and smash us to a bloody pulp.  It was too much of a corrupt scene, stained with an absolute potential for ugliness for me to even consider.

"Oh fuck!" he grunted, pointing again at the hovering boob tube.  "What's going on?  The Nets had a 10-point lead at the half and now they're down by two."

Yes, I thought.  That's it.  Keep him focused on the sports scores scrolling along the bottom of that glowing beast.  MLB scores up to the second - San Diego 3 St. Louis 0 bottom 4th  Boston 2 Baltimore 2 top 5th  Montreal 0 Colorado 0 top 1st - all day.  Twenty-four hours.  An endless parade of incredibly quick and accurate information for the sporting enthusiasts.

There was no way he could cause any harm, or insult anyone by shouting at pro athletes.  Maybe in England, or Greece, or in Turkey, or somewhere like that where they take their sports to a certain level of insanity not understood by people in North America.  But not here.  Not in Toronto where most people have better things to do than get involved in a heavy fight over games.  No.  Over here, faces get smashed and teeth are knocked out over much more serious matters; like having money to pay the rent, or the reasons why you're using that money to drink, or being invaded by some foreign soldiers or by Americans, or there might be some drunk idiot at the bar who is bringing all of these things to light in one monstrous swirl of plebeian insult and dishonour.

"Yeah, goddamnit!" I said.  "They're folding like a cheap suitcase.  Must be throwing up bricks."

"What do you know about basketball?" he snarled at me.  "You haven't got a fucking clue.  You're out of your element on this one."

This may have been true, but it didn't matter to me.  I had no interest in arguing with him over my knowledge, or lack of, concerning the game of basketball.  My main concern was to keep his mind, so polluted by the whiskey, away from drifting into another loud, obnoxious binge of verbal diarrhoe'a.  And by doing so, avoiding any and all risk of trouble. 

"I feel like smoking a fucking joint," he said to me, holding his face in his hands.

"Just hold on now.  And keep that fucking quiet." I said sternly, knowing that the barman was listening to every word that we were saying.

"Don't tell me we smoked all that shit already," he said, whimpering like a fool without a fix.

I was sitting on a little more than a quarter ounce of grass before he had come to pay me a visit in the late afternoon to settle up on a debt that he had with me.  And when we left for the bar around seven in the evening my stash had been reduced to scraps at the bottom of my baggie.  I had rolled what remained into a good-sized smoke before we had left my house, and I thought that it would then serve very well as a bargaining tool to get us the fuck out of that scene.

"Do you still have a bit on you?" he asked me.

"Yeah.  Do you want to pay our tab and go smoke this shit?" I said, feeling almost lucky that we might be able to leave unscathed. 

"Well go spin it up!" he demanded, pounding his fist on the bar in good humour.

"The deal is already done." I said to him calm and quiet.  "Lets get our bill and pay up."

"I'm not done my beer," he replied. "Relax.  We have plenty of time."

He had about half a pint left in his glass, but I finished mine quickly, and left the bar for the washroom to relieve myself before we were off, to leave all of the nervousness and tension behind. 

"I'll be back." I said to him, but I don't think he heard me, or he wasn't listening. 

He was extremely drunk, and I felt a little apprehensive about leaving him alone at the bar like that.  Even just for a few short moments.  But we were leaving soon, and I started to gain a sense of comfort now that all of the possible chaos and confusion of a bar fight caused by two weird strangers was near to being averted.

As I passed the patrons of the bar, on my way through tables and chairs strewn across the floor that was covered with broken peanut shells and glass from many beverages dropped fortuitously throughout the evening, I could feel the aggravation and dislike that these people had built up for us. 

I was about ten feet from the men's room door when a steel keg came rolling like thunder through a staff only entrance to the left of me, and a voice shouted out a warning of sorts.  The barman came walking after it and looked up at me.

"Are you guys just about done here?" he asked me.  "A lot of my friends over there are getting a little tired of the bullshit that's coming out of your boyfriend's mouth."

"Come on now." I said to him.  "There's no reason at all for you to even begin questioning our sexual preferences.  It is beside the point."

He looked at me for a while and then shook his head, "When you're done in there, its time for the two of you to leave.  Got it?"

I didn't care for the forcefulness in which he was speaking to me.  And the aggressive stance that he had chosen to take concerning our being at his bar was starting to annoy me a little.  But it was his bar.  And rather than tempting fate by returning from the washroom and ordering another round, I decided that we would all be much better off if my friend and I called it a night.  I nodded at him, and he shook his head again and mumbled something inside a grunt.  I could hear the keg rumbling toward the beer fridge that was behind the bar as the washroom door closed behind me, and I stepped inside the facility. 

It was treacherously unseemly in there, and the stalls emitted a smell so base that it could only be rivalled by the stench I had previously experienced in a lavatory, on a ship full of seasick passengers, en route from Hollyhead in Wales to Dublin midst a brutal storm on the Irish Sea.  The tiles on the walls and the floors in this place needed a good scrubbing, or a hosing by a whole team of highly skilled janitors.  There was excrement on the wall, underneath the sink where the pipes were corroded and stinking of mould, and the urinals had been filled with cigarette butts in place of the blue sanitary puck.  The odour in there was so powerfully rank that I could taste it.  I wanted nothing more at that point than to leave those walls and smoke a nice joint of grass on my way slowly home before I could dispatch my friend in a city cab. 

I listened to the soft tinkling of my urine on the porcelain, thinking about nothing, when all hell seemed to break loose beyond the door somewhere inside the bar.  I knew inherently that it must have had something to do with my friend, so I moved quickly spraying the walls and floor with piss as I struggled to zip the fly on my pants, and run through the door to confront what had always seemed to be the inevitable. 

I could see the brute barman take a swing from close distance at my friend, and I rushed over to try and make some peace.  It was no use, however, as the mob had converged on him and there was shouts, and a cry from my friend.  I tried to squeeze through the crowd holding my forearms up in defence against flailing arms, and I got a punch in the ribs that hurt like hell.  Those weren't knuckles, I thought, as I continued to get closer to my friend who was being slapped around by the barman and two others who I presumed to be his buddies.

I was thinking that this could get real ugly.  Just as I had already imagined it going down.  But just then, like the deus ex machina being lowered by the crane, we were released from the crowd and told to leave by the brute.  He bent down to the floor and picked up something white and trampled.  It looked like a cigarette, but I couldn't tell. 

What the fuck happened here?  I was terribly confused and wanted an explanation, fast.  My friend was bleeding from his nose and looked completely withdrawn from the hectic events that had just ended.

"Get the hell out of my bar," the brute screamed at us, his face red with adrenaline.  "You come in here and talk loud, and disturb everybody, and then you light a fucking marijuana joint!  I should have the two of you beaten, you fucking deadheads."

"My fucking grass!" I said, staring at the joint in his hand. 

The goddamn fool lit the fucking joint.  I couldn't believe what I was witnessing.  I had left him for two minutes and he had managed to cause enough trouble to get us removed from the bar, and my last joint was in the barman's hand.  He turned swiftly to my friend's beer and laughed as he dropped the joint inside.

"Get the fuck out!" he yelled.  "Now!" 

We had no choice in the matter.  There was no protest that we could mount against these people.  And for what anyway?  My friend had spoiled what was already going bad, and we didn't particularly like it there in the first place.  We didn't have anything to smoke anymore, but I didn't so much care.  We were leaving.  Not on our own terms, but that shithole would soon be behind us all the same.

We were walking through the parking lot from the bar toward the sidewalk, and I was thinking that we were relatively lucky to escape from those people unharmed.  My friend had taken his shirt off and was wiping the blood from his face, but that was the only casualty that either one of us had suffered aside from my ribs that would surely be bruised the next morning. 

They had spared us inside that bar that evening, and I didn't really have any idea as to why that was, but that it just seems to happen like that sometimes.  Even animals can practice mercy I thought.  I wasn't sure.

We walked silently for a while, and then my friend stopped under a bridge on the way to my house, humming to the tune of Dylan's Rainy Day Woman # 12 & 35.

"Well they'll stone you when you're tryin' to be so good," he began to sing with a smile on his face, and dry blood crusted on his upper lip like a reddish-brown moustache.  "They'll stone you just like they said they would."

He started to laugh and howled like a wolf, and he reached into his coat pocket pulling out a small flask, and opened it.  He tilted the chrome container up to his lips and took a healthy mouthful of the whiskey inside.

"Here!" he said, holding it up to my chest, coughing and spraying wafts of the liquor under my nose. 

I took the flask and swirled the whiskey around hearing it clunk against the insides like little waves on a tiny shore.  I took a good swig, and then went again for another and handed it back to him. 

I watched him as he spun the cap shut and put the flask back in his pocket, and I wondered what had come of him.  He was a brilliant thinker, and an astute writer who had, throughout his years, recorded arbitrary flashes of truth and simple reasoning in his writing that could not be equalled by any of his peers.  He had played by his own rules and suffered whatever consequences might result from his behaviour.  But he had been on the incline for so long that he was slowly beginning to lose his grip on everything that he had once yearned to understand.  Freedom, equality, respect.  All of the good things.  All of the things that sometimes seem impossible for the ordinary man to achieve.  None of it made any sense to him anymore.   

He sat hunched against the wall under the bridge staring up at the tracks and then kind of grunted and chuckled at the same time.  He reached his hand out, and I grabbed it and helped him to his feet.

"What the fuck." he said, and he drew a big joint from the inside of his jacket.

You fucking blighter I thought.  He had smoked all of my shit, all day, and lost my last fucking joint while sitting on one of his own, and maybe more for all I knew.  I stepped forward and tried to reach into his pocket to see if there was anymore, but he ducked backward and laughed at me.

"Are you going to let me light this?" he asked.

"Fuck you." I said, and he lit the joint.

We walked slowly up through an abandoned lot that had only an old, also abandoned, trailer camper on it.  And we breathed in the marijuana, one toke at a time, feeling the cool lake air brush over our bodies.

"What the fuck's happened to all the real champions?" he asked me with a clear and serious look in his eyes.  "Don't tell me they're all either dead or dying.  Don't fucking tell me that."

His thoughts had built up, as the evening had progressed, toward his increasing inability to grapple with his own attitudes and beliefs thrown against the weight of the world, and all that makes it go round.  He was feeling the crunch and was showing definite signs that some sort of transmogrification of his person was currently, and had been for a long, long time, taking him over.  And I knew that he didn't understand any of it.

He took the flask from his coat again and finished what was left of the whiskey, and he laid down beside the trailer.  He looked weirdly comfortable on the dirty ground lying among refuse and dog shit.

"Get up and walk to my place." I said.  "I'll call you a cab.  I'll even fucking pay."

"No I'm fine where I am.  Thanks." he said, and turned to face the trailer.

I kicked him in the back as I started to walk away, and I told him that I would call him a cab anyway and send it to this lot, but he didn't respond.    


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