BARchetypes: The One Who’s Gonna Die Here

It’s been some time since I wrote 1 of these, but seeing as I’m in my last month, I figured I’d bring back this feature for an appropriate send off.

Bar regulars are a varied lot. There are the assholes and the loners, but somewhere in between sits the patron saint of all drunks: The one who’s drinking until he (or she) dies. The bar is the pharmacy for the depressed lot who can’t afford therapy or medication, or who just find it easier and less humiliating to self-medicate.

Look around: One of those bar stools is occupied by someone on their way out.

The Nearly Departed might be funny or morose, talkative or monkish, man or woman, but no matter their character they have arrived for one reason: Life is unbearable and they want to numb themselves until it’s over. The bartender is their Kevorkian.

In a perfect world, every person who suffered from depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety or one of the other related mental illnesses would find peace and solace through some healthy outlet. This isn’t a perfect world. It never will be. Actually, in a perfect world a lot of bars would probably go out of business, so I guess there’s no such thing as a perfect world.

As someone who works and spends a lot of extracurricular time in bars, it’s not hard to spot the outgoing mail. Maybe they are the Dylan Thomas-type, sacrificing their mental health for their art until they succumb at the bottom of a pint of Guinness. Or maybe they took a job straight out of high school and they’ve been stuck in a Groundhog Day-esque loop ever since. Either way, their shoulders slump in resignation.

It might seem sad, but really, there are worse fates than to waste away in a place where you feel at ease and welcomed. They know your name, they know your drink and they know when to leave you alone when you’re in one of your moods. Some people search their whole lives for such an environment.

But your first impression was right: It is sad. Not because they will die – we all do – or because they are finding peace at the bottom of a glass – we’re all addicted to something. No, the sadness comes from the knowledge that at one point, there were infinite paths set out before them, and either because of bad choices, bad planning or bad luck they settled on a road of least resistance.

It’s not the kind of sadness that deserves pity. They would reject yours if you offered it. It’s just the sadness inherent in living, because despite all the childhood pep talks and optimistic sloganeering, it isn’t possible for everyone to achieve their dreams. The world isn’t so kind.

Some people will, inevitably, fall to the wayside.

And in most of those cases, it’s not the priest or the rabbi that picks the fallen up. It’s not even a good Samaritan.

It’s the bartender who pours the shot, pops the cap off the beer and says, maybe for the hundredth time, “Hey, how was work?”

Condoms... Condensation


BARchetypes: The Alcoholic Writer

Any bar worth its salt has a writer-in-residence.  Not necessarily a talented writer, not necessarily a popular writer.  Just a guy who puts words to paper (or screen; writing on the page is sexier, though). 

He’s at the bar for the liquor.  He might tell himself he’s there for a change of scenery, or for conversation, or to be surrounded by people, to be inspired by the swarming hive of the indecent human presence.  These are smokescreens.  He’s there for the liqour.

When drinking at home has gotten him nowhere, when the words have dried up like his pickled liver, he emerges out of his cave because he believes that public alcohol may just unlock his muse when private alcohol could not.  He will not drink just one.  He will tell himself two is the limit tonight, an economic choice because he only has enough money in his bank account for one.

He drinks four.

At some point, having spoken no more than the bare minimum of syllables required to procure his liquor, he will walk out of the bar, next-to-sober.  He will fight every instinct in his body to go back and have just one more.

Then he will return home and write.  Try to write.  Write.   Same difference.

And what comes of it, success or failure, will either validate his choice or prove that he should have gone back for one more drink.

He may end up writing all night, powered by his lack of willpower.  Or he may write a forgettable paragraph and pass out in his jeans.  Either way, his night’s creative peak will have been reached hours before, when he struck upon the inspired idea to leave his apartment and have a drink.

And what of the writing that results?  Is it any good?

I guess that’s up for you to say.

BARchetypes: The guy without a clue

Where Should I Move Next?

Perhaps you know this scene:

Stunning girl, long hair, sharp features, small figure, taut breasts, a glaze of early-20-something disinterest over her eyes.

A guy.  Doesn’t matter what he looks like or what he’s got, doesn’t matter if he’s Brad Pitt or Paul Giamatti, Mark Zuckerberg or Ghandi; he’s just another guy trying to pound a girl.

He’s hovering next to her while she’s leaning back on her heels and holding a drink that was paid for by someone other than her (maybe our guest of honor, maybe some other guy who has already disappeared into the bar’s empty sympathy).  He’s talking, she’s almost listening with her eyes all but meeting his and her answers generally evasive.

“Yeah, that’d be fun.  Mhm, definitely.  You should call me.  Well, I work a lot, but leave a message, I’ll call you back.”


Ladies and Gentleman:  The Guy Without A Clue.

This poor bastard has spent the better part of an hour paying for drinks.  Not just for this delicate piece of fine cuisine, but for her friends (girls and guys) and even any random interloper who has even hinted at stealing her attention.  As long as he’s paying, he’s got the right of first refusal.  Them’s the rules.

But:  This Pretty Young Thing, this Bodacious Babe, this Scrumptious Delicacy, she’s got guys buying her drinks every night of the week.  She walks out the door with her sweet-but-homely best friend or her gay (maybe not gay) roommate, and immediately a line of suckers already have their wallets opening up like a Catholic schoolgirl’s legs.

This fellow is a good guy, knows how to have fun, probably even makes a decent wage, and 9 times out of 10 could snag a Boobs Mcgee if his sights were set that low.  But, tonight, this sap has spotted the Local Model and he’s walked straight into a booby trap (pun viciously intended).  He is going to end the night having spent upwards of $200 for nothing more than a vague promise to do something next weekend (it ain’t gonna happen).

As the  philosopher Dave Attell says, “Women have all the power because women have all the vaginas.”

If you’ve ever watched this scene unfold, you recognize the schadenfreude inherit in the situation.  You commiserate with the guy’s completely honorable intention to get some strange, but at the same time you’re glad it isn’t you wasting your money and self-respect trying to pick up a girl that is never gonna give it up.

This guy might have a disappointing evening, but the rest of the bar is gonna live it up on his dime.

If you are witness to this sad little dance, be nice to the guy, joke with him, help him take his mind off of his inevitable humiliation.

And look on the bright side: You’ll probably get a free drink or two out of it.

BARchetypes: That guy who remembers me

I’m bad with names.  I’m also bad with faces.  And places.

Chances are, if I haven’t seen you in the last 15 minutes, I’m not going to remember you.  5 if I’ve been drinking.

This puts me at a considerable disadvantage when I’m in a bar, because there’s always bound to be That Guy, Who Remembers Me.  I tend to think it’s because I have a distinctive face (read: weird looking), but honestly, it’s probably just my shitty memory.

Still, these guys catch me off guard every time.  They remember my name, they remember a joke me and my friends were telling the last time we were in, or they remember that I used to live in some other place that they used to live in.  And I’m nodding and smiling and pretending to remember when I saw them last.

Now, to be fair to myself (why not?), these guys do tend to be loners who attach themselves to groups (they’re like a subset of the Talkative Loner), so my attention isn’t usually on them.  Doesn’t make me feel like any less of a shitty person when they’re gleefully recounting some conversation we had 3 weeks ago and I’m looking at a stranger.

You know what, though?  I like this guy.  I like that he exists.  I’m not saying I’m always happy to see him (sometimes it’s just not the right day for an awkward greeting), but I like that in a bar is where absolute strangers will become acquaintances purely on the frequency of their visits, and acquaintances become friends because of an overheard quote from a movie or stand-up comedian.

This is the special environment of the bar, the unique melting pot where all the Barchetypes come together:  The unrepentant drunks and the recovering alcoholics, the 20-something amateurs and the 50-something professionals, the loud and the quiet, the  happy and the depressed.

If you want to truly experience a bar, don’t go at midnight or closing time, show up at 4 in the afternoon on a Thursday.  You’ll probably make a friend.

“But despite anything I might have said before, the bar is a beautiful place.” ~ Ryan Adams

BARchetypes: Fighty McFights-A-Lot

If you spend much time in bars (and why wouldn’t you?), you’ve likely seen one of the great traditions of the drinking scene:  The Bar Fight.

You might not have been directly involved, maybe never even saw a punch thrown, but you’ve likely witnessed the testosterone display known as The Raging of the Drunks (or El Encierro, as it is known).  It’s like a “free show with drink” offer.  Pretty much every bar fight that doesn’t involve a slap in the face with a white glove and a call for a duel will include a special ‘Bar’-chetype:  Fighty McFights-A-Lot.

Our fine fellow is quite the specimen.  Drunk doesn’t do him justice.  Obliterated is more apt.  Shitfaced.  I’m not talking about some guy who had a bad day and is just waiting for someone to set him off.  Ol’ Fighty doesn’t even know what he’s doing.  He’ll likely seem perfectly amiable one minute and pissed off the next.  His mood switches more rapidly than a PMS-ing rattlesnake with bipolar disorder.  In less than five minutes, he’ll go from apologizing for bumping into you to threatening to kick your ass.

This man cannot handle his liquor.

In my life, I’ve had 4 different people threaten to kick my ass, and all of them were because of alcohol.  Now, I know what you’re thinking:  “Only 4?”  I’m as surprised as you.

2 of those times were at bars, and both of those times were within the last year (I must be doing something right in my old age.)

Now, let’s get something straight right now.  I am not a very masculine guy.  I’m just not.  I have my definitive male traits, certainly, but Alpha Male I am not.  Let’s put it this way:  When God was passing out Manliness, I thought he said, “Mayonnaise” and I said, “Make it light.”

My first bar experience getting my ass threatened with a whooping by a Fighty McFights-A-Lot was at an old haunt of mine during a visit to my hometown.  The JazzHaus isn’t some shitty little dive bar, nor is it a Frat Bar.  It is what its name implies, a cool venue for good music (and the occasional poetry slam).  It doesn’t traditionally attract the kind of zealous drunks who you might expect to be total douches.  But a bar’s a bar’s a bar, and a Fighty can slip in anywhere.

I was hanging with a group of friends, talking to two separate tables, so I was standing in the aisle, jumping back and forth between conversations.  Enter, stage left, Fighty Numero Uno.  He manages to step on my foot and nearly tumble back into the table behind us.  Immediately, he’s apologizing, but it’s obvious he barely realizes where he is, let alone what’s happening.  He’s got his hand on my shoulder as much as a way to support himself as it is to talk to me.  In my natural, sardonic way, I brush him off, tell him it’s no big deal and casually suggest he be careful as he continues on his way.  No issue.

But as he starts to wobble past me, he slaps me on my stomach.  Or, rather, he meant to slap my stomach.  In reality, he hit a bit south.  He didn’t hit hard, and I wasn’t bothered by it, but as I am who I am, I felt inclined to jovially quip, “Don’t hit my penis.”

Perhaps a mistake?

Immediately he goes 0-60 from sheepish, stumbling drunk to belligerent, stumbling drunk.

“What did you say to me?  Did you just tell me to suck your penis?”

Now, a Freudian could have a field day with his mishearing of my words, but I smiled and shook my head.  “It’s okay.”

Alas, no, it wasn’t okay.  “You want to go outside?  I’ll fucking kick your ass!”  Immediately, my friends realize there’s trouble in River City.  People jump in, try to calm him down or shew him on.  But he’s not calming down, and he’s not enjoying the fact that instead of yelling back or apologizing, I just stare at him with a half grin and say nothing.

Soon, Fighty’s friends show up.  “What’s the matter?”

“This faggot just told me to suck his dick!  I’m going to kick this faggot’s ass!”  Now, I’ve been called a faggot a lot of times in my life, and I’m starting to get the feeling that it’s not meant in a nice way.

His friends, realizing that Fighty is wasted and likely unaware of what’s going on, begin pulling him away, apologizing profusely all the while.  He’s still fuming mad even as they escort him to the door, and it’s obvious that he would have much preferred that I follow him outside.  A part of me kind of wishes I had.  Like I said, I’ve been threatened 4 times, but nothing has ever come to blows.  Other than childhood fights with a brother, I’ve never been in anything that could be called a real fight.  And like Tyler Durden says, “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”

But then, the much larger, rational part of myself reminds me that I’m okay not knowing my pummeled self.

Fast forward a half year, and I’m at a different bar, here in Chicago, the Tonic Room.  I’ve just finished watching a couple of coworker friends play a solid Rap/Funk set and I’m about to head home.  I step outside and there are two more of my friends, female coworkers who had stepped out for a smoke.  And with them is Fighty Numero Dos.  I could immediately sense that this guy was one or six drinks over his limit, and he wasn’t a happy drunk.  I decided to hang out with my friends a little longer, until Fighty moved on.

He had been haranguing my friends for a hit off their cigarette for a few minutes and they were not interested in sharing with a guy they didn’t know who didn’t look particularly hygienic.  Fighty wasn’t getting the hint.

As his failed attempts to bum a smoke continued on and the conversation lurched forward (despite efforts to not-so-subtly urge him to move on down the street), Fighty revealed that he was hoping to bag himself a bed companion for the evening, but my two friends weren’t feeling it.  Surprising really, because he seemed like a charming chap.

While Fighty continued receiving the bum’s rush, his resolve to remain calm began to waver.  I could tell he was deliberately resisting the urge to call my friends ‘bitches’, avoiding the nuclear option by pausing every few seconds to self-edit before he went over the line (actually kind of impressive considering how torn up he was).

Eventually, though, he had to pass a line.  Otherwise, there’d be no story.

After losing his patience, he got in my friend’s face; let’s call her Sally.  Sally told him to back off and that’s when I felt compelled to interject my arm between Sally and Fighty.  Fighty, ironically, did not appreciate my invasion of his personal space.  Flipping on me, he yelled in my face, “Take your hand out of my face!”  You can guess where this was going.  There was a few seconds of him yelling at me and me, as in the prior example, half grinning at him in return.  My natural inclination is to let Fightys vent for a minute and hope the anger passes (again, no Alpha Male here), but I think my noncommittal expression just pisses them off further.  Good to know for future reference.

With no random group of strangers to pull him away, this was leading to actual fight territory.

Except, enter my second friend; let’s call her Susan.

Susan went off on him.  Full on Perry Cox, if Perry Cox were a black woman and on HBO.  Susan was in Fighty’s face, and despite his best efforts to sidestep her and bring the fight back to me (he obviously wasn’t going to try to fight a woman), Susan kept the barrage going.  He made a couple of ill-advised, semi-valiant efforts at a rebuttal, but when you’re a drunken idiot and you’ve just been dressed down by a woman who looks like she’s willing to take a few swings herself, well, you ain’t going to get far.

After some mumbling comment about how he had friends he could call to back him up (to which, Susan replied, “Here, use my phone!”) and an ineffectual attempt to escalate the yelling, Fighty McFights-A-Lot skulked off into the night, looking back every few feet, presumably to make sure his tail was still firmly tucked between his legs.

The moral to this story – and I assure you, there is absolutely no moral to any of my stories – is that if you’re a drunken idiot, threatening to kick someone’s ass doesn’t make you look like less of a drunken idiot.  It just makes you a funny story.

Oh, and don’t fuck with black women.

BARchetypes: Pabst Drunk

There are many reasons to go see a band live in concert.  To share in a raucous, communal experience.  To hear your favorite music in a new setting.  To bang the skinny chick with the star tattoos on her wrists.  All valid reasons.

One reason probably not high on your list:  To have the lyrics screamed in your ear by some dumbass drunk on shitty beer.

Let’s put this in perspective.  The Dodos are a pretty kick ass band.  Here’s an example for you:

And while the video is kind of eh, that song is amazing live.  The band’s like all percussion.

Anyway, the Dodos played a great show at the Bottom Lounge this past Monday.  What none of their songs needed was off-key vocal accompaniment sung at 125dB.  But the guy looking like a reject from a Pearl Jam fan club circa 1993 sure thought it would help, and just so none of the senses were left out, he made sure to crowd everyone around him with his fat body while smoking cigarettes inside.  (For those of you in the boonies, smoking cigarettes indoors is pretty much a no-no in every major city.)

Nice job Pabst Drunk.

(Side note:  If you’re under 30 and you smoke, you’re a moron; sorry my many friends who smoke.  If you’re under 20 and you smoke, just cut your wrists.  You don’t even have the excuse that it’s ‘cool’ anymore, cos it’s not.)

The Pabst Drunk is that refined class of drunk who isn’t just annoying because he’s piss stupid, but because he managed to get drunk on the Worst Beer of All Time.  Once relegated to cheap Frat Boy parties and redneck truckers, Pabst Blue Ribbon has become the drink of people who, to my chagrin, enjoy the same music as me.  All other things being equal, the Indie Hipster would deserve (mostly) his bad reputation just for drinking that swill.  It’s not even that PBR has no taste like most domestics.  It has a very distinct taste, actually.  It tastes like cold piss.

And the excuse that it’s the cheapest beer no longer holds weight.

The people who drink PBR are the beer drinking equivalents of the Anti-Intellectual.  They have actively sought out the cheapest, worst beer (and not for financial reasons as these middle class white kids are hardly cash-strapped; at least, not in the legitimate, real world, Mommy and Daddy don’t pay my tuition way), and they have done so at the detriment to their taste buds.  That’s right, the Pabst Drunk doesn’t just drink the beer for the image or for irony, he does it because he’s actually grown to like the taste.

Pabst Blue Ribbon drinkers are to alcohol what Creationists are to intelligence:  They’ve engorged themselves on shit for so long, they’ve actually developed a preference for it (I bet you won’t see that analogy on the SATs anytime soon).

Do yourselves a favor beer drinkers of the world.  Reject the stupidity (and shit-taste) of PBR.  Spend the extra $.25 and buy a beer that didn’t come out of a mules urinary track.

Or do yourself one better, grow up and drink some hard alcohol like an adult.

If I’m gonna have a dumbass screaming in my ears, I want to smell the whiskey on his breath.