you and me

Have You Been Drinking?

 

I hate to admit when I have a buzz. I don’t like the idea that I am different from who I am while totally sober. Or that I am not 100 percent in control.

It’s as if I am watching myself as a third-party observer. I feel my responses and actions to be guided by another force. And so I tell myself that if I am aware of these things (even remotely) I’m fine. Maybe that’s where the term remote control came from. And I would argue that I am not buzzed. But I am.

I know it for sure the next day when I look back on how I behaved. Now, I’m not talking drunk. There’s a line, not so thin, between feeling good and being drunk. If I had been drunk, I would feel like shit today. I would be hung-over. No. I was just a little buzzed.

And in my barely altered feel-good state, I tell a person I don’t like how much I like and admire them. Something I would have never done sober. Why do I do this? Because some part of me does like and admire a part of them. Luckily I wasn’t so tipsy that I started telling them all the things that I can’t stand about them. That probably wouldn’t have gone over nearly as well.

And in this unguarded state, I am able to access that place where I recognize and acknowledge the part of them that I do like. So I tell her. Tell her how creative and forceful I think she is. I almost say too forceful. I start to elaborate, and then think better of it. See? Not drunk. But I am honest. Good job reaching out and touching someone.

***

I look around at the thinning crowd. There is an old man sitting at the bar. He’s been sitting there all night. I don’t know him. It’s been a while since I was pouring drinks behind that bar. Some faces have changed. And places have been exchanged, though the differences are so subtle it’s sometimes hard to tell. He must be one of the newer, regular curmudgeons. I remember mine well.

I often lost my patience with them, but never my reluctant fondness, at least not from this distance.

All bartenders have them. Some are women, but most are men. They each have a lifespan at their local pub. Some stay for years. Some only last a month or two. Some never leave, until they are really gone. Their bar stools passed on. Their drinking days finally over.

At some point, they usually get eighty-sixed, but unless it’s an unforgivable offense, they all get let back in. It’s more like a suspension really. Or like taking away your child’s privileges when they’ve misbehaved. Scolding them for their behavior and admonishing them to think about their actions and how they affect others. A chance to redeem themselves.

When they come back, they’re on their best behavior. For about a week.

They all have a spot. A regular stool they gravitate to. They don’t like it when it’s filled, so they always get there early. Like an innate honing device, no matter where they are, they can hear the sound of the lock clicking open. Some days you say a little prayer that they are not the very first customer to walk through your door. Mostly your prayers go unanswered.

Some like to move around, talk up the tourists, or anyone who doesn’t already know their story or is sick of them. They’re hoping someone offers to buy them a drink. But they always keep a drink on the bar in front of their stool too, so they don’t risk losing their spot.

Sometimes you accumulate two or three of these guys and they form a little club. The members play a game where they like to see how far they can push the bartender’s buttons before they get cut off. The game is played slowly and skillfully. And it obviously brings them great pleasure. They are masters.

And though in the end, they always lose, they never admit defeat and are eager to start again the next night (or day) with an impenetrable case of amnesia involving anything that would hinder a fresh start or another round. They go easily between camaraderie and occasionally buying each other drinks, to feuding and spitting on each other. They always make up eventually. Grudges are not in their best interest to hold.

They come in all shapes and sizes of stories and woes. Some are more tolerable than others. A number of their stories are even quite good, until you’ve heard them repeated a hundred times. Even the lies and embellishments they interject occur in replicated patterns, depending on who is listening and how settled into their drinking they’ve sunk. They’ve all been divorced, at least once. They’re usually broke.

A few are genuinely good people. Most are obnoxious, irritating soul-suckers. Many are a little of both. They all have the same two things in common. They’re lonely and they’re drunks.

I hadn’t seen anyone talking to this guy all night, so either he’s not social or he’s already pissed everyone off. He pushes his empty glass away from him and his bar stool out at the same time, as if one motion propels the other. As the customers leave and the bar empties, he begins straightening the chairs and arranging them back around the tables. He stokes the fire. Re-stacks some fallen pieces of firewood.

I can see that he’s not doing it to be noticed. Or even for the chance of another drink. This is his place. His bar. He wants to be helpful. He wants to be meaningful.

And suddenly I am overcome with sadness. I feel like I am him. Alone at the end of the night. Wanting to be meaningful. Wondering how I got to this place. How one can be surrounded by people. Good people. People you are proud to know. People who love you. And still feel completely invisible and utterly alone.

I watch him as he continues to straighten the room. Walking unobtrusively between chairs and quietly rearranging tables. I know he can feel me watching him. No one else sees him. We both know this. We are invisible together. Him on the outside and me on the inside.

No. That’s not right. He feels invisible inside too.

But at least for a moment, we see each other.

***

Finding beauty, even solace, in the everyday, multimedia artist Melanie Zipin composes her songs and stories from the material that surrounds her. Taking an early departure from her inner-city roots, the high desert of New Mexico provides ample space and vantage point for such an introspective watcher, as she leads the reader from the small tales of local folk and everyday occurrences up to the mountaintop for reflection. Her writings urge the reader to celebrate the underdog, even when they are lost, knowing that the human spirit can be rebuilt with dragonfly wings, crisp fallen leaves, and the lone call of a coyote. She has one son, and lives with her husband far from the concrete jungle, thankful for every drop of rainwater that sustains them, in a house they built from hand-piled mud, where she makes art and music, and writes and writes and writes.

***

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