Rubbing my forehead with the back of one hand, I hauled open the heavy wooden door and stepped into the bar. I had always enjoyed the throwback atmosphere of the bar, just down the street from where I worked. Had used to work, I mentally reminded myself. Had to get used to using the right script.
After my eyes had adjusted to the internal gloom of the bar, I sidled up to the counter, finding a spot equally between the few grizzled old men that seemed to be permanent fixtures around the counter. I didn’t make eye contact with any of them, but a gray-haired fellow on my left still began grunting as he slid closer to me. “Bit early for yeh to be drinking, doncha think?” he wheezed out through the bent bars of his remaining teeth.
The old-timer was right; I usually didn’t show my face in the bar for another few hours, when work let out and happy hour began. Today, of course, I didn’t have to wait that long. Another advantage of being unemployed, I suppose.
I ignored the man, instead raising a finger to catch the bartender’s attention. “Whiskey, double,” I requested, when the man sauntered over. He nodded without speaking a word, turning and ambling off, taking his sweet time to prepare my beverage.
Fortunately, as there were no other placed orders to compete with mine, my drink arrived in front of me in short order. I traded the bartender my credit card for the drink and took a long pull. I was still on edge, however, overwhelmed by the stress of the day, and some of the fiery liquid went down the wrong tube. I choked, coughing as I slammed the glass back down on the bar.
The gray-haired man, now sitting next to me, let out another wheezing bray. “Di’nt your dad ever teach yeh houw to drink?” he got out between laughs. “First rule is that you’re sposed to swallow!”
I glared at this annoying boil of a man. “Screw you,” I told him, taking another pull of my drink. This time, it went down properly.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the man on my other side, this fellow nearly completely bald, also scooting closer to me across the bolted-down bar stools. “What?” I snapped, turning to him. My anger was fully raging by this point, helped along by the heat rising from my belly. “You got something to say as well?”
Instead of sneering at me, however, this fellow merely put on a slightly self-satisfied looking grin. “Actually, I was going to correct you,” he said, and I was forced to slightly alter my opinion of him. Despite his wrinkles, this man still had all of his teeth, and was currently giving me a million-watt smile. His voice was also slightly clipped, giving him a barely perceptible cultured accent. “You’re doing it wrong.”
“Doing what wrong?”
“Insulting,” the bald man replied. He had by now reached the stool next to mine, and he offered his hand to me. “Gerry,” he said.
“Arthur,” I replied, taking the proffered hand. Gerry gave it a single brisk pump, and then released – the kind of handshake I had grown accustomed to at my old job in finance. “You’re saying that I’m insulting him wrong? Is there a right way?”
Gerry kept up his smile. “Perhaps not a right way or a wrong way,” he said, “but there is definitely a better way and a worse way. And you, my new friend, are using the worse way, I’m afraid.”
On my other side, I saw the gray-haired man roll his eyes and begin shuffling back to his original spot, where he had abandoned his drink, but I was interested. Gerry sounded as though he was slipping into a lecture, as if speaking in front of a class. I might be a class of one, but I gave him my full attention.
To be continued!