“Two Tagel lagers and a double Jack on the rocks, please.”
“Two Tafels and a double Jack.”
“TWO TAFELS …”
And so it begins. I have just walked into your bar and already my idea of a fun evening is clashing heavily with your staggering inability to make the connection between the volume of the music and the fact that nobody can hear anything anybody else is saying.
All around us, people are communicating in sign language. Girls are screaming into each other’s ears. Boys have given up and are staring at the floor, slack-jawed and drooling. But none of this is important. The main thing is that you are having fun. And are you having fun? By golly, you certainly are. Stripped to the waist, you are gyrating your hips and flipping vodka bottles through the air and catching them behind your back. How frightfully clever of you. I’m sure your parents are very proud. But while you are balancing ice blocks on your nose like a goddamn performing seal, I’m on the other end of the bar dehydrating faster than a lame dog in the Namib desert.
Flairing, my arse. The only things flaring are my nostrils as I hyperventilate and struggle to contain myself from leaping over the bar and smashing your fat gormless face repeatedly into the counter.
There are only two types of barmen. Which one are you? The alcoholic or the recovering alcoholic? Judging by the trouble you have remembering orders and working out the change in your head, I would say you were born with a touch of the old foetal alcohol syndrome.
I don’t care if you drink behind the bar. In fact, I am all for it. The more you drink, the more chance there is that I can stiff you on the bill. But what I do object to is your crass attempt at guilting me into giving you a tip. If I pay for a couple of drinks and I’m due R10 change, just give me a fucking R10 note. Don’t break it down into a whole bunch of loose change in the hope that I will leave some of it in that cracked white saucer you prod across the bar in my direction, you panhandling prick.
Stupidly, I invariably do leave a coin or two behind. But never without cursing your mother. It’s not enough that you put a 300% mark-up on bottle store prices, but you still want me to cross your sweaty palm with silver because you went to all the trouble of walking three steps to the fridge? You can suck my cocktail shaker.
I don’t mind giving a tip to the waitress, because this rewards her for making the effort to come all the way over to my table. A tip also entitles me to sexually harass her in a light-hearted manner, which is something that I would not wish to do to you.
Hey! Look at that! For once you actually came to my end of the bar and took my order. But you know what? That tequila you just poured me? How come it slipped down my throat so easily? Where was the gag reflex? The watering eyes? You low-life son of a bitch. You cut the tequila with tap water, didn’t you? Unless, of course, my body has developed a tolerance for the stuff. In which case, I apologise.
To be fair, you do provide a valuable public service. And on behalf of millions of South Africans with a drinking problem, I would like to thank you for the good work you do.
Why, then, must you spoil your chances of winning some sort of humanitarian award by adopting an attitude that suggests it is we who should feel deeply honoured to be served by you? Perhaps you aren’t the compassionate altruist I thought you were. Perhaps you really are nothing more than a glorified sweatshop monkey trained to pull levers and press buttons and top up the peanut bowl.
This may come as a shock, but you are not some sort of deity that deserves to be worshipped. You are a barman. You are there to serve me – to bring me whatever I want. You are not there to look at me with hostile, hooded eyes because I have ordered something that involves more than two ingredients and maybe a small purple umbrella.
Most of the time, however, you do not look at me at all. You look at everything else except me. Even though I have fought my way through a crowd of angry dipsomaniacs standing seven-deep and am now pressed right up against the bar waving a fistful of banknotes at you, there seems to be something wrong with your peripheral vision. You wipe the counter, get more ice, wash a glass or two, check yourself in the mirror, take the orders of everyone around me. I begin to feel like a character in The Others. I start to think that maybe I died in the toilets and came back to get a drink but now nobody can see me because I am a ghost.
I pinch a girl’s bottom and she slaps me. So I am still alive. And now I’ve got your attention. But only because you think there’s trouble and you have been dying to use one of those fancy muy thai moves on a drunk customer. Well, buddy, you’re out of luck. I’m not drunk. And that’s because I have been standing here for the last hour shouting your name. Maybe I should start shouting: “Hey Batman” instead of “hey barman”.
Would you like that? You are, after all, a Superhero without whom the evening would die an unnatural death as people stood about speaking among themselves in hushed tones, too self-conscious to dance, too shy to flirt, too sober to even go for a quickie in the loo.
As the designated pusher of the world’s most popular legal drug, you have the power to make people lower their expectations and shed their inhibitions. Without you, nobody would have any fun at all. Ugly people would never get laid. Tow truck drivers would be out of work. Casualty wards would stand empty. The divorce rate would plummet. The poor would have money for food. No wonder you suffer from an overblown sense of importance.
Making matters even worse, new legislation empowers you to refuse to serve anyone who you deem has had enough to drink. This happened to me not too long ago in a sleazy dive in the deep south of the Cape peninsula. I walked into your bar with a friend and you refused to serve us. We had had enough to drink, you said. I could understand it if we had been falling over tables, molesting the patrons and singing rude songs in an off-key manner, but we were on our best behaviour. I asked what it was about us that made you think we had had enough. You, at half my age, said you just knew these things. You are an aberration among barmen and one day I will hang your head in shame.