Bartender’s Oath

You know you can tell a bartender your life’s story with all the grubby details and they will keep it to themselves. There isn’t an actual document to sign or swearing-in ceremony, but all the men and women working behind the polished surfaces have put their commitment to the Barkeep’s Hippocratic Oath of It Ain’t Nobody’s Business But Yours. After last night I have to wonder if this also applies to a guy who just sells booze, like the fella yesterday when I told him all about it….

I am in a strange town trying to find a place where a couple of dames I know are going to be, one celebrating leaving the game and the other who has already gone. We’d all been teachers and worked together, but now with the final gal departing we’d be doing it solo and finding things to pursue here and there, in our own time, on our own dime.

I don’t know where the hell this place is. I drive through the town looking but not finding and eventually wind up at the boatyard where I park amongst all the Friday night show-offs’ automobiles: Mercs and premier SUVs as buffed as one of those bar tops, the occupants swanning towards the quayside eateries, men in their ironed denim and the women wearing skimpy summer dresses wafting store-bought perfume in the evening breeze.

It isn’t next to the river. I walk up through town passing all the other inns, but not the one I am looking for. Not in the town. I take a tangent out towards the railway line but turn back when it seems I am heading nowhere sociable. It isn’t just a guy thing, but I don’t see anyone I feel I can ask, others seeming strangers too or in a hurry or just miserable. It is getting warm and I can feel the sweat in my armpits.

Heading back into the main part of town I see the open liquor store on the corner at the crossroads. I walk in and notice immediately it is full of decorative character with wood shelving and long counter, a range of alcohol for drinkers rather than party goers – fine wines and major but also independent label spirits, all compartmentalised in their boxed partitioning – and the proprietor sitting behind the oak top with a bright smile anticipating business on what seems by the otherwise empty room a slow night so far.

‘How are you Sir?’

‘I’ll be just fine if I can find the place I’m looking for. Do you know where the Bridge Inn is?’ I ask.

‘Certainly Sir,’ he says without dropping his seller’s smile, seeming a friendly enough guy despite the fact I don’t appear to be buying. ‘You just take that road opposite up towards the railway station and at the top turn right and it’s about a three minute walk away.’

I tell him I have just been up there but gave in too soon. He keeps smiling. Looking to the right of his head I clock the shelved box of bourbons, again mainly the well-known stuff, then also a bottle of Evan Williams staring back at me with a grin larger and even more welcoming than his. I think about it for a few seconds and still decide to go for it.

‘I know this is going to sound odd, but I wrote a poem about Evan Williams bourbon only the other day.’

He keeps smiling, and it could be inside my head or it could be in his, but something still definitely alters. If he’d asked, I could have told him it was a sonnet, but he doesn’t. I could have elaborated it was about change but also staying the same, and obviously it was about drinking, yet he doesn’t inquire.

‘Thanks for your help,’ I say leaving.

‘Good evening Sir.’

As I get to the railway station the safety gates come down across the road and sidewalk and I have to wait for quite a while for a slow train to amble in and stop at the platform. It gives me plenty of time to wonder if I should have told him about my poem, not that I was able to go into any detail, grubby or enlightening. I also thought about that Oath, and whether he was in the same category for observing one.

I suspect not. It’ll be a potential anecdote for him when the next occasional customer walks in, unless things pick up later and people are heading home for extensions to their night out and want to resource this, and perhaps then he’ll have an even bigger smile as well as a bigger audience, and maybe a smirk and laugh or two when telling about that weird guy who came in tonight who wanted to lay it on the line of his writing a poem about bourbon.

And it’s not like I’ve talked about being with a friend’s partner, or took something I shouldn’t. It’s not even like I told him about dark thoughts he would have had to consider sharing for his own sense of security against the weight of that unspoken Oath. But it was a private observation made across a real wood top between two guys surrounded by alcohol. That has to count for something.

I guess it will be down to his integrity.

When I finally get to the place, I wonder if I will share the story with the two broads. He might, for all I know, but these two definitely read, and they’ve also read plenty of poems. It’s what teachers of English do.

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