Without the Brown Bag

As often as I am at my local bar, which is, shall we say, not infrequently, he must be there even more often. I see him whenever I am there.

He’s one of those old timers. Been going there forever. I imagine he’s seen the place change owners over the years. And he rocks that same barstool day by day and year by year. He owns that stool. Should he leave it for a minute to take a leak and come back to find it occupied, he spares no one’s feelings to get it back, and he’ll hover and wait patiently, though almost indignantly, until he is reinstalled to his rightful place.

The bartenders indulge him. I don’t know what his limit is. And I can’t say what condition he arrives in, but by the time I get there, he is sitting propped up on a stool at the bar. Usually he’s sleeping, despite the loud Latin music. Or he seems to be sleeping, his head cocked to the side and chin thrust downward onto his chest. In front of him is a bundle of newspaper, a glass of red wine, and a glass mug of something resembling water. Someone once told me it was something stronger.

I never see him sipping the wine, but it goes by and by. He gets refills a couple of times a night, speaking only to the bartender.

He was thin as a younger man but is now filling out in his middle age, with short neat hair and round glasses. I once imagined he was an accountant or a lawyer. But his voice, deep and gruff like a truck driver’s, doesn’t seem to match his frame. Someone once told me he’s a doorman in one of the more posh buildings nearby, but the only uniform I’ve seen him wear is an oversize gray sweatshirt and some baggy khaki pants.

He is harmless and inert. He inhabits his own world, and he occupies it grandly, passing an entire night without interacting with a soul, but he is as undeniable a presence as the pool table. He is a complete stranger, but as familiar as the cashier at the grocery store.

And for all his apparent alcoholism, who among us is better than he is? Our only advantage is that we are more animated, and we’re not there alone. But how often have I see that cash register inexplicably flash “Good Morning, Good Morning, Good Morning…” over and over and over, ad infinitum? How many times have I seen that single LED clock above the door click over past 3 a.m.? How often have I sat at that bar and not said a word?

So we don’t judge him, because it’s too much like looking at ourselves. Why do you think there are so many mirrors in a bar? We just leave him be. Who knows the circumstance and the moment of weakness that could deliver any one of us to where he is now. I don’t know his name. And I feel no need to sentimentally “give” him one. We just wonder out loud about him like we’re observing a passive zoo animal or objectively analyzing a piece of art. I don’t think he hears us.


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the untallied hours

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