Water Pressure

“I’ll tell you something for nothing,” the bartender said. “You want to buy water.”

“Water,” I said.

“It’s the cheapest thing we sell. And you don’t have to finish it here. You can take it with you.”

I considered what he was saying, fingering the label on my $6 beer. “Water counts?”

“Sure. I tell you what. Towards the end of this competition, people are buying whole cases of water and taking them home with them.”

A friend of mine is competing in an American Idol-style singing competition at the venerable old, historic Stonewall Inn. It’s a little silly. A little shabby. The sound goes out at intervals. The lighting is bad. But it’s precisely that silliness, that shabbiness, that gives those West Village gay bars their charm.

Each week, someone gets eliminated based on the previous week’s voting. It’s all very democratic. Everyone in the audience can vote. And you get a ballot for every drink you buy. Every drink. So the trick, it would seem, is to round up all the drunks you can find. Finally they’ll do you some good!

The competition is real, and the contestants are talented. By and by, they reveal their strengths and their personalities. There’s a different theme every week, so everyone’s bound to expose some weaknesses, too. Over time, the competitors become friends. The same folks who come every week in support become familiar. It’s a little Wednesday night community.

So the water trick seems a little cynical to me. (Almost worse than exploiting your friends’ alcoholism!) Whole cases of water, really? Can’t we trust ourselves to suss out the winner based on talent? And do we have so little faith in our friends that we’d rather stack the deck to be safe?

These things can’t always be based on merit, can they? Sometimes a real stinker gets the votes. Sometimes the person who gets cut wasn’t the worst one. Sometimes the judges say useful, thoughtful things; and sometimes they’re more interested in getting a laugh. In the end, no matter who gets cut, it’s a love fest every time.

The closer we get to the end, I feel the heightened sense of danger that the person who ultimately wins may not actually “deserve” it. Boo-hoo. I guess in that way the competition is a very good representation of reality indeed.


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the untallied hours

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