Archive for the 'Bar Stories' Category


Why I will only eat the No. 6

The short answer is, the Jimmy John’s No. 6 vegetarian sub may very well have saved my life.

On the evening of Sept. 23, 1997, I put myself in the hospital with alcohol poisoning. That is to say, an ambulance and some paramedics put me in the hospital, but I’m the one who started it.

No. 6 vegetarian

It looks kinda like this, except they dont do sprouts anymore. (Courtesy of

It was my 21st birthday. My job laying out the student newspaper held me up, and I was late meeting my friends at the bar to celebrate. Time before last call was short, so I drank something like four beers and nine shots in less than an hour.

I remember this much before waking up on a gurney as I was wheeled into Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Mich.

  1. Thinking: Should I do those last two shots?
  2. Thinking: Hell yes.
  3. Stumbling home on the shoulders of two of my roommates. I didn’t so much walk as allow myself to be propelled forward by gravity and their patience.
  4. Rolling off the living room couch into pure darkness to hit the floor, clutch my gut, and commence vomiting.

Continue reading ‘Why I will only eat the No. 6’


Hot August night

A familiar face peered out from the shelter of an open trunk. He was fussing with something inside, and he was trying to get my attention.

“Hey hey hey!” I shouted.

“Alex!” he called back. He knew my face but not my name. I didn’t remember his, either, so it seemed hypocritical to correct him. Continue reading ‘Hot August night’


tweedle-dee, tweedle-douche

It has been a long day. I need a little sit-down where everybody knows your name. Funny enough, I know none of the names of the half-dozen or so fellas scattered around the bar, and I suspect none of them knows mine. So I figure I’ll make it a quick one and head home.

I’m sitting there with a lager, and a guy down the bar gets into an impassioned discussion with his companion about ’90s music. It’s ’90s music, I think. Why bother?

His friend pushes out from the bar to throw some money in the jukebox.

He calls out to the bartender to get his attention. “Hey, Vince. I have two problems,” he says, loud enough for everyone to hear. “We need a couple more drinks. And … all I have are large bills.”

He ceremoniously hands over a 50, slowly. I can see Grant’s stern, almost reproachful, gaze from six seats away. I think he must want me to see it.

Oh, Jesus, I think. What a problem. Oh, you poor thing and your burdensome cash flow. Please, honey. A 50 is not so huge.

Continue reading ‘tweedle-dee, tweedle-douche’


Two cheeseburgers to go

“I don’t care if you’re taken or not, because you probably are, but I’m going to ask you a question anyway.”

She said it without punctuation, and it came at me by surprise, the sort of introduction that makes you assume you’re not going to want to answer the question.

I was sipping a beer, waiting for a couple of cheeseburgers to bring home for me and my husband. She was the person nearest to me at the bar, two stools away, and was also waiting for her brunch. My order was to go. She had silverware.

She looked about 50 — maybe late 40s. It was hard to tell. She had brown hair that looked natural enough to me. The skin around her eyes was mostly unwrinkled. She was small, not unattractive, but not fit. She wore glasses and had a little nose that turned up at the end. Mousy, I would call her. Librarian-esque. IT, maybe. She wore minimal make-up; just some eyeliner, some powder. Just a neighborhood gal out for brunch on a Sunday by herself.

I didn’t want to talk to her, but my need to not be rude trumped my need to be left alone. “Uh, sure …” I said. Continue reading ‘Two cheeseburgers to go’


Can’t Win for Losing

Some people are naturally competitive about everything they do. I am not.

That’s not to say I want to lose, or that I don’t like to be my best. I get jealous when someone is good at something I want to be good at. I want to be a success, and I want people to think I’m successful, but my goal is merely to be accomplished. I don’t necessarily want to be better than anyone. I just want to be as good as they are.

I don’t need to win. Sometimes I don’t even like to win, because I feel bad that someone else had to lose. I just want to be evenly matched. And then if I should happen to win, its not my fault that someone else lost. It’s just down to a good hand. Luck. Fate.

And I don’t like to celebrate and carry on. I don’t like to stand under a spotlight as draw attention to myself as “the winner.” I definitely don’t like to put it in anyone’s face.

But then sometimes, when I drink a lot, I behave much differently.

Continue reading ‘Can’t Win for Losing’


Foxy Boxx Really Rocks

Pandora Boxx, Miss May

Pandora Boxx, Miss May

It’s always May in my house, because my RuPaul’s Drag Race wall calendar is forever turned to Pandora Boxx‘s page. She is my drag obsession. I might even have a crush on her.

A recent visit to Chicago last month coincided with an appearance by La Boxx at a local gay bar. The night of the performance, my husband and I were sitting around with some friends, contemplating going out. I looked at the clock. 9 p.m. I looked at my husband. I looked at my friends. I looked at the six packs and the chilled bottle of white wine waiting for us. I heard the gentle hum of the air conditioner. And I decided: I am too tired to deal with a dance bar full of screaming gay boys, flashing lights, and ka-thunk ka-thunk ka-thunk — even to see my favorite fake lady. Heaven forgive me, but I am staying in tonight.

Sometimes getting old is no bloody fun.

I never felt good about the decision, and since then I’ve been looking for a chance to make up for it. It came last week. Pandora Boxx was in New York for a Gay Pride kick-off party at the Gramercy Theater, and I was able to get on the VIP list because my company had something to do with the event. This was it. I was going to meet the Pandora Boxx! Get a picture with her! Shake her hand and tell her I love her and that she was robbed on season 2 of RuPaul’s Drag Race — robbed, I tell you!
Continue reading ‘Foxy Boxx Really Rocks’


Going for a Song

A bartender the other day was telling someone a few stools down from me about a regular he served the night before. He was some corporate lawyer drunk who the bartender theorized had a need to subdue his conscience with booze.

“It doesn’t work, but he has fun trying,” he said. And they all laughed.

“You can tell when he’s wasted because he reads the closed captioning.” He gestured toward the TVs stationed behind the bar. “He sings it. He sings the closed captioning.”

I looked up at the television sets. Words scrolled, line by line, disappearing up into a netherworld of text. It just keeps coming and coming, with spelling errors, with missing words, missing phrases. Sometimes it’s just gibberish for a few seconds until something, a computer or a human, catches up.

“He always said the closed captioning looked like Morrissey lyrics,” continued the bartender.

Well, I’m not sure if this says more about the lawyer or about Morrissey.


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.


Guess You Had to Be There

One of my favorite drunk friend stories — with some compensation for the bits I don’t quite perfectly remember:

So, she’s new in her grad school program. One Saturday night, she’s out to see a band play at some bar with some fellow students and some guys she met in the process of buying the tickets on craigslist. They’re having a great time, getting wasted, letting off steam, getting better acquainted. After the show they decide to continue drinking elsewhere. One of them knows a great place. They all pile into a cab and go.

She gets out of the cab after paying the driver and runs up to the sidewalk to rejoin her friends. But suddenly it seems they don’t know where they’re going. She gets kind of annoyed.

“Hey, guys, where are we going? What’s going on?”

OK, fine, they say. So they turn to enter a bar, and she follows them in. Moments later, they’ve all got beers, and she’s laughing and having a great time, and everyone seems to be getting along. A few of the guys are sort of standoffish, but hey, no big deal, right? she thinks. She’s mostly talking to one guy in particular, anyway, who turns to her at one point and says, “Hey, I gotta ask you one thing: Who the hell are you?”

“What do you mean?” she says.

“I mean, who are you?” he says. “What’s your name? Who are you?”

She holds her beer a little tighter and looks at him hard, a little offended. “What do you mean, ‘Who am I?’ We’ve been hanging out all night. We went to that show. We had a great time. We caught a cab. And then we came here,” she says.

“Uh … no,” he says. “We” — he gestures slowly to himself and his friends — “didn’t go to any show. You got out of a cab and just sort of followed us in here. And here you are. We have no idea who you are.”

She looks at each of them in turn, and it slowly dawns on her that she doesn’t know the other guys. Wait a minute. She doesn’t know this guy either. She looks around the bar. Where are the guys she came in with? She thinks back to the cab. They were right there? Where did they go?

The next day her friends would tell her that after they got out of the cab, she simply disappeared. They went one way and she must have gone the other. They assumed she went home. Instead, she had joined up with a group of complete strangers, followed them into a bar and started buying rounds with them.

All these guys know is that some strange girl just walks up to them out of the blue acting like she knows them. “Hey, guys! Let’s go!” It’s fine. She’s funny and cute. Each one thinks that one of the others must know her … until they all realize that none of them actually does.

“Uhh…,” she says.

The guy’s three friends are so disgusted with the whole thing that they just throw their hands up and walk away.

“Oh my god,” he says. “That’s so crazy. You have to let me buy you a drink.”

She sits with him a little while longer, but she’s feeling a little sick to her stomach. But they were right there!. She puts down her beer.

“Um, I think I’d better go.”


Hi, my name is Chip, and I’ll be on your shoulder this evening.

Last night at the bar, a friend and I were distracted by a beautiful man taking off his shirt. He was standing with his back against the bar, facing us. A small cadre of piranhas had gathered around him. The guy who had asked him to disrobe — let’s call him Chip — draped the shirt briefly and inexplicably across my friend’s shoulder. Pleased to be included in the proceedings, we continued watching. How could we not?

Seconds later, the heavenly creature was persuaded to drop his pants to his ankles. We all cooed in approval. He was hairless, except for a trail of fuzz that ran south from his tight navel and dashed seductively under the waistband of his powder-blue briefs. Chip then grabbed the waistband and unceremoniously yanked the shorts down hard.

The guy put on a good show of being embarrassed and tugged them half-heartedly back up his thighs, but Chip was pretty insistent about leaving him exposed.

My friend and I looked at each other. “That’s not something you see every day at this bar,” I said, loud enough for everyone around me to hear. Like the red-blooded American homosexual males we are, we continued to react loudly and enthusiastically to the gentleman’s sudden and unexpected nudity.

Chip turned half-way to us and said something we couldn’t understand. Something about chocolate.


He repeated himself louder, or said something similar, but it still wasn’t making sense to us. It was something like: “You can stop talking about chocolate now. I know you don’t like the chocolate boys.”

My friend and I were incredulous. Who said anything about chocolate? Was he talking about black boys?

Whatever it was, Chip continued laying into us. It seemed that he was accusing us of being racist. Chip is African American. But we had said nothing about him. We had said nothing to him. We weren’t even looking at him. We were too distracted — and rightfully so — by the gloriously indecent exposure before us.

“Dude,” my friend said, “We don’t even know what you’re talking about.”

“We’re not talking about you, if that’s what you think,” I added. “We were talking about the naked guy.”

Chip was clearly agitated, and he continued his tirade. The more he said, the more worked up he got. There was something menacing and cold in his voice. It was all so sad and stupid. A moment that was so frivolous and harmless and fun had been sucked dry in just a few seconds by this guy, and all because of assumptions he was making about us. Who’s the racist here?

I wanted to try to figure out what he thought he’d heard us say so we could defuse the situation and move away without any trouble. I imagined we might laugh uneasily at the silly misunderstanding — uh heh heh heh… — and assume stations at opposite ends of the bar without any fuss. And I might have tried to play the peasemaker if he hadn’t then turned to my friend directly and said, “And by the way, I’m better-looking then you are, too.”

My friend sort of recoiled, wide-eyed and incredulous. It was making less and less sense. Chip then let loose on several aspects of my friend’s appearance. Chip evidently did not approve of certain things. What the hell was going on? He was fighting back with personal insults when we never even attacked him (or addressed him, for that matter) in the first place?

“Whoa… wait a minute. Where did that come from?” I asked. “What are you talking about?”

“Hey, fuck you!” my friend shouted back.

At this point, I grabbed my friend’s bag and pushed it into his hand. “This is crazy. Let’s just go,” I said, not wanting to see who might get hurt if the situation escalated (it was less likely to be my friend).

Neither of us knew what Chip had heard or what he was going on about. “Bravo,” I said to him. “Have a lovely night.”

“Yeah, you too,” he said coldly.

“You bet,” I said. “Of course.”

I tugged at my friend and we headed toward the door. “Yeah, fuck you, you little asshole,” he yelled to Chip.

And when I got outside, I realized that I was in such a hurry to get away from the danger that I had forgotten to say good-byr to any of the peopel we were with. A complete stranger’s idiocy had just completely scared me out onto the sidewalk.

the untallied hours