As someone who has worked in the bar trade for a while, there is a specific breed of customer that I have learned to dread. Often misinterpreted as a friendly novelty, I speak of the ‘beloved regular‘, in essence, a person who frequents the bar on an almost daily basis. I do not speak of the voluptuous, mysterious New York bombshell, who sits in a dark corner with a martini and a book, dolling out snide, off the cuff witticisms to dispel the hopes of any would be suitors as we see in so many films. No, I’m talking about the British regular… The overweight, over-the-hill, miserable, lonely alcoholic.
Set aside kindly couples coming to dine in a familiar setting, or young professionals who come for a coffee while they write up reports on laptops. This is the ‘pint of cider / pint of ale’ kind of regular. The very definition of who they are is tinged with a dark sadness. A ‘regular‘ is ‘regularly‘ found at the pub, ergo they have little else to do with their time except sit on their own and neck their body weight in booze. We regard them as friendly faces who we know on a first name basis (“Norm!”), but in reality, we have to sit and watch these tragic figures descend from sober, in both senses of the word, to inebriated, pathetic and with an unshakable desire to spill out their life story; complete with every single insignificant moment that took them from the departure of their ex-wife or loss of their job, to sitting on this bar stool revealing this uninteresting story to an uninterested party.
I was subjected today to a return visit from a man who once held me hostage for seven hours of mind-numbing conversation, during which point I was in the throes of a fully-fleged panic attack at the mere thought of having to mutter my way through one more series of “Yup… Uh-huh… Oh, right… That’s a shame… Yeah, I know what you mean… Oh, that’s awful…”, all the while wishing that the entire universe and everyone in it would be torn without warning into an oxygen-less parrallel dimension, solely for the ends of me no longer having to endure this gentleman’s company. It may seem that I am being gratuitously unkind, but you must keep in mind that these men (they usually do seem to be men) have no interested what so ever in, or even apparently the ability to hear, a single word that you say. Tonight’s nightmare, or ‘Saltzy’ as he requested I call him, had no intention in even registering a single syllable that left my lips. He rambled on and on about how he may be slow, but that when he stops and thinks, he is actually really smart, and how he misses the son that refuses to answer his calls, but that he’s not the kind of person that lets things get him down because he knows that he is a popular and talented man. He then gave me a forty minute definition of the word ‘happiness’, and any time I tried saying a single word, he just looked up with a drunken grin, and carried on talking, all the while I was trying to serve customer and answer phone calls and generally escape. To be fair, it’s probably a good thing he didn’t let me get a word in, because it meant that I had plenty of free time to imagine my own brutal demise in a variety of different and inventive ways as he blathered on and on. I found myself trying to do anything I could to avoid his gaze and instead set about trying to clean and polish every inch of the bar just to give him the impression that I was too busy to talk.
This sadness that we see is also apparent in another regular we used to have. He came to the bar for most of the day, every day, and drank pint after pint. So recurrent was his custom, that we actually kept a certain beer on draught that no one else drank because we were assured that it would always sell well. He was a nice man; an ageing hippy with long hair and a lot of stories. He pledged that after his wife had left him, he would drink himself to death within three years. He accomplished this task in two.
It really is tragic to be a ‘regular‘ at a bar. It’s great to get to know the staff, and have a quick chat and a bit of small talk… But if you are coming to a licensed premises every day, on your own and drinking copious amounts of alcohol, you really do need to step back and realise the folly of your path. There are those that keep it to a civil few, and those that stretch it to a worrying dozen, but if you’re drinking any alcohol every single day of the week, you really need to think about what effect this is going to have on every facet of your life.
Anyway, I best get back to work… And what do you know, ‘Saltzy’ is still there, leaning on the bar just waiting for that accidental flash of eye contact that apparently gives him permission to recount his depressingly lonely Christmas stories to me. Fantastic.