The bar, the pub, the watering hole -- whatever you want to call it -- is the great equalizer. It's where paupers and playwrights rub elbows with princes and plutocrats, because, after all, who doesn't like a drink and a good time?
It's this same reason that makes a pub an excellent place to people-watch. Sit back, get yourself some food and a beer, and see what happens.
It was 10:30 a.m., and I hadn't been at the bar for an hour when a group dressed in medical scrubs strolled in. Stress weighed heavily on their haggard faces. There were three of them, two men and a woman. They eased themselves onto the stools and leaned over the bar, their elbows on the counter and their heads propped up on their hands. They looked exhausted.
Never have you seen more despair than in the eyes of a first-year med student. They acted on their miseries by drowning their worries in alcohol. Where their miseries persisted, they chased the alcohol with several chain-smoked cigarettes. I lost count of the number these three had smoked after the bartender had emptied the ashtray for the fourth time.
It got me into thinking: that's some example these three were setting. Weren't doctors the people who told you not to do what they were doing?
Another group pushed through the pub door. Dressed in sandals and sweatshirts with fraternity letters on them, they looked like college kids except they were too old -- and looked too worn out -- to be seniors. They sat at the bar next to the med school group, lugging their state bar exam cram books with them. Ah, law students.
Things took a surprising turn when the students of both disciplines started fraternizing. It was a friendship that would not survive their entry into their professions. If anybody hated doctors, it was lawyers; and if anybody hated lawyers more than anybody else, it was doctors.
Shortly afterward, a gaggle of early twenty-somethings sauntered in. By the look of them -- tattered jean pants, long hair, calf-high boots, eyeliner -- they were a local rock group. They'd just hit the drinking age and were ready to drink the pub dry. My guess was they had put on a rock concert the night before and had only just rolled out of bed.
"Man, I got the baddest idea!" said the white guy with blond cornrows. "We've got to write a concept album -- you know, where all the songs together tell a larger story." He paused to let the idea sink in. "Except, and here's the crazy part, it's gonna be a book."
The band members gave him high-fives and slaps on the back.
"Oh sweet, man! Nobody's ever done that before!" said the tattooed guy.
I shook my head at this. I didn't want to break their hearts, so I kept it to myself that what they had in mind had been done before, and many times, at that. It's called a novel.
I thought I'd seen it all by the time these two showed up, but they proved me wrong. Two Hasidic rabbis walked into the bar (this is not the start of a joke, I swear), dressed to the nines in their orthodox garb. These guys were full-on black robes, big hats, big beards, and sideburns that hung practically at their knees. They guy next to me sprang ramrod erect when he saw them come in, his addled mind probably thinking he'd drunk himself into the dark ages and that the rabbis were medieval wizards.
The rabbis were locked in an intense argument that had carried into the bar from the sidewalk. Limbs flailing, aspersions flying, they looked like two angry cats locked in a clothes dryer on spin-cycle.
"I give better eulogies than you!" said the first in a thick Eastern European accent. "Everyone cries at my eulogies!"
"Because you bore them to tears!" said the other with an accent that was decidedly New York. "It's bad enough somebody died, and you put them through torture!"
These two seated themselves in a corner booth, flailing their arms and shouting all the while. The waitress, with understandable trepidation, was slow in taking their order -- you couldn't pay me to jump into that verbal crossfire.
They argued the whole time they were in the bar, even through dinner, somehow finding a way to simultaneously use their mouths for shouting and for putting food in their stomachs. Then, once the meal was through, they left their money on the table and stood up, both at once, in a choreographed rage that blustered out the door again.
Feeling like I'd had enough excitement for one day, I paid my tab and left, but not before giving those last two plenty of lead time so I could make a quiet (and safe) getaway.