In my many years standing behind a bar, I’ve learned a few things. One such bit of knowledge is that every bar, in every town in America, has ‘this guy’–at least the bars that are open during the day. Typically, he’s an older gentleman of about 70 or more, and you see him just about every day.

He sits quietly at the end of the bar sipping his cocktail day after day, and always in the same stool. You can practically set your watch by his arrival time. If it’s 1:07 P.M., and his stool is still vacant, other regulars in the bar begin to nervously look at their watches as if there’s been some cosmic disturbance and they desperately seek guidance and instruction. His departure time is equally predictable unless someone offers to buy him “one more” before he goes. He is polite, but says very little. Small talk is pointless to him, daresay even beneath him, and he rarely partakes.

His beverage of choice is one of the following: rail scotch, rail gin, or whichever beer is cheapest. Chances are, he’s been enjoying the same drink for half a century or more. He knows the prices, (including tax) of these items better than he recalls his own social security number. He deviates from his regular drink only when someone else is buying, though he usually just declines the offer. He always has the same number of drinks and has correct cash in hand, including a nominal gratuity at the same time every day, even before his check has been presented to him. He seems to stare into his drink the entire time he is there, yet somehow he observes everything. He sees all…he hears all–silently taking it all in. Without ever looking up from his glass, he could describe in detail each person who comes through the door—you’ve never heard such utterances, since he rarely speaks—but this is still a known fact.

If ever an unknowing stranger enters before his arrival and sits in his stool, the other “regulars” make sure to tell them it is occupied. He is a true creature of habit, and if  you don’t see him for two consecutive days, without question you must send someone looking for him.

Often times the highlight of my week is when one of my quips evokes the rapid, gentle rising and falling of his shoulders in unison as he suppresses audible laughter. Knowing that for a change, he found me entertaining instead of vice versa, brings a smile to my face. My ultimate goal is to solicit a guffaw from the old man. His words are few, yet he seemingly has an intimate knowledge of pretty much everything.

He’s retired from a career he doesn’t discuss, not due to shame, but rather an unwillingness to relive what he worked so hard for so many years to get away from. He may or may not have any remaining relatives. He, at least on the surface seems to have alienated them, and subsequently adopted his bar room comrades as his new, albeit dysfunctional family.

I would trade a year of my life to have a fraction of his knowledge and experience. Even with his economical use of verbiage, he just exudes an aura–if you will–of pure unadulterated “interestingness.” To sit and pick his brain is my Everest. He’s very humble, yet everyone in the bar, most of whom are decades his junior, know unequivocally that he is the smartest guy in the room.
You find yourself thinking of this man briefly on Christmas morning as you watch your children open their wrapped treasures from Santa. You know the bar is closed, which forces him to deviate from his normal routine. You begin to worry…Does he have somewhere to go? Should I have invited him for dinner? Would he find the gesture condescending and offensive? Before rationalizing what you knew all along…he’ll be ok. The man is a true-life embodiment of the Dos Equis Guy.

Another thing I’ve learned in my years behind the bar, is that though he is a man of few words, when he does speak, you should definitely listen. He doesn’t say much, but what he does say is something you will want to retain. For every one great story I have, he has twenty. It’s an honor and a challenge for me to provoke him into sharing them. Over the years, I’ve collected a handful of my favorite stories obtained from these “old guys in the bar”. Check back with me next week and I’ll happily share them with you. These are way too good to keep to myself.

Until then,

Syd Nichols

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