“Set ‘em up Joe,” said Phillip, as he entered the tavern. “It’s been a miserable day and I need a drink.” He weaved a little as he removed the jacket of his business suit and hung over the back of a barstool.
As usual, there were a few patrons, a couple talking intimately at a table in the back, and an older woman at the far end of the bar who was noticeably tipsy. Her glittery clothes and heavy makeup were unfitting for the dark, dingy decor.
The bartender ambled over. He was late fifties, and casually dressed in jeans and a Rolling Stones tour tee shirt. “You look like you’ve already been drinking.”
“Not nearly enough!” Phillip said, plopping heavily onto the stool.
“And you know the name’s Roger, not Joe, right?” He poured a healthy shot of bourbon into a tumbler, grabbed a bottle of beer from an ice-filled basin, and set them in front of Phillip.
“Duh, of course I do. Do you really have to give me a hard time today?”
“I was just being facetious.”
“Oh, look at you with the big words!” Phillip swigged his beer.
“You are in a mood, aren’t you,” Roger said, retreating to cut a few lemons.
The woman at the bar perked up. “Why don’t you tell us why you’re having such a rough day, Phil?” She drained her drink and swirled the remaining ice cubes at Roger. “Sweetheart, while you’re up, I’ll have another.”
“Instead of Louise they should’ve named you Olive, as in ‘Olive Another’,” Phillip quipped.
“Hey,” Roger barked. “Don’t take it out on her just because you’re in a snit.”
“Oh come on. Everyone knows that when she dies from cirrhosis, Beefeater is going to go bankrupt . . . Maybelline, too. It’s a miracle she can blink with all that mascara. And we could spackle the walls with that damn pancake makeup she’s got on!”
Roger refreshed her drink and set it on the bar. “There’s no need for that kind of talk. I can shut you off, you know.”
“Shut me off? HA! My bar tab covers the rent on this dive!”
“If you’d ever pay it,” he mumbled to Louise, who smirked.
“I double your customer base by coming in here. If it weren’t for me, you’d be setting up drinks for the mice and cockroaches. Seriously, whose dumb idea was it to buy this lousy shithole?”
“Some people have dreams, you know.”
Phillip downed his shot. “A dream of cashing in the IRA you accumulated your whole life to go broke busting your hump in some rat-infested dump in the middle of nowhere?”
“It takes time to establish a reputation in this competitive market,” Roger noted.
“It’s been two years already. How long are you gonna wait?”
“Oh Phil, you’re such a pessimist,” Louise said. “There are more important things than money. What if it makes him happy to set up the bar every day? He likes interacting with the patrons and he’s good at it. Maybe after years of being miserable in a dead end desk job he’s finally doing something that makes him feel fulfilled.”
Roger smiled broadly. “Thank you, Louise.”
“Oh stop it,” Phillip huffed. “He’s just looking for an excuse to get out of the house for twelve hours a day.”
“Maybe if you found something to fill you up it’d get rid of that sour attitude,” Louise said.
“Well, we all know what fills you up: Gin and limes!”
The couple in the back got up and left, nodding goodnight. “See? You’re chasing out my customers with your shitty attitude,” Roger said, topping off Phil’s bourbon.
“Me? It was more likely the water bug floating in their Chardonnay.”
“The exterminator was here last Wednesday,” Roger said, defensively.
“Oh great, I’d better order a Courvoisier so you’ll be able to pay him.”
“What’s got you so upset today anyway?” Louise asked.
Phillip shook his head disdainfully. “Today was the monthly staff meeting where the boss calls everyone into the boardroom to lecture us about being more productive.”
“I got caught drifting off.”
“Drifting off?” Louise looked concerned. “You mean like daydreaming?”
“Hmmm, not exactly . . .”
“Well what then?” Roger asked.
“I fell asleep.”
“Like nodded off for a second?”
“No, like fell asleep—head back, mouth open, snoring—the whole thing!”
Louise gasped. “See, you’re always telling me to mind my own business when you’re in here all hours of the night drinking, and I remind you that it’s a weeknight.” She paused, shaking her head. “So did anyone notice?”
“Notice? The entire table was turned around staring at me when I woke up—or came to, is more like it!”
“Did you get in trouble?” Roger asked.
“I don’t know yet. I’m supposed to meet with the boss first thing tomorrow morning.”
“Do you think he’ll fire you?” Louise asked.
“To be honest, I’m not sure, but I’m not feeling too optimistic.”
Roger threw him a smile. “Well, if you need work, you can always take a few shifts here.”
Phillip rolled his eyes. “Oh great, finally my lifelong dream will be realized, too.”
Louise turned serious. “Phil, at the risk of butting in—again—if you have to meet the boss first thing, shouldn’t you go get some sleep instead of tying one on in this ‘rat-infested dump’?”
“Yeah, you’re right. It might be worth it to try and make one last good impression to save my job.” Phillip drained his beer, stood, and pulled some cash from his pocket.
“Don’t worry about it, Phil. It’s on me,” Roger said. “I’m sorry you had such a bad day. Just go get some rest and try to fix things in the morning.”
“I will Dad, thanks.” He turned to Louise. “Mom, do you want to share a cab or are you going to hang out a while longer?”
“I’ll wait and help your father close up. But we’ll see you in the morning.”
“All right guys, see you at home.”