On a separate matter

I’ve written before about my time working in pubs but I wanted to share another story from those days that has been on my mind lately.

One of the pub’s regulars was a short, hollow-cheeked man of middle-age who always wore a zip-up vest and a military cap. I’ll refer to him here as X. X drank, always, and only, schooners of light beer in the way that others only drank schooners of VB or Resch’s, or refused a beer without the perfect head, or refused to drink at all, only bet – such were the habits and rituals of the regulars. One night near closing, X was, despite drinking only light beer, getting very drunk, drunker than I’d seen him before. At one point, he came to the bar and asked for “one for the road”. As I poured it, we agreed that after this beer he’d go home. Soon, he came back to the bar, put his empty on the drip tray and asked for another. This time I refused and said he’d had enough. He tried arguing and I walked away. For some time he stubbornly stayed at the bar, leaning on it, watching glumly as I served others. Eventually I reasoned with him. I gave him a glass of water and told him to drink it and if he did I’d give him another beer. This episode seemed to change our relationship. Either because I gave him what he wanted, or because I resisted, X became much friendlier with me after that night, as if a barely remembered conflict had made me less of a stranger. X wasn’t a bad guy. He was polite, laid back, quick to laugh – different to a lot of the others. Regulars were people who either couldn’t find a way of escaping that lifestyle, or lost souls. Maybe one was the result of the other – anyway, it was clear to me that X was the latter. One day, he told me what I understood was, as he saw it, his story. He told me that his father was an American, a G.I. who had been out here during the war. While in Australia, he’d been in a relationship with X’s mother, with X himself the only proof that it ever was. X’s father shipped out, and X never met him. That’s why he looked how he looked, and why he felt like he didn’t fit, he said. X took his hat off to both scratch his head and show me his face in full. His background was mixed up, so he was too.

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