I saw a guy hurl the other day in an Andersonville bar in the middle of the afternoon.
I suppose that’s nothing unusual in Chicago, the land of the 4 a.m.-close-for-a-few-hours-back-open-again-at-11 a.m. bar. But it still caught me off guard that at this early point in the day, a person could already be to the point of rejecting anymore alcohol into his system.
It was the day before July 4 (which I guess would make it the 3rd) and since I took this beautiful, sunny day off I naturally went to a dark, semi-smoke-stained bar. It was just a little after noon. The Sox were playing a pre-holiday game at The Cell and I got the rare chance to see a weekday game on television rather than listening to it on my crappy little radio at work. I usually stop in this particular bar on weekends and sit with one of the lone Sox fan bartenders on the North Side and laugh at how pathetic the Cubs are (we’ve been a quiet lately now that the Sox are stinking up the joint a little more). But this was a weekday so it felt a little like cheating on work, which is always fun. Instead of my weekend Sox cohort, one of my favorite female bartenders was working, a regular, down-to-earth woman with little pretense. She’s a breath of fresh air compared to the slacker-with-a-purpose types that get hired at most of the other places, who work there in between getting another tattoo that will have little or no meaning later on in their lives.
This particular bar has a back door that a lot of regulars use in lieu of the front, which announces itself to anyone walking down Clark street. I like to think the back door is used more for convenience than shame, but I find it hard to believe that ALL of them live on streets that only exist behind the bar.
A sudden shaft of light erupts from that rear entranceway. Someone’s coming in, of course, but the light temporarily blinds everyone looking in that direction. When our eyes adjust, we see a guy taking tentative steps into the bar. I think I see him weave a little, but I chalk it up to my eyes readjusting to the darkness of the bar.
He moves past the four people (myself included) seated at the far end of the bar, away from the front door, and takes a seat about 10 feet from the door. He’s blonde, short-haired, about 6-3, 230 pounds and is wearing the official male uniform of Wrigleyville in summer: polo shirt, shorts, deck shoes with no socks. He sits down with an audible plop and rests his head on the bar for a second. It appears he realizes this is a universal bar no-no and he jerks his head up and looks in the direction of the bartender.
The bartender, being the steady seen-it-all type that she is, walks over to him, sizes him up for a second and seems to conclude that she’s seen worse. He orders a beer, she brings him a bottle and walks away.
I watch him out of the corner of my eye, between pitches in the Sox game. I have a thing about people visibly drunk in bars, which would seem kind of unusual since that’s where most of them either begin or end up. But I like to watch them, half for the amusement factor (gotta admit, a lot of drunks are train-wreck funny) and half for safety factor. Drunks like to fall down, fight and hug and I try to avoid all three with strangers. But this guy seems content to stay in his area and rest his head on the bar so that’s cool with me.
After a while, the bartender notices that his head’s been resting on the bar for longer than should be allowed. She walks over, just close enough for him to hear her and she firmly says to him, “Sir.. Sir… there’s no sleeping at the bar.” He jerks his head upward and gives her a nod of acknowledgement. I can see him fighting to keep his head aloft, but it‘s like trying to keep an block of cement afloat in a swimming pool.
A minute or two pass and his head goes back down like Buster Douglas in the third. Some one alerts the bartender and now everyone wonders just how drunk this guy really is. Like I said, it’s only about 1 o’clock in the afternoon, way to early to be shit-faced in my book. Three or four is a more appropriate time.
The bartender ignores him for a while, conceding him time to rest. Figures it might do the guy some good. But I keep watching him out of the corner of my eye. The top of his head seems glued to the edge of the bar. I forget him for a second and watch as a Sox pitcher mows down some hapless batter. As Hawk Harrelson gives his trademark “He gone!” strikeout call, the guy spews forth a gusher straight down to the floor of the bar between his deck-shoed feet. It lasts a good 10 seconds and he does so without lifting his head, which I consider a very economical move. No one else seems to notice and just as I’m about to alert the bartender, I can see his body heave and he goes for the second round, another forceful stream of the contents of his stomach, hitting the floor and splashing like water hitting the bottom of Niagara Falls. Other than his jaw, he doesn’t move a muscle, like this is the way it’s supposed to be done.
I start to wonder how the hell someone gets that drunk so early in the afternoon. The Cubs are out of town, so the pre-game bar-hopping isn’t a reasonable excuse, though it’s one that a lot of people could and have used. It’s too early for a backyard barbecue; I mean, most people don’t really get the grill going until 2, right? The World Cup is going on so maybe he was celebrating some 1-0 win by Unknown Foreign Country over Other Unknown Foreign Country that started at 8 a.m. I entertain all of the intriguing possibilities, but the sight of a puddle of vomit brings me back to the situation at hand.
By this time I don’t have to alert the bartender. She either sees it, hears it or smells it. She gives a sigh and walks over to him and with much more restraint than is warranted, she politely tells him he has to leave. She has to jostle his shoulder to get his attention, but he finally looks up at her, down at his intestinal artwork on the floor and stands. He goes to finish the beer but she stops his hand and tells him again that he has to leave. He steps away from the bar and calmly pulls his cell phone from his pants pocket. He punches in a number. A few second later and he’s talking to someone on the other end in a rational voice. “Hi… yeah, I’m in Andersonville…Yeah, I just threw up… Ha ha, yeah… no, I’ll meet you there… how do I get there?…OK, see you then.” He turns to leave (I can’t see if he left a tip or anything other than last night’s beef stew for the bartender) He steps in the puddle on his way out and leaves vomit tracks as he walks to the front door, pushes it open and light fills the place again. I have to fight the urge to follow him out of the door and see where he ends up next. I watch him as he stands for a moment in front of the bar’s window, seeming to decide which direction to go. He walks left and into oblivion.
The bartender barely blinks an eye. Not only has she dealt with this in her capacity as purveyor of alcoholic beverages, but she says she been a nurse. “I’ve dealt with worse,” she explains and I try not to think of what that could be. Instead of the usual mop, ringer bucket and seven-foot tongs (Ok, the last one is something I would use), she dons a pair of rubber gloves, gets a sponge and a small bucket and goes to work, her hands feeling the tactile chunkiness of the upchucked kibbles and bits through her rubber gloves, her nose getting a good, heavy whiff of his partially digested stomach chowder. “This is no big deal,” she calmly states and at once I both admire her and am stunned by her.
The Sox are winning 3-1...