Slow nights are the worst. Don’t get me wrong, I hate work as much as the next guy but if you’re going to be somewhere for 12 hours, it’s nice to have a little something to do. Nights like this, you’re stuck at the bar serving whatever sad weirdo lays claim to a barstool. You’re topping them up with cheap swill. You’re listening to their bullshit. You’re marvelling at how anyone can lack such a basic understanding of human interaction, how they can ignore your screaming disinterest, how they can be socially dyslexic. Most people, even half-crazy hobos, they’ll piss off once they realise you’ll only give back monosyllables and grunts, no matter how inspired they consider their tedious observations on life to be. Barflies though, they just keep on yammering. And tonight’s is lord of the fucking flies.
He looks like Charles Manson, if Manson was a Russian used car salesman. That’s Manson who’s Russian, you understand. His cars are from wherever. Mexico. Fucking Delhi. Mr Manson, he’s real intense. He’s got too much hair and wears too much cologne. He’s way too loud and way too close, practically mounting the bar to get near me. A real personal space invader. Breath like an abattoir next-door to a brewery. A smell that hangs around like a beaten dog. His accent is a blanket European. Greek, Italian, maybe Romany or whatever. And he just keeps on talking. He segues from politics to TV to musicians to actors to parenting to work-shy youth, and most recently, to fucking street performers.
“So they just stand there! How is that work?”
I sigh and Charlie nods eagerly.
“Am I right? I’m right! If you are going to be a performer, you must perform! Not just dress like a crazy and stay still.”
“Another?” I say.
He empties his glass, nodding again. Flat beer spills out, soaking into his stupid, twitching rug-face. On a good night I’d cut him off. Kick him out and get some room at the bar but it’s been a shitty week and if I’m going to make rent, I’ve got to squeeze as much as I can out of Mr Manson. As I pour his beer I imagine those freaky human statues on the high-street staring me down. All dead eyes and stiff limbs. Unfolding themselves in the dark. Glassy and still with eyes on them and jerking madly whenever no one’s watching. With haggard, paint-peeled fingers that crack and splinter and claw at your back as soon as you turn.
“Man, they creep me out.” I mutter.
I instantly regret it.
He almost jumps over the bar.
“You see! You get it my friend! It’s no good, this statue act. It’s boring and like you say it’s…ah! Unsettling!”
He’s shouting now, punctuating his words by slamming his hand on the bar top, so proud to have understood and labelled another human’s emotions. Well done Mr Charlie fucking Manson.
He sits there till closing. He keeps on talking. He’s back the next night and the one after that. Fucking great. Fucking perfect. Now I’m Charles Manson’s favourite bartender.