The Bartender Story

by Bob Thurber

You’re at an office party, telling a joke. The joke begins like a thousand others. A man walks into a bar. Or two men. A rabbi and a priest. Or two women. A prostitute and a nun. Maybe an elephant and a chimpanzee.

What’s important is the bartender greets each patron with a warm smile. He’s overly friendly because business has been bad. Nothing like the days when he first bought the place. Back then, on theater nights, flocks poured in. The crowds were avant-garde, chic; everyone had manners and style.

Now the only customers he gets are props, puppet performers, mere stooges, the loath deliverers of tired jokes. Sometimes this makes the bartender feel like an accomplice. At other times, a fool. Between jokes he tries to remember his dreams. Did he always want to be a bartender?

On your worst days, you think about taking a mixology course and becoming a bartender. You’ve heard the pay is bad but the tips are good.

On his worst days the bartender believes he might prefer to be on the other side, coming and going, reciting punch lines.

You tell the part of the joke where he asks, “What will it be? What can I get you? What’ll you have?”

The anatomy of the joke requires him to utter one of these phrases. He has some liberty, but how much he doesn’t know. No one tells the bartender anything. He is never in on the joke.

Using a dirty rag to wipe the bar, he awaits a response that will propel this latest rendering of the joke forward, understanding he may never make another sale. Likewise, you understand this tired joke may not get a laugh. Not with this group.

You decide that after you deliver the punch line, you’ll go home, jerk off, go to bed.

Likewise, after you deliver the punch line, the bartender will duck into the windowless smoke-filled backroom where there is a lady with orange peels in her hair, a dozen patron saints playing pool, and a bug-eyed office worker with amnesia who used to be a writer.

No joke.

Bob Thurber is an old, unschooled writer widely published in literary journals, magazines, and on the Internet. He resides in Massachusetts. His short story, "The Cat Who Waved," appeared in Issue #5 of The Cafe Irreal, and his story, "Shuteye," appeared in Issue #15.