Now, I’m not much for drinking—the occasional beer with a mate sure, but the all-night ragers that some people of my age achieve is beyond my capacity or desire.
For some, drinking exacerbates the worst parts of their personality, turning foul what was once the most pleasant chap in the world. For others, it simply makes them silly, turning the average laugh into a more boisterous guffaw. Others, like myself, are simply navigated to a peaceful slumber, which, while not necessarily deleterious, is certainly not conducive to the life of any party but a slumber party.
Unfortunately, this leaves me somewhat at odds with the trend of my youthful peers. For people my age, drinking is almost a sport—Friday and Saturday night, game time; Sunday, a day for recovery and remorse. The goal seems to be to drink and navigate that tenuous line between happy intoxicated and dead intoxicated. Alcohol loosens up the gears. Or a few more things than gears. In fact, your wheels might be so well lubricated they just might fall off, causing you to ask questions like, Did I really eat three whole sleeves of Oreos? and Wow, you seemed a lot prettier/hunkier last night.
But last Saturday was different. I met an Australian chap named Peter who, in Aussie terminology, was “a good bloke,” and he invited me to grab a beer. And I decided yes, it would be a nice idea to forgo my nine o’clock bedtime—a welcome break actually—and embrace the nightlife of Merimbula, a small town on the southeast coast of Australia.
It was a nice idea until Peter and I wandered down the main street and realized there was little to no nightlife in Merimbula. Instead, it was more of a small coastal town where the average age hovered around sixty-five and where an enthusiastic game of bridge was the most excitement the city could handle on a Saturday night.
Apparently, the town fairly bustles during holidays, when the school kids have their summer break, but they had recently gone back, and everyone was in their grumpy, let’s-stay-at-home-and-conserve-money mood. The only place that looked appealing (because it was open) was a hotel bar, where we immediately tripled the population.
We grabbed a beer each and chatted freely with the bartender, who began the interchange with “Thank god you guys came in. I’m so bored. I’ve been doing nothing for the past two hours.”
In the ensuing conversation, I decided he was an interesting lad, a workaholic by his own testimony who didn’t particularly enjoy working but liked being at home even less. He seemed to take a rather glum view of his life and yet remained adamant in his support of it—a strange combination, but one I’m sure we’ve all seen somewhere.
After a while, this chap left for some extraneous duties and was replaced by a taller, more well built barkeep.
“You guys getting pissed tonight?” He asked in a convivial manner, using the Aussie/Kiwi/British slang for getting drunk (not angry).
“Just a few quiet ones, I think,” I answered.
“Yeah, save that for Sydney,” he shrugged. “That’s what you do there really.”
Well, I was led to believe there were other things there too—possibly seeing the harbor bridge, the Sydney Opera House, Manly, Bondi beach, or going to the countless cafes and watching the thousands of interesting people. But apparently, I’d been lied to; a guidebook may have remarked on these things, but you could scribble it all out and write, “GET PISSED.” The things you learn when you travel.
While this new bartender seemed an okay person in his own way, we were worlds apart—if it weren’t for my loquacious Aussie friend, the conversation would have faltered and died soon after its inception. But instead I was having a rare glimpse into the life of what some people would call a “classic bro,” which I found immensely interesting.
The conversation wandered as it usually does in such environments, yet I found I was enjoying myself. Peter ordered another few beers, having a higher tolerance than myself. I had stopped at two, as three would have me go from an engaged silence to a less-engaged, wandering silence ending in a nice nap.
With the help of this new barkeep and more beer, the conversation ventured into risqué territory and soon I was subject to recounts of the sexual… vivacity of my drinking peers. The new barkeep certainly had more stories than the first one—who was a bit pudgy and had the closest thing to a bull cut than I’d seen in awhile. Not a bad guy, just not what ladies would consider “a prime catch.”
Hearing the barkeep’s stories encouraged my Aussie friend, who also had quite extensive experience. (Or they were both lying.) And I must admit, I looked at both of them a bit differently after they recounted their “conquests”; the things they said would surely have shocked your grandmother (although I guess it depends who your grandmother is—all women grow old eventually).
In the middle of one harrowing account, a new individual entered and wandered up to the bar. He was skinny, deathly pale, and didn’t look a day over eighteen. With a worn tired voice, he mumbled a drink order. The barkeep, clearly suspicious, checked his ID but he was, in fact, legal.
In the ensuing conversation, he wandered his way through answers, barely holding the thread of conversation and blearily looking at us, but from what we could figure out he was an Italian on a working holiday visa who sold some type of energy service door-to-door.
He answered in a dry, weary manner, responding to everything in a deadpan voice. About five minutes in, the Italian went to the bathroom and then fifteen minutes later went again.
After the second time, I raised the issue in conversation.
“Who is this guy?” I asked. “He seems suspicious.”
“Yeah, mate,” Peter answered. “Didn’t think he was legal from the way he ordered that beer. Must be on some sort of drug.”
“Probably getting high right now,” the bartender added with a nod.
The Italian slunk back in and cut our conversation short. Peter asked him a question about his work but didn’t quite understand the muttered answer. He asked the Italian again. Being in between them and the only one who actually understood anything, I laughed—the connection of this dry, drugged-up Italian and a half lucid Aussie trying to make coherent conversation was too much. It was like asking the two of them to play a game of ping pong, but no one had brought any paddles and the only ball available was a brick.
“Why are you laughing?” The Italian gave a dopey grin. “What is… so funny?”
“Nothing man… nothing,” I replied. He wouldn’t understand my ping pong metaphor.
After five more minutes of this make-no-sense, sporadic conversation, a whole group of people entered, and then more, including two women with enough makeup to pass as store mannequins. With these newcomers, the place was fairly bustling.
The barkeep was soon busy with orders and turned his attention to pouring beer and schmoozing other customers. Even Young Bull Cut came back from wherever he had scurried off to previously and joined in the action, looking only slightly less gloomy than before.
It was fascinating—the bar atmosphere had completely changed, suddenly there was the clink of glasses, loud conversation, and lots of guffawing. But with the bar being so full of people, I felt more out of place. I liked the bar better, I think, when it was just the three of us—the barkeep (either one), Peter, and myself.
Peter and I decided to head out, leaving the Italian to stare into his beer, and made for the cool summer night. It was fully dark now, and the streets were quiet—the town’s population in bed after their wild game of bridge and all the tourists done rushing to their next destination. We drifted back to our hostel, making our way on the shore of the bay. Breathing in the pleasant summer evening air and hearing the water lapping on the shore, I decided it was a good night. Yes—odder than most, but definitely a good night.
Ben Rietema (’14) lives in Wanaka, New Zealand at the moment. Besides staring at and running in mountains, he makes a wicked hospital corner and can clean a bathroom like Gandhi (if he were a housekeeper) at his job at a local lodge. He also enjoys saying “HOUSEKEEPING” in the highest pitch voice he can muster before entering a room to service it. benrietema.wordpress.com/