Monarchies rise, dynasties fall and dictators are deposed, all as I wait for one more pint. Sure, I’m patient. Actually, continents seem to sink beneath the seas, tectonic plates seem to collide and new mountain ranges seem to squeeze skyward while the bartender continues to ignore my empty glass. “I’ll catch him the next time he passes,” I repeat like a mantra.
It’s a problem that I generally encounter on my visits to Chapel Hill’s Franklin Street. I bring a hopeful smile and an empty glass, yet I’m ignored. “Um …,” I stammer, but the man’s past me in a flash and now otherwise engaged at the far end of the bar. Am I invisible? At 6 feet tall and 201 pounds, perhaps I lack presence. Do I simply blend in with all the others at the bar? In a row of wildly colored sports jerseys, I’m the guy in shirt and tie. Do I look underage? I turned 21 so many presidencies ago that some of those leaders have already had their state funerals.
“Ah, I’d like …,” I begin to exclaim. The bartender coughs loudly into his hand and is gone. As I wait, I entertain myself by counting this place’s other threats to public health. A waitress passes a gentle finger beneath her nose, and another unnecessarily rearranges her well-arranged hair. A waiter absent-mindedly wipes his hand across his mouth, twice. “All employees must wash,” the sign says in the loo. Out here in the wilds, demanding sanitary procedures would be like shouting “Drive safely” in the middle of a demolition derby.
“Say, I wonder …,” I later utter in his direction. Half-hidden by the beer taps, he leans on the bar and talks to three young women. They giggle when he says “Excusez-moi,” then pulls his phone from his pocket to entertain four people at once. I’ve never wished I’d been born a female, but now, for want of a beer, I see my disadvantage. I also wish I knew the jokester’s phone number.
I eventually reserve my place at the bar by leaving my eyeglass case. In the bathroom, I press the soap dispenser a couple of times, knowing I’ll regret it. I don’t remember much about my great-aunt from Chicago, but the overwhelming flowery perfume of my freshly washed hands says she’s here, standing beside me. My next great invention: unscented liquid soap.
Anointed and cleansed, I return to the bar. “Another Guinness?” says the bartender, without a prompt. He’s eyeing me now, eyebrows raised, his hand on the familiar black tap handle. “Never the same beer twice,” I say. He repeats what I’ve said as a question, so I explain: “So many beers, so little time. A Honker’s Ale next.”
He pulls a tap handle while straightening out a wine mix-up with a waitress. After suffering through their geo-economic journey through wine country, I receive my beer. My perfumed great-aunt and I raise the glass. It’s not the hoppy bitterness I expected, but a biscuity flavor. Flowers notwithstanding, I identify the brewery and, even if the attentive bartender got it wrong, I do enjoy his Fat Tire.