by Tony Noland
The regular customer came into the quiet dimness, took one look at the man at the end of the bar and said, "What's his problem?"
Without looking up from his newspaper, the bartender said, "Ah, he'll be OK. He's only exercising poor judgement."
"A lot of guys do. Just how poor?"
"It took eight shots for him to quit swearing and start sobbing, and another nine shots for him to quit sobbing and pass out."
The regular whistled. "That's poor judgement, all right. Was it over money or a woman?"
"His wife leave him? Cheat on him?"
"Nope," said the bartender, "he said his wife is a good woman. He's married fourteen years, has two kids, one dog, and a house in the suburbs with good schools and high property taxes."
"Jesus, if there's anything worse than a drunk it's a talkative drunk."
The bartender shrugged. "I don't judge."
"So if it wasn't his wife, it was his mistress? Man, my mistress dumped me, I'd get drunk, too. If I had a mistress, that is."
The bartender looked up from his paper, then shrugged again. "Like I said, I don't judge. But no, it wasn't his mistress. He ran into an old girlfriend. Hadn't seen her since before he got married, but he ran into her downtown. They had a cup of coffee, talked about old times, hugged goodbye. From there, he came into the first bar he saw -"
"Which was here?"
"- which was here, yes. He came in, slapped two hundred dollars down on the bar and said, 'Keep 'em coming as long as that lasts.' After that it was drink drink, talk talk, sob sob, and night night."
The regular whistled again. "So the poor bastard has been carrying a torch for an old girlfriend for fourteen years? Through his entire marriage?"
"Nope. He said he got over her long before he got married."
"What? Well, if he doesn't have a broken heart, then what's his problem?"
"Turns out his old girlfriend has been happily married for nine years. Two kids, thinking about a third. Condo in the city, thinking about a house in the suburbs."
With a frown, the regular looked at the sleeping man. A pool of whiskey from the final shot spread on the bar, making a puddle around the man's cheek.
"So," he said, "his problem with his old flame is...?"
"His problem is that she went on without him." The bartender folded his newspaper and put it away. "Instead of being shattered with loss forever, she got over him and went on about living her life. Seems to me that it takes a pretty damned big ego to think that the ones you leave behind will be so torn up that they'll sit at home weeping for the next forty years. Big egos make for easy targets." He nodded at the sleeping man. "When a big ego gets kicked, it hurts worse than getting kicked in the balls. It's better not to have a big ego in the first place. But, what the hell, like I said, I don't judge. What can I get you?"
"Is there any of The Great Lover's two hundred left, or did he drink his way through it all?"
"Not even close."
"Why don't you give me a shot and a beer, on his tab. I'll drink a toast to his old girlfriend."
The bartender paused, then said, "Sure, why not? He won't miss it." In a moment, a draft and a tall shot of top shelf were on the bar.
"What was the girlfriend's name?" said the regular. "Who am I drinking to?"
"He said her name was Estella."
The regular raised the shot glass. "To Estella, who I'm sure was a beautiful creature."
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