I slowly pull the sticker off my bottle. It slips off the wet surface easily. The bartender had just pulled it out of a large bucket of ice.I lined the sticker up below the previous one. I’ve done this for years. I always have told myself that I do this so I can keep track of how many beers I should be charged for. You see my buddy owns this bar and would often only charge me for half what I drank. In truth I did it to keep track of how many I had drunk in any night. Once the number reaches upward of eight to ten I found it easy to lose track.
I am sitting in the farthest corner of the cramped bar with my back to a wall. I glance around the dimly lit room and my distaste grows. Like usual on a Friday, the drunks have packed the place. A sneer crosses my lips. A bunch of thirty something drunks trying to party like they are still twenty-five. The music is too loud. The DJ calls up the latest victim to attempt to sign karaoke. Two drunken women stumble forward and and begin bellowing off key. Several couples slobber over each other awkwardly.
My buddy next to me, even older than I am, tries in desperation to impress the almost passed out twenty year old college student next to him. She leans into him and stumbles through a slurred sentence. He looks at me with a big smile on his face. I just shake my head sadly. The place smells of desperation and sad dreams.
The bartender, Al, walks over with a shot glass in his hand. Depending on the day Al looks between fifty and eighty years old. Tonight he looks eighty. It’s been a long busy day of helping to drown out these peoples regrets.
He puts the glass filled with an unknown liquid in front of me. Without a word he points across bar to an old drinking buddy of mine. He raises his glass and I waggle my bottle back at him.
I hand the shot glass to my friend next to me. He passes it on to the drunk girl. I can’t help but think I am facilitating a future crime.
My head pounds as there is a break in the karaoke. I squeeze the bridge of my nose hoping to push away the pain. I drink the last of what is in my bottle and place it on the counter.
Al reaches into the cooler asking me with his eyes if I want another. I shake my head no and make a gesture to indicate my bill. He shakes his head and waves me away. I place a twenty on the bar under the bottle and stand up. I look down at the three labels that are on the counter in front of me. Non alcoholic, non alcoholic, non alcoholic, they all say. Al still doesn't understand the reason I come here is to support him.
I weave my way through the mass of sweating bodies trying not to touch them. The heat is oppressive. Near the door I pass by a couple making out like teenagers. I shake my head again and walk out. The cool air hits me and begins to clear my headache up. They say no one hates smokers as much as an ex smoker. I guess no one hates drunks as much as an ex drunk.