Sunday, 3 May 2015

(SATIRE) The continuing adventures of Christina Sommers: Secret Bartender

Trigger Warning: Life can be confusing when you're a journalist covering a complex and nuanced news story like the events unfolding in Syria, or 300 people meeting up at a bar one evening for a friendly drink. Who, in the latter example, wouldn't confuse a visiting academic with the twitter account of the drinking establishment. Research is hard.

MODE 5 was founded on the shaky premise that ludicrous interpretations of real-life happenings inevitably beget ludicrous fan-fiction penned by chronically-bored Englishmen. For those of you operating a social justice mind-set, who find the distinction between fact and fiction blurred, fiction is the one that didn't really happen. If you are confused or triggered by this distinction we strongly advise you to Google “Courage Wolf” for photos of adorable puppies.


(SATIRE) The continuing adventures of Christina Sommers: Secret Bartender

To her friends and her colleagues it was academic: Christina was a woman of rare sophistication and boundless intellectual means. A college professor. A mannered yet hardened debater – certainly no pushover. The author of a number of books and numerous journal articles and papers. If her contemporaries occasionally noticed a certain steeliness creeping in from the corner of her eye – a thousand yard stare that clouded her otherwise welcoming expression – the kind of look that would stop a chain-swinging biker in his tracks at 20 paces - they were polite enough not to mention it.

By night Christina would close the door to her study, leaving her books and her student's term papers shrouded in darkness. In the back room of some waterfront dive bar she would don a work apron that, within fifteen minutes, would be damp with beer suds; the elongated, bowed front pocket lined with broken peanut shells. She told no one of her secret double life as a bartender but got down to the business of dispensing beers, dispatching trays of jello shots to the off-duty dock workers, delivering devastating roundhouse kicks to unruly patrons, and adjudicating party fouls.

I first laid eyes on her at The Nelson Shorehouse Tavern in Greenwich – a misnomer since the establishment had been constructed on sinking foundations and would find itself completely submerged every high-tide, only to emerge from the ebbing surf draped in seaweed and crawling with shellfish. The locals had another name for the place: They called it 'Crabs'.

Christina was the first person I saw as I pushed open the warped door at the bottom of the staircase. She remains forever freeze-framed in my memory, laying down the law to a new patron:

When I say 'consume' the first words out of your mouth had better be 'What?' and 'How much, ma'am?'”

Her vocal chords had been seasoned over four decades by whiskey of dubious provenance.

A controlled blow from the flat of her palm sent a two-litre pitcher of absinthe, with a wedge of lime bobbing incongruously on the surface, sliding the length of the wooden bar, following a well-worn groove in the varnished oak, coming to a gliding halt a few inches from a trembling young man – a college student I later learned when the paramedics fished the ID out of his wallet.

You're swimming in the deep end now, boy,” remarked some wise-ass, whose ample buttocks were in the process of enveloping the maroon leatherette of the adjacent bar stool.

SHUT THE FUCK UP, NORM!” yelled a chorus of barflies in ragged unison, suddenly roused from their private stupor by an inside joke as worn and threadbare as their clothing.

In a distant corner I noticed a gaggle of hipsters writing down snatches of overheard bar conservations with a studied glumness. One held an iPad up in front of him panning it back and forth along the row of hunched-over drunks.

Sommers glanced in their direction.

They don't drink much but the city planning office says they function as good as a supporting wall so I'm happy.” 
She peeled a long uneven strip from the label of an empty beer bottle; rolling the smooth, then grainy, torn paper between her thumb and her forefinger; inserting the resulting tube between he lips where it dangled limply from its wet end, like an unlit, home-made cigarette. Her gaze had drifted over to a narrow ribbon of stained glass that traversed the far wall a half-foot from the ceiling, the leaded multi-coloured panes filtering the muted orange glow of the street light outside through a veneer of grime that was older than the Obama Presidency.

Had a biker gang in here last night. Called themselves The Shitlords or some such. Nice guys really, once you get past the front. Their leader, Milo, has facial tattoos, bleached blonde hair. Kind of a real stoic guy, like monosyllabic conversation was too much for him.”

A dishevelled man dressed for an office job that he had evidently failed to attend deposited a handful of small change on the bar.

I watched Sommers make a quick mental calculation before shaking her head.

Larry, I already called time on happy hour.”

Jeez. Christina, I need this.”

If I make allowances for you then I'll have to do the same for everyone.”

Defeated, the man scooped the change over the lip of the counter. A small silver coin ricocheted off the ball of his thumb joint and bounced onto the flagstones where it was lost in the gloom among a thicket of worn chair and table legs. The man swore under his breath. Fascinated by his badly chewed nails, I watched his vain attempts to claw a quarter off the bar where it had become glued to a translucent film left behind by the swipe of a wet dish cloth. Having at long last retrieved the errant coin, he retreated to the door, muttering under his breath.

Say, you speak Italian?” queried Sommers.

There was an awkward pause before I realised that she was talking to me.

Well, I've seen the first two Godfather films.”

There's some Italian graffiti in the men's john. City says if want to keep it up we need to put up an English translation next to it, so it's accessible. I'll pay you in Coors.”

I nodded.

Across the room, one of the hipsters had located a Godspeed! You Black Emperor single on the aged jukebox. The cavernous empty space reverberated to the sound of droning cello.


Like any academic, Sommers had enemies on campus. The most dangerous of these were the people who lacked the intelligence and wit to confront her work head on, but who did not consider themselves above a bit of anonymous character assassination. Somehow one of them found out about her secret bartending. The ensuing drama was blown out of proportion by the campus press. Reluctantly, I think, but to keep the peace, she called time on her nocturnal double life; returned to the respectable world of academia; sublimed into leafy quadrants and wood-paneled offices; never again set foot behind the bar at Spikey's or The Buffalo Whirlitzer.

The last time I visited Crabs I was served by a guy who looked a bit like the novelist, Martin Amis.

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