Barfly Tendencies by Philip Gaber

“Ever read a guy named Bukowski?” he said, stroking the scar on his thumb.

“Charles Bukowski?” I said.

He nodded.


He smiled. Smirked, really. “He knew something,” he said. Then looking away, he muttered something under his breath.

“What’s that?”

Now his eyes were closed. “He knew about the logical progression of human beings…”


“…we progress from wearing our faces frontwards, to eventually…” He paused slightly. “…wearing them backwards.” He shrugged. “The logical progression of human beings…”

My instinct was to nod, but I figured it would only encourage him, so I stifled the impulse by thinking about a girl I used to know in Palo Alto, a certified financial planner, who kept trying to convert me to Scientology.

“Yep. Bukowski knew a thing or two,” he said.

His nods were hypnotic. Infectious. Pretty soon I found myself nodding to the rhythm of his nod.

“Ever think you’re misunderstood?” he said.

I had to think about that for a minute. “No, not really…”

“Hunh,” he said, and ordered another vodka martini. “Life’s such an aberration… when I was about twenty, twenty-five, I used to go around tellin’ everybody I was misunderstood…didn’t matter who it was…family, friends, strangers, Jehovah Witnesses…’course everybody’s narcissistic and living in their heads a little too much at that age, but I was a fucking asshole about it…I’d monopolize every conversation…I’d make damn sure you were aware of what a complex guy I was, even though, you know, I was just some fucking asshole spoiled bitch with chips ahoys on my shoulder who didn’t know the difference between pissing and fucking. It was all the same to me. Still is, to a point…but I’ve…hate this word…evolved…hate that word…I’m too old to have evolved…or should I say too insensitive…” He smirked. “But the shit of it all is, I got all kindsa pussy back then…and now?” He had a maniacal little smile. “Hardly get any at all…how does that work?…Chrissakes, I haven’t lost all my looks yet. Still gotta little sex appeal buried somewhere beneath this disheveled exterior…most a my hair’s gone, alright, so, you know, a few wrinkles, but Jesus Christ, doth hair and a smooth face a man make?” His voice was becoming hoarse. He had to clear his throat several times. He reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a pack of Camel studs, and lit one. “Are you in love?” he said.

I shook my head.

“Have you ever been in love?”

I nodded.

“Have you ever run from love?”

I nodded.

He snickered. “I do the run-from-love in like two point five seconds…nobody can beat my time.” He rubbed his eyes with the heals of his hands. “I get accused all the time of being too melancholy and not ambitious enough…hellava combination, boy…one without the other’s difficult enough, but you put ‘em both together? Forget about it…it’s a harsh reality, boy, but a reality you gotta reconcile yourself to or else risk a lifetime of…” He stopped himself. “Never attempt to perpetrate on five vodka martinis, it’s a no-win situation.” He rubbed his neck and winced. “Funny, how we keep going, though…and going and going and going…” He paused a moment to see if I still had a pulse. “You’re not saying anything…you okay?”

“I’m fine…”

“Don’t talk much, do ya?”

I shook my head.

He shrugged. “That’s cool…talking’s overrated, anyway… problem with people is they got too many opinions… not enough sitting around quietly meditating, watching their breath…so many contradictions, so little equilibrium…that’s man right there in a nutshell for ya.”

That’s when the bartender approached him. “Call for ya.”

“Who is it?”

“Some broad.”

“‘Scuse me, kid,” he said, getting up from his stool. “The triangle awaits.”

He limped toward a side door that said “Private” and disappeared behind it.

I signaled the bartender for my tab.

Philip Gaber is a freelance writer currently living and working in North
Carolina. His work has appeared in Weirdyear and will appear in the upcoming
spring issues of the Boston Literary Magazine, Full of Crow and Short Story


Rey A. Gonzalez said...

Barflies are interesting people. Sometimes, they can be funny. I once had one sit back and try to name every single cartoon from the eighties. I think he actually did it.

Thanks, Philip for reminding me of that great time in my life

Anonymous said...


Rey A. Gonzalez said...

I don't know if I should take that other message or not. It may be a good comment, but it may also be someone trying to sell you a laundry detergent that will send stains to the Land of Ghosts and Sadness.

I'll leave it up for now....

Bruce Harris said...

Any story with Bukowski can't be all bad. I felt as though I was right there with them. Enjoyed this one. Thanks.

Bill Baber said...

I agree with Bruce, as a former bartender and a Buk fan, this one was spot on...

日月神教-任我行 said...