My Last Conversation Before Lockdown

I was in a bar and it was a Tuesday night. It must have been early in the night because the band hadn’t even began setting up yet. I was sat right in front of the taps; my usual place. The sooner I could get alcohol into my system the better. My order was just the usual, and it was poured for me by my usual bartender.

There was a man to my left with a notepad who was taking down notes. About what I wasn’t sure at the time, but it seemed strange to me. Not strange enough to necessitate an inquisition, but strange nonetheless. This wasn’t exactly the type of place many proper reviewers would visit. Eventually a jug of red liquid was brought out to him along with a single glass. At that moment I saw a man after my own heart – ordering a jug and asking for a single glass is the true sign of a well seasoned alcoholic.

He poured half a glass at the same time I ordered another usual. My beer was bought out to me as he took a gulp, and then he took some notes. He started talking to the waitstaff about something, but they seemed to be more animated than I had ever seen them before. Clearly this beverage meant something to the man drinking it, and clearly the man drinking it meant something to the people who made it.

He looked at me as I was gazing at the clock and calculating how long it would take me to drink myself to sleep tonight. ‘Hey,’ he said, ‘do you want to have the rest of this?’ is the tempting question he asked me as he pushed the rest of the jug towards me.

I gazed at it curiously. On the one hand I was taught to never accept a free drink, on the other hand a free drink is literally the greatest drink ever. ‘Are you sure?’ I asked, never braking my gaze from the jug of free booze. ‘Yeah, sure.’

There were enough people looking at me, and enough people who knew I was a regular here, that I felt safe drinking anything any stranger would give me. I took it without any further arguments and poured myself a glass of it. It tasted sweet and fruity. It certainly distinguished itself from my usual order of whatever was cheapest.

‘This is pretty good,’ I directed at the kind stranger before taking down another gulp. ‘What is it?’
‘It’s Sangria. New item on the menu. We get some red wine and put some fruits and spices and stuff in it.’
‘Well, fuck man it’s good. You’ve managed to get me to swallow down wine. That’s no small feat.’
He smiled at the compliment and then continued, ‘so how often do you come here?’
‘As often as I have money,’ I replied.
‘Well you seem like quite the distinguishing gentleman, how do you like the food and drinks here?’ he asked with only some incredulity.
‘Well, I always order whatever is cheapest, and it’s better than everywhere else’s cheapest. So it can’t be too bad.’
I took another swig of the so-called sangria and raised my glass in a faux salute, ‘but this shit is actually tolerable. And that’s more than I can say about any other place.’
He smiled at me and I smiled back.

‘So,’ he began, ‘would you say you like to drink a lot?’
I looked back at the bar in silent contemplation.
‘No, I wouldn’t say that. I’d say that I just prefer to not be sober.’
‘Why is that?’
I looked at him incredulously. After all, this was just some random stranger in a bar who had given me a jug of sangria, not my psychologist or anything.
‘Because alcohol makes me feel the way I think I ought to feel all the time. Do you drink?’
‘Yeah, occasionally. But not especially much and not especially often.’
‘Well, I guess I kind of feel jealous of you. But I also pity you.’
‘Why exactly is that?’
‘Because you can only feel as human as you’ll allow yourself to be. But with external chemicals you can feel exactly how much humans can feel. But, on the other hand, you’ll never go through any moments where you constantly feel disconnected from pleasure because being human only allows you so much existing.’
He scrunched up his face and then shot his reply at me, ‘I honestly have no clue what anything you just said means. I don’t think it even makes any sense.’
‘Basically what I said means that you’ll never feel as good as someone whose on drugs will feel. But you’ll also never have to live through the effects of withdrawal. You’ll never truly understand the heights of feeling that humans can achieve, but you’ll also never understand the depths of pain that we can feel.’
‘Is that a good thing or a bad thing?’
‘I don’t know. But it’s a thing, and it’s something that not many people get to experience. And life is just a series of experiences.’
He just laughed at that. ‘Well, you enjoy your experiences,’ he said while pointing at the jug that he had given me. ‘I’m good with what I have.’

I raised the jug in another faux cheers.
‘By the way,’ I began in order to deflect from the pretentiousness that I had just pulled, ‘what do you do around here? Why are you making sangria?’
‘Ah, I’m one of the chefs here. I like to see how the products are.’
‘Well that’s a true indication of a decent chef. What’s your favorite dish here?’
‘I like the chicken wings because I put a lot of effort into them. I actually smuggled in a container of stock from a Japanese place that’s had its stock going for years, and I’ve kept it going for a year longer. We parboil the wings in that first before dredging and then frying them. I think it gives them a lot more flavour than your usual fried wings. What’s your favorite dish?’
‘Well, I gotta agree with you. The wings certainly have some sort of “je ne sais quoi” but now I guess I know what it is. Parboiling wings in a stock seems like a really good idea.’
‘Thanks man. I’m you enjoy some of my cooking.’
‘No problem. I also enjoy this sangria.’
Then he began to get up from his stool.
‘By the way, my name’s Jez.’
‘That’s nice to know.’
He began to leave, but I couldn’t let him go without letting him know one last thing.

I turned to him and cried at his back ‘hey, there’s one last thing I think I ought to tell you.’
He turned back around, ‘okay, what’s that then?’
‘The nachos are really good. But there are few things that need raisins. Nachos are certainly the last things that need raisins. If you need more sweetness then some corn or some pickled carrots can provide it without distracting from the meal as a whole.’
‘Cheers, I’ll be sure to keep that in mind next time I make some nachos.’

And then he left and I’ve not seen him since. Because, you know, the bars closed and we were all ordered to stay in our houses because of a worldwide pandemic that’s causing destruction all across the globe. But hopefully, once all of this is over, when I order nachos then there won’t be any sultanas.

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