You know that place somewhere between tipsy and completely schnockered?
That’s were Gerard Hartley was.
“Pass the peanuts,” he said to the guy in the Budweiser cap sitting at the end of the bar.
The Bud guy gave him a dirty look.
“Please,” he added.
Bud Guy slid the bowl along the bar and Gerard almost but not quite snagged it with a wavery hand. The bowl flipped over and nuts tumbled out.
“Ya lost your nuts,” Bud Guy said, then snickered.
Gerard shrugged. He had no comeback. He gathered up the peanuts as best as he could with watery eyes. A couple of tears splashed down his leathery cheeks. Bud Guy saw.
Gerard shook his head.
“Looks like crying to me. Man, you’re even more wasted than I thought. Barkeep, pal here is hammered. Maybe a cab might be in order.”
The bartender gave Gerard the once-over than shook his head. “I think he’s ok. He just lives around the corner. Walks. Comes here pretty near every night. I’ve seen him worse. You’re alright, eh? Gerard?”
“Pffft,” said Gerard. He wiped his eyes and finished cleaning up the peanuts.
The bartender looked at Bud Guy and shrugged. “See?”
Gerard filled his mouth with peanuts and crunched them noisily. Small peanut bits fell out of his open mouth onto the bar. Bud Guy made a face.
“Eh?” Gerard said. “What’s the matter now? Making faces at me. I saw you. What, you think I’m blind? You think I’m stupid?”
Bud Guy looked at the bartender beseechingly.
“What’s your name?” Gerard asked.
“Me?” asked Bud Guy. Gerard nodded.
“Chris,” he said.
“What’s your favourite colour, Chris?”
“My favourite colour? What the hell?”
Gerard slumped on his barstool. “Just asking, is all. Nobody asks me what my favourite colour is anymore. Notice that? When’s the last time somebody asked you that?”
“I dunno,” Chris said. “Can’t remember.”
“Exactly!” crowed Gerard. “Nobody asks anymore. When you’re a kid, you get asked all the time. What’s your name, little boy? What school do you go to? What’s your favourite subject? What’s your favourite colour?”
He paused. Then: “Ask me what my favourite colour is.”
Gerard thought for a moment. “You know what? I don’t know anymore. Blue, maybe. If you’re a guy, that’s what you’re supposed to say. I used to spend a lot of time trying to decide what my favourite colour was, because sure as shit you were gonna run into some grown-up who was gonna ask and you wanted to have an answer handy. They expected it.”
Chris nodded, grinned a bit. “You’re right, old man, they did. I was always changing my mind. One day it was blue. Then it was red. Then black, when I was a teenager. It was cool.”
The bartender interrupted, putting down his glass-polishing rag and leaning on the bar. “Why do you think they always asked us what our favourite colour was? Why was it so important they know?”
Gerard snorted. “It wasn’t important. They only asked us that because they couldn’t think of anything else to ask. Adults have no idea how to talk to kids.”
He took a swig of beer to get rid of the peanut bits stuck between what remained of his teeth. “I began to think it must be important to know my favourite colour. That and my favourite subject, my favourite song, my favourite kind of car. There was no quitting it. What a load of hooey.”
Gerard finished his beer. He looked sad, like he might start crying again. “I kinda miss it,” he said. “Nobody asks anymore. Nobody cares enough to ask me much of anything anymore. Sucks to be me, I guess.”
There was a lull in the conversation. The bartender went back to polishing glasses. Chris toyed with the label on his beer bottle. Finally he said, “What’s your favourite beer?”
“Same as my colour. Blue,” Gerard said.
“Then how about I buy you one?”
“Then how about you do,” Gerard said.
Later, long after Chris had gone, the bartender was locking up and saying good-night to Gerard. Their breath came out in steamy puffs and their boots squeaked on the snow-crusted sidewalk.
“That favourite colour thing of yours, it gets you a lot of free beer,” the bartender said with a grin.
Gerard chuckled. “Ayuh. It’s a favourite.” He said good-night and headed up the street, his gait only very slightly off-balance.