We call it Old Man Wednesday.
Of course, that’s not its actual name. Wednesdays are officially known as “Growler Night” at the bar where I work, because it’s the night customers are able to fill their growlers for half price.
But we bartenders call it that because it’s when the old men come out of the woodwork to get a discount on beer.
It’s a touchy subject, Old Man Wednesday. Two of the five bartenders available to work that night flat-out refuse. Mike, who’s worked there longer than the rest of us combined, says he’d rather quit than work another Wednesday shift.
So what’s the big deal with working on Old Man Wednesday?
Well, it’s the old men, you see. They’re assholes.
From open to close, these codgers invade, demand, and berate with a sense of entitlement that would make Millenials say you know what? The non-gluten free is fine, actually.
The other bartenders complain, but I don’t mind it so much. The old men remind me of my now-deceased grandfather, who was once asked to leave an all-you-can-eat buffet because he tried to take the pineapple centerpiece.
It’s the same routine every week. By 2:45, a few of them are lined up at the door, growlers in hand. They look at their watch, then the operating hours on the door, then their watch, then the door again. When one of us comes to unlock, they coil themselves up like sprinters in the blocks.
First thing’s first. Before committing to plunking down $10 for 64 ounces of brew, these booze hounds need to make sure they make the right choice.
“Hey there, great to see you,” I say. “How’s it going?
“Lemme taste some of that lager you got,” says the old man.
“I’m doing well also, thank you for asking,” I respond.
I get them a sample of the lager, which they’ve tried every Wednesday for the last three years. Then they sample another, and possibly a third. By the fourth sample request, with the other customers starting to get antsy, I politely intervene.
“Didn’t you try the porter last week?” I say.
“Yeah, but I forgot what it tastes like.”
At long last, they decide what to put in their growler. “Gimme the pilsener,” they say. And then, they hold up their growler and make a little swirling motion with their hand. “Rinse it out a little, will ya?”
Sometimes, I’ll say something snarky to them, like “what, is your dishwasher broken?” But usually, I just smile and say “no problem, sir,” and rinse the dregs of last week’s beer out of the bottom.
When it comes time to pay, they thrust their military ID in my face. I used to explain the growlers were already discounted 50 percent and they couldn’t get an additional 10 percent military discount on top, but I’ve stopped. In the war of discount attrition, the veterans have won.
They sign their bill and tip me an appropriate amount…for 1974.
“See you next week!” I say, and they grumble their way out the door.
But the to go customers aren’t the ones that make Old Man Wednesday such a harrowing ordeal. It’s the ones that stay to mingle that make you question your life’s decisions.
Take Bobby, for example. Bobby’s a real salt-of-the-earth guy. He wears camouflage jackets and wide-leg jeans with the seat blown out.
Bobby staggers to the bar in a way that suggests he recently had a mild stroke and should have gone to the hospital, but didn’t. He wants his beers poured in the short glasses, because he knocks over the tall glasses too often.
Every Wednesday, without fail, Bobby gets fuuuuuuuuucked up. He slams beers and rips cigarettes, and after a couple of hours, he starts making ridiculous demands.
“Whose bike is that?” Bobby asked one night, pointing to a bicycle in the employees only area.
“That’s an employee’s bike, Bobby,” I said.
“I wanna ride it,” he said, making a move toward the employee area.
“I don’t think so, Bobby,” I said. “Why don’t you have a glass of water instead?”
“But I love bikes!” he said.
“That’s good, Bobby,” I said, taking on a tone like I was talking to my 7-year-old. “But that’s not yours, okay?”
“Aw, you guys never let me have any fun,” he said, and he sulked off to smoke another cigarette.
Then there’s Chris. Chris is in his late 60s and wears a Marine Corps hat even though he never enlisted. People buy him beer sometimes and thank him for his service.
On occasion, he’s honest and says “I wasn’t a Marine, I just got a real respect for them guys,” but other times, he just raises the free beer and says “Semper Fi,” and throws it down the hatch.
Chris is a real social butterfly, flitting from table to table, harassing the female clientele. Once he locks into a conversation, he can be very difficult to disengage.
I do my best to divert Chris’ attention from my other guests, but it’s usually hopeless. I’ll just bring the girl over a free beer and mouth the words I’m so sorry.
On special occasions, Chris brings his dog. It’s an ancient bulldog with cataracts, and Chris likes to use her as a conversation starter.
“Oh yeah, she’s pretty, ain’t she?” he’ll say, sneaking a glance down the the dog lover’s shirt.
Last week, Chris’ dog took a shit on the floor. There were two other dogs in the bar at the time, so I guess it could have been anyone’s. But I knew it was his, because when the bar owner came around the bar to clean it up, the other two dog owners shot daggers at Chris with their eyes. Chris just smiled and took a sip of his free beer.
At last call, I offer to get an Uber for Bobby, who can’t seem to find the door.
“Uber’s for pussies,” Bobby slurs, and I don’t find fault in what he says, because the customer is always right.
Another Old Man Wednesday is in the books.