By Robert Lynch
Michael cleaned a glass with a dishrag and watched Jeremy out of the corner of his eye. Tuesday nights were always slow and this Tuesday was so sluggish that Michael had begun to wonder if time was actually starting to go backward. In the entire bar Jeremy was the only customer of the evening and he’d been slowly nursing his drinks, clearly brooding over something.
Real bartending is not like it is in the movies. People don’t come in and want to talk to their bartenders, who just happen to be the most insightful faux-psychologist in the town. Weekend shifts for bartenders worked them off their feet and they never got to talk to anybody. Weekday shifts were slow and dragged on. Patrons on those days were not there to chat; they wanted to numb themselves from their problems, not revitalize them.
Sombre barflies kept this business afloat and Michael had seen plenty. Jeremy was not the usual though. Michael had seen him before, but he’d never looked so miserable. The silence in the bar slowly became more and more grating to Michael, so he put down his overly cleaned glass and walked over to Jeremy.
“Hi, uh, Jeremy isn’t it?”
Jeremy looked up from his drink.
“I’m Michael, you need another drink?”
“Um, no I think I’m good for a while.” Jeremy answered, looking again down at his full drink.
Michael looked at the pad on the bar in front of Jeremy. “Reasons to stay at my job.” It said. Under that it had two columns, each with only one entry. “Pros: money.” And “Cons: I hate everybody.”
“Mind if I have a drink with you?” Michael said. Jeremy shrugged, sipping at his drink.
Michael poured a lemon lime bitters for himself. “You know I’ve been thinking lately a lot about Sisyphus.”
Jeremy furrowed his eyebrows.
“You know the Greek myth where the guy gets sentenced to forever be pushing a rock up a hill.” Michael said.
“I’ve heard of it, yes.” Jeremy said.
“It's been on my mind lately, but I was thinking about it. Sisyphus is sentenced to an eternity of rock pushing not because of his sins, to which he commits a great variety, but rather because he thinks he’s smarter than Zeus.”
“The Greek gods were fickle.” Jeremy offered.
“Sure,” Michael said, “but, if you think about, pushing a rock up a hill is very similar to keeping your shoulder to the grindstone. It changes the story a lot if you look at it that way. Then Sisyphus, who was a King, is slapped down and sentenced to menial labour, forever, just for thinking he was above his station.”
“I suppose you could look at it that way.” Jeremy said.
“That myth is nearly three thousand years old, you’d think that human kind had changed since then.” Michael said, nodding his head to indicate Jeremy’s pad.
“So I’m a slave to work? What about you?” Jeremy asked.
“I definitely am. Bartending has both terrible hours and terrible pay. The advantage of such poor attributes is that I can work and pay for my degree.”
“And what are you studying?”
“Literature,” Michael answered, “specifically the ancient classics.”
“Explains why you’ve been thinking about Sisyphus.”
“That and I’m a huge Book Nerd.” Michael said. “What about you, Jeremy? What do you do?”
“I’m a Division Manager at a shoe company.” Jeremy said.
“People need shoes.” Michael replied.
“Yeah, I suppose.” Jeremy said.
“Clearly the shoe business isn’t fulfilling you, what do you want to do?” Michael asked.
“It isn’t the shoe business, but rather that we are indistinguishable from any other shoe business. I mean we’re not doing anything to make shoes better, just cheaper so we can all have raises.” Jeremy said. “Let me ask you something, why classic literature?”
“Well, I’ve always marvelled at just how advanced the ancients really were, especially the Greeks. People nowadays see the past as idiots who sewed themselves into their underpants for the winter, died in droves from pestilence, and thought they could cure every damn thing with leeches.” Michael answered. “But ancient Greeks and Romans were inventing geometry, geography, and building roads. I mean, those guys really knew where their towels were.”
“It’s a Hitchhiker’s reference.” Michael said. “But seriously, take Eratosthenes for instance.”
“Eratosthenes was the third librarian of the Great Library at Alexandrina. A learned man, he literally invented geography. And in 240 BCE he determined the circumference of the Earth, to within 2 per cent, using only Euclidian geometry and ancient measuring techniques. Most people don’t even know that the Greeks and Romans knew the Earth was a globe.”
“Wow.” Jeremy took a sip of his drink. “Invented geography. That’s exactly what I’m talking about, I want to be doing something that makes life better for people; not gouging suppliers to pay for the boss’s summer vacation.”
“And that is why I’ve been thinking about Sisyphus.” Michael said. “That story was told by an ancient poet, with clear themes about classism, in order to get the rich to pay him to perform it for the poor. Rulers loved the story, an allegory for all their power and influence. The poor were not put in their place by the story however; they saw the unfair treatment of Sisyphus, or at least the ridiculous grounds upon which he was judged, as a parable for their own suffering. They gained the strength to endure under the conditions and to incrementally make life better for one another.”
“So which side of the story should I take?” Jeremy asked.
“The side of the poet. A man who got paid for doing what he loved, all the while getting the rich to finance his lifestyle and telling an important story to the poor. Let’s face it, if the story wasn’t important, it wouldn’t still be being told.”
Jeremy emptied his glass. “Thanks for the conversation, but I guess it’s time I got home.”
“I don’t get much of a chance to talk to customers.” Michael said. “Thanks for letting me blab on.”
Jeremy left the bar, strolling down the sidewalk thinking about how a charity campaign of giving shoes to homeless shelters would ultimately increase market share and be a great way to increase overall sales; satisfying both the need to the community and the need of his boss’s vacationing.