Last night I went to the pub.
I’d been waiting for this night for six months. Part of my fantasy of freedom during lockdown was to picture me in a pub, swigging pints and having a glorious time with friends. I’d be on such top comedic form that at the end of the night my friends would all turn to me in unison and say, “you know, Eric, the way you weave puns and funny act-outs and satire into everyday conversation really does make life a little lighter. We’ve missed you.”
I was like a soldier during the war, picturing the moment I would be reunited with my sweetheart, except my sweetheart was the burger and pint deal at Wetherspoons’. Every time I felt like I couldn’t go on during the lockdown, I would look at the 2x2 inch photo of the Monday Club drinks menu that I carry around with me, and it would give me the strength to carry on. I’d spend my days writing poetry and love letters to the pub, and it was some of the best stuff I’d ever produced.
I met Arnold there at 7pm. Joe didn’t finish work until 7:30pm so he’d join us around 8. The staggered start time was the first mistake.
We both whipped out our respective smartphones and opened the Wetherspoon app. I’d left this part out of my fantasy, the awkward first few minutes where you don’t even talk because you’re trying to remember your PayPal password.
“Shall we wait for Joe before ordering food?” Arnold suggested.
Ffs. Five minutes in and I was having to make decisions that required me to tap into humanity’s most draining emotion: empathy.
The decision I made isn’t gonna be popular among people with basic social skills, so before you lambast me, here are the three reasons I had.
I was hungry right away and Joe wouldn’t be there for another hour – and knowing Spoons, that would be how long it would take the food to come anyway.
We had to at least get a drink, and the meal I wanted came with a free drink. As much as I was giving it all that earlier about swigging pints, I only really have one or two. If I got one first without my meal, that would commit me to having at least two pints. OR I’d have to get a pint now and then select a meal later that doesn’t come with a free pint, which would throw off the burger and pint deal fantasy that had got me through lockdown.
Joe is quite a relaxed man. I couldn’t imagine him having a big problem with eating after us.
“Let’s just order, man,” I replied.
While waiting for the food to arrive, we had some time to chat, some time to bask in that pub-banter that we’d missed for so long. Turned out, I wasn’t on that good form. The conversation was quite stilted. I think we asked each other about what we did during the day and then grasping for something else we discussed the Indian variant.
“Apparently they’re saying the vaccine works on it just as well on it.”
“Ah, should be alright then.”
“Yeah, should be alright.”
I always forget how difficult it is to communicate to other people.
The food arrived. It’s not that good is it, pub food? I kinda forgot. I dunno what I was expecting, but it was very average. They didn’t have ketchup bottles, which annoyed me. I think it’s a covid thing. All they had were sachets. You get very little ketchup per sachet, and so the initial two sachets I squeezed onto my chips at the start ended up not being enough. But then once I started eating the chips, my hands became too greasy to open any more sachets. I had to go to the toilets and wash my hands mid-meal so I could have more ketch-up.
I can’t remember what’s supposed to be enjoyable about eating a meal with another person. Especially a burger. You can’t talk during it. There’s not enough time between the chewing and swallowing to come up with anything good. We were struggling enough when there was no food. And then if you do come up with something good after you’ve just swallowed a chip, they’ll probably be too busy chewing to respond to you. So you’ve got to try and sync up your swallows so that you both have the same 2-second window to talk in.
We finished our food. We had about 15 minutes until Joe arrived. Our bellies were full, our mouths were empty, and we still didn’t have much to talk about. We cobbled together some more small talk and then Joe walked in to save the day.
The first thing he said when he arrived at the table was:
“Oh, you’ve already eaten.”
“Ah, yeah sorry,” I said.
“Why would you do that?” He replied.
There was a good 3 seconds of silence that followed. It doesn’t sound like a long silence, but when you eat a meal without waiting for your friend, it turns out it is. Try it.
“How was your day, Joe?” Arnold asked.
Joe ordered a wrap and chips and a glass of coke. There wasn’t even an attempt at small talk from anyone, and this time two of our mouths had no chewing to do whatsoever. He ate his food and then we walked home in silence.
So, this was freedom.
Before we went into our bedrooms, I said:
“Joe, I’m sorry about eating before you arrived.”
“It’s okay,” he said.
We both sighed.
“Joe,” I said.
“Why is nothing ever as good as you think it’s gonna be?”
“I don’t know.”
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