ShoreBilly's Swill on ShoreBread

Some years, just being a bartender in Ocean City, MD is more than enough to fill a column like this on a weekly basis. But unfortunately, the summer of 2013 so far has been at best, less than memorable. But with the Swill’s second birthday rapidly approaching, I decided this week to go back to our roots. So climb inside my head, and take a look at the world through the eyes of an aging, bitter bartender. Once you’re in, buckle up, and try to ignore all those other voices you hear. Trust me, it’s not easy, but do NOT do any of the things they tell you to do.

Come and take a ride with me, the man behind the apron, strapped on each evening like I’m going into battle. My weapons are a keen sense of hearing and the ability to conceal it, a long fuse, a sharp wit, and a bottle opener resting in the holster of my 43-year-old now non-smoking gut, and my struggling belt. Now that I’m clean and chubby, I have to suck in for a moment when someone orders a Corona. It tends to get a little wedged in the holster which is actually a good thing though, since I can no longer bend over to pick it up off the floor.

To view the world through my eyes, you have to first get to know me a little bit. I’m the elder statesman of the drink slingers doing it on two bum wheels and a bad back. All of which require surgery that I’ll never be able to get as long as I live in this country. And yet, I still can work circles around most of the “next generation” bartenders. Please don’t take that as me being a braggart, because it’s quite the contrary. I certainly had no childhood aspirations of being a middle-aged father of four with no other marketable skills than my ability to make a drink while resisting the urge to choke someone out. As I recall, I’m pretty sure football player, astronaut, standup comic, and porn star were all WAAAAAAY ahead of “still a bartender”.

Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, and I’m pretty good at it from what I hear. I just wish I had developed a “Plan B” somewhere along the way. I have three little girls in my house who are probably going to one day want to go to school and eventually get married. So I crunched some numbers recently and came to the conclusion that I’m on pace to retire at 259 years old. I should probably start taking better care of myself. Going to the gym is not at any point a viable option, so I guess I’ll have to start drinking a V-8 every day or something. That paired with the fact that I finally quit smoking two packs of “reds” a day after 28 years should get me to my goal. I’m putting all my eggs in that basket.

I had a very brief thought this past year about maybe being able to parlay this writing thing into a career change but I quickly dismissed that. I can’t make up stuff about vampires, zombies, or British adolescents riding brooms to school, so I accepted that this will never be more than a side bar or hobby. Ah, what the hell? I’m having fun, I’m getting to vent a bit, and if any of you are still reading, I truly hope you enjoy a 7 or 8 minute break from life every Tuesday. Thank you!

So take a good long look AT me, before you look through my eyes. I’m the aforementioned man behind the apron. The hair on both sides of my head has now whitened far more rapidly than the top and back of my head. In fact, I just recently realized that I’m just a crappy mustache away from looking exactly like Mr. Jameson, who was the newspaper editor/ Peter Parker’s boss from the Spiderman comics. I’m five days sans upper lip grooming away from a dead ringer.

I’ve been told by more than one person – none of whom I’m currently married to – that I could dye my hair and look much younger. My response is always the same since I don’t yet have a receding hairline or a bald spot near my crown. I live by a strict philosophy, as long as my hair is still all, right where it started, and right where I left it, I don’t give a damn what color it is. I’m not about to do anything to piss it off and make it leave. So if you ever happen upon me with pink hair, it’s not a statement, it’s simply the “higher powers” messing with me AGAIN!

At the risk of unintentionally coming off as arrogant, I’m the guy you come to see each year when you visit Ocean City. Most of the water slides, mini golf courses, and other attractions are gone, so a check in with Syd for a few drinks and chuckles is on your to do list for your annual visit to our fine beach.

If I’ve done my job right, then I made you forget that it rained five out of seven days the first time you were here. So on your visit the following year, you approach the bar somewhat timidly. Torn between feeling elated that the bartender/goofball who helped salvage your vacation last year is still standing his post, and thinking:

“There’s no way he remembers us. Maybe if we try to sit in the same seats as last year…”

The moments that follow are potentially awkward and sometimes bittersweet for you and I’ll explain why…It’s absolutely nothing personal towards you, it’s simply the way my twisted brain processes things.

Although it’s been almost exactly one year since I’ve seen you, I immediately recognize your faces. As you approach the bar and sit, my mind is processing all of this. It’s an odd and somewhat lengthy task as the processing plant is cluttered with theme songs from short-lived 80’s sitcoms, old football stats, useless trivia, and the cup sizes of former acquaintances. Once the image of your face has gone through my mental processing plant, I now have all the information about you that I’m capable of retaining. I know what you drink, where you are from, how many children you have and where they are going to school, a little of your background story, and what stools you sat in at the bar last time I served you. But DO NOT expect me to remember your names. I can probably even describe your pets and tell you what the weather was the day we met, but names for some reason don’t make it to my screen.

I assure you, it’s nothing personal so don’t feel slighted. I’ve never been able to figure out why certain things find a place in my brain to camp out, and others are immediately expelled. I have no idea what my own wife’s cell phone number is, and I can’t get my kids names right on the first try, but I know for a fact that P. Sherman lives at 42 Willoughby Way, Sydney Australia. I don’t recall what I had for lunch today, but I can name every member of the original cast of Happy Days. I think I’m less savant, and more idiot, but I’ve learned to deal with it and use my powers for good, not evil.

So you’re back for another visit to knock back a few while I regale you with updates of things my kids are doing and humorous self-deprecating anecdotes. You mistakenly assume based on my consummate optimism, and infectious positive outlook on life that I’m really happy all of the time. What you don’t realize is that the three feet of granite bar top separating me from all of the harsh realities and idiocies of life and humanity is like a cage for a vicious animal. At any given time, I’m just one jackass away from a ritualistic bludgeoning of some poor unsuspecting moron whose parents never taught him couth or manners with the base end of a Galliano bottle. Nah, I’m just kidding. But it is fun to fantasize.

The truth is, I actually do love what I do, and as long as I sling suds in a resort town, I’ll have plenty to write about. The stage is set, and the cast is in place. Next week I’ll tell you about some fun things I’ve seen and heard in the bar. Thanks for playing along.

Until next week,

Syd Nichols