When you're trying to bum drinks off a stranger, the key is to be a good listener, and the trick is to listen to them talk about themselves. Sometimes that's harder than it sounds; there comes a point where you start doubting your mission.
"Is free booze really worth this?" you ask yourself.
"Am I wasting my time?" you ponder.
"Is this guy gonna refill my beer, or what?" you think, getting bored.
"Would you like another beer?"
"Huh?" Crap. I hadn't been paying attention.
"I asked if you'd like another beer," said the stranger, testily.
The other trick is to make them think it's their idea. "Oh, god... no, I couldn't possibly."
"All right then!" Smile. "Thanks."
The stranger sat back. "Anyway, where was I?"
"You were, um..."
He interrupted, "Oh yes, the sheds. The sheds." He paused. "So, I'm going to climb them."
"I see." Think of something. Never let them feel awkward. "Uh. Why?"
He rolled his eyes. "I'm a goat, duh. Goats climb things."
He drew at his own beer and pondered. "Sheds, mostly."
Thinking back to my farm-boy youth, I did recall that goats liked climbing things, and sheds were the most readily available things they might climb.
The problem was simply that this man bore no resemblance to a goat in any significant way. Sure, he had sort of a coarse whitish beard. And his eyes were disturbingly far apart. But he didn't have cute little cloven hooves, and he didn't have fur. He could talk, and he could, most importantly, pay for drinks. Every goat I could think of had trouble with at least one of those.
I downed about half my beer. This was where barflies really earned their alcohol.
"So," I said, wiping the foam from my chin, "you'll be doing that... err... this evening?"
He sat up straight. "My... good... man! Heavens no! This will take months to plan! Sponsors! Equipment! Sherpas! You don't just pop off and climb the sheds of Everest on a whim!"
I signaled the bartender for a well-deserved refill. He was hanging out on the other end of the bar, obviously afraid of the conversation. The stranger nodded and held up two fingers to the bartender, who took his time arriving with the beers.
My turn. "No, no, of course. Not without the Sherpas."
The stranger stared intensly at me. He slowly cracked a smile, and then he laughed, "I bet you didn't even know about the sheds of Everest."
"Well, no... not... as such. No." I felt myself blush, embarrassed. "Sheds, you say?"
He nodded, self-satisfied, taking a big gulp of his beer. "Right at the peak, they say there's a shed. Everybody climbs the peak."
He clomped his empty mug down on the bar for emphasis, leaning forward. "But who climbs the shed, I ask?"
"Us goats, that's who. Well... I'll be the first, I think."
He glanced unevenly at his empty mug, and then at mine. He started to drunkenly turn around to find the bartender, but I admitted defeat before he could call for another round.
"Look," I said. "I... should really be going. It's late, you look tired..."
"Ahhhm goin' too," he slurred.
We both got up and headed for the tavern door. Out on the quiet street, I shook his hand and thanked him for the drinks. I wished him well on his expedition, and he asked if I'd like to join him on it. I politely declined.
I turned away, walking into the damp night. Behind me I heard something odd: "clip-clip-clop-clip", receding into the distance. I froze, listening to the sound of dainty cloven hooves on pavement. I spun around, only too late. The street was empty.
Copyright © 2001 by Kevin Kelm. All rights reserved.