Trapped in the Bottle

Working as a bartender as I do, outnumbered by the inebriated, you see how many people need alcohol to allow themselves to truly relax and socialize. Miserable old men sip at their pints and magically transform from monosyllabic curmudgeon to social butterfly.

I serve a considerable amount of alcoholics (the bar sells Viking-size tankards of stupidly strong beer for ten dollars) and they’re all the same. They love conversation with strangers as it gives them the opportunity to tell the same story again and again for eternity, to endlessly discuss the same topic without making any headway. It’s a bit like Groundhog Day without the comedy.

Out of all these desperately unhappy people, one in particular stands out; my father’s cousin, Mando. A short Scottish-Italian man with a bushy mustache, Mando resembles a substance-abusing Super Mario. Highly opinionated and talkative, much of what he says is either misformed or a flat-out lie, but he’ll say it with such certainty, that you genuinely want to believe him.

My little brothers and I loved him, obviously. We found him absolutely hilarious and would laugh uncontrollably in his presence, but he never seemed to notice. He had trouble distinguishing between the three of us (four if you count my stepbrother), and was never fully certain who he was talking to. He lived on the very fringes of reality, inhabiting his own world with its own rules.

He once failed to recognize himself in a photo, stating that because his eyebrow scar was on the wrong side it was obviously a fake. When the reflection reversal thing was explained to him he dismissed it as an “optical illusion.”

Being Italian, he took great pleasure in the sound and smell of his bodily functions and would use them to entertain others. He once grabbed a broom, and with each exaggerated sweeping motion, released a loud fart timed perfectly to the movement, like an expertly choreographed, repulsive ballet. He made a habit of farting inside my father’s office and locking him inside, forcing him to inhale his essence. He was absent the day of my parent’s wedding, because he shat his pants while wearing a rented suit.

As hilarious as we found him, Mando was really a tragic character. The older we grew, the less funny he became. He seemed quite incapable of sobriety, and in order to spend his entire life intoxicated, was forced to rely on the sympathy of others. Thus, his every movement was carefully calculated to appear weak and helpless.

He walked with a terrible limp, which would disappear when nobody was watching. He would stroll up our apartment stairwell with ease, and, perfectly composed, wait for the door to open. The moment it did he would collapse to his knees and wheeze theatrically. I know this because I always looked at him through the spyglass before I opened the door.

He would sometimes visit my parent’s delicatessen, usually after being bruised from a pub scuffle the night before. After telling his story he would ask “for a wee cup of coffee.” The wee cup would turn into several, and maybe a packet of pasta, or two.

He is, inarguably, a survivor. Practically illiterate, unable to hold down a job for more than a few days, Mando fits the description of those famous “benefit scrounges” the Daily Mail loves to hate. His false limp is exaggerated in front of his doctor to such a degree that the medical professional is under the impression that Mando can barely walk. This, along with a host of other imagined medical conditions, ensures Mando lives a life completely free from the burden of work.

I haven’t seen him in years, but I hope he’s still going strong, stumbling from pub to pub, talking shite, living life in his own way. I admire him in a sense, as a man who never been able to face the realities of life sober, he has done all he could to successfully stay intoxicated and unemployed without succumbing to homelessness.

The man even has a girlfriend; she comes and cleans his flat every week in exchange for a tenner. They like to drink, and argue about the same subjects repeatedly. Often, he’ll proudly inform my father that he forced her head under the covers and farted on it the night before, though it’s unclear if it’s a punishment or some kind of reward.

Somehow, Mando found a way to live a life completely free from responsibility. He found a way to live without contributing anything to anyone. Most impressively, he found a woman that will listen to his opinions, drink at his level, and tolerate the occasional fart on the head.

I think there’s something beautiful about that.

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