I believe I have found my métier.
The métier of my advanced years, that is. I enjoy nothing more than pulling into the pub around eight in the morning, polishing the brass and straightening the chairs, filling the condiment baskets with their vinegary ablutions, and then, at ten, unlocking the door and cocking the little derby on the stuffed red robin in the window. (When his hat is on straight, we are closed, and when it is cocked, we are open.) It may sound rote and plebeian, but it suits my days just fine to sidle up to the inside of the bar and take an order, make a bit of pleasant conversation, and keep a bit of a book on the side.
Yes, we accept betting under the counter here, and I've got a nice little sideline taking commission on the wagers going round. Covers the rent alone, I don't mind saying. Funny how just being there to take a man's money every day can make one wealthy.
The downside of running a double-vice establishment is, of course, those who plant themselves within and take a bit of a long leash. Ray was the first to test the bounds of the Dude and Catastrophe. Being a man who takes to strong drink like a drain in a fountain—as well as an inveterate gambler—he came to deep lows our first few months of operation.
It started simply enough. He would glide in, buy a round for whomever was seated, and then wonder aloud if, perhaps, anyone had an opinion concerning how skilled he might be at darts. ("Come on, people! Not even a guesstimate?!") Inevitably the wallpaper would put forth a darts prodigy to take him on, and soon the projectiles and cash would blur the air. Ray, being less than adroit at most parlor games, often went high into four digits' worth of debt, and would only agree to halt play at closing time (when I put the robin's hat on straight, the lights dim and the jukebox fades).
In the throes of a binge, however, matters took an altogether different turn. Ray, deep in debt to one particular opponent, repeatedly put up large sums of cash to keep the place open after hours. Sipping or gulping neat Macallan, smoking, and drawing meaningless geometric stratagems on notepads, he crashed into sunrise not unlike Newman in that great film The Hustler. Only, in this instance, he literally crashed — sending salvers of highballs and ashtrays bounding across the floor. Up from the rubble was he hoisted, crowned in dust and crumbled cigarette foil, asking if his toss had landed fair. It had not, and we persuaded his opponent to settle over a round and make tracks amongst the bakers, paperboys, and diffident junkies who scrum at first light.
Even in such instances do I enjoy the highs, lows, and unknowables of the job. It's a bit like manning a joystick at Cape Canaveral: lovely equipment, men on task, and always the promise that things which go awry are capable of going so awry that the course of a federal program is altered forever.