Another meaningless walk to the grindstone. The same anxiety crawling up inside my stomach. My fourth soul destroying job.
This current job is behind a bar at a pub quite near my place in town.
In order to get into the till at work, each member of the bar staff has a till key (how twee), which clip onto your trousers and extends once pulled - so that you can key yourself into the till and make a transaction. Each person’s key has their name built into it, so that when you key into the till, your name pops up. This is so they can tell who did what transaction, who made what fuck up. Sometimes I use other people’s till keys: “ALEX”, “CHARLIE”, “BEV”. Mine comes up as “SPARE”.
My favourite thing to do when no punters are looking is pull the till-key this way and that, extending and looping it around my fingers. Yes, this is the most exciting part of my day.
“Another pint please, love”, comes the same cockney screech from our most regular local, Cliff. He has a pint of London Pride, but served in a John Smith’s glass, as he insists this gives him another few millimetres of ale. Honestly, who gives a shit?
I untangle my fingers from my till-key and smile, before fumbling for a pint glass.
It is 9pm, about the time when my boss’s and married couple Henry and Lucy, begin to drink the night away.
“It’s our night off”, they say, “we’ve just been working so hard – need a break. You understand, right, honey?”
I nod and smile again, desperate to kiss some managerial ass. It’s always their fucking night off.
“By the way,” Henry says, “What’s this I hear about you being in a band?” I blush. I have been in a small band for some time now but had avoided mentioning it at work to steer clear from the tedium of explaining something that would make me sound like a musical snob.
The reason I adored the band so much was because I was in love with singing, and always have been. Despite my lack of self confidence, I’d managed to hold myself together for quite a few gigs. In this band I felt foolish but wonderful.
Henry probes and questiones me until I spill my guts about every detail of the band; its members, our genre, who plays what, who our influences are (I don’t even know), when our next gig is, all that musical ‘blah blah’ that makes me feel like a child being asked about school by a distant aunt.
Then, he asks something that frankly, I couldn’t answer:
“And why are you in the band?”
“Well,” I say, “…well…the publicity is good so we get a lot of gigs.”
“Why are you in the band?” He asks again.
“I think…I think sometimes it’s nice to…”
“Why are you in the band?” a third time.
His wife, Lucy, looks at him and rolls her eyes.
“Don’t worry love”, she says, “He’s doing the whole ‘music industry’ question on you.” Henry used to be in the music business, managing bands and the like. I wish I’d known this before he’d given me the fucking third degree.
I slam down the pint I am pouring and run out of the back, not stopping until I reach the door to the pub’s kitchen. My hands are shaking and sweating and I feel a need to keep swallowing, as if when I don't, some awful combination of fear and the thoughts of my band will surge up through my throat and spew out through the gaps in my teeth.
It is here that I realise, in the back of this grotty pub, that even this band, even singing, is just another way of passing the time. Like biting your nails, foreplay, turning the clocks back, or keeping a diary. All these things just add up to nothing.
And if your stupid dream can’t satisfy you, can’t make you happy, then what the hell can?
I pull at my till key, reassuring myself by wrapping its string around my fingers a few times. I swallow one last gulp and walk back into the pub, smiling through the realisation.