A horse walked into a bar and the bartender, who was polishing a glass, looked up and smiled. He had waited years to use this line, and now delivered it with the panache the occasion deserved,
“Why the long face?”
The horse had never been in this particular bar before and might have given the bartender some slack; however, if he had heard that joke once he had heard it 100 times–since he spent many afternoons in one bar or another—and, feeling a little irritated, as most of us do from time to time, responded,
“I just came in to use the restroom”.
Then he dispensed several horse muffins onto the floor, turned around, and trotted back out onto the street, as if he had just mistaken the address and had walked into the wrong establishment.
It was mid-afternoon and the only other customer was a middle-aged man who was sitting at the bar nursing his second beer.
“Sorry I’m not better company,” the customer remarked, once the bartender had returned from sweeping up the horse nuggets. In passing, the bartender wondered if the man at the bar imagined that the ‘long face’ remark had been directed toward him and now felt obliged to account for his dour demeanor–as if, absurdly, in addition to paying their beer tabs, customers needed to account for their moods lest they offend tavern employees.
How distant from the truth that would be, the bartender thought. I have a wife at home who talks from the moment I enter the door until I fall asleep, as if I am her only contact in life. Then it dawned on him that he might actually be responsible for his wife’s loneliness.
Lost in these uncomfortable thoughts, he decided to let the customer’s remark go unanswered and he returned to rubbing the beer glasses with his hand towel, as if dust and smog might have settled on them in the previous ten minutes in the sleepy atmosphere of the almost empty bar.
And in case you’re one of those sticklers for detail and can’t bear to be left dangling in the slightest unresolved question: Yes, he washed and dried his hands, after sweeping up the horse chestnuts and returning to his station behind the counter.
However, whatever time for reflection the bartender had been hoping to enjoy, the customer apparently had different plans. He started telling a story he had apparently been dying to tell all along, as if some non-existent heart-to-heart connection had been interrupted when the horse came in.
“Well, you’re probably wondering why that horse chose this afternoon to frequent your establishment, and may have assumed he was responding to your lame joke. But he and I have a long relationship, and his accident was no accident. It was a statement aimed directly at me.”
And as if they both had all the time in the world, he gestured toward his empty glass and continued, “It’s a long story. Let me tell you about the day we met . . .”