Anthropologists need not travel to New Guinea to research the subtleties of human societies; plenty of culture can be witnessed at the local saloon.
Among the chivalrous traditions the bar-set prides itself on is its refusal to let a compatriot drink alone.
“Want another one, Hank?” the bartender says.
Hank, casts a glance at Stu beside him, who just ordered fresh suds.
“I guess so,” he says. “I can’t let Stu drink alone.”
Interestingly, Hank’s gesture is portrayed as an altruistic act — defending Stu against loneliness — but we know better.
Generally, an offer such as Hank’s is made on the assumption that through some mysterious barroom intuition the levels of Hank and Stu’s brews will sync-up and they will finish at the same time, allowing them to settle their bills together.
However, sometimes this process of syncing-up is easier said than done; sometimes two barstool neighbors get caught up in the famous Half-Beer Reciprocation Blues (HBRB).
HBRB occurs when two buddies are half a beer apart, drinking at the same pace, and unwilling to let the other imbibe alone. Thus, one guy finishes a beer while his pal has half a beer left, then he orders another, and is halfway done that one when his friend finishes his and hails the bartender for a refill.
You can see where this is going.
When one witnesses a bout of HBRB, questions spring to mind:
What level of self-awareness do the participants possess re: their HBRB? Is it possible that one drinker is aware of the pattern and is actively engineering it to continue that way? Are both parties trying to sync-up their beers, but having trouble coordinating the effort? They could, for example, both be accidentally speeding up their consumption at exactly the same time and to the same degree, thus maintaining their half-beer bond despite their best efforts to close the gap.
I concede this is unlikely.
Does the magic of HBRB get lost if one comrade mentions it to the other?
I occasionally find myself sharing a sublime, unspoken truth with someone — the type of sentiment that does well when floating unvoiced around two people, but which loses its grace when someone (usually me) points it out.
Does HBRB become awkward and clunky when one person mentions it to another?
A good anthropologist would say it all depends on context, and she’d be right. But oddly, good anthropologists rarely venture into good bars, which is a shame, because they teem with life — with unspoken rules, with customer/server understandings, with knowing nods, with sports trivia masters, with heartbreak, and with resilience.
In other words, I’m going to miss the Roadhouse when it’s gone.