The Public Bar

Public bars were an institution when I was a teenager. It was a real test of manhood to stroll in, order a jug and assume a casual stance against the bar like you'd been doing for years. It showed you had balls.

There was one night I won't forget -- I was barely 17. My mate Shaun and I were going to camp for the weekend, and I planned to wait at the Cobb public bar in downtown Hamilton for the evening while he finished work at Woolworths. For some reason I was wearing a suit, much to the amusement of the group of Maori patrons who referred to me as the Snowman In The Suit. They were a friendly bunch and insisted that I join them. They also insisted on shouting my drinks all night, on the condition that I kept up their pace. Being a teenager and therefore unable to see the consequences of my actions, I began guzzling pints of Lion Brown. It wasn't long before I was completely cooked.

The guy next to me started telling me about the huge old lady who was sitting a few seats from us. She could have been in her sixties, but she looked more like a bicentenarian. She hadn't said a word all night, she just sat there blob-like in her chair pouring pint after pint into her toothless, unsmiling mouth. Anyway, my drinking partner was predicting that before the night was out he would be taken forcefully by this woman to bed. There she would discipline him and perform wild and deviant acts on his helpless, drunken body. He would call out feebly for help but none would come. He said he was telling me this as a warning, lest I too should fall victim to her evil wiles (he was sure that a well-dressed young Pakeha would be too much of a temption for her).

I have no idea how I came to be sitting next to her, but I'm sure she orchestrated it. By now I had received a number of warnings and I was scared. I guess I would have made an easy target, being barely able to sit upright and incapable of coherent speech. She chose her moment, then leaning toward me, she spoke in such a way that I had to lean forward to hear her. When I was close enough she whispered with the voice of the un-dead, "Give us a kiss". My reactions long gone, she grabbed my face and began sucking it. My heart stopped for several seconds as she rammed her tongue into my mouth. It felt like a lizard was trying to crawl into my stomach. The table erupted in laughter, and she returned to her beer as if nothing had happened.

When Shaun showed up he was keen to join the drinking session, but I was having none of that and hissed at him to drag me out of there. To this day I wonder if the pour soul who gave me the first warning ended up surviving the night.