Keep your eyes straight ahead.
If there's a game on, watch it with vague interest. If there's no game, gaze at the highlights or let your eyes pace with the news ticker. In the absence of a television, just look at your drink or pretend to read the newspaper someone left on the bar.
Speak when spoken to. Or speak when something happens in the game worth commenting on. If none of the other patrons — similarly staring straight ahead, similarly keeping one hand on their drinks — say anything back, keep your damn mouth shut. No one wants to talk to you. And they don't have to.
These are the Rules for Drinking Alone in a Bar, and they are universal.
I was obeying the rules, an IPA in hand as I tried to kill a couple of opening band sets at the show down the street. It was October and the National League Championship Series was on the NASA-sized monitor mounted above the bar. I stared at the game without prejudice and the other guys did the same.
"You pulling for the Giants?" I asked to the man closest, although really anyone could have answered.
He said he didn't care because he was from Seattle, here on business, and his club's season was already done. I shared his grief. And then we sat in silence and stared at ads for trucks and prescription medicine targeted at Men Who Drink Alone in Bars.
Time was being killed, as was my pint. I ordered a local IPA.
The guy broke the silence. He asked if that was a Spokane beer and I said it was and guided him down the tap line. Orlison does lagers, Tricksters is new, but catching on, and watch out for that imperial IPA from Iron Goat. One is a treat, but two will turn your face numb. Discussions about drinking itself are also acceptable under the Rules.
I shut up long enough for him to ask if I'm from Spokane. I live here, but I'm from Seattle, just like him. North of Seattle, really. He said he's from the north end, too, naming the specific town. That's my town, too. He volunteered his specific neighborhood, and I said that's my childhood neighborhood. I asked if he knew my folks and he called my dad by name and said they met at the homeowners association meeting, which seemed an apt place to meet neighbors. He remembered my name from when I played football in that town and asked why, on this particular night, I was a Man Drinking Alone in a Bar 300 miles from where I grew up. I told him as concisely as I could.
We talked about things you don't expect to talk about so far from home. Then he bought me a beer, because he was a dad who knew my dad, and buying a friend's son a beer is just one of the rules. ♦