Friday, October 30, 2009

Norway: Tales from the Bar: The Queen's Pub

With another Friday night at hand, I had a few shots of Jack and then set out to meet some friends downtown. I hopped on the bus and got off as I had been instructed. The bus dropped me off close to the bar, but being unfamiliar with the area, I had to seek out assistance to actually find the place. I asked several people for help, and after a few dead-ends, I was there - the Queen's Pub.

I was meeting my lovely and talented Norwegian friend Kandi, and she brought along two of her fellow countrywomen, Kamilla and Karolina. I had actually met Kamilla and Karolina previously, but we hadn't spoken much on our initial meeting.

The three ladies had a prime spot at the bar, and the alcohol was flowing freely. I hitched my coat on the hook under the bar, and then I ordered up some more whiskey.

In Norway, there is an antiquated law on the books that prohibits the serving of drinks with more than one shot of alcohol. I normally order a double Jack on the rocks, so I learned about this law the first time I went out.

On that first night out, I walked up to the bar, and after demonstrating that I couldn't communicate in Norwegian, the bartender effortlessly switched to English. Business as usual. I ordered a double, and he told me that he couldn't serve it because it was illegal.

"OK," I responded, "can I get two singles?"

And sure enough, he served them up, knowing full well that I was going to drink both. He might have been following the letter of the law, but not really the spirit.

Having learned my lesson earlier, though, I started out at the Queen's Pub by ordering two single Jacks on the rocks. Then as soon as the bartenders turned away, I just combined them in one glass. I don't know if they would actually have cared had they seen me combine the drinks, but I figured that I would show some respect and wait until their backs were turned.

Kandi, Kamilla, Karolina, and I drank and talked and laughed for a few hours. We were having a choice time.

We were a self-contained pod up to this point, but that was about to change.

Sitting next to us at the bar were an older, slightly intoxicated, white-haired man, and his friend, a younger man who was a good measure more sober. The older man - let's call him Bjørnulv - was hungry for conversation, and he engaged all of us in turn for long stretches. Actually, he engaged all of us but Karolina. She seemed to think that he was a dirty old man, and she did not appreciate him worming his way into our group. She deliberately ignored him the whole night.

For our part, Kandi, Kamilla, and I were well compensated for befriending Bjørnulv. He was buying us drinks right and left, and poor Karolina didn't get anything.

I ended up with an odd array of drinks before me thanks to Bjørnulv. I was drinking bourbon when we met so he bought me some bourbons. Then he asked me if I liked scotch. When I told him that I did, he ordered me one. Before the scotch was finished, he asked me if I drank cognac. I told him that I did, and - voila! - a snifter appeared before me. A few minutes later, he was like, "Do you like beer?"

Anyhow, at one point I was sitting at the bar with four different drinks. Yet, it's illegal to serve a double...

Most people avoid mixing drinks for fear of the repercussions, but I worked my way through my entire portfolio. I think that a drink given in friendship should never go to waste.

Bjørnulv was an interesting guy. He and his friend were farmers, and they had spent the day driving some of their farm machinery from the countryside to Oslo. The machinery that they brought would be used for snow removal during the winter.

They were set to return to the farm the following day, so we ran into them on their only night in the big city. Bjørnulv especially seemed poised to let his hair down.

While interesting, Bjørnulv was at the same time a bit needy. After he had cornered someone for half an hour to tell the tale of, say, his trip to Bruges in 1989, that person would be looking for an escape route with some sense of urgency. Going to the bathroom or going outside for a cigarette were two safe bets.

As busy as Karolina was ignoring Bjørnulv, she still found time to mock the rest of us for talking to him. "He is only buying you all drinks," she told us, "because he wants to sleep with you." Her choice of words was actually a bit more colorful.

Then to make sure that there was no misunderstanding, she turned to me and said, "He wants you especially."

She was obviously saying this to get a reaction, but her attempts fell short; it was clear to everyone that Bjørnulv only had eyes for Kamilla. Kamilla was the oldest member of our posse, but she kept herself in good shape. Blond, tall, and thin, she had a somewhat sporty look, and a slightly tangy personality.

I think that Bjørnulv was buying the three of us drinks because we had been nice to him but also because he fancied Kamilla and wanted to create a positive mood within her circle so as to create a good impression.

The night wore on, and Bjørnulv grew bolder with each passing drink. Before long, his requests for a dance with Kamilla crossed into the annoyance zone, and she put an end to the fun. She politely told Bjørnulv that, while he was very nice, she was not romantically interested in him and nothing was going to happen between them. At least that's what she told us she was going to say. I didn't witness the actual moment when she tossed his heart in the blender.

Regardless of how Kamilla delivered the message, the die was cast at this point. Bjørnulv's wing man could see that their welcome had worn out, and he convinced his drunk friend that it was time to move on.

And thus the free drink service dried up.

Once Bjørnulv was gone, the party continued, and Karolina finally let her guard down. She became quite energized and, truth be told, a bit frisky. She was putting down the drinks faster, laughing a lot more, singing along to the music, and dancing around our small square of real estate at the bar. She was like a different person.

As Karolina was dancing, she kept pulling me over to dance with her. I did "dance" for a few songs, meaning that I faced her and kind of moved from side to side. This was good enough, though, and Karolina was having a ball. She was definitely tipsy.

In Kamilla and Kandi's opinion, she was having a little too much fun. I stepped away to the men's room, and when I returned I couldn't help but notice that something was missing.

"What happened to Karolina?" I asked.

Well, what happened to Karolina is that Kandi and Kamilla thought that she was too drunk and had shipped her home in a taxi.

And then there were three.

This particular outing was on October 30, and that same night, some of my colleagues were hosting a Halloween party. I had intended to go, but as the night progressed it was looking less likely. When it was 9:00, 10:00, and even 11:00, I was telling myself, "OK. There's still time." When the clock struck 12, I was like, "It ain't happenin'."

Sometime between 11:00 and 12:00 the pub instantly became popular. Masses of people swarmed the place and somehow Kandi, Kamilla, and I lost our prime spot at the bar. The circumstances surrounding our displacement weren't much of a mystery actually. I again went to the men's room, and the ladies either went to the ladies' room or out to smoke. With no one standing guard, our seats were quickly filled.

When the three of us returned and found the squatters in our former home, we were reduced to hugging a wall. More inconvenient our spot could not have been, and we found ourselves constantly jostled by people coming and going.

Things were going downhill fast, and Kamilla decided that it was time for her to call it a night. She also had something to do in the morning.

And then there were two.

Kandi and I stayed on a bit longer. Having spent our entire night thus far in the bar area, we hadn't ventured up the few stairs to the rest of the pub which was slightly elevated. Now the chaos of the lower floor forced us upward.

The top level had a dance floor and a man wailing away on a piano. The piano was completely surrounded by patrons, and everyone was merrily singing along. I felt a bit stupid because after all the hours we had spent in this place, I hadn't realized that it was a piano bar until this point. The pianist was a natural entertainer, and he seemed to have a wide repertoire.

The top level was packed nearly as tightly as the lower level, and Kandi and I again found ourselves on the move in search of some breathing room. We ended up on the lower level again, this time near the door. There were actually several open tables there - owing to the fact that these tables were subjected to a blast of cold air every time the door was opened. For some reason, people did not appreciate this.

While we were in our new location, Kandi went to the ladies' room again. As I was waiting for her to return, I was just sitting at the table, drinking my whiskey and minding my own business. Then the roving security man approached me.

"You need to go outside for some fresh air," he told me.

I had seen him walking around the bar throughout the night, weeding out people, so I didn't think much of it. I went outside for my "time out". I left my coat inside because I didn't expect to stay outside very long. Unfortunately, though, there was another bouncer outside, and he was like, "you can go back inside in 15 minutes."

As I was sitting out there in cold storage with a handful of smokers, one thing quickly became apparent: sitting out in the cold for 15 minutes will kill a buzz for sure.

When I was released from the penalty box, I came back inside and found Kandi. She had been wondering where I had gone.

By now, we had both had enough fun for one night. I finished my drink, and we left. It was around 2:00 AM, I think.

It had been a long night, but neither of us seemed too much worse for the wear.

Things, however, are not always as they seem.

I was walking Kandi home, and we had barely gotten around the corner from the pub when she just stopped. "No big deal," I thought, assuming that she was feeling sick or something.

This wasn't the case, though. The reality was that she had completely run out of gas.

"I just need to rest for a minute," she told me. Then she laid down on the sidewalk and refused to move.

I didn't realize what was happening at first, but after several minutes of trying to coax her to her feet, I was like, "Houston, we have a problem."

I figured that Kandi was probably especially cold sleeping on the frozen concrete, so I gave her my coat and she quickly wrapped up in it. Then I continued trying to rouse her. All the while, she was talking all dreamy-like, telling me that she just needed to rest for a few more minutes.

At one point, she looked at me and asked me why I wasn't wearing a coat. When I told her that she was sleeping on it, she just curled up more and still made no effort to get up.

The minutes ticked away, and a sea of humanity passed us by. A few people asked if we needed any help - which we declined - but most people kept their distance. Since this was all taking place at 2:00 in the morning, most of the people we encountered were either heading to a party or returning from one. With this particular demographic, I'm sure that plenty of people knew exactly what Kandi was going through.

Some of the passers-by were definitely not helpful, however. One man called Kandi a gypsy and told me not to waste my time with her.

After 15 minutes, we reached another milestone in the stand-off - the police arrived. Oh, joy!

The cruiser pulled up with its lights flashing, and two police officers - a man and a woman - approached us. They sized up the situation, and I started giving my side of the story. They apparently thought that I was a complete stranger who had found someone passed out on the sidewalk because when they learned that we were friends they immediately stopped scrutinizing us. They asked Kandi if we were in fact friends, and she managed to give a very drowsy affirmative response. Then they came back to me.

"Are you prepared to take responsibility for her?" they asked me.

I told them that I was, and after repeating the question a few more times, they left Kandi in my care and left.

Perhaps the police could have helped us, but I was just happy that they were gone. Norway is at least as uptight as the US, so I figured that we (well actually just Kandi) must have been in violation of some public drunkenness ordinance.

Besides the fact that they didn't hassle us, the other thing that I appreciated in the whole police encounter was that I was a bit intoxicated myself, but apparently not enough to concern them.

When the police left, I was back to square one. Kandi was barely responsive, and I had no ideas.

Some of you might be wondering why I didn't just strong-arm Kandi and force her to her feet. My answer to that is that it wasn't necessary.

Different situations call for different responses. While it would be acceptable to manhandle someone to save them from a fire or a crashed car, there was no immediate danger in the situation with which we were dealing. I was convinced that Kandi could and should get home under her own power.

Several more minutes passed, and I was wishing that I had my coat back.

Probably 10 minutes after the police left, we hit the next milestone in the stand-off: Mya appeared.

Mya was a young woman who happened to have been walking by, and she for sure had been in exactly the same situation as Kandi. She told us her story; it was the same scenario except she ended up getting arrested.

I told her that we were fine on that front because the police had already come and gone.

"No! That's what they always do!" Mya shouted back at me. "If they catch you twice, you will get arrested!"

She asked Kandi's name and apparently misunderstood what was said.

Very forcefully and deliberately, she barked out her orders: "Kammi..... get..... up.... now! Come on, Kammi. GET UP!"

Then she grabbed her by the collar and started shaking her. Kandi was unimpressed and continued to lounge.

At this, Mya dredged up her own prison story once again. On the verge of tears, she was like, "Do you have any idea what happens in prison? I do. I was there."

Then for emphasis, she repeated her opening line several more times, "Do you have any idea what happens in prison? Do you??"

All the while, I was thinking, "Yeah, I do have an idea. I own a TV."

Getting stabbed with shivs, strip searches, working all day for 7 cents an hour, rough toilet paper, gang fights, prison meatloaf, limited television programming, big manly girls buying and selling you for cigarettes...

Yes, indeed, I had some idea of the horrors of prison. It was all most unpleasant.

Anyhow, Kandi still wasn't inspired by Mya's ranting, so Mya and I finally just grabbed an arm each and hoisted Kandi to her feet.

Even at this point, Kandi was still unable to muster the strength or motivation to stand up. We started to move with Mya and me shouldering the bulk of Kandi's body weight.

All the while, Mya continued ranting about the horrors of prison and the humiliation of it all. She did have a strong back, though, so I can't complain.

Mya was keen on getting Kandi into a taxi, so she tried to steer us toward an intersection for this purpose. I didn't know how close Kandi lived exactly, but she was very adamant that a taxi was absolutely unnecessary. Mya tried to overrule Kandi, but I told her that if Kandi didn't want a taxi we weren't going to get one.

Mya did not appreciate being challenged, and so she kicked us to the curb at this point.

When she left us, Kandi immediately started to shrink down for more sidewalk sleeping. Mya rushed back over to keep her from reaching the ground and she helped us walk a little bit further.

Soon Mya was relieved by a group of three young men who looked to me to be of South Asian heritage (Pakistani or Indian).

Mya now left us for good, and Kandi, me, and our three new escorts continued on. The young men were very excited about Kandi's condition, and they suggested flagging down the police or getting a taxi. We weren't enthused by either idea, of course. By this point, however, Kandi was participating a bit more with the walking, and I sent the three guys away. They were making too much hoopla.

Kandi's apartment really was close, and I supported her the rest of the way.

When we got to her apartment, I put her in her bed, and she immediately went to sleep.

The night had ended so strangely, I didn't know what to make of it. Had Kandi been drugged? Was she just drunk? Did she have alcohol poisoning?

I decided that it wasn't safe to leave her alone, so I took off my coat and formed it into a pillow. Then I sprawled out on the floor just outside her bedroom door for the night. The combination of the hard floor and the freezing cold night ensured that I didn't get much sleep. This was ideal, though, because every time I woke up, I was able to confirm that Kandi was still breathing. When she first went to sleep, her breathing was very labored and noisy, so it was very easy to determine that she was still alive. By 8:00 AM, her breathing had returned to normal, and it was barely audible. Around 8:30, I left her apartment, and Kandi snoozed on unaware.

As I made my way back home, I looked a bit disheveled and it was pretty obvious that I had slept in my clothes. People were looking at me like I was taking the walk of shame, but I couldn't care less. Exhaustion aside, I felt like a million bucks.


Anonymous said...

Oh to be single in Norway! I was never forced to the penalty box without my coat, closed a bar, slept on a sidewalk in the freezing cold. . . What fun!

Brenda said...

Chris, you're still living the life! Do be careful.

Robert said...


I bet you could buy at least 10 bottles of Moresby coconut steam for the price of one Norway Whiskey!


Andrea Appell said...

You'll have to go by "Kris Kall" to fit in with that group...

Scott said...

Seriously're going to have to compile all these stories into a book and publish at some point. You might give it the title, "My Way...with the US State Dept" or something.

hollandn said...

Hi Chris, sounds like fun in Norway! Do take care..

Dana (Port Moresby, PNG) said...

Hi Chris, kain raun bilong ino save pinis!!

Merry Christmas & take care always.