Drinking With Petar
You drink with Petar knowing full well that he could kill you. He doesn’t even need a reason, a guy like him, he’d probably tear your arms off and suck the marrow from your bones just to pass the time before his friends got to the bar.
Petar is Serbian-Montenegrin. He makes the importance of this order perfectly clear to you the first time you stumble upon his bar on the way back from the beach. It shouldn’t be a bar and it really shouldn’t have a license, but as you soon realise, these are the badlands artfully disguised as a tourist-friendly destination. Nobody gives two fucks about the rules.
You want some water and a sandwich. It’s searing hot out there and the sand is littered with beached, fat fuck Russian tourists and their manufactured Mattel girlfriends. Everywhere there is dance music — the vomit-inducing Euro kind, not the hedonistic, British sort — so reading the book is out. You ask for what you believe to be a beef roll and a bottle of water. The waitress returns with a beer and signals toward the patio outside.
‘Free for you. Him.’
This will not do.
It must not be difficult to join Petar’s inner circle, because the second you open your mouth to say thanks, the guy is slapping you on the back and telling you to stay and talk awhile. Within five minutes his unemployed, bruiser friends have arrived and soon after that, you are on the way to being astoundingly drunk.
They assault you with questions, some in good English, some in broken Serbian, some in whatever they feel like, using Petar as a channel. They ask if you have been to Thailand, and whether it’s true that you can fuck literally anyone there. They ask if Australia has fought in any wars. They ask if you are a homosexual, or if you are Jewish.
You take it that both of these are loaded questions.
A word about Petar. He is the sort of man who has spent so much of his life scaring the living crap out of people that even when he attempts to smile (not often) or laugh (all the time) it somehow manages to look terrifying. He is almost exactly what casting agents look for in a European Bond Villain. No neck, torso the size of a jet plane, wrists the width of your forearms. Everything about his face is craggy. His faded blue eyes look like dirty pools in a mountain range shot to pieces by war planes. Each time you look at him square on, the voice of reason drowning in beer desperately gurgles at you to run.
Before the mid-‘90s, Petar taught basketball at the local school. Montenegro was part of Serbia then, and he was well-respected by the kids he coached and their parents. Now, he says, many of them have fled to America, or were killed. Everyone in former Yugoslavia blames the war on someone else. The Croats continue to hate the Serbs, The Bosnians hate everyone, The Serbs sometimes pin it on the Slovenians. All of them still say ‘hello’ in the same language. Petar, conveniently, reserves his hatred for everyone equally.
You can tell at once that Petar rules to roost here at Disney Cafe, which he has certainly not cleared the rights to with the Yanks, and that this sort of booze-filled conviviality is not exactly rare. As their shattered country slowly rebuilds itself into a fat fuck Mecca, there’s not much for Petar’s crew to do. Quite a few of them have nervous tics from shelling or PTSD, and there’s at least one who’ll never walk again. They sit drinking and chain smoking under faded rip-off murals of Donald and Daisy, and mostly talk about pussy.
By the time you are trying to push away your eighth beer, you’ve told them every lurid detail about Australian girls that they want to know. You don’t tell them that 90% of the girls you’ve been with are Jewish, because you fear this may blow your cover and you’re having a hard enough time on the gay front. It’s remarkably easy to lie when you fear for your safety. Of course they have blonde hair and tanned skin, you say. Yes, they all shave everywhere and love giving blowjobs multiple times a day. Threesomes? More like fivesomes.
Petar is looking at you cock-eyed as you rattle off descriptions you’ve only seen in the meta-text of porn videos. The little voice is screaming again; something nasty is brewing. Suddenly, he rises up and bangs to table with both hands, sending beers crashing to the floor.
‘I decide,’ he says, surveying the guests carefully. ‘We go to Australia!’
The men are cheering and lighting up cigarettes and back-slapping one another. They are beyond excited to travel to the land of orgies and tanned lifesavers with the vaginas of twleve year-olds. One guy next to you, who walked in with a noticeable limp, is making humping motions from his chair. Nobody has discussed where the money for this is coming from. At present it seems like Petar is the only one with any semblance of a job.
But nevermind, because now they’re onto shots of whatever paint thinner that is their local spirit and Petar is striding around the dripping table hugging everyone. He stops at you and pulls out a small pencil from his pocket, yelling at his waitress to bring a pad of paper, on which he writes his name, phone number and address.
‘We are mates, yes?’ (His mate sounds like moat.)
It’d rapidly approaching the point where you would normally piss off and vomit in a bush somewhere, but you need to hold it together in front of your new brethren. Yes, you say, wondering if you could leg it to the hostel without them finding you. You then realise there’s only one hostel in this godforsaken town.
‘Good. You are welcome my house anytime.
Now you give address for when we come to Australia!’
Australia is a buzzword now. When you told them you were from Sydney back at beer number 4, there wasn’t much excitement, but this is truly the moment. The brute parade are totally into it. They honestly believe that their dear leader of the orange basketball is going to finance a return trip for eight potential criminals halfway around the world. You’re starting to get caught up in the mood of it all, until Petar pushes the yellowed pad in your direction.
You like to tell yourself now and then that if you weren’t plastered, you probably would have played it differently. That you would have laughed it off, said No Thankyou, paid for the drinks you never asked for and politely staggered home. You left for Bosnia the next day, so there was only a very slight chance that you’d see him again, anyway.
But that’s not what happened. The whole table watches carefully as you scribble down the address of Temple Emanuel, the reform synagogue that does gay weddings. When you finish, Petar holds it up to his face and reads it twice to make sure that he has the name of the street right. He stares at you for what seems like twenty fucking years. You’re convinced he’s going to pull out his phone and Google it, that you’ll be lynched before sundown. He reads it again. When he’s satisfied, he bangs the table happily and the refilled beer glasses scatter all over again.
‘And the winner is Sy-Da-Ney!’
Petar knows, probably. He could kill you if he wanted. But he’s never leaving this place, and you’re never coming back. He slaps your back and hugs you tightly, squeezing out any air you had left. Another round of beers appear, as if by magic. The sun is setting and the fat fuck Russians trudge back to their serviced apartments, crispy and red like fried duck.