"Thank you, my good man," said a little, round guy trying for a W.C. Fields imitation. "This libation will diminish the horrendous tension brought upon myself during this age of anxiety."
Several of his companions laughed quietly. They wore white dress shirts and ties. All had one thing in common. Like most drinkers, their shirts were open at the collars, which had become too tight for their necks. They were arguing about politics, but their tone was too serious. There was no good humor. The conversation was punctuated by insults.
Steve walked back to the cash register, shaking his head sadly. He realized it was going to be a long night.
"What's got into these guys?" Steve said, not expecting an answer.
"I used to get a kick out of it when guys talked politics around here.
"I remember when Barry Goldwater's kid, the California congressman, got in a jam over drugs. Nobody ever got deadly serious. We saw the humor in it.
"Maggie Hance, our mayor, got picked up all those times for drunk driving. Nobody held it against her.
"Remember Senator Fannin and Raul Castro, our lamentable governor and ambassador to Argentina? They both got picked up for the same reason. It was nothing anybody had to take sides over.
"In those days, everybody accepted things. They let stories about politicians wash over them. You know what I mean?"
The short, fat guy at the end of the bar interrupted.
"Remember the time Goldwater barely won his last Senate race over Bill Schulz? Goldwater won by less than a percentage point. Goldwater was so disappointed and embarrassed that he got too drunk to show up for his own victory press conference.
"Then he made matters worse by calling a press conference for the next afternoon and showing up still half-drunk and with such a horrible hangover that he made a perfect ass of himself.
"That was the time Barry said, right on television, that the voters hadn't taught him a lesson and that he fully intended to go right back to Washington and continue doing things his way.
"Next day Barry had to take out a full-page advertisement in the Republic to apologize." Another of the regulars at the end of the bar popped up.
"There was a time when we actually kind of liked our politicians. Most people personally liked Ronald Reagan, even those who voted against him.
"But now what do we have? I've always thought George Bush was a sneaky Brahmin. Bill Clinton? I may vote for him, but I certainly don't trust him.
"He's too slick. He's got too many explanations. I'd actually like to vote for Ross Perot. But I guess I can't do that. Can I?"
"What about McCain?" one man asked.
The man next to him laughed.
"I see it became necessary for our senator to make one of his important trips back to Vietnam. He must be seriously worried about the election."
All the men at the end of the bar laughed. They've got McCain's number now.