Barstool Stories: As Sure As J, by Grace O’Connell


We all have one. A story we tell, over and over, that always gets better—exaggerated, embellished, fleshed out—with a beer or two, and with every successive tipsy retelling. It’s not a long story, or even a true one. Does it have a moral? Not always. Is it fun? Yes, always. The barstool story is a literary genre in and of itself—or at least it should be. That’s why we bought beer for five of our favourite Canadian writers and had them jot down their own. So grab a cold one, grab a stool and enjoy.


Before I moved to the city I lived with Angie, who sold her underwear on the Internet to pay rent and who went out with this guy J. I thought his name was Jay when I lived there, but I just saw Angie a little while ago and she told me that his name was actually just J, or at least that’s what he told her.

J didn’t really have a job. Sometimes he made money playing Magic the Gathering. He’d go to these tournaments and tap his Ugin Planeswalker and watch men crumple like the police had just told them their wives had died in a laundromat fire.

He ran a message board for 9/11 Truthers and volunteered at this place that encouraged people to become organ donors. I still think of him when I come across my creased and faded donor card.

He used to choke Angie during sex and she said she liked it but was always rubbing her neck. After they broke up I was driving around with him and I asked him why he wouldn’t talk to her. Sometimes she would go to his place with Harvey’s coupons that must have been his because she and I liked Wendy’s, but he never answered the door.

Anyway, J said to me, and this is the part that stuck with me, “Talking to somebody you used to love is like living in your house after it burns down”.

I asked him how come he could talk to me like that and he said he didn’t really think of me as a girl. It kind of hurt my feelings and pretty soon after that I moved to the city.

My first night here I was supposed to stay with this girlfriend of mine. I only knew the cross street she lived near and I couldn’t get a hold of her. I took a guess and rang all the buzzers on a walk-up apartment. It was 3am by then and I’d been walking around all night.

A guy came down and I said my friend lived there but wasn’t home yet. He let me come into his apartment to wait. He was drunk but it never occurred to me he might hurt me. I stayed with him till the sun came up. When he sobered up, he was afraid of me. He was kind of hustling me out, and I said I wanted to thank him for giving me a place to stay. I know that sounds gross, but I meant take him out for breakfast or something. He took a breath and said, “You can’t ever come back here”. It reminded me of J.

I think that’s what I liked about J. How when he said “jet fuel can’t melt steel beams” or “one organ donor can save eighteen people,” it was so sure. As sure as he was that he couldn’t ever love Angie again. There’s just something about that kind of certainty, don’t you think?