Barstool Stories: Break Up, by Michael Winter

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.

barstool stories


Sometimes a story from the past helps make sense of the present. I was meeting a friend at 3 Speed. It was early spring and I had heard him say “break-up.” His wife had agreed to buy him out of his share of the house. What should he do? For I was his coach, having gone through similar trouble.

“I found a condom lubricant on the living room floor,” he said.

“A condom lubricant not your own.”

“She apologized but it’s unbearable.”

“I’m trying to think of a compromise,” I said. I searched my mouth and found this: There was the time I lived in Trepassey.

He groaned. “One of your Newfoundland stories. Go ahead, bore me with an anecdote from the hinterland.”

“It was springtime,” I said. “Like here. Except with icebergs.”

I had ruined my life since a woman left me.

“Oh god you’re going to drag in mother nature!”

“Have you seen an iceberg?”

“You carry chunks of it in your pocket. No, please. Elaborate on your Moby Dick life.”

He pointed a finger at the bar and ordered a round.

“I was getting over a woman who had left me,” I said. “Like you. Living in a rented house on the Atlantic.“

“So extreme of you.”

“You don’t notice an iceberg when there’s snow, but as soon as the gardens jump up –“

“Icebergs are a symbol of the life one has already lived, I get it.”

“That’s good,” I said. “But my story is about a polar bear. The bear was on the iceberg. He was pacing back and forth, lifting his white neck to stare at us –“

“He was realizing his next stop was Cuba.”

“He dove in and he’s swimming like a child. Hilarious exertion. And he’s heading –“

“For you.”

“What I took for panic was –“

“Calm intent.”

I drank the beer and appreciated a singer I’d confessed my heart to in a park at 2 AM. I had ruined my life since a woman left me. The singer lifted one heel, as if pushing out the note with her ankle, the song rippling towards us.

“We ran to our homes,” I said. “The bear stood tippy-toe in someone’s front window.”

“Paws against the plate glass.“

“They called Wildlife. And darted the bear. Then rolled him into a net under a helicopter.”

“Thank you for that,” he said. “So I’m not an iceberg but a tranquilized bear.”

“Wait. The helicopter rose and the bear fell out of the net. His loose head smacked the ground. They opened his mouth: cracked a molar.”


“No, they phoned the local dentist.”

My friend stretched his own jaw: what to do with his life.

“You’re that bear,” I said, “waking up to massive change.”

“No,” he said, wagging his finger. “I’m that dentist. To answer the phone and realize the work ahead.”

He was right, and I rolled with it.”

“What I’m saying is –“

“As my coach –”

“Can you make it work with your wife?”