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Unit 22 – Two Men in a Bar

Difficulty: Medium

Time: 4 minutes 30 seconds


The following is an extract from Overload by Arthur Hailey

The cocktail bar pianist switched nostalgically from ‘Hello Young Lovers!’ to ‘Whatever Will Be, Will Be’.
‘If he plays many more of those oldies,’ Harry London said, ‘I’m gonna start crying in my beer. Another vodka, pal?’
‘Why the hell not? Make it a double.’ Nim, who had been hearing the music too, now listened to himself objectively. His speech was slurring at the edges, he observed, which figured. He had already had too much to drink, and knew it, but found himself not caring. Groping in a pocket, he took out his car keys and pushed them across the small, black-topped table. ‘Take care of these. See that I get a taxi home.’
London pocketed the keys. ‘Sure thing. You can stay at my place overnight, if you want.’
‘No thanks, Harry.’ Soon, when the liquor had dulled his perceptions further, Nim intended to go home, in fact wanted to. He wasn’t worried about appearing there drunk – at least, not tonight. Leah and Benjy would be asleep and wouldn’t see him. And Ruth, with her compassion and sympathy, would be forgiving.
‘Testing, testing,’ Nim said. He had wanted to hear his voice again before using it. Now, satisfied with his coherence, he told Harry, ‘Y’know what I think? I think Wally’d be better off dead.’

London took a swig of his beer before answering. ‘Maybe Wally won’t see it that way. Okay, so he got burned bad and lost his pecker. But there’s other …’
Nim’s voice rose. ‘For Chrissakes, Harry! Do you understand what you’re saying?’
‘Take it easy,’ London cautioned. Others in the bar had glanced their way. He added quietly, ‘Sure, I understand.’
‘In time…’ Nim leaned across the table, balancing his words the way a conjurer might stand a plate on edge. ‘In time the burns will heal. They’ll do skin grafts. But you can’t order a new penis from the Sears catalogue.’
‘It’s true. Can’t deny it.’ London shook his head sadly. ‘That poor benighted bastard!’
The cocktail pianist was now into ‘Lara’s Theme’ and Harry London wiped away a tear.
‘Twenty-eight!’ Nim said. ‘That’s how old he is. For God’s sake, twenty-eight! Why, any normal man that age has still got ahead of him a lifetime of …’
London said curtly, ‘I don’t need a diagram.’ He finished his beer and motioned a waiter for another. ‘One thing you gotta remember, Nim. Not every guy’s an all-star cocksman like you. With you, if you lost out the way Wally has, I could understand it being the end of the road, or you thinking it was.’ He asked curiously, ‘You ever kept score? Maybe you could get in The Guinness Book of Records.’
‘There’s a Belgian writer,’ Nim said, his thoughts for the moment diverted, ‘Georges Simenon, who says he made it with ten thousand different women. I’m not up to that many, or even near it.’
‘Leave out the numbers, then. The point is, maybe his doing was never as all-fired important to Wally as your is to youTwo .’
Nim shook his head. ‘I doubt it.’ He remembered the times he had seen Wally Jr and his wife, Mary, together. Nim’s finely honed instincts told him the two of them had a good thing going sexually. He wondered sadly what might happen to their marriage.
The beer and double vodka arrived. ‘When you’re coming back,’ Nim told the waiter, ‘bring the same again.’


1. Compared to Nim, London is portrayed as:

  • A      More empathetic
  • B      More nostalgic
  • C      More responsible
  • D      Equally troubled


2. Curtly (4th last paragraph, marked in bold), is closest in meaning to:

  • A      Abruptly
  • B      Modestly
  • C      Reservedly
  • D      Quietly


3. In total, how many drinks are either drunk or ordered throughout the passage?

  • A      4
  • B      5
  • C      6
  • D      7
  • Q1: B
    “The cocktail pianist was now into ‘Lara’s Theme’ and Harry London wiped away a tear.” – emotional nostalgia not matched by Nim.
    Nim, noticing he is drunk, hands his car keys to London – this shows responsibility. He is also careful not to let his (we assume) children see him drunk. Although he makes a fuss about Wally losing his penis, he empathises with him greatly upon considering what might happen to his marriage. Nim is empathetic and responsible and it would be very hard to argue that London is moreso. There’s not enough evidence to suggest that either are particularly troubled.

    Q2: A
    Curtly essentially means abruptly. We get a hint at this meaning in how he interrupts Nim mid-sentence:
    ” … a lifetime of …’
    London said curtly, ‘I don’t need a diagram.’ ”

    Q3: B
    Number 1 is at the beginning when London orders Nim a double vodka.
    Number 2 and 3 is when London drinks his beer and orders another: “He finished his beer and motioned a waiter for another.”
    4 and 5 is at the very end: “When you’re coming back,’ Nim told the waiter, ‘bring the same again.” which is another beer and double vodka

    Gamsat Sample Questions

    June 2, 2012

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