You’d think I would feel out of place in this bar. I haven’t had a drop of alcohol in at least six years and I generally resent the country music that bars love to play. It reminds me of small racist towns, shy awkward boys who smoke and say little, mumble when they do talk and grumble when they don’t. It reminds me of ridiculous sentimentality, shallow hooks and the tragedy behind Boys Don’t Cry.
But I have a soft spot for the songs they are playing today. I enjoy Christmas lights when it isn’t Christmas and lamplight during the daytime, people wearing the same clothes they rolled out of bed in, paint stains and ripped jeans. Some bars scream sex. This bar screams fatigue and disappointment and I am sitting near the door so no one notices how well I blend in.
“Because you’re mine, I walk the line….” I am in such a bad mood today. The middle-aged man beside me is trying to strike up a conversation and I am fighting to be civil without being inviting. I assume, like lots of women, that any man drinking beer in a bar trying to strike up a conversation with a woman is straight and looking for love, or something like it.
“Writing anything interesting?” he asks, and I think, not interesting to you, straight boy.
“Just an article,” I say, avoiding eye contact, barely smiling.
“Oh yeah,” he responds, and I assume he’s bluffing. I squint at my computer and try to look as consumed as possible in my “work,” which is presently just a handful of mediocre ideas full of typos and void of insight.
“About what?” he asks.
“Don’t know yet,” I say, but he persists so I add, “about my life.”
His laughter comes across as condescending. “You’re what,” he says, “twenty-five? I have a good theory about people who write about their lives at 25.”
“Of course you do,” I say, trying to keep it light.
“Never mind, you don’t want to hear it,” he scoffs, waving his hand at me as if I am begging to hear it. But I’m not, and I don’t.
“I guess I never told you, quite as often as I should have….” He sighs, watching me, leans back against the window and says, “It’s incredible, eh? My son always knows when I’ve had a drink on the way home.”
Not because you’ve given birth to a genius, I think. It’s almost 9 o’clock at night and his son is five. His bedtime is probably like 7:30pm so if you get home at 10pm and you bust in to kiss him good-night smelling like a brewery he’s probably gonna put two and two together.
“Kids notice everything,” I say, just to say something, but I am on the verge of packing up my things. Oblivious to my discomfort, he chats about parenting, about how hard it is, how it’s so much responsibility, how I have no idea. I am judging him because he is stopping for a beer at 9pm with two kids and a wife at home and he is judging me because I am young, female, childless and not drinking.
Then he says, “So how is Xtra doing these days?”
“These days?” I give him a quizzical glance. “It’s been a while since you read it?”
“Oh yeah,” he says, looking away (are you reading it this month?). Then he says, “You know, being bisexual, my life could have gone either way. I chose the family route and it isn’t easy, you know.”
Well, well, well. “You could have had kids either way,” I say, thinking about myself, swearing off “family” at the age of nine ’cause I was going to be queer.
“I guess so,” he shrugs, “but it would have been a heck of a lot harder. You know, the geometry just doesn’t quite fit.” He laughs self-consciously and swirls his bottle.
“My wife and I are actually trying to have a baby right now,” I say, not sure why I am confiding in this stranger. But I feel bad for judging him and being so cold before. I feel bad for assuming he was hitting on me instead of just wanting to talk.
“Oh, you are?” he asks.
That is the last thing he says to me all night. He moves to the bar a few seconds later to reorder and chat with a different woman. When I get up to go he nods and tips his bottle back without taking his eyes off her.
“I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains….” People often chide me for judging men. I occasionally feel ashamed when it turns out I have just met a really great one. I am not a woman who gets hit on regularly, but I still have my back up in a world that pushes me to feel objectified or freakish each time I leave the house. I am sorry to conclude that today is no different.