Being at a bar and not drinking is like being locked in a store overnight and not stealing everything. I am wasting an opportunity, but I am not allowed to drink because I have to talk to students later, and I feel like they’d worry if they smelled the delightful strawberry sour beer I had my eye on.
I’m sitting in the farthest removed corner of the bar; it’s dark, facing a wall, and it’s in the middle of the day, so there are a lot of other places for people to sit. The day drinking crowd isn’t as big as Cheers led me to expect.
With the marked unpleasantness of my seat–something I really like because it’s properly dim and tucked away–there is absolutely no real reason someone should sit next to me. I think I also do a pretty good job of looking busy, so it would be rather rude if someone, say, sat next to me while I looked like I was grading. To clarify, I’m not grading, but I do look like I am. I am Olympic level when it comes to looking like I’m working very hard. In actuality, I’ve spent the last 20 minutes arguing with myself in a circle because apparently it takes a lot of effort to convince me that I don’t have time for a drink before I teach in less than two hours. The only benefit of this circular argument is that it wastes time which makes a drink even less of a responsible decision.
I saw someone else get the drink I want. It’s a deep pink beer, and it looks amazing, and the light catches it and casts an ethereal rosy hue upon the world around it, and I can’t have it because I’m a teacher and like my job because I’m an idiot.
But there has been a development. Something has happened that could distract me from how much I want to pour that shimmering pink elixir down my throat. The universe has exerted its will and sent a clear sign that I should not be an alcoholic.
Instead, it would appear that cosmic forces have aligned to present me with a clear purpose, an obvious mission, an ordained goal that shall guide my existence for the next 45 minutes to an hour.
Some asshole just sat next to me. I’m going to learn as much about this person as I possibly can. But I don’t want to talk to him. That would be a gross breech of the social conduct I live by which puts a hard barrier at ever interacting with any new person ever. So I’m going to learn about this guy by covertly staring at him because what else do you do if someone sits next to you in an empty bar in the least hospitable corner while they’re clearly trying to look like they’re working.
I also want this guy to know the possibility that I’ll strike up a friendly conversation with him is equal to the possibility that beneath this tasteful blue coat and moppy hair is a Malaysian Orangutan, the wisest of the great apes, nature’s ginger grandparents.
I will now begin covert observations of this obtrusive subject.
This man poses a unique philosophical conundrum: how can a person both look bad in a hat and not be wearing one? Through some overlap in the infinite universes that diverge into limitless possibility, I can at once see this man with and without a hat, and he looks terrible in either reality. Why does his hair go up like that? There’s this kind of wave, but it’s in the middle of his head. Does he have a lump? Was he struck by something? I wonder if this man has a cartoon-style life and a girder fell on him from a construction sight while he pursued a small animal. No, this looks like a deliberate change in hair elevation.
This man took time out of his morning to get his head to look like this. He probably bought some expensive mousse because he heard people are often attracted to vertically gifted individuals, and he figured the best way to gain some inches was by raising the middle of his fucking head a solid 2 inches skyward. I would like to tell him he was wrong, but I’m adopting a strict Star Trek-inspired no-interference policy. I shall observe this life form, but I will not interact, even if I really want to see if I can balance a book on his head.
He’s drinking a stout. It is a hot spring afternoon, and you’re drinking a heavy dark beer that calorically amounts to a bread sandwich. What are you doing, man? This weather calls for something light and airy. Drink to match the spring sun, not like you’re trying to build up a protective layer of fat for the long winter, you hedgehog. I know criticizing someone’s choice of drinks is kind of a shitty, superficial thing to do, but I don’t have a lot to go on in this analysis, and I also don’t want to give this guy any allowances because, again, he sat next to me in a bar with many better options. He could have sat in one of the comfy chairs, or at the actual bar, or by a window, or next to the big metal brewing tubes (I cannot think of what they’re called, but they are large and metal and beer lives in them until it is ready for my consumption). Instead, he sat next to me, so he forfeits the privilege of not having mean assumptions made about him.
I think I’ve been noticed. Maybe it’s the fact that my peripheral vision isn’t great so I’ve just been stretching for an excuse to observe this interloper. Maybe it’s the fact that been typing as soon as I look back from my covert stretchy reconnaissance. Maybe it’s the fact that a single tear rolled down my cheek when I read the menu and saw all the beer that will never be mine (the tear itself might have been imagined, but the pain was real!) No matter the reason, there is evidence to suggest I’ve been found out because he keeps looking over at me, but he’s really bad at it. He keeps doing these little darting looks and then looking the opposite direction as quickly. Maybe he has water in his ears and is trying to shake it out? Maybe someone on a tiny bluetooth has been asking him questions, and he’s one of those people that gestured their answers even when they’re on the phone? Maybe he’s a robot and his motorized neck bits are malfunctioning. Or, and this is the most probable, maybe he’s looking at me because I’m kind of a strange-looking person and have been doing a really terrible job covering up that I’m writing about him. No matter, I am still a researcher, and the work will continue until this annoying invader has been ousted.
The subject has left his position, but his drink is still there, so I’m guessing he’s gone to the bathroom. Maybe he has to re-gel his hair bump. I’m scooting my stool farther away from his. This puts me deep into the corner, but it also creates a pleasant 4-foot gap between his stool and mine. Nobody would dare breach that, right? It’s too far for any kind of natural conversation, and not far enough to make it seem like I actually moved.
He returned. I can’t tell if he noticed that the distance between our stools had increased or not, but he definitely looked toward me. What’s with that look on your face, man? Why do you look like a confused pug?
He seems to be looking in my direction a bit less. Good. Sometimes, I wish I had a button that would open a trap door beneath whoever I want. Someone sits next to me at a bar? Bam, trapdoor. Someone says something stupid to me? Trapdoor! A student asks for an extension during the class when the project is due? Trapdoor… leading to my office where we will have a more detailed discussion about time management and emailing me in advance for this sort of thing because I usually give them if the student has a good enough reason, and I can actually be pretty nice but you’ve just got to show up to class and put the time in because the writing process is more than just rushing out a draft and slapping a title on it, and you’d know this if you had spent a little more time listening and a little less time recovering from those drugs alcohol parties.
I do not have a button that will drop this man into a cave below the bar. I’m not even certain they even have a cave. This place is kind of small, so I don’t think they could afford the installation of a proper cave with rocky spires and dank puddles and some manner of white-eyed monster. I want the button, but I do not have one. My study must continue without the help of a trapdoor.
He is bad at putting his glass down. Of the many things a person can be bad at, putting a cup down on a flat surface should not be among them, but he’s really got no technique. I’ve seen beer slosh at least twice with his clumsy, inarticulate cup thumping. Is he a viking? Does he spend his days gnawing on hunks of meat and quaffing ale? Has he been thrown out of his ship only to land in the burning Southwest? Would he be more at home hurling his glass at a wall and screaming for more meat? Does he have a hat with horns? Where do the horns come from? Do many of their cows just run around with nubs? Could this man be called something mighty, some glorious sea-raider moniker that strikes fear into the trembly hearts of coastal cottage-dwellers? I shall dub him Thrambad the Nubmaker, and he truly is terrible at putting down a glass.
A bit spilled over the side this time. Real amateur technique there, Thrambad.
He finished his drink, which is to say he drank half of it and the other half is being soaked up by the wood of the counter. Somewhere in the world, an unemployed coaster is sobbing. He’s standing up. Could this be the end? He has turned toward the bartender. Will he go back for another drink? Will he pay and leave? Will he hit his head on something and finally flatten that weird bump? He’s going for the bartender. He’s walking. His walk is kind of like someone who thinks their legs are shorter than they are, quick, short steps, like he’s trying to gather static electricity. He has made it to the counter. He’s talking to the bartender. I’m guessing his voice sounds kind of damp, the verbal equivalent of gelatin skin. Money has been exchanged. Either that, or this guy is showing the bartender his library card. I can’t see that well from this far, but a plastic rectangle was definitely involved in the interaction.
The bartender handed back the Thrambad’s card. He’s walking away. He’s almost to the door. Was that another look over here? Was that a smile? Did he smile at me? Don’t you fucking dare try to get a parting smile from me. I will give you nothing but the cold, numb stare I give to students who ask me if we did anything important while they were absent.
He’s out the door.
I wonder if he knows how much I wanted him to trip while he was walking away. I wonder if he knows how much thought went into criticizing everything about him while he was just sitting there. I wonder if he knows I assume his day-to-day involves at least one angry cow and one worn-out hacksaw. I wonder how many people do this exact, scathing analysis of me when I’m out in public.
Probably a lot.