back to the Black Table

All right, I'm about to sound like a 19-year old quiz bowl champ with a Spock fetish, so bear with me.

In my entire life, I have never looked at the evening spread out before me, full of infinite possibilities, and decided, "OK, I'm going to go find a complete stranger and talk her into coming home and having sex with me." I am not attempting to sound like some sort of sensitive pony-tailed man; I certainly hold no discernible philosophical qualm with the notion of engaging in carnality with a woman with whom I am otherwise not familiar, particularly if her breasts are large and she has no specific problem with bringing a friend.

But a whole culture is out there, presumably fueled by keg-drenched frat parties from years past where Tommy's little sister would be willing to go all night if offered the right beer by the right goatee, that involves sad little men walking up to random women and asking them, repeatedly, where they're from, what they're like, what they do all day, how did they get such beautiful eyes, until they either stop accepting the free drinks, find a tall bouncer to hide behind or, in a one-in-20,000 shot, they actually succumb to the drunken charms and just sleep with them already.



This surely isn't shocking to you. If you're not a part of this culture -- and even if you are, you're loathe to admit it -- you certainly have seen it, probably anytime you head out for a Friday night. But it's certainly foreign to me. Either I'm dating someone, or I'm sitting in a friend's apartment bouncing quarters off the carpet in a game of caps until I find God. The thump-thump, hey-I-haven't-seen-you-here-before bar club world is not really my social scene, to say the least, but it's everywhere, and when I stumble across it, it's like joining a conversation midway and realizing everyone's speaking Esperanto.

The other evening, some friends of mine met me for drinks after work. The usual crew: Other swarthy writer types, wistful wayward dreamers, my roommates, a couple of co-workers, my own current female interest. We left the work week behind with two-for-one specials and shots with vaguely bigoted names -- what, exactly, is a Black Russian? -- and the jukebox played the hits of the day, your Percy Faith, your Rudy Valley, your Jim Nabors. The minutes bled into hours, and towards the end of the night, it was just me, my female companion and my two female roommates. The roomies were playing pool -- quite well, I feel obliged to point out -- and I stepped outside for a cigarette, which, you sonuvabitch, I have to do these days. When I returned, a bald guy in an Old Navy button-up long sleeve with a peculiar stain on his trousers was talking to my lady.

Now. People talk to each other all the time at bars. One of the fun aspects of drunken nights in this cursed city is the raw amount of miscreants you meet here, the unwanted, the listless, the lost. They all have stories to tell, some tedious, some implausible, but always new, always unexpected. This seems like a natural process to me. My gal's talking to a dude over there; hey, why not? He might have a funny story I'll get to hear later. But then it went on, and she started to look uncomfortable, and he started touching her arm, and jeez, then I really didn't know what to do. I mean … is he hitting on her? Doesn't he see she came in with a strapping stud of a man, albeit one carrying a scorebook and freshly sharpened No. 2 pencils? Finally, she sidled over to me, with him tugboating along, lapping up the back of her hair, and she shot me a look of distinct disappointment. She whispered in my ear: "Why didn't you save me from that guy?"

I had no answer. She explained (get this) that, well, this happens all the time. "I'm just used to it at this point. It happens every time you go to a bar." Now, she is pretty, but it still hadn't registered. Did this guy really think he was going to get laid? I found out later that he told her she had the most beautiful eyes in the bar, which would be quite a compliment had he not said it to my roommate about 15 minutes earlier.

That said … I mean, who says "you have the most beautiful eyes in this bar" with a straight face? Come one. After millions of years of evolution, when we've put a man on the moon, this is the best we've come up with?

There's this guy I know, a pleasant enough fellow with close friends and an apparent plan in life, who, for some reason, turns into a sucking letch when he goes to a bar. It's fascinating to watch him in action. You'll be standing there, having a conversation about whatever, and by the time you've set your drink down, he's lurking behind the Allen sisters sipping their vodka cranberries at the end of the bar. He's not unattractive, necessarily, but he's no Jan-Michael Vincent, I'll tell you that.

You just look at him, like a sophomore tossing up jumpers from three-quarters court at the end of practice, thinking that if he actually hits this ridiculously unlikely shot, his life will somehow have meaning. And it's airball after airball. But he keeps chucking them; someday, it has to go in, right?

And he'll plug on forever, I bet, until he lucks into that one of the backboard, which will be all the impetus he needs to keep shooting.

And ladies, ladies, ladies … why must thou encourage them so? No, you're not exempt from this whole thing. Why a woman who doesn't want to be picked up -- and, honestly, what woman wants to be picked up by a stranger at a bar? I mean, has it ever worked? -- would accept an unsolicited drink from one of these guys is beyond my range of comprehension. I mean, I like free drinks too, but is it worth it to be hounded by Vic from Staten Island all night? I think there should be some sort of rule. If you accept a free drink from a stranger, you should be required to sit in a room alone with him and a chaperone, and actually listen to him talk for an hour. Many wasted evenings would be nipped in the bud right quick. "No, no, actually, I don't live with my parents. But yes, yes, I'm sure the rent is cheap."

I dunno. I think I'm just out of my element here and am lashing out. In a way, I have to respect a guy with the gumption to gleefully dispatch with any fear of rejection and plunge forward, undaunted. But at the end of the night, when it's dark, and the chat rooms have quieted … is this anyway to live your life? Do you need someone that badly? What is it you're looking for, exactly?

Of course, with putzes like me quivering in the corner while you hit on our girls … I suppose I can't blame you.



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