Bent Words

Bent Words

August 28, 2008

It was cold in the bar. Air conditioning is one thing, keeping me freezer fresh is another. It’s not mid-summer and I’m fairly certain I won’t go bad if you leave me out so tone it down guys – open a window, prop open the door, let in some air.

The bartender is new. New as in “I shouldn’t have to tell you that I don’t like fruit in my drink but I will since you’re obviously new.” I hate new. It means that I have to explain that I want a tall glass with a small shot of booze. “A small in a tall.” It means I have to request a refill of water every twenty minutes instead of enjoying a perpetually full glass. It means he doesn’t like me… yet.

Above my head and to the right, NASCAR. I can’t persuade the new guy, who doesn’t like me yet, to change the channel over to SPEED. He’s not “authorized” to make such a change, he says, as though such a weighty executive decision could merit termination. As though he were changing channels during a fourth quarter, regular season Packer game. Great. The new guy is new AND mousey. Stupid bar.

To my left is an older man on a first date with a very young woman. He’s loud. He’s loud because he cannot hear himself speak. He cannot hear himself speak because he’s very old and obviously his hearing is ailing him and yet he must hear that which he loves most – himself. He’s trying to persuade the young rental kitten to order something from the menu because she obviously hasn’t eaten anything resembling food in at least two weeks. She’s disgustingly skinny and yet she pretends she’s not cold, wearing her summer dress on a day that barely resembles spring, let alone summer. Not to mention the air conditioning which she’s ignoring rather well considering the strength of his voice is hugely distracting. It’s distracting, too, to the guy on the opposite corner of the bar who’s squinting and pretending to pinch her head in between two fingers.

He looks like someone I know. He looks like Shane. Shane with a backwards hat. The backwards hat is a bit off, by a few thousand miles, but the square jaw line is pretty right on. So is the hand holding the cigarette as well as the smile when he notices my unconscious stare. My heart drops. My skin reaches out. My brow condenses.

Shit.

I turn some feigned attention to NASCAR. Cars going left. I hate cars. Especially when I could have SPEED. But we can’t have backwards hat, Shane look-alike guy thinking I’m interested. Because I’m not. But I am.

I am interested and I almost want to join him. Partly because he’s still squishing the anorexic kitten and her loud date between his fingers and partly because he looks happy over there, sparing with his buddy, throwing a few back, looking like… well, you know. I could join him and then I’d have a great intro with “you know, you look just like someone I used to know….”

Instead I get up and hit the Cow Girl’s room. I don’t go to the bathroom. I don’t have to. I wash my hands for a long time and argue with myself in the mirror. I tell myself that I’ve gotta stop this – even though I didn’t ask for it – I gotta stop ‘seeing’ him wherever I go. I gotta stop looking for him in other people. I gotta let go and just find an f’ing bar that will let me watch the AMA Superbike races. So I tell myself I’ll pay the new guy and give him a scant tip and I’ll skip outta here and find myself some real racing.

As soon as I open the bathroom door and exit into the arctic freeze, I see the backwards hat man standing at the bar opposite of me, smiling, and rocking to the lyrics “smoke she is a rising” without a single care in the world. In place of my empty glass of Captain and Diet is a beer which I did not order. The alarm was written across my face with a black magic marker. Shane’s favorite band – the one band you rarely hear these days on the radio, let alone in a bar across town on a Sunday afternoon.

“From the man across the bar,” the new bartender states, hoping I won’t mind the change of pace. And I don’t. I never did.

I raised the mug and with a thank you nod, I acknowledged that which I never could deny.

Written at 10:33 p.m.