You’re in here for happy hour just to sate a two-year curiosity, even though it’s clear from just the front room that you can’t afford it. The place has thick green carpet and emanates class and the meals seem to start at $22 but all the men here are in shorts or jeans or t-shirts or fairly-casual button-downs.
Sit at the bar with your $6 Miller and flip through your phone after a quick glance around. Photos of famous people and of newspaper clippings are framed and hanging everywhere. Some loud guys in shorts at a corner table are talking about a judge. Golf is muted on a TV over the bar. Pink Floyd playing from overhead speakers at so low a volume it’s almost pointless. Take out your phone, start scrolling. Couple minutes later one of the grayhaired bros int he corner slaps the table and lets out a clipped cackle.
“It’s not Smoke,” he says. He’s remonstrating a friend. “Snoke. Lord Emperor Snoke.”
The two of them, off now by themselves, came in as a group of six, probably straight from the office, and even though they’re still sitting with the group you can feel how they’ve kinda removed themselves.
The other people in their party have turned inward toward their new grouping of four. It’s the kinda scene where you can tell that the other four have been trying to get these two together. Maybe it’s the whole reason for the happy hour outing.
He’s explaining something to her, longwinded, and at the end of it she seems more curious than impressed when she says, “You know a lot about bars.”
Lifting his beer he says, “Yeah.” Coy in a way that might or might not be sincere.
“Were you a waiter?”
Sets his glass down. Beer from the tap. Pausing to swallow. “That’s the part I actually don’t like to talk about so much.” He clears his throat and makes a gesture with his shoulders like he’s a guy with a troubled past or something. “I actually…” dramatic pause for a weary sigh, “I used to have a business…”
You and this other guy who do standup have a seat at the venue, each with a drink, and he says he’s reached two conclusions about you. “And you tell me if I’m wrong.”
“The first is that you’re pretty smart.”
“Second one, no offense, is that you’re probably the least successful of your friends.”
Wouldn’t have thought college basketball was this popular but there’s a game on between Duke and some other school and everybody’s pretty tense about it, focusing on the massive TVs over the bar, even the servers and the bussers pausing to look, trade remarks. Everytime somebody’s closing in on a basket you’ll hear a chorus of muted “come on come on come on” and two bussers pause right beside you and one of them’s gripping his hair and sighing and talking about his bracket.
Whenever somebody makes or misses a basket the reaction is explosive, disappointment or joy, and all the tension along the bar melts off in a loopy uneven way. Like ice cream in a microwave. Then it all picks up again, just as slow.
It’s 7 on a Sunday and you’re only halfway through your first beer but you feel like this’ll be the only one and then you’ll go. Nothing to do with the game or the shouting. This just happens lately, in a way it never did in your early twenties. You’ll look at the remaining half of a beer and something in your stomach, some vague overhead cloud with mixed-up silent words about sleep and the next day’s responsibilities, tells you in no unclear way that you’re done. It’s time to go home.
And so that’s where you go.
You find a safe behind the painting.
04 left, 24 right, 91 left.
Pull the door open and you’re transported to the Thousand Movie Projects.
Three bar tenders having fun tonight, it’s not that busy for a Saturday, and after you’ve ordered and been here reading for a few minutes one of them comes and sets a bowl of ice cream in front of you and says, “Here’s the ice cream you ordered.” She’s wide-eyed. You’re supposed to go along with it.
Touch the rim and pull it toward you. Say thanks.
She walks away.
Don’t eat it. Keep reading.
Couple minutes later she comes and takes the ice cream and starts eating it at a crouch, grinning. “I went and scooped this cuz my boss was outside but when I came back up she was right there. Had to pretend it was for a customer.”
You smile back and nod, tell her it’s no problem, decide not to rhapsodize about how flattered you are to be considered dependable. Just drink your beer and keep reading.
Be sure to check out Thousand Movie Project