Hungry at the cafe but you check your account and decide it’s probably safer just to stay hungry for a while, ’til Happy Hour, at which point you head south to the usual bar for a halfprice beer and a halfprice appetizer, big enough to work as a meal, and to read for a bit before heading home.
At the cafe when you were hungry the barista got up from behind the counter and came over and sat beside you at the communal table, bored in this lull between busy patches, and without mentioning her son she says she might have to look for a new job soon. This sudden candor. Talks with spotty eye-contact, unprompted, about how she’s only just barely meeting her expenses. She refers your eye to the counter where, a few minutes ago, that empty and red-stained Tupperware was full of pasta and she was doing damage to it.
“Made that fucking pasta two nights ago, big pot like a witch, and I’m still eating it now and I’ll probably have it again tomorrow. Like…” Her breath catches and she shakes her head, closes her eyes, sighs. Opens up and looks immediately more flippant and cool. Says, “I feel like it’s fine in the end cuz I’m, what?, I’m twenty-eight. I’m just starting out, like, in life. So I know it’s fine, that this is like my Struggle Period and that eventually shit’ll be good cuz I’ve got like the work ethic, the brains, whatever whatever. It’s just…” mouth agape, pawing for a word, she finally just laughs, “it fucking sucks right now.”
And a cuple hours later you’re here at the bar, finally getting your Bliss, and you’re thinking of her life and of yours. Her attitude and yours.
You’re comparing, which people say not to do.
You’re about to go for a walkthrough at an efficiency in a convenient part of town and, being too excited, you get here an hour early.
Can’t go knocking on the door right now. Gotta be punctual, make a good impression.
So you go to kill time at a bar about five blocks away. Bring a book.
The bar tender walks up to you with this head-tilted squint, and so you start squinting right back at her, and bending your own head. She does seem familiar…
Then she calls it, smiling. For eight or nine months she tended bar at a big corporate chain next door to the nearest movie theater to your house. She saw you every Friday afternoon back when you sustained that six-month habit of catching a show on your day off.
You ask why she left the big chain.
(You have to stop asking this.)
She closes her eyes and tilts her head again and shrugs, like no big deal. “It was a shitshow there. Got fired on a technicality. It’s a long story.”
You ask for the story.
She tells it.
You drink two beers in the time it takes her to say that she didn’t card somebody. The customer was clearly of age, maybe mid-thirties, but rules are rules.
“I don’t really mind, though.” Again with the closed eyes and the big shrug. “This place pays me just as good. And we don’t have roaches here.”
Only other guy at the bar is thirtysomething and says to the bartender, tall woman all frecklespeckled with red hair, he’s surprised by how relaxed it is in here. He says this is his first visit.
“Place looks so fancy,” he says, “everytime I get near it I feel like I gotta book.”
She shrugs, wiping the counter in fast circles, “We’re not so fancy.”
He asks where she’s from.
“Virginia. What about you, you’re Cuban?”
“Yeah but I was born in New York.”
“I lived there for a while.”
He grins and does some clicking thing with his mouth. “It’s the best, I miss it.”
Bar tender puts a tender hand on the small of her back while straightening, and tossing the rag into the liquor well, exhaling. Strain of work written in her posture, her breathing, sweaty face. “Ahdunno.” She shakes her head slowly and looks either tired or defeated. “Wish it wasn’t so expensive.”
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…”
These two guys are sitting close at the bar and they appear to be friends but it’s happy hour, people are coming in straight from the office, so who knows.
First guy says he’s got a date this Friday that he doesn’t even wanna go on. Says he’s gonna wear his “Trump hat.” Laughs. “Make a real impression.”
He laughs again at his remark and when he lifts his vodka soda he sips it from the straws and winces.
Last call. The lights go up, the bartender rings a big brass bell under the TV, and you notice suddenly on the chair beside you, it’s been here all along,
Thousand Movie Project.
There’s a young guy here about your age who parts his hair in the back-right corner of his head and he’s got sunglasses on inside, taking hits from an e-cigarette, an air of austerity and entitlement about him and, internet being what it is, you wonder if he’s famous somehow, or if his parents are rich, and then a minute later you notice you aren’t even entertaining the idea that maybe this kid is independently wealthy for doing something honest and practical.
He’s having coffee at a table with an older woman in nice clothes who’s talking about somebody who lost $9 million. She gets to the end of her explanation: the person who lost it and how they lost it and the consequences. Then she looks into her coffee and shakes her head, pitying. Cocks an eyebrow. “May’ve even been ten million.”
More of this upstairs, in the Thousand Movie Project.