April 17

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.

Advertisements

April 16. I remember you.

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.

“Got fired.”

(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.”

April 13

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.”

April 12

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.”

April 11. Didn’t We All.

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…”

April 10. Jazz.

A student comes into the lab where you work cuz her teacher says she has to, she’s your age, and from the moment she walks in you for some reason fall into this comfortable barb-trading, razzing one another’s outfits and haircuts and teeth, and when you sit to help her out with an assignment you get along great, joking and making headway through the work, and if there’s anything flirtatious about the way you guys are joking it’s kept way beneath the surface because, apart from making a mess of the tutor-student thing, she’s involved with somebody, and you’re involved with somebody, both parties happy with those involvements.

She has a son. He’s 6. She collects and repairs and fawns over old cameras and would like to do more of it but for the fact that, as she puts it, she “just had to choose the fucking most expensive hobby, of course, and so…”

She trails off a lot, finishing her points with nimble-fingered gestures and, occasionally, a weight-lifter’s lunge. You go down to the cafeteria with her for a colada one afternoon and she does a pirouette at the register. Says she woulda been a great dancer if her parents had enrolled her.

The two of you meet at a music thing one night after the semester’s done, a couple of mutual friends in the mix. Later she drives you back to your car and in those couple minutes you both get uncharacteristically direct (a few months of casually insulting each other has made this weirdly easy) and the conversation culminates with one or the other saying, “So we’ve got crushes on each other,” and then quiet awkward yeahs.

“Bad timing.”

“Yeah.”

Something just barely mournful to your voices, like it sucks, but also something relaxed and contemplative, because it doesn’t suck.

You’re involved with someone, and happy; she’s involved with someone, and happy.

A relaxed silence between you, like a shrug, and then, smiling, you cheesy fucks talk about moments where one of you swooned at something the other one did. Back when the crush was a secret. That thing you wore, the way you said it, the lighting was just right…

You both laugh about it.

The road’s dark and empty, it’s late, and she drives like a mom with her hands at 10 and 2, her back straight as a board. So much respect for the speed limit.


Grayhaired, comfortable on the porch with a beer, you’re thinking back on old heartthrobs and passions, commitments, dreams.

And then, on a breeze, you catch a tune. Something from your youth. Know that song so well.

Follow it down the street to the gaping door of the old beatdown playhouse and upon walking inside you see a sign for

Thousand Movie Project

April 8. Talkative.

You’re back in the habit of listening to podcasts for the first time in years and find that it makes for pleasant company at bars. Kevin Smith in particular. If gab is a gift, he’s got it. You listen to his stuff when you’re sober and marvel at how seamless he is, moving from topic to topic, and how he just takes off, soon as he’s prompted, and talks without cease and with so much energy, urgency, humor, comfort. Then you drink and he gets funnier.

You wish you could do this. Talk so well.

Start thinking about talking and about the friends of yours who are good at it, and don’t you even sometimes find a bad speaker interesting? Sure. Often. You cross paths with a few of them at work or the coffee shop. They speak in cliches and they’re the bad kind of vulgar and they’re narrowminded and short on vocab — but they’ve got energy. Character. You’d like to hear them talk with an option to pause, and without actually having to engage.

It’s one of those weeknights where everyone at the bar is by themselves, dressed for work, scrolling their phones. Smirking at something they read. Place feels alive with the lighting and the music and the twelve TVs on blast.

Takes a minute, coming up from the podcast, to realize nobody’s really actually talking.

Which is fine. To have a place where you can go and relax and be respected without having to talk.


The maitre’d points you toward a narrow door you hadn’t noticed when you first came in. It blends in with the wall. Ask him where it goes and he gives you a tough look, hands you a card, walks away.

Cross the lobby and go through the door and inside there’s a phone on the wall.

On the card there’s a number. 0424. Dial it.

Phone rings twice and then, on the other end, the loveliest voice:

Thousand Movie Project.”