Because of my predilections, I have decided to try and start writing about, as you can imagine from the terribly clever title of this, people I meet in bars. Booze and Jesus are the only two things that can turn complete strangers into fast friends, and my theological writing, while interesting to me, is too filled with ambiguity and indecision. So you get Booze. Hope you like it.
By the way, Haley and/or Caitie: if either of you reveal the secret about these writings, I'll give you my patented Dead To Me look.
If I had to guess--and I do have to guess, because she won't tell me--I would say that Jane is actually 19 years old and snuck into this bar using a fake ID or batted eyelashes or means that are otherwise less than legal. But that doesn't stop her from turning her liver into Noah's Ark, the downpour of Jagermeister and the chaser of Red Bull drowning her sobriety and good judgment. She has platinum blonde hair, the roots of which barely beginning to show themselves to be a more farmer's-daughter brown. It's a shame to see only a glimpse of this, because it looks nice and sweet, rather than the LOOK AT MY BRIGHT BLONDE HAIR and BRIGHT RED LIPSTICK that she's trying to pull off. It's like watching an adorable dachsund putting a sweater on and pretending to be a frat boy. We liked you as a dachsund, fella. Leave a good thing be.
Anyway, she's already pickled drunk when I sit down at the only empty seat, quickly realizing why it was vacant.
"What's YOUR name?" she screams in my ear in that too-loud way, like she's wearing headphones.
"Andy," I tell her. "Yours?"
"It's JANE," she yells. "I like your JACKET."
"Thanks." I go back to my whiskey sour, completely disinterested in anything she has to say.
"WHAT are you DRINKING?"
"Whiskey sour," I say. "Want the cherry?" I offer.
"Oh. Em. Gee. Those come with CHERRIES?" She is a lot more excited than she should be. "BARKEEP! I want a--what's it called again?"
"Whiskey sour," I whisper.
"--I want a WHISKEY SOUR! With a CHERRY!" The bartender nods in thinly-veiled disgust. I finish mine off. This is going to be a rough conversation.
"So," she says, lowering the volume of her voice to a few notches under hypersonic. "What do YOU do?"
"I'm a writer," I lie.
"What do you write?"
"I want to start writing about people I meet in bars, actually," I tell her. "Want to be my first?"
"Haven't been asked that in a while," she smiles. "What are you going to write about me?"
"What should I write about you?"
"I hope you'll tell everyone how pretty I am. You want me to take a picture?" She pulls a camera out of her pocket that looks way too expensive to bring into a bar.
"That's okay," I tell her. "Trying to keep it to words only." I signal for a glass of water.
"What words would you use, then?"
(A LIST OF WORDS I WOULD USE TO DESCRIBE JANE
"'Approachable,' I think, would be a good start," I say. I sip my water and give myself an excuse to not say anything else.
"Well, actually, I approached you, if we're being accurate."
"True," I admit. "How about 'approaching,' then, if we're going for accuracy?" She cocks her head, squints one eye, and looks up to the ceiling in mock contemplation.
"I guess that works, but I'd rather you say that I was, like, funny or pretty or something that's actually, you know...complimentary." Her tongue stumbles through "complimentary" like an obstacle course. This girl is going to have a very, very bad morning.
The bartender brings her whiskey sour and the contents of the glass haven't even settled before she snatches the cherry by its stem and, in what looks like the result of a great deal of discipline, chews and swallows the cherry prior to tying the stem into a knot using only her tongue.
I wonder where she learned that trick. Actually, that's probably not as interesting as why she learned it. Maybe she pledged to a sorority and it was the first of a series of mild hazings. Perhaps her first boyfriend that she had when she was way too young thought it would be funny to make her learn. Maybe she got really bored on her high school senior trip and decided to learn something she saw on Sex and the City reruns.
But none of these possibilities make me anything but sad. This is not an unattractive girl, and there are flashes of quick wit and good spirit beneath the boozy swagger and cougar-in-the-making bar attendance. And this girl's flying solo at a bar whose primary demographic consists of college students more or less her own age, and that necessitates a wingperson or three. What keeps this social butterfly from taking flight in a herd of like-minded young women?
"I broke up with my boyfriend two months ago," she offers almost telepathically. "He was a piece of shit."
"I'm sorry to hear that," I say. "What happened, if you don't mind me asking?"
"Well, it's sort of, like, complicated," she prefaces.
"I've got a lot of water to finish."
"Okay." She takes a deep breath. "So, like, Alex--that's my ex-boyfriend--he and I were totally gonna get married or something and he was always telling me how he wanted to get married and he wanted to have kids and stuff, which is, like, what I want, you know? Just not yet, though. In, like, five years, maybe."
"What held you back?" I ask.
"I don't know. I want to travel, you know? I want to see, like, what, Paris? The Eiffel Tower? I want to drink nice wine on a veranda by a beach. But not an ocean beach with all the sand, like a lake beach. A pretty, quiet one. Maybe a sea, if not a lake. A bigger one. A big lake. Or a small sea. God, I'm so drunk." She looks down into her drink and, for a split second, her mask drops and reveals eyes full of pain and resentment. As if she could see her own vulnerability in her reflection in the cocktail, she turns away and throws up another smile. She goes on.
"I want kids. Two girls and a boy. And I want them to have nice names that kids don't make fun of them for at school. And I just wanted to wait, I guess. Alex wanted everything right. fucking. now. and I couldn't just throw it all to him, you know? I'm only--" she pauses, looks around, and stammers, before continuing, "--21 and I just wanted to be with him. I wasn't in a hurry, and he was, and that freaked me out."
"As it should," I tell her. "If he wasn't willing to wait, then he wasn't what you were looking for, right? You deserve someone who respects your timetable, don't you?"
"I guess so," she sighs. She picks up her glass and clinks it against mine. "To lost love?"
"Nah," I say. "To finding new ones."
We finish our drinks. I say goodbye and go back into the world to the sound of Aretha Franklin on the jukebox. I step outside, tie my scarf, and peer back inside the bar through the glass front door. Jane's still sitting there, stirring the half-melted ice cubes of her empty glass and staring at the grain of the bar's wood.
I take a deep breath of the freezing air and hope that tonight, in that bar, someone will play her song.