If I didn't know any better--which isn't to say that I do--I would assume that Jason had just hoovered cocaine lines like he was in a Jay McInerney novel. His eyes are darting like they're solving a connect-the-dots puzzle without a pencil and I'm wondering if he's on the verge of an aneurysm.
"Is she looking over here? I can't see. What's she doing? Is she smiling? Is she looking at us? Tell me what she's doing." He rockets two shots of tequila to his lips like the first volley of a 21-gun salute. "You're being a really shitty wingman, Andy."
"Sorry, I don't do this very often."
"Yeah, I can tell." He gets his game face on. "I'm gonna go talk to her." He doesn't move. "I'm gonna so say hi." He somehow appears to sit even more still. "In three minutes, I'm gonna go talk to her. Two more shots, please."
"You think that's a good idea? More?" I ask.
"It's the only way my ass is getting out of this chair."
For the last half hour, Jason has been alternately staring at and actively ignoring a pretty redhead sitting with friends at a table about twenty feet from ours. The three of them--the redheaded girl and her two slightly less-pretty friends--are just about within earshot, and I wonder if Jason is tempting fate by speaking so loudly. The three of them have looked over at us a few times, and I think we were even pointed at once, so we're on their radar. I'm hoping that what appears to be Jason's overconsumption doesn't sink his ship prior to it ent---wait, too much innuendo. Nevermind.
"Why don't you just go talk to her?" I ask him.
"Look at that girl," he says. "Girls like that aren't after guys like you and me."
"Why are you lumping me in wit--"
"They want more than us. We're not attractive enough. A girl like that wants a gym rat, someone with a popped collar and a communications degree," he says. "Do you have a fauxhawk? Goddamn, I feel so stupid saying 'fauxhawk' outloud. Like it's something that anyone should want to have. Or should have to assign a word to."
Two more shots arrive. Just as quickly, they're consumed.
"So what are you doing in a bar, man?" he asks me. "You here to meet some chicks? Want me to introduce you to one of her friends?"
"No, that's okay. I'm mostly just here to watch."
"Yeah, bullshit. No one comes to places like this to watch."
But I do. I do.
"I've gotta pee," Jason says. "Tequila goes through me like a car through a tunnel." He stands on his feet and begins to walk to the bathroom. He stumbles his first three steps, but quickly composes himself and walks, left right left right left right left right, until he passes the table on which he's placed so much of his focus. I'm wondering what his move is going to be. I think of a few different scenarios.
1. He could walk by completely casually, smiling all the while. Upon passing the table, he could make brief eye contact and add about twenty watts to the brightness of his grin. If she smiles bigger back, he's in. He returns post-bathroom, good-natured adoration ensues.
2. He could walk by smoldering a little bit. He's not mad, but golly gee is he trying to restrain those waves of emotion, those torrents of passion that drive a man as intense as he. He'll make eye contact for a split second--just enough for her to recognize--and if she doesn't take hers away and instead transfers them to the back of his head as he enters the restroom, he's in. He returns post-bathroom, impassioned adulation ignites.
3. He could walk by, completely ignoring her and her table.
Because he's a fucking idiot, he goes for #3.
He's in the bathroom for about five minutes and I begin to worry. I sip at my cranberry juice, looking around to see if there's anyone else interesting in this place. Something else has to be going on. I decide to take Jason's seat. I've been watching one side of the bar all night and completely ignoring the other. Maybe there's someone interesting over there. Maybe there's a foil for Jason sitting at the table right behind me and I can draw some interesting parallel. Who knows what will await me when I turn around. There is a world of infinite possibilities.
I switch and am now facing the other direction. It's strange; I've never looked this way. Wherever I am in this place, I always end up looking at the jukebox. But now I'm looking at a vending machine. A machine that's like a bartender for people who don't drink alcohol and who don't want any human interaction. Next to it, there's a locked cooler filled with box upon box of beer. A man-made unit displaying a sweet escape from loneliness and bullshit that won't let you in without physical force. There's a pool table. A horizontal platform upon which---
"Excuse me," a voice comes from behind me, accompanied by a light tap on the shoulder. I turn around, and the redheaded girl is standing right over me. She's got her coat on. Behind her, I can see her friends waiting for her to leave. She hands me a little slip of paper.
"My friends and I are leaving, but can you give this to your friend? He kind of disappeared and I wanted him to have it."
"Hey, he's just--"
"Thank you," she says, walking away.
"Wait, he'll be--" She waves goodbye and briskly sets out for the door. I look at the note. It's got some writing on it. This place is too dark for me to see very easily, so I pull out my phone and open it, lighting this scrap with a heavily-pixelated picture of my dog.
It says "Caitlin." I guess she looked like a Caitlin. Which is a compliment.
In a moment of conspicuously cosmic coincidence, Jason exits the bathroom as soon as Caitlin and her friends exit the bar. He exits with a blank look on his face, but goes to look for her. As soon as he sees that she's no longer here, his face gets full of indignant disgust: his cheeks puff up, his eyes squint, and his mouth opens just wide enough for a slew of misogynistic curses to dribble out.
"She just walks out? Fuck her, man."
"These stupid stuck-up bitches think that they just own the world. Think that everyone's just gonna bend over backwards to get their attention and then they'll just shit all over it. I'm done with that, man. I'm done with all of it. I'm done with this bar, I'm done with these women, I'm finished. I'm going home."
Jason starts walking away, but turns back after about ten paces.
"And you know what, Andy? Nothing would've ever happened with her. Better for me to go home by myself than waste $20 of Cosmopolitans trying to get that girl to come home with me, only to tell me that she's got a boyfriend right after she's just drunk enough to stop feeding me bullshit. So it's better this way. Better this way."
I nod in agreement.
"Nice guys finish last. And yeah, I'm not perfect, but I'm a nice guy. I'm so damn nice and look what I get for it."
"Hmmm," I say, exchanging any number of the things that I want to tell this guy for an onomatopoeia.
"But good talking to you, man," he says. "Glad to hear I'm not the only one that feels like this."
"Well, I mean, I wouldn't really say that--"
"Stay strong in the fight, dude. Don't let them suck your soul away." He walks out.
I know it wasn't meant for me, but I take several furtive looks at the note hiding in my palm. I look around for a clock and wonder what time Caitlins go to sleep on a Saturday.
Because we're not all like that, you know. And some of us would rather try and show you than sit around and feed you lines.