AUTHOR'S NOTE: For some reason, I feel like indicating that a Roy Rogers is a drink made of Coke and grenadine. There's a cherry, if you're lucky.
As you were.
"And after Angie, there was Emma," he says, his eyes glazing over. His words trail off into what I assume to be the ether of sexual nostalgia. "Man, I loved that girl."
"What happened with Emma?" I ask.
"Same thing that happened with Angie," he says, taking a swig of his bottle of Bud Light.
"Fuck if I know, man. I thought Emma was the one."
"But didn't you think Angie was 'the one,' too?"
"I like you, Andy," he says. "But you ask too many goddamn questions."
Stan's temples are starting to gray, like Mr. Fantastic's. He's wearing a tweed jacket with elbow patches that appear to have been sewn on after-market, and his olive green slacks look like they have been crumpled up and stored in a Pringles can. It's one of those cases where someone looks like they're either 25 or 45, but nowhere inbetween.
"Why are you drinking that swill?" I ask. "They've got those good Salt Lake microbrews here. On tap, no less. You're drinking watered-down yellow piss when you could be drinking liquid rye bread."
"You Bud haters are such elitist pricks," he says. "There's a reason this shit is number one, man."
"Well, it certainly isn't because it's good."
"Of course it isn't good. It's good because it takes the guesswork out of the equation. You go into a grocery store anywhere in the country, and you KNOW that they'll have 6, 12, 24, and, if you're lucky, 36-packs of this shit. And nationwide, no matter where you buy it, it'll be the exact same. People take comfort in that kind of reliability." He pours the rest of the bottle's contents down his throat like he's trying to overwater tomato plant.
"Don't you find that sort of depressing?" I ask. "I mean, yeah, people want reliability. But why do they have to sacrifice quality for it?"
"They don't," he says. "It's not a sacrifice of quality. It's an exchange, man. They trade their own specific preferences, what they really want, so that they can have that. They're still getting beer, they're still getting drunk, and they're paying so little that you could do just quarters and you'd still have enough for laundry day. But if everyone, together, trades that in, they can all have something of minimal acceptable quality. It's a community thing, dude. People would rather have less together than more alone."
"That's horrible," I say between sips of my Roy Rogers.
"No, it's wonderful," he tells me, a glow flooding his cheeks and a light shining behind his eyes. "The fact that you can go into any bar in the country and order a Bud Light and immediately have a connection with, what, half of the people in there? That's pretty beautiful, man. The only other thing that brings people together like that is Jesus. Strangers to friend, dude. Anything that can do that is something worth considering."
"Did Emma drink Bud Light?"
"Nah," he says, "she didn't drink."
"What about Angie?"
"She was a Coors girl. Now, Liz, that girl breathed Bud Light."
"Ex-girlfriend. Thought she was the one, too, in case you're wondering."
"But why did you think that all of these girls were the one?" I ask. "Do you even believe in 'the one?' Should I be capitalizing that when I say it? 'The One?'"
"Of course I thought they were all--you're the writer, but I think caps are appropriate, since it's, like, a title, right?--The One. Why would I want to be around someone I didn't think I could be around for the rest of forever?"
It's a valid point, and I wonder if he looked at those girls, the Angies and Emmas and Lizes (Lizzes?) with the same doe eyes that he's focusing so clearly on the pretty blonde girl with the pixie haircut at the end of the bar. You could say he's "staring," but that implies a sort of creepiness or single-mindedness that isn't really present in his gaze. He's looking, alright--and intensely, for that matter--but there's not a flash of guile or selfishness in his admiration. It's a curious look, and its innocence catches me off-guard.
Catches her off-guard, too, it seems, because after they make eye contact, she immediately turns her eyes to the ground and attempts, with mixed results, to stifle an embarrassed grin. She starts twiddling her thumbs and is looking so hard at him out of the corner of her eye that I worry she might hemorrhage.
"See that smile?" he says, brushing the lint off of his white oxford. "That's my cue. Cross your fingers."
"Will do," I say. "She could, after all, be The One."
"Dude, I know you're being sarcastic, but they're all The One. Just maybe not yours. Or mine. But sitting on my ass isn't going to get any of us closer to that answer, you know?"
Stan manages a healthy balance of swagger and sheepish as he saunters over to this girl. I can't read lips, and the jukebox is playing "Brown Sugar" too loud for me to eavesdrop, so I can only imagine what's happening by their faces.
It goes something like this:
She pretends to not see him coming, so obviously so that it's clear she sees him coming. He stands just close enough to show exactly what he's after without being invasive. She looks up at him. Her cheeks go rose red. After about twenty seconds of her looking as attentive as I can imagine a person being, she smiles and scrawls something down on a bar napkin. She hands it to him and goes back to her drink. He starts walking back, but I keep watching her. Her smile doesn't go away. It's lingering, like he's infected her with some Happy Bug.
"Got the digits, man," he says with a strange blend of arrogant gloating and grateful humility. "Her name's Emma, too. Small world, right?"
"What was she drinking?"
"Michelob. Just like Kristina did." He wistfully raises his chin, presumably in her honor.
"Who the hell is Kristina?"
"Are you fucking joking?" I ask, my voice sounding about twice as outraged as I want to appear. "All of these girls, ex-fiancees, The Ones...what the hell is wrong with you? Do you really think that each one of these relationships is a big deal? Because they can't all be big deals. 'Big' is relative, and if everything's, like the World's Biggest Deal, then nothing is the World's Biggest Deal because it has to stand on its own. Do you honestly think you loved every one of those girls?"
Stan looks surprised.
"'Loved?' Dude, I still love them. All of them. Every single one left my life with a piece of it in their pocket and I'm spread between them all. And those parts don't grow back. If any one of them came back, pulled that part out again and reminded me that they had it and wanted to use it again, you're damn straight I'd let 'em try. Because these human connections? These things that you keep trying to write your fruity little blog about? That's what matters. So don't piss on my parade because there's rain on yours, dude. You never make the shots you don't take."
"How inspirational," I drip. "Oughta cross-stitch that on a pillow to remind me not to listen to fortune cookie advice."
"Go ahead and focus on your own neuroses, if that makes you feel better. But it doesn't. It never does. That 'baggage' bullshit? It'll twist your little mind, if you let it. But you've gotta let it go, dude. Drop it all behind you and move on down the path, brother. Because there are millions of people that could be looking for just that. Be that guy, man. I'm gonna go back over and talk to Emma volume 2. She's a lot sunnier than you."
"Hope she's it," I say, trying to sound optimistic. Stan smiles and walks back over to the "sunnier" end of the bar. I keep glancing over and it looks like he and Emma Vol. 2 are really be hitting it off. After about fifteen minutes of conversation, they walk out together. As he opens the door, Stan looks at me and gives me a thumbs up and a big smile. Despite its cheesiness, and no matter how much it reminds me of the last freeze frame of a bad 80s sitcom--roll executive producer credits--it makes me smile, too.
Because some nights are too cold to bear the thought of someone--anyone--sleeping alone.