Thursday, July 8, 2010

People I meet in bars #18: Emily (again)

My brother Corey once lived by this girl that affected a completely arbitrary British accent. And not a particularly good one, either; she sounded about as authentically Cockney as Pam Grier. No one, including her roommates, quite knew why she had undertaken such a dramatic linguistic departure, and one day, having been invited by Corey and some of his pals to go see a movie with the female residents of an adjacent apartment--including our faux Limey pal--I decided to ask what no one else had theretofore dared:

"Are you from England?"

She stopped in her tracks, her eyes open wide at my boldness. And I was being bold, too, having recently discovered that I was actually charismatic. I could talk to people, make them laugh, etc., and, receiving the confidence boost of being invited along with The Older Kids, I staked my claim.

"What?" she asked.

"Are you from England? Is that why you have that accent?"

"What accent?"

Corey laughed uncomfortably, his friend Jeff laughed sincerely, and his other friend Richie bought me a soda in gratitude for calling out this idiot girl on such a willfully stupid affectation, the linguistic equivalent of carrying a vanity cane.

So when I walk into Toadz, one of two bars in Cedar City (and where I went last night), and I'm greeted by a bouncer with outstretched arms like loaded shotguns, asking for a four dollar cover charge in an Australian accent that fades in and out like the tracking on a crappy VCR, I immediately call back What's Her Name and decide that this guy could beat the unholy shit out of me with half of an eyebrow raise. I slip my sarcasm and my driver's license into my back pocket.

"Four bucks?" I ask, the question tinged with the indignation of a man that just wants a damn burger at midnight and doesn't want to go to Denny's, thank you. "What's going on that warrants a cover charge?"

"Ladies' night. Women get in for free."

"But last night wasn't men's night, and I got in for free."

"Four bucks or not?" He's getting pissed, and I imagine how quickly this conversation could turn from "Four dollars, please" to "That's not a noife--THIS is a noife," so I shake my head and begin to step out into the midnight dark of southern Utah, but I feel a soft hand wrap around my vacation-diminished bicep.

"That dude's got softer hands than I figured he would," I think to myself, but when I turn around, it's not him, it's Emily, the girl from the night before, who's grasped my withered appendage.

"He's with me," she says to the doorman, and he nods before returning his gaze to the soccer magazine he's leafing through.

"Thanks," I say, walking through a beaded curtain to one of several empty booths. Tonight's not nearly as packed as it was last, and while the management of Toadz is probably disappointed, the solitude suits my purposes just fine.

"I was hoping I'd see you, because I needed to yell at you." She grins wickedly and returns her vodka tonic to cursive lips. "I read that thing that you wrote yesterday."

This is not good.

"How the hell did you find it?"

"Remember Jeff? The guy that you talked to about the racial caricatures in Merchant of Venice?" She points to a handsome, shaved-headed man currently belting out a karaoke version of "Movin' Out," and I recognize him as a fella I spoke with last night. "You introduced yourself, gave him your name, and said you were press. We googled you when we got back to the hotel and found your little blog." She crunches a piece of ice with her back molars. "Imagine my surprise."

"So I exaggerated a little," I say. "You're an actress. Surely you'll grant me some kind of artistic license."

"A little?" She laughs heartily in the face of my self-defense. "I didn't offer to buy you a drink."

"Your eyes did!"

"But my wallet didn't."

"Look, at least I changed your name. I tried to be all confusing, though, putting the link to the Shakespeare Festival up there, seeing if someone would buy it."

"Yeah, why'd you name me Emily?"

"In honor of my sister-in-law." She looks incredulous. "It's a perfectly lovely name."

"Oh, I agree," she says, looking over my shoulder at the next person stepping to the stage for their spot at karaoke. We both applaud for Jeff, who notices us in the corner and waves. "The whole thing's just weird."

"What's weird about it? Are you mad?"

"No, I'm not mad." She throws a barbed smile across the table. "Doesn't seem like enough people read it for me to be upset by it."

"Okay, that's sort of a cheap shot."

"I've earned it." The last dribbles of her cocktail trickle down the corner of her mouth and she motions for another. "It's weird because, you know, like you were saying last night. You have this issue with actors and acting because it's just, what, pretending? Lying?" I nod. "Then what's writing?"

"You have a point, but I think it's more complicated than that." I snatch an ice cube from her now-empty glass. "With acting, you're a participant in it. You're pretending to be something you aren't. With writing, though, you're creating a whole world, usually one that's a lot better than the one you're really in." The ice hitting my front teeth shoots me shivers. "Or at least more interesting."

"And in your 'better' world, I have red hair?"

"I had to set you apart."

"But you made me not me."

"I didn't know you." I scavenge my tongue for words. "I don't know you. So I had to create you."

"Is that how you do things, then? Just make it up as you go along?" The last syllable of her sentence lands simultaneously with the clomp of her next drink being plopped on the hardwood table.

"Isn't that how you do it? Isn't that how we all do it?"

"Writers, maybe. But not actors." She takes a first sip and relishes it like a Monet. "We're all about preparation. Legwork. Understanding what's going on so you can understand what comes next."

"Meh." I wave a dismissive hand. "I'd much rather make things up whole cloth."

"And that," she says, "is why you came to a bar at midnight on a Wednesday to read a book in the corner instead of doing something fun with people. You're inventing connections with fictional characters in lieu of--"

"I'm going to have to stop you there." She cocks a curious eyebrow. "You just got sorta riled up and an accent slipped out. Where are you from?"

"Raleigh, North Carolina."


"You gonna change it when you inevitably write about this? You're too provocative a conversationalist that you made me regress to my childhood diction?"

"Nah," I say, "I've made up enough stuff about you. I'll keep this one in."

"You flatter yourself." She points at her glass. "It's the vodka more than it is the conversation." She tosses a playful wink--a now-unmistakably southern one, at that--over her glasses and across the table. "I'm gonna go sit back with my friends. You can join us if you promise not to make up more stuff about me."

"I can't make that promise." I dig in my pocket for a ten. "But maybe I can buy you a drink instead."

"I don't take candy from strangers," she says, rising to her feet. "Good luck with the stories. Go see some more plays."

"I think I've got two more this week."

"Hope I'm in 'em."

"Me too. Gotta see you in action to pull back those layers." She double-taps the table and walks away.

"Hey, wait," I call out. She turns around and looks back at me. "Are you really from Raleigh?"

She smiles. "Maybe. Or maybe I'm just a good actress."

I go back to my book, enjoy a tonic water, and try to figure out which parts of you I created, which parts are real, and if the difference is all that important.

Here's to stories.


Sarah said...

This was awesomely uncomfortable. And I like it a lot, especially the end. How much do we make up? It's a good question. Something to ponder.

Claire Valene Bagley said...

Great follow up.

Hand shakes all around.

AzĂșcar said...



ashley said...

This is refreshingly honest, and you explore a lot of interesting themes.