Winter is here. Not quite the bitter cold but no longer the brutal heat wave Cincinnati was treated to during the middle months. A nice enough night to appreciate not having to be at work, servicing the needs of diners. As I approach the steel gates I show the doorman my ID even though I’ve been here dozens of times before, but he’s never seen me. He’s only ever seen a cheeky smile in a photograph and a birthdate. As I walk in I scoff at the hunky metrosexuals crowding the entrance still toting tank tops and skinny jeans, slurping tallboys of whatever while they talk nonsense. The bartender knows my face so he promptly pays mind to me. Tonight I’ll start with and probably stick with bourbon, neat. “Bulleit?” he asks. He knows my face too well.—-
I sip my drink and jump at the sound of a great crash. Someone has just won a game of Jenga. And someone else has lost. I see more service industry people at the far end of the bar — hosts, servers, cooks — all probably drunk already talking the usual shit about how many covers they did tonight, how big of an ass their Maître’D is and posing the all-important question of: “How hard is it really for Chad to cook a steak medium-well?” I offer a nod and raise my glass to my fellow cohorts but I know any conversation would be short-lived and meaningless. This gig is just to pay the bills. I’m not one of them and they know this. I’m not a lifer. Yet.
I proceed without caution through my fourth and fifth drinks, Jameson and lemonades, and begin to sweat through my layers. I shed my jacket and immediately feel insecure. I’m dressed like I should be begging for change by the pizza place down the street. Not at this watering hole where people come to flaunt and frolic, all in the hopes of bringing home something to … “Excuse me!”
I’m in someone’s way. It’s not polite to sit a bar stool when the place is busy and you already have your drink. I should know better. “Sorry,” I manage to mutter.
“Nah, man. You’re cool.”
I’m not in his way. He explains that he’s trying to bed this girl but he’s forgotten her name. He asks if I’ll introduce myself so he can get a refresher. I oblige and he thanks me but the cheap twit doesn’t even offer to buy me a drink.
My mind starts to wander. What purpose do I serve here? I’m not here for strange. I’m too prickly to make friends at a bar. And I do my best not to let the bartender know anything more about me than how I like my bourbon (neat), my rum (on the rocks) and my beer (Belgian), so I don’t make for great conversation. I bring nothing to the table but money and the two elbows I’ll inevitably rest my chin on after I’ve had two too many drinks.
The air grows colder and I put my raggedy jacket back on. I think about talking to the girl next to me — she’s attractive enough. But I know, as she will undoubtedly learn, that the drink has taken ahold of me and stripped me of my charm.
I think about her. About what was, “us.” And whether or not tonight’s the night she calls me. I think about the day this sense of desolation turns back into a sense of belonging. I think about the day that this emptiness turns into completeness. I think it’s time to go home.
I consider another drink. But what day is it? Does my paycheck go through tomorrow? I risk it. One before the road. As he pours my Gosling’s, the ice cracks and I know what comes next: the type of self-loathing only a twentysomething can feel. The type of hatred for fellow man that only a bitter old soul could have. But also the sort of unwarranted optimism only a fool like myself could have. A glance at the digital clock tells me it’s Sunday. My paycheck doesn’t go through until Thursday.