Brett and British Mike
(Neurotic Bar Attraction)
Wednesday, 11/1/06. Emma Lee is fending off the genteel but persistent advances of British Mike when I get to the upstairs bar around 7. When he heads to the men’s room, she turns to me and says “I just don’t like him that way,” which is pretty funny, considering what happens ninety minutes later. Brett is at the bar, along with Lara Jane, an actress who was in a revue at the 13th Street Theatre last month; after every show, the cast and crew took over the lounge and corral, and they fell in love with the place, as almost everyone does. She’s pretty, so of course Dave flirted with her; and here she is flirting back, getting a sushi date for Saturday out of Dave before she leaves.
British Mike hangs around for one more drink, Emma Lee sandwiched between the two of us and chattering away like tongue between two old pieces of white bread. We talk about Margaret Sanger, with whom I am becoming obsessed. “She lived to see the birth control pill,” Emma Lee says. “She underwrote the research that created it,” British Mike points out, “by raising $150,000 for it in the Fifties.” “And it went public when again?” Emma Lee asks, and British Mike and I say in unison: “1960.” Gotta love a foreigner who knows US history. We start talking about all the advances Sanger lived to see. British Mike points out that she died three years before we landed on the moon, and I talk about my favorite example of someone’s lifetime embracing what feels like ancient history and modern times: Elizabeth Bacon Custer, who was born when John Tyler was President (1842), and died three months after Hitler was made Chancellor of Germany (1933). I don’t know about you, but my definition of “boggles the mind” is realizing that a woman who shook hands with Abraham Lincoln lived to hear Hitler rant on the radio. “To Libby Custer,” says Emma Lee, and we all clink glasses.
When British Mike leaves, Emma touches my shoulder and says: “I’m sorry you couldn’t make it to my party.” “Me too,” I reply, because the only other thing I can say is, “Well, I could have made it, but I decided to come here and drink instead.” She tells me that, after shooing the stragglers at her place out into a local bar around 2:30, she got a call from an alcoholic close friend who needed someone to talk him out of having a drink, so she jumped into a cab and ended up sponsoring him through the rest of the night, crashing on his couch at dawn and sleeping till like 2 PM. I tell her about Stacy’s wedding, giving her the abbreviated version of The Stacy Story, and Emma Lee cuts to the chase. “So was it unrequited love or failed love?” “I don’t know,” I reply, “I’m still trying to figure out which one is the better story.” “Failed love,” Emma Lee says without a moment’s hesitation. “Failed love is always a better story because it’s active. Unrequited love is static. It doesn’t go anywhere. You don’t risk anything. It’s passive. People who always feel unrequited love would rather say ‘Why me?’ instead of ‘Why not?’ Did you and Stacy ever date?” “Never.” “Not once?” “Not once.” “Then both stories suck,” she says, and we laugh; and Emma Lee heads for the finish line.
EMMA LEE: So who are you dating these days?
ME: (uh oh . . .) I haven’t dated anybody since 2002.
EMMA LEE: You’re lying.
ME: No I’m not. Diane. She had a nervous breakdown. (True story.)
EMMA LEE: And nobody since then? I find that hard to believe.
ME: Nobody. Outside of the odd NWA.
EMMA LEE: NWA?
ME: Neurotic Work Attachment. Other than that? Nobody. Wait—no—I’m forgetting Heather. She’s divorced, she has a pre-teen son, and because of our schedules we could never get together more than once every two weeks, so we never got past first base.
EMMA LEE: What is first base these days?
ME: First date; sorry.
EMMA LEE: Kissing? Tongue kissing?
ME: And it wasn’t our schedules. It was her schedule.
EMMA LEE: And what’s second base? (Getting shirty:) A hand up her shirt?
ME: All I know is, it was like constantly having to reboot a computer.
EMMA LEE: That’s too bad. (Beat.) You know, Matt, . . .
ME: (uh-oh . . .)
And this is where God starts chuckling. Barely 90 minutes after deflecting the double-barreled charm assault of British Mike, Emma Lee brings her own set of guns to bear on me. She talks about how we haven’t seen each other in a while, “and I don’t know whether it’s your schedule or my schedule or both,” but when she gets my Friday pictures she thinks to herself, “Oh yeah—Matt.” (And I’m thinking, oh dear, I wish there was some way of keeping this on a friendship footing because I just don’t feel that way about her.) She talks about how she doesn’t meet that many people, especially in bars, who qualify as people she likes, never mind friends, but that I am one of them. (Her use of the word “friends” makes me wonder if I’m over-reacting here, but I don’t think so.) And she talks about us keeping in touch once the Pine has closed, and getting together every now and then, and the part of me that’s expecting her to say “Because I really like you” is totally disappointed. She doesn’t say that; she doesn’t give a reason at all. She just throws it out on the bar, and I pick it up and reply “Of course we will.” Because what else can I say?
There’s a cowardly part of me which is totally overjoyed that I have somewhere to be at 10 PM, which means I have to leave around 9. I say my goodbyes to Dave and Dan the waiter and Melissa the waitress, and then wait for Emma Lee to come out of the Ladies, because she’ll be really upset if I leave without saying goodbye. It’s a good five-minute-long wait, with me just standing there and, ever the doubter, thinking to myself, “Am I reading her wrong? Is this not what I think it is on her part? And if it is what I think it is, what kind of signal am I sending by waiting to say goodnight to her like this?” Finally she comes out of the Women’s Room and smiles. “Waiting for me?” she says, as if she doesn’t deserve the attention, but I can tell she’s loving it. (So that answers one question, right?) Which leaves all the other questions to bounce around in my head as I head up to Broadway and then down to Great Jones, where Matt Mays and El Torpedo are playing a 10 PM show at Ace of Clubs.
By the time the show starts, my brain has absquatulated, so I don’t really think much about it when I glance around at the crowd and see somebody who looks like Dominic off to my right. Dominic’s got That Look which you see everywhere in this city—olive skin, dark wavy hair, two-day growth of beard, eyes like gray marbles, and a closet full of black clothes—so it’s probably my inner facial recognition software that matches up this guy, whoever he is, with someone I know. Happens all the time. Two songs later I glance back in his direction, and he’s necking with a young lovely in skimpy jean shorts and a striped man’s shirt that’s tied up above her waist, totally exposing the palomino tattoo racing across her midriff. My stomach does an Olympic-medal-winning backflip and I hear Sunday saying “He puts the ick in Dominic” as I watch him grope her ass and stick his tongue down her throat. Hi ho Trigger.
Alcohol: Guinness (2)
Ace of Clubs: Sam Adams Octoberfest (2)
Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells