I’m in my new tuxedo, sitting at a bar, sipping scotch, people watching. I stopped in for a nightcap after a fundraiser. It’s 1:00 a.m.
My shirt’s untucked, my bow tie’s undone. Jazzy (but not jazz) music plays over the speakers, something like a weird mashup of Sex and the City intro music and blues. I run my fingers through my hair and massage my neck.
The scene would seem cliché—an aspiring writer reclining in a smoky bar with a glass of scotch —if I weren’t so hungry and alone.
A well-dressed couple cozies up at the corner of the bar—he’s in his fifties and in a suit, she’s in her twenties and in a little black dress (is she old enough to be here?). They’re on barstools facing each other, laughing and kissing. He tickles her sides. She squeals. Other patrons—there are barely half a dozen at this hour—look at the couple and roll their eyes.
I sip my scotch and turn my attention to another couple—two men in their early thirties—holding hands across a small high-top. Their faces are lit by the fake candle on their table. I play in my head what they must be talking about:
“Oh, Jer-Bear! Darling, how I love you!” says the clearly more effeminate one as he licks his freshly glossed lips. Jer-Bear looks uncomfortable, like he’s unsure how to respond.
“Yes, you too,” Jer-Bear says and tries changing the subject, “And would you look at that! It’s a flameless candle!”
“Excuse me, sir,” I say to the cute bartender. He’s wearing a black crew-neck T-shirt. He has the build of a recently retired football player—large frame, not in shape but not unfit, solid and very tall. Early gray peppers his thick black hair. He’s probably 34 or 35, I figure.
“What’s up?” he says, wiping his hands on a white dishtowel before tossing it over his shoulder.
I want to say, “Marry me” because I’m single and tipsy and he’s cute, but I’m more hungry than I am single, so instead I say, “Are you still serving French fries?”
He laughs. I’m not kidding.
“I could work something out for you,” he says with a James Dean-dreamy wink.
Was that an “I like you” wink or a normal nice-person wink? I’m terrible at knowing when I’m being hit on, especially when I’m buzzed. Obviously if he’s hitting on me I don’t want him to see me eat greasy fries. Although he did smile when I ordered them.
“How’s your night going?” he asks as he types in my order on the cash register.
He’s starting a conversation, Justin. He must like you. Right?
“It’s going well,” I say. “I’m in a romantically French fried kind of mood.” What’s more romantic than French fries and scotch after dark?
“Haha, yes, I’m used to your kind.”
“I see that,” I say and gesture to the drunk 50-and-20 year-old couple now making out in the corner. He laughs.
“I’m Mark,” he says with a smile that looks like it’s practiced too often. Definitely one for the boys. He sticks out his hand.
“Justin.” I shake his hand and finish the last of my scotch.
“You sound like you’re from the south, Justin.” My accent comes out when I drink.
“Does that get me a free refill?”
“Eh, I dunno about that. Although I hear you boys hold your liquor well.”
“Can we test the rumor? Please?” I lift my empty tumbler. I’m kidding, of course (okay, halfway kidding), but he pours me another anyway, smiling the whole time. His teeth are flawless.
He puts away the bottle of whisky and leans on his palms against the bar in front of me. I can tell he’s flexing his triceps. Great arms to fall to sleep in, I imagine.
“Thanks,” I say. “I’m sure you get a lot of great people watching in here.”
“Yeah,” he says and goes into an example story.
He’s so charming, so smooth, so masculine and handsome. I’m sure he gets all the boys he wants and no doubt has behind him a wake of broken hearts.
“So, Mark the Bartender, have you ever been down South?”
“Only on my boyfriend’s birthday,” he says.
Okay, that was clever. But boyfriend? Did he say boyfriend? Whoa, whoa, whoa.
I force out a laugh so fake it sounds like a hiccup.
“You know, I’m free after work if you wanna have some fun. My boyfriend and I are in an open relationship.”
Of course you are. Every man I meet is in an open relationship. Am I the last guy on earth who believes in monogamy? Is “believes” even the right word? Am I that naive?
I roll my eyes and return my attention to Jer-Bear and Jer-Bear’s companion.
They’re kissing over their flameless candle now.
I sip my scotch.
Where are my fries?