Its Saturday night. Beth and I are drinking dirty martinis at Istanbul, a Turkish restaurant with a great bar and live music. I’m keen on seeing some belly dancers.
“Did you ever smoke a hookah?” Beth asks me, motioning to the ornate water pipes standing at attention behind the bar.
“Yes,” I reply. “But only the ones with tobacco in it.”
“C’mon,” Beth says. “You’re talking to me remember?”
“No seriously,” I say. “I went to this Arab restaurant once and smoked a hookah with some friends.”
“Nothing else?” Beth asks, her voice betraying a note of suspicion.
“I only smoked pot once Beth,” I say. “And that was a long time ago.”
“How can you smoke pot once?”
“Never did anything for me,” I reply. “But I did enough stupid things with booze to make up for it.”
“OK,” Beth says, unconvinced.
“You don’t believe me?”
Beth just laughs and chases the last olive in her martini glass with a swizzle stick.
“Fine,”I say. “Don’t believe me then.”
I drain the last of my drink and set the glass down on the bar.� Suddenly I feel a finger tap me on the shoulder. I turn around. The fingers attached to a cute blonde. Things are looking up.
“Remember me?” the girl asks.
I look at the young woman. She looks about 25 years old. I wait a moment and let the connections spiderweb in my mind. Suddenly I remember. This girl worked as a hostess at the Bistro seven years ago.
“Alice,” I say, snapping my fingers. “My God, how long has it been?”
“Almost seven years,” she says.
“How old are you now?” I ask, looking at her incredulously.
Seven years ago Alice was an innocent looking young girl. Now shes a shapely young woman. Seven years ago my thirty-one year old self wouldn’t have given Alice the time of day. But now? Things are different. My pulse quickens.
“So what are you up to?” I ask. “Finished with school?”
“Not yet,” Alice says. “I’m tending bar over at Club Expo while I earn my Masters at NYU.”
“Good luck,” I reply. “What are you studying?”
“You look really good,” Alice says. “You’ve lost a lot of weight.”
“Thanks,” I say. “I’ve been going to the gym and stuff.”
“I’m trying,” I say, mildly flattered. A girl hasn’t complimented my appearance in a long time.
“So,” Alice asks, “What are you doing with yourself?”
“I’m still over at the Bistro with Fluvio,” I say.
A funny look passes across Alice’s face.
“Wow,” she says softly. “Has it been that long?”
“Can you believe it?” I say. “Its been almost seven years.”
There’s an awkward pause. While I’m wondering why there’s an awkward pause someone calls Alice’s name.
“Well, “Alice says, “My friends are calling me over. Nice to have seen you.”
“Nice to see you too Alice.”
Alice disappears into the crowd. I begin to think about the look Alice gave me, why she went from giving me compliments to running away. Then it hits me.
Alice thinks I’m a loser.
“Goddammit,” I mutter.
I pick up my empty martini glass. Suddenly I need another drink. The bartenders too busy looking cool to notice me. A violent pressures building up inside me. The martini glass Im holding threatens to break in my grasp. I put the glass back down on the zinc bar and take a deep breath.
“What’s the matter?” Beth asks, putting her hand on my arm. “You look upset.”
I can’t tell Beth a girl looked at me like I was some kind of loser. How can I be sure that was the sentiment behind the look? And why do I give a shit what a 26 year old girl thinks of me?
“I’m fine Beth,” I say. “Something just pissed me off.”
“What?” Beth says. “Tell me what happened.”
I’m not sure what happened myself. Maybe I’m projecting my own loneliness and frustration into the encounter. Experience tells me that if I don’t understand what I’m feeling – say nothing.
“Forget it Beth,” I say. “Its nothing important.”
“If you say so.”
“I put some money on the bar and grab my coat. “I’m done for the night,” I say.
“You’re leaving already?” Beth asks.
“I’m not in a drinking mood, ” I say. “I just want to get home.”
“OK,” Beth says. “I’ll see you next week.”
“Your boyfriend coming to get you?”I ask.
“He’ll be here soon.”
“OK then,” I say, feeling old and out of place. “See ya.”
“Be careful going home,” Beth says.
I walk out the door. In the brisk night air I realize I’m breathing heavy. I’m intensely angry. Being fighting mad with two martinis in your system can be a dangerous thing.
So instead of going home I walk around trying to process what I’m feeling. I know I’m angry because I feel frustrated. Sexual frustration and loneliness is part if it, sure. But If I’m honest I’m really frustrated because I didn’t tell Alice I have a book deal and I’m trying to become a writer�
Why didn’t I say that? Why didn’t I tell her Ive got other things going on? My anonymity? Please, I’m not that schizoid. Besides, why do I even feel the need to tell anyone Ive got other things going on? That sounds like pretentious horseshit. Ive never used my blog as a pickup line. And I’m not about to start telling women. “Hey babe, I’ve got a book deal.” Besides, being a waiter at thirty eights an honorable profession.
Its a cold autumn night. An easterly wind blows, scuttling leaves across the pavement. Ahead of me a young couple walk arm in arm. I step into the street to bypass them. I notice the girl has long thick black hair. I speed up, hop back onto the sidewalk, and continue on my way.
I catch my reflection in the store windows as I walk along the avenue. My reflection looks tired – like he needs a vacation, like he needs to get laid, like he needs an entirely new life.
Disgusted I stuff my hands in my pockets and stare at the pavement as it treadmills beneath my feet. Suddenly I start shivering. I draw the sensation around me like a cloak.
Its a cold I know all too well.