The Man on My Left
I stepped past the bouncer checking IDs and sat down at the fourth bar stool from the left. It was about 10:25, so the bar wasn’t packed, but it was beginning to fill up. I prefer the atmosphere of a bar that isn’t full; a place where people can have their conversations and little pockets of chatter without yelling over the din of too many people in too small a space with too much music. A good bar vibe features some patrons deep in conversation and others deep into their drinks. The fun is figuring out which is which.
To my immediate left was a black man, in his late 30s or early 40s. He was wearing a polo that was tucked into his jeans and a floppy, formless baseball cap sat upon his head. He was deep in conversation with a curly-haired woman to his immediate left, or two stools to the left of me. She was laughing, but it seemed a little forced. I soon discovered why.
My ordering of a cocktail alerted the man of his new neighbor. He spun around in his seat, looked me in the eyes and asked, “Are you on my side?” He stuck out his fist for a bump. His eyes seemed heavy and his speech was a little off. It was fairly obvious he was lit.
“Of course I am!” I returned the fist bump, and he turned back to his conversation momentarily. I couldn’t help but listen in. He and the curly-haired woman made a toast to “thinking positive” or something in that realm. He finished his beer.
I paid for my cocktail with a twenty. The bartender serving our end of the bar was new - she had to look at the price list for a fairly common drink. She took the cash, and proceeded to drop my bill on the floor. She was a good-looking blonde in a jumper, and when she bent over to pick up my money, the man on my left was in prime position to stare at her ass. His face lit up with a big smile, and he stuck his hand out to fist bump me again. I think the gesture was supposed to be subtle, but it most definitely wasn’t. I pretended not to see him.
He kept his eyes on her for a few moments. “Dance a bit more! You were dancing before!” Then, to me, “Isn’t that what we’re here for? To see the ladies dance?” I awkwardly smiled. The bartender shrugged it off.
The man ordered another beer once I had gotten my change. “Last call!”, he yelled to no one in particular. “Last call!” He looked at me again to elicit a reaction. “Last call for me!”
As he spun towards me, I noticed his eyes a second time. Upon further review, they weren’t the kind of eyes you see when someone is drunk. They were the eyes you see when someone has been crying. They were puffy. There was water perched at the tip of his lower lids. Suddenly this wasn’t a very drunk man next to me. It was a man in pain, who appeared to be getting very drunk to make it all go away.
For his sake, I played along. “Maybe for you it’s last call, but I just got here!” He laughed, accepted his new beer from the bartender, and looked around the room. The curly-haired girl had gone off somewhere, but his interests were soon shifted when a male bartender made an appearance at our end of the bar.
He started yelling to him, from about three feet away. “Hey, where you been?!? I missed you man! Where you been at?” The male bartender (who wasn’t new like the female who had served us before), said something about always being there. The man to my left persisted. “But where were you?!? You missed it! I was looking for - “
Someone else had come up behind the man on my left and gave him a friendly slap on the back before he finished his statement. They embraced. The bar was getting busier now, and some quiet talking between the man on my left and his friend ensued. He finished his beer with his friend standing next to the stool between us, and did another round of yells for last call when he asked for a refill.
His friend looked at him incredulously. “Last call? What time do you think it is?” The man on my left reckoned it must be about midnight. His friend laughed, and asked for the time. My cell phone was already out, natch, so I flicked on the home screen and wordlessly reached my phone over to a place where the man on my left could see it clearly. It was 10:37. He seemed genuinely shocked.
The new beer was gone by 10:42. I watched as the male bartender told the female who had first served us that it was time to cut him off. Last call, for the man on my left, appeared to come a few beers too late. He stood up and knocked over the barstool to great calamity. His friend picked it up, sat the man on my left back down. Then it fell again. The friend hugged the man on my left, and led him towards the door.
I left the bar at close to 11:30. The man who had been on my left was outside still, standing face-to-face with someone else. It wasn’t his same friend from before. “Go home, man,” the newest character of the evening implored. “And for fuck’s sake, don’t even think about driving there.”
I walked past the two conversing. The man who had been on my left wobbled a bit in his place. As I passed, he looked towards me with the same puffy eyes from under his cap. There was no recognition of me at all, or of our earlier bar chatter. He had been drinking to forget, and he’d already started.