From the look of her she’d been sitting at the bar for hours, drinking and shoving money into juke box with the same conviction that a man might shove bills in a stripper’s g-string. Sometimes she would run her fingers through her dark curly hair and look around to see if anybody noticed. The bartender was clearly out of patience with her – but she was paying for her drinks in cash. When I sat down at the bar, she looked straight at me. I made a point not to look at her directly. I was in a strange bar, waiting on friends, and I didn’t feel like making any new ones. After a couple of seconds she went back to staring into her mixed drink.
“Whatd’ll ya have?”
I looked over the selection on tap. All imports: Guinness, Bass, Harps. “You have any domestics on draft?”
He shook his head, and I thought I detected a slight roll of the eyes. “Domestics are in bottles only.”
I ordered a bottle of beer and looked around the bar. Tudor’s was one of those places trying to be something – in this case, a British pub. I’ve never traveled outside of the country, so I’ve certainly never been in a real British pub house – but for some reason, I had difficulty imaging that they were really like this one. The actual bar itself was well kept mahogany, and the rest of the place was decked out in hard wood and deep green paint. A dart board hung in the back corner. Pictures of rolling green hills and men playing golf were on the walls, spaced out in a non-claustrophobic way from the flat screen televisions showing the last basketball game of the season. None of the people there were particularly paying attention – the game meant nothing since the team managed to miss the post-season again. I wasn’t much of a basketball fan, but there was nothing else to watch. I wasn’t even sure of where the other team was from, but the appeared to have things tied up.
“It’s a damn shame, isn’t it?”
I wasn’t sure at first who she was talking to, but I looked over and saw she was looking straight at me. I smiled. “I guess. To be honest, I don’t really follow basketball.”
She snorted. “Well, you’re not missing anything. Not this year, anyway.” She cackled at her own joke. “I’m more of a Knicks fan, myself.”
I nodded like I knew what she was talking about. Talk to me about football or baseball, I have a little bit more of a clue. I’m not one of those guys who has everybody’s stats memorized; but I enjoy watching a ball game, and there is something strangely cathartic about watching guys pound the shit out of one another.
She kept talking to me. That’s what I get for looking at her. “You’re not from here, are you?”
“Ah, no,” I said, looking towards the door. “But I’ve been living here for a while.”
“About three years.”
“I’ve been here five years, myself. The name’s Colleen.” She drained her glass and slammed it down on the bar. The bartender, who was at the other end of the bar flirting with one of the waitresses, sighed, glared, and trudged down to our end of the bar like he was doing us a favor. When he got down to her, she put some bills on the bar. “Another.”
For a moment I thought he was going to say something to her – one of those, “I think you’ve had enough, Lady” kind of statements you only hear in the movies. The truth is, unless you’re sexually harassing the help or starting a fight, most bartenders will serve you drinks until they have to pour you out onto the parking lot. This one was no different. From the look of him, he was probably a college student and it probably never occurred to him that he could do something as bold as refuse service. When he passed back by me, I raised my empty bottle to indicate I wanted another. He brought us both back drinks and then beat it back to the far end of the bar and the waitress who seemed not have moved more than half a step.
“Yeah,” she continued. “I been here five years. I’m from NEW YORK originally. What about you?”
“Ohio,” I answered, still trying to keep the conversation as limited as possible. “I’m from Ohio.”
“And what made you move out here?” Colleen stood up and moved down the bar and closer to me. “Did you want to breathe in all that clean desert air?” She chuckled into her drink.
“I moved out here for a job,” I said.
“Me, too. What do you do?”
“I used to teach.”
I shook my head. “College.”
“Oh, really? What do you teach?”
Usually when would tell people I taught English, they would roll their eyes and talk about how much they hated having to take English. Every teacher was a lousy teacher. All the papers were boring. It was always a waste of time.
When I told the woman I was an English teacher, she perked up. “I teach sociology,” she said. Then she said where she taught – at one of the community colleges. “Where do you teach?” I told her where I used to teach and eyes widened. I couldn’t tell if she was annoyed or impressed.
“So What’s it like teaching at such a large university?”
I shrugged. “I don’t teach there anymore,” I answered, “but when I did it was pretty much like teaching everywhere else.”
“You’re not teaching?”
“Budget cuts,” I said, hoping that my tone would tell her I was in no mood to talk to anybody, and certainly in no mood to talk about my former vocation. Instead, she moved a little closer.
“So what are you doing now?”
“Drinking a beer that will probably end up costing me too much,” I said, “and waiting on friends.”
She smiled. “Big plans?”
“Nah,” I said. “I think they want to cheer me up. Or maybe it’s just an excuse to go out drinking. Kinda hard to tell.”
Too much information. I wasn’t doing a very good job in scaring her off. I considered just telling her to leave me alone, but I didn’t want to cause trouble. I was definitely going to tell my friends, though, what I thought of “cool little bar” they wanted to meet me at. I tried to tell them I’d rather drink closer to home, where the taps were domestic and the atmosphere not as laboriously kitschy.
“Are you looking for another position?” She was running her fingers through her hair and leaning in to talk to me. I looked at her. Her large dark eyes, if they hadn’t been muddled by too much booze and caked on make-up, might have been pretty. Almost.
“I came out here to teach, too,” she said. “The market was better then – here, anyway.”
She looked around. “So are your friends coming soon?”
“They’re supposed to be here now,” I said. “They probably got held up or something.”
“Ah.” She smiled. When she smiled, it reminded me of a clown. A dirty, drunk clown that felt up little girls and drove by elementary schools during recess. “So what happened?”
“The job. What happened?”
I shrugged. “Budget cuts,” I said. “Between the economy and everything else – a lot of positions were cut.”
“So what do you do now? For money, I mean.”
“Right now,” I said, taking another drink, “I draw unemployment. But that can’t last forever.”
“You should look at community colleges,” she said.
I nodded. I really didn’t want to talk about that. If I had been in the mood at all, I would have pointed out that there were no positions at any community college in the area. I guess I could move – but I didn’t really have the money set back for that. I’m not a ‘save for a rainy day’ kind of guy, and with my credit even those vultures at Visa know better than to trust me with a card. But I wasn’t all that sure I wanted to teach anymore, anyway. The purpose the outing, I thought, was more likely one of those sit com style interventions where my friends – none of whom had lost their jobs – would remind me that I needed to find a job. Any job. When I announced that I was drawing unemployment, two of them looked absolutely horrified. The others said very little and shuffled their feet. I think they were afraid I was going to ask them for money.
“Do you have a PhD?”
I shook my head.
“You going to go back and get it?”
I shook my head again.
She seemed incredulous. “Why not?”
“I don’t know,” I said, holding up my empty so the bartender could take a break from the blonde waitress and do his job. “Seems like a lot of expense to be in more or less the same position. Besides, I don’t really WANT to. And I figure that graduate school is one of those things you really ought to WANT to do.”
She nodded like she agreed with me. “I know what you mean. I’m ABD and I just don’t give a shit. You know? I mean, who wants to go through all that? Write a book? What the hell for?”
I nodded, trying to be non-committal. I was starting to think maybe I was in the wrong bar. Did Nicky tell me to meet them at Tudor’s Pub? The directions were pretty clear, but I wasn’t all that excited about having to drive to a bar that’s a half hour from home when the traffic is good. Maybe I should call them. I didn’t feel like listening to the moanings of a drunken post-grad burn out. I didn’t feel like commiserating with a fellow academic peon. And I didn’t want to hear her life story – which I suspected would come soon if something didn’t change. Fuck this, I thought. If they want to drink with me, they can meet me closer to home. I got the bartender’s attention pretty easily. The blonde waitress actually had to go and serve a table for a change so he was standing behind the bar watching the basketball game. When he came over I told him I wanted my tab. Then he walked over, printed it out, brought it to me, and walked away. Presumably to poor drinks for the pretty people at the other end of the bar.
“Hey, you leaving?” Colleen asked. “Let me buy you a drink.” Before I could answer she was waving down the bartender and ordering two shots of Jagermeister. “Come on,” she smiled. “One shot.”
If I wanted cough medicine, I thought, I’d buy something that didn’t taste like shit. But the shot was sitting in front of me and Colleen was watching. I didn’t want the shot, but I didn’t want to waste the energy being rude. Colleen was rubbing up on my arm and twirling her one of her fingers in her hair. Eyeing me.
No matter how young or how a person is, seeing somebody out on the prowl is always a little pathetic. Part of me felt sorry for her; clearly there was nobody for her to drink with, or she’d have been buying them shots of that licorice shit. Fucking Colleen wouldn’t have taken much work; she was drunk and was clearly in the mood. I imagined when she wasn’t hammered and throwing herself at uninterested men in bars, she was probably an attractive woman. Not a bad body. The face was a little rough – but I wasn’t much to look at either.
But the part of me that felt sorry for her wasn’t big enough to overcome the fact that mostly, I wanted to get out there. Alone. I wasn’t all that fired up about meeting my friends. And I actually liked them – when they weren’t being assholes and standing me up, anyway.
I pushed the shot away. “I can’t,” I said. “I, uh, I gotta go.”
“Aw, come ON,” she chided. “Just one drink. Just one little drink. Come on. It’s already POURED for fuck’s sake.” She was doing everything except sitting in my lap; and if I had given her the space, she probably would’ve done that, too.
“I really gotta go.”
“I thought you were meeting FRIENDS.”
“I think I got the place wrong. I need to call them to make sure.”
“It’s just ONE SHOT,” she said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of anybody turning down a shot.” Smile smile wink wink.
I glanced over at the bartender; he was intentionally NOT looking over at us. Other people at the bar and at some of the tables were starting to get interested in the little drama unfolding. Will he accept the drink? Will he turn it down? Will he walk her to her car? Will he ever see his friends again? These and other questions will be answered in the next episode. Stay tuned.
My phone went off. It was Nicky. He was probably wondering where I was. I wanted to answer and thank him for his stellar fucking directions. Colleen noticed the phone going off.
“You going to answer that?”
“In a minute,” I said, starting to stand up.
“Whoa, you don’t have to LEAVE to answer that.” She was rubbing up on me again and smiling. She was blocking me, rubbing her tits up on me. If I was in a better mood, maybe I’d have liked the aggressive approach. And maybe it would’ve been a nice release – warm feel of flesh and reckless abandon. But then there’s always the next morning, when the booze wears off and the hangover and regret kicks in.
“Look,” I said, escaping the blockade created by her boobs, “I really need to take this. It was nice meeting you. Take care.”
“Whoever heard of not taking a free drink?” She sounded hurt.
I almost felt bad. Almost. But we all have our little hurts and I didn’t want to take on hers, too. She had a point, though. A free drink is a free drink. I stopped and turned around. She smiled. I took the shot, downed it, thanked her and walked out. When I checked my voicemail, it was Nicky telling me they were running late but that they’d be at Tutor’s in about five minutes. I got in my car. As I was getting ready to pull out of the parking space, Colleen walked out of the bar latched onto the arm of a tallish guy wearing a pork pie hat. She was rubbing up on him and talking into his ear. I put the car in reverse and decided to call Nicky back once I got on the road.