Note: This is the conclusion of last week's story. So read that one first. Or you won't know what's what.
The bar again. It’s been a half hour solid. No Walt, no Walt’s boyfriend, just me and my lost cause. Two more shots and I don’t feel any less nervous. Just slightly more nauseous.
Better off this way, that I’ve been stood up. Now nothing’s holding me here. I can cut out, forget the misadventure. Still, dudes pack the dance floor like divorcees at a Tom Jones concert. How I’ll escape, I can’t say. The air is warm, not easy to breathe. I just want to lie down.
Thinking, I need a plan but not able to think much beyond. Thinking, what a fuckup I am. Thinking, all this time wasted on a half-baked plan. Can a plan be quarter-baked?
The newspaper, on Sunday it lists local happenings, shindigs. I had pulled the section and studied. Combed through the nightclubs and bars like a diabetic reading nutrition facts. Had to. At best they gave only subtle hints. Cryptic clues pointing toward the sexual preference of a given joint. Phrases like “Great for a guy’s night out,” caught my eye. But I was cautious—probably just a sports bar. The tag “Open-minded atmosphere,” more promising. Eventually, I compiled a list—short though it was—of potential spots.
Today, I woke up about noon and spent the next couple hours trying to talk myself out of this monkey business. In the end, figured I’d scout the three finalists.
First place I dropped by, Chameleon’s, turned out a drag joint. And while the whole “dress like a woman, think like a woman, understand the woman” philosophy has some merit, I decided to hold that for plan B. Next, The Cave, looked like it had a leather dress code. Last on my list, Charlie Horse, was more what I had in mind. Nothing too flashy, too kinky. This I could dig.
But now, now I kind of wish I’d tried my luck at The Cave. My brown leather jacket, it once belonged to my dad. Not so much hip and trendy as middle-aged suburban chic but probably would’ve gotten me in. And once inside, I couldn’t have done any worse than I was doing now.
“Excuse me,” I hear. The voice thick with accent. Over my shoulder, a tall olive-skinned man.
“Excuse me.” Again, now that he has my attention. “But I wonder, how do I get service here?”
“You want a drink?” Making sure we’re on the same page.
“Nice of you to offer,” he smiles. “I will have bourbon.”
Well played. I wave to the bartender. Vodka for me, bourbon for my new friend.
“I’m Josh,” I say. “Pleased to meet you.”
“Marc.” A pause. “It is good to meet you also.”
We sit and we sip. For a few minutes nobody talks. Occasionally glancing at Marc. He smiles.
“I like this place,” he says finally. “The people, they are quite friendly.”
“It’s not bad. The music’s awfully loud. And the dance floor’s all crowded. And there’s that smell of cologne…”
Marc interrupts with a laugh. “You misunderstand me,” he says. “I do not mean this bar. I mean your country. It is a good place. Better than I have been told.”
“Yeah, land of the free and home of the brave. Good times for all.”
“I do not understand. My English is not…excellent. What is it you mean by that?”
“Nothing, just an old saying.”
“Ah, yes. An expression. In France we have one, ‘Taper dans l'oeil.’ Word by word it means, ‘to hit in the eye.’ But as an expression, it is, ‘to be pleasing to the eye.’ Do you understand?”
And just like that, we’re flirting.
“Why are you here?” I say.
“It is Friday night. Would I be at home?”
“No, In America, I mean. What brings you to America?”
“Ah, America. My sister, she studies here. I am just on a visit. But it is nice, you know? The people, they are kind and the cute ones always buy me drinks.”
We sit quietly. Marc orders the next round. We sit quietly but it’s not uncomfortable. Somehow, the language barrier excuses awkward silence. Makes it understandable silence. Unavoidable silence. Relaxed silence.
“I must leave now,” Marc says. “I have promised to meet my sister for coffee after she has finished with her studies for the day. But it was very enjoyable meeting you Josh.”
“Yeah, Marc. It was nice to meet you too.”
“Take this please,” he says, scribbles a number on the inside of a matchbook. “I will be in town until the end of the month. We should have dinner, no?”
“Sounds like a plan.”
~ ~ ~
I wake early the next morning. Eyes heavy with hangover, the sun is way too bright. I open my fridge and grab a bottle of water and head down to the bakery for a cranberry muffin.
In the alley, Duke’s propped against the brick wall, breaking up discarded cigarette butts. Combining the leftover tobacco to build a fresh smoke.
“Josh! You don’t look tiptop.”
“Long night, Duke. But I feel alright.”
“Maybe you just look that way on account of all the poison They’re feeding you.”
“The one and only!” Duke pats his belly with one hand, places the skinny cigarette in his mouth with the other. I toss him a book of matches.
“No need to worry. I quit the soda. Diet and regular. They can’t get me now.”
“No? Well, what you got there? Water?”
“Just a little H2O Duke, no healthier drink.”
“That so? Think about all them chemicals from the plastic bottle seeping on into your beverage. A cancer cocktail, if ever there was.”
I bank the half-empty bottle off the alley wall, into a dumpster.
“That a’boy, fight the power. You know, I only tell you this because I care for my people. Not trying to frighten you or nothing. Just being the best Duke I can be.”
“Well enough with the small talk. Tell your old buddy how things went. Spare no juicy detail…or, if the details are too juicy you might just summarize. But let’s hear it, brother.”
“No juicy details to speak of. I gave it the old college try. But I’m not sure hitting on gay men is any practice for hitting on straight women.”
“Me, I never went to college but I could’ve told you that much.”
“Duke, it was your idea!”
“I have lots of ideas, my man. Not all of ‘em top shelf. But tell me this, did you learn anything? Anything at all?”
“Yeah, wasn’t a total bust. Actually, I’ve got some plans for tonight.”
“Well? What’d you pick up, kid?”
“Just an idea. I’ll tell you if it works out.”
~ ~ ~
Deep in the evening when I get there. Half a red sun perched on the horizon. In a different season, everything would be dark by now.
Ornamental wooden doors are propped open and inside I can make out the rough shapes of people—dancing and chatting and having an all around good time. Roll my shoulders, inhale deep—I smell pleasantly of Hugo Boss—and walk past a bouncer with more muscles than a seafood restaurant.
I slip through the crowd, closer and closer to the bar. Music, loud and not all too clear. A poppy R&B song—everyone in the mood for a little bump and grind.
A few feet from the bar, survey the scene. Folks huddled together, usually in groups of two or four, timing interactions with the bartender so their next drink will arrive just as their current one is finished off. Further on down, a lone figure.
“Excuse me,” I say and boy does she jump. “But how would one get service here?”
“You want a drink?” She’s confused by my heavy and unidentifiable accent.
“Sweet of you to offer. I’ll take vodka.”
She laughs. “That’s a good one.” Flags down the bartender, she orders us a couple drinks. “Interesting accent. Where are you from?”
“France,” I say. “Your country is very nice. Always, cute women are buying me drinks.”
She smiles and we sit. Drinking in a calm and comfortable silence.