Honest Conversation Is Overrated
Actual Human Interactions Witnessed Or Overheard
In Twentieth And Twenty-First Century America
In Twentieth And Twenty-First Century America
It’s 8:00, and I’m in a bar. As usual. What’s unusual is that I’m waiting for someone specific. I know his name, what he looks like, how he smells. I already know that he’s often funny in person, that his voice, while not precisely soothing, won’t send merunning out to the pharmacy for earplugs. I’m prepared.
Who the fuck am I kidding? I’m a mess. My fingernails are chewed off, my bottom lip bears the indentation of my front teeth, and I’ve run my fingers through my hair so many times, clumps are falling out. God, I can’t go bald on my first real date in...thismillennium.
After the third Southern Comfort and Coke, I check my watch. I’m not wearing a watch. I never wear a watch. “What time is it?” I ask the bartender with laryngitis. She points to the massive clock on the wall behind her. It’s 9:04. Both my date and my friends who offered to act as moral support (and to keep me from going home with him on our first date) are over an hour late. And I’m, if not already drunk, getting there.
The women next to me have spent forty-five minutes talking about Harry Potter, about friends who have also read Harry Potter, and about shunning one of their mutual exes because he hasn’t read Harry Potter. I am about thirty seconds away from throwing my ice at them, and yelling It’s a children’s book. What the hell is wrong with you? when I see my date walk by the window, dressed in khakis and a blazer. I am wearing blue jeans and a Transformers t-shirt.
“Oh my God!” Ben says when I step outside. “I love the Transformers. I’m writing a webcomic about their sordid sexual proclivities. Oh,” he puts his Galouises in his mouth, and shakes my hand, “sorry I’m late. We had this call from a woman claiming to be her daughter, and it was so” I think he’s talking about his work, but my mind keeps looping the phrase Where’s Celeste? over and over. If my support network doesn’t show up, I’m liable to go home with him before we even order drinks. Well, before he even orders drinks.
“Adam!” someone shouts from across the street. It’s thank God Celeste. She’s with her boyfriend, Trick, and...I don’t remember her friend’s name. I think it’s Steve. Most of her friends are named Steve. There’s Steve the Bassist, Steve the Drummer, Anarchist Steve, Socialist Steve, Starbuck’s Steve, Steve Jackson, Irish Steve, and THE Steve. I know this isn’t THE Steve, but apart from that, I don’t have a clue. He might not even be a Steve. “Sorry, I’m late.” She says. “You remember Steve, right?”
“Of course.” I say. “And this is my friend, Ben. Ben, Steve. Steve, Ben. Ben, Trick. Trick, Ben. Celeste, Ben. Ben, Celeste.” Introductions make me dizzy.
Somebody Steve shakes his dreadlocks. “Adam and I were almost roommates.” Oh, that Steve. “But I ended up getting my own place. It’s much easier.”
“Well that’s not very socialist of you.” I say. Celeste, Trick, and Steve all laugh.
“Steve is a socialist.” Celeste explains. Ben laughs. Politely.
When we are all back inside, Ben takes off his blazer, revealing a wife beater. Now we look like a unit. Socialist Steve in his black jeans and Misfits hoodie, Celeste in her pink bunny shirt and skirt made of ties, Trick in jeans and a navy blue t-shirt, me, and Ben. If the waitress hadn’t seen me sitting at the bar for an hour and a half, we could have been a group of scenesters coming from an all ages emo show. Something free. I can tell, as she takes our drink order, that she’s calculating how much we’re likely to tip her.
Socialist Steve orders an obscure lager that I’ve never heard of. Celeste gets a hard cider. Trick gets a Guinness. Ben asks about a good ale. I forgo the Southern Comfort and Cokes for a Midori Sour. When the waitress puts it down in front of me, a couple of minutes later, Ben says “That’s the gayest drink I’ve ever seen.”
Celeste asks “Where’s the umbrella?”
And then Ben is bullet point talking at us. Celeste throwing in the occasional story which may or may not have anything to do with whatever it is Ben is talking about. Talk talk talk talk talk, meandering story, talk talk talk talk talk, meandering story, talk talk talk talk talk, Socialist Steve makes a dry remark about his beer, meandering story, talk talk “Mind if I try some?” Ben asks, reaching for my drink.
“Not at all. Here.”
He takes a large sip from my straw, swishes it like wine, and swallows. “Too fruity.”
In those two words, he’s summed up the reason why I’ve fallen out of crush with every fag I’ve known since I started dating.
When the food has been digested, and the check has been paid, the five of us head outside. Celeste gives me the Is It Okay For Us To Leave You Two Alone Eyebrow. I reply with the It Is Nod.
And we’re alone.
“I don’t think Steve paid enough to cover tip.” Ben says.
“I don’t think he paid enough to cover his beer.” I say. “I put in five extra bucks.”
“Me, too.” He says.
There’s about ten seconds of comfortable silence, and then Ben’s tongue turns Gatling gun again. “You know the French are so mad about the way George Bush is ruining this country, that they’re refusing to export Galouises here, which means I’m either going to have to quit smoking or find another brand. It sucks because I just started smoking Galouises a few months ago because my mom used to smoke them in high school and they’re incredibly smooth, and I just really like them. I don’t think I can go back to Marlboro Lites. It seems like every time I like something, it instantly disappears, like there’s some vast fucken conspiracy against me. Well, bring it on Universe, I can take it, I can find another brand of cigarettes that I’ll like even better. And"
And I should kiss him. That might just be the one thing that stops his nervous babbling. But I don’t. And I don’t care to analyze why.
“and I totally had fun and everything, and it was really nice to be on a date with someone who wasn’t just trying to get into my pants on the first date or anything. Like my last exboyfriend, who’s totally HIV positive. I’m not, by the way, I’ve been tested recently, and we haven’t had sex in over a year. But he is, and I think I want to ask him to marry me, because then I can just marry him and do the whole ‘til death do us part thing, and know that it won’t be that far away. Though, honestly, I’ll probably marry the first guy who asks me to.”
And before I can stop myself, the words “Will you…” leap off my tongue, and cartwheel over the tightrope of desperation that serves as the only common thread between us. I can’t marry Ben, I don’t even know his last name. “Will you―really?”
“You didn’t.” Celeste says, when I relay the story to her later. “That’s soooooo lame.”
“What about Dmitri?” she asks, referring to my most recent unavailable fuck interest.
“What about him? I’m not going to wait for some confused gay guy in Chicago who has had the same boyfriend since he was fourteen. That’s slow suicide.”
“But he’s a med student.” Celeste says. “Wouldn’t your mom be thrilled if you were marrying a nice, rich doctor?”
“Sure.” I say. “If I were a woman.” When my mother calls to ask how I’m doing, she always asks Do you have a new boyfriend or, her voice swells with hope, girlfriend? “I think she’d be content with me marrying a hair dresser, as long as the hair dresser has a vagina.”
She rolls her eyes. “So, the proposal thing. You only proposed…”
“I didn’t propose. I very nearly proposed.”
“Wev, dude. You only very nearly proposed because you were drunk, right?”
“How many drinks did you have?”
I tap the tips of my fingers. “I lost count at four.” The problem with mixed drinks is the problem with boys: the fruitier they are, the easier they go down, and eventually you lose track of how many you swallow. Not that either Ben or I did any going down or swallowing on the night I nearly almost proposed.
“Will I really what?” Ben asks.
“Marry the first guy who proposes.”
And I wait for him to ask if that’s a proposal, or if I’m kidding, or for him to say anything to end this awkward, depressing silence. “I don’t know.” He says, taking the last drag off his last cigarette. “Depends on the guy, I guess.”
“Well, I’d hope so.” And I throw in a fake laugh, that I hope sounds sincere.
“I should go.” He says. “I don't want to miss the last train.”
And I almost detain him just a long enough so we end up going back to my place to share either a great fuck, a huge mistake, or both. But I don’t.