I sat at the bar, nursing my drink. Wait – is it “nursing” when I’ve been here for an hour and I’m on my third one? No? Damn.
Sharai was shorter than me, but not when wearing 8″ platform shoes. Slender, long brown-red hair, callipygian in her red shorts and matching halter, she flirted her way up and down the bar, stopping and chatting with customers. She spent a lot of time with the two dressed-to-the-nines Asian guys. I overheard her tell one in her throaty contralto voice, “Oh, you look sexy, baby, you really do.” They ate it up and converted it into a large tip for her.
She and I had done some drinking before when she wasn’t on shift. In fact, the last time, I’d been cut off by the other bartender on duty, Suzy, when I’d tried to order a pair of Lemon Drops for Sharai and I. It would have been my 8th or 9th drink for the evening, sure, but it would also have been my last, and I had had dreams of it being a social lubricant as well: my apartment was nearby and actually clean for a change. Alas, not getting the drink had drained all the party out of the conversation and I had gone home alone.
Tonight I wanted to see if I could get the party going again. When she walked by my seat, I just looked at her, half-smiling with my eyes but otherwise silent and expressionless. She stopped and looked at me, taking a brief break from the bustle of serving. She leaned against the bar, she and I sharing a moment frozen admidst the chaos of a busy Friday night just getting started. The bar was a dive but a popular one; the early, just after work crowd was blue-collar, mostly men over 30, trucker hats and t-shirts worn without irony, but the evening crowd just trickling in was mixed male and female, younger, and dressed in their night-time costumes, some goth-y or punk, some GQ and Cosmo. And in the middle of all that, Sharai and I shared a look and a feeling, charged up by my smirk and her naughty flirting eyebrows.
She was waiting for me to say something, but I wasn’t on her schedule. No one tells me what to do! And I found the pause delicious. Unlike 95% of the women in Portland, she had no ink and only one piercing, in her navel, a simple pearl accenting her flawless belly. How did I know she had no ink at all? Some secrets are worth keeping.
I allowed the moment to stretch as long as I could, until I sensed that she was going to un-lean and go back to work, and just as it reached its breaking point I lifted my chin, inviting her even closer, intimately closer. Well, and also I’m soft-spoken and I didn’t want to have to repeat myself. She leaned in so her ear was close to my lips.
“If you were a president…” I began.
She pulled back and our eyes connected, mine still smiling in what I hoped was a mysterious way, hers questioning but ready to laugh.
“…you’d be Babe-raham Lincoln,” I finished deadpan, enunciating.
Her head rocked back, her mouth wide open, tossing off a genuine full-throated laugh. “Oh, that’s rich, baby! That’s a good one!”
I took a sip of my drink for a dramatic pause. “If you were a beer,” I started again. She cocked her eye at me. “…you’d be Babe-wiser.”
Again, the laugh. The Asian guys to my right looked over, perhaps comparing my softly-spoken humor to their expensive haberdashery and feeling momentarily bested. Sharai wiggled her fingers at me and went to take care of some other customers.
The rules of humor say that things come in threes; set-up the pattern, extend the pattern, then break the pattern or give the punchline. I sat there, still stoic and sipping my drink, but my mind was racing, trying to come up with another one. I’d stolen the first one, of course, from “Wayne’s World”. The second one had come to me in a flash of neon – the sign behind her. While she filled drinks and took money, I thought.
When she returned, I was again silent. She knew it was coming and I was only too happy to oblige. “If you were a Bible story, you’d be the Tower of Babel”, carefully speaking the words as if they were profound wisdom. She rewarded me with another laugh that shook enticing parts of her body and sent rumbles through parts of mine. She leaned in again, kissing me on the cheek, and whispered in my ear, “I just want to be silly and drink and have a good time. I want to be naughty.” The last word was dropped at least an octave lower than the preceding sentence, and yet, she sounded wistful, rueful actually.
In thinking about it, I’ve lost that sense of fun, or I had until just recently. Joking with Sharai was fun because it was purely of the moment, no expectations or baggage or sadness or anger, just finding an improvised playmate for each other’s inner child.
It feels good to be getting my mojo back… baby.