Working in a bar, you get used to seeing people roll in sober, and stumble out drunk. A respectful start with a friend or two has a 50/50 chance of ending in broken glass and loud guffaws punctuated by the slurping of tongue down some unknown throat.
And please believe me when I say I'm not judging — my longest relationship to date ended up on a T-shirt emblazoned with the catch phrase “What Did You Expect? We Met In A Bar”
As someone employed in the world of late nights and libations, I see more than my fair share of hookups and headaches. Sometimes my heart gets mixed up in it all too.
This is the story of a couple of regulars. They love this bar. They come in for a couple after work, before going home, on a steady basis. They come here as a coda to their day before the rest of their night, which they will spend together, just the two of them, in each other's arms. You serve them and get to know them, in this way, becoming a part of their intimacy, “friends” of a sort — no numbers are exchanged and you never hang out outside the confines — were you to run into each other, say, at Trader Joe's, it would take a while for their eyes to focus and figure out where they know you from. Yours is a special kind of friendship — like a vacation romance, it exists in a bubble devoid of minutia; you will never know each other so well that you will fight. You will never tire of one another's quirks. There is always just enough time for a funny story, a glimpse into the highjinks of your life, admiration for the outfit, and a tip.
But one day soon, She will come in with Another Man. One day soon, She will come in and sit down at the booth that just weeks ago, She sat in with The Man — The Man She Loved. The Man whose eyes She gazed into with adoration and kissed! And promised! And slung Her legs around long into the night, way past last call and the waning of the moon.
And you will feel the suckerpunch of loss. You will want to scream at this guy familiarly caressing Her hair, “Hands off! She isn't yours! You look absurd together!”
At some point later — and this is how you know He is all wrong for Her because the couple, the Real Couple wouldn't have stayed this long. The Real Couple never lasted past two drinks because they couldn't wait to be alone together. They didn't need this artificial atmosphere of joviality because they had each other. Well, at some point, this imposter will get up and slip off for a cigarette (she hates cigarettes!). The girl will be left alone and like a balloon that has been popped, will start to deflate. She will look up and seeing you — seeing me — She will smile, a sad, sad, smile, willing me to understand that it isn't her fault, it isn't his fault, and it isn't my fault for sure, and by the way, thanks for being discreet. She unwittingly has made me her confidante, and as the front door opens back up on this passing fancy, we understand that love ends. But drinking continues.
So the fact that this week Tyra said I was pretty, that cars everywhere were surrounded by lavender pedals as if they had come from a wedding, that I ran into an old friend from the Westside at a party on the Eastside, drank a Penicillin at The Varnish, had a glass of Barbera with an incomparable meal of octopus, linguine with clams and spicy cauliflower at Osteria Mozza in the company of yoga teacher and singer/songwriter Jen Greenhut, all did little to assuage my sense of loss over The Regulars.
In the inimitable words of Jeff Tweedy, “What was I thinking when I said hello?”
This is the second of Deborah Stoll's Glass Half Full dispatches on L.A. bars and points in between for Squid Ink. Read her first post, “A Day and Night of Beauty in L.A.” here.