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 two 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, becoming, in this way, 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 high jinks 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 TheMan — The Man She Loved. The Man She gazed at 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 sucker punch 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, 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 impostor 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.
Read Deborah Stoll’s semiregular dispatches revolving around the bars of Los Angeles and points in between on laweekly.com’s Squid Ink blog.