I try to write when I’m out. In fact I nearly always succeed. The things that happen in a bar defy the logic of the uninitiated. I’ve been doing this for close to 30 years. But as the years have passed I’ve let go of my role as primarily an observer of men in favor of participation. I’ve accumulated tens if not hundreds of thousands of words of my own short hand covering the inside of history as seen from behind a vodka drink, glass of cider, whiskey, or tequila.
And I love it. It’s an evolution having come late as most things in my life have that involve other people. I’m a regular and a friend of the bar within three or four visits nowadays.
Though I’m more active participant I’m still not what I’d call a primary actor bridging the gap between watching and listening, and joining in. Things still happen around me in no small part. And that’s okay. To be frank most of the people I encounter, while entertaining and sometimes even engaging, aren’t people I need deep interactions or “beyond the bar” relationships with.
However my notebook is really feeling lonely and unused as I progress. The more compelling the evening, the less of it I’ve put down usually because I’m up to my eyeballs in the lunacy if not the depth of it all. So I’m forced to try and reconstruct the evening on the following day.
My primary outlet, Johnathan’s in Hendersonville is one where I have a seat that is mine at a table outside that is mine. If ever it has been said that someone at a bar has “held court” it can be said of me at Johnathan’s. I’m there at least once a week, usually twice or three times. I sit in my chair between 5 and 5:15 in the evening, put my bag on the chair to my right and fish out my notebook, my cigars, and usually two lighters (something like a zippo, but far more interesting, and a normal cigar jet lighter.)
I light my cigar, lean back and wait for a waitress to come out, smile, and engage in some small talk, maybe even sit down for a minute if they’re not busy, take my order which lately has been vodka soda, splash of cranberry with a lemon wedge. While no one at J’s has asked me if I want “The Usual” they know my order well enough.
About half the time I’ll get a friend or two to join me, though that’s admittedly been happening less and less over the last few months.
I’ll open my notebook, write down the date and a couple details about the atmosphere (though in high summer “the atmosphere” is usually “just me, hot as fuck” for the first couple hours.)
And those front couple hours has a few people coming and going, regulars coming out the back door past me with a shared smile and a mutual “Hey, there he is!”
Usually a couple will sit down at the next table and I’ll comment on their conversation if it seems like that kind of conversation and they seem like those kind of people. Sometimes it draws out for an hour or two, sometimes not. There’s enough going on in my head that I don’t really need the interaction to have a good time. The change of scenery and the company in my head is minimally sufficient.
Usually, as the evening progresses, the waitresses will come to the table to say high, sneak a cigarette (hence the zippo) and blow out the lines for a couple minutes about some table of middle aged white women or some creepy bar patron. Eight or Nine comes around and a waitress will be cut and she’ll come outside with a shift drink to hang. That’s sufficient mass to get one or two more, frequently people who are off that day but stop in to have a round or three…or five, will come over and will pull up a chair and sit down, no encouragement needed. To be honest I think the implicit compliment in that simple act, coming to my table to hang out and relax, is among the highest and most honest I’ve ever received, especially as I am still an outsider by any reasonable definition.
They come and talk, sometimes to just blow out the lines, sometimes to work things out, and sometimes they’ll sit and listen as I talk, or cue up a conversation.
The conversations are getting deeper. The recognition is passing through acquaintanceship and in a couple cases is progressing to trepidatious friendship.
And it’s just the best. But I recognize in my innards that less than perfectly subtle addiction to these interactions, the slow realization that life as a technologist doesn’t actually make me an introvert, that finding most people insufferable is independent from enjoying their surface level company.
A woman in her 70s came out to smoke a cigarette with her wine glass of heavily iced “zinfindale” at an empty table next to mine. She’d smoke her cigarette and go back in, presumably to her table.
I’d been sitting there by myself for a couple hours, Breezy was waiting on me, occasionally, and she came out a third time and pulled out a chair.
“Hey, no reason to sit alone.” I gestured to three empty chairs. I’d interrupted her train of thought for a moment and she nodded, came over and sat down next to me and started talking. I lit her cigarette (which southern women especially appreciate) and she just started chatting about her table and how she was sneaking away and her daughter didn’t really know she smoked.
My buddy T showed up mid-rant and sat down.
“T, Theresa. Theresa, T.” He nodded until she put her hand out to shake.
“Oh are my pennies in my pocket? Yeah, okay.” She ground her cigarette butt out and got up. “You want to see a magic trick?”
We shrugged. “Sure.”
She pulls something out of her pocket and puts a shiny penny down, heads up.
“Do you smell anything?”
“You should. There’s a cent.”
She puts a second one down. “Do you see any fruit?”
“You should. There’s a pair.”
I chuckle. At this point, T had clearly seen this before.
She puts down a third.
“Do you see any snakes?”
“You should. There’s 3 copperheads.”
T’s sighing in exasperation, but is trying to keep it in.
A fourth penny.
“Do you see any cars?”
T speaks up. “Yep. Four lincolns.”
“Nice!” I said.
The last penny.
“Do you see any pussy?”
I laugh “no. No I don’t.”
“And you’re not for five cents” she scoops up the pennies and goes inside, giggling at her own naughtiness and looking back to make sure I am as well.
She came out a couple hours later with her…daughter in law I think and hung out for about a half hour.
So much more ended up happening. But this is 1200 words and it took me an hour to get started. So I’m going to stop somewhat abruptly as I piece together the rest of the evening. Besides, the cigar bar is closing in 40 minutes and I want to make it over to Johnathan’s, even if I end up inside in this hundred degree day (that’s a little hot for even me to sit outside and smoke a cigar or three.)