Here’s a question. What is it about a girl sitting alone at a bar that makes men think that she is there specifically to make their acquaintance?
I don’t want to talk to you and I most DEFINITELY don’t want you to buy me a drink—why do you think I am sitting quietly by myself in a corner? Can’t you see I am very clearly trying to finish my trashy crime novel?! [After playing fast and loose and getting suspended from the force, our hero woke up to find herself hanging naked by her wrists in a barn! She’s finally going to find out who murdered her sister 15 years ago!]
Plus, I know that proper decorum dictates that I would have to talk to you at least while I am drinking said drink and that doesn’t even come close to your expectation of how I should thank you for your gracious gift. [I’m not new here, guys.]
Also, you’re drinking the $2 happy hour Bud Light special and I don’t think you want to pay for my Maker’s Manhattan.
AND PLEASE TELL ME HOW have you missed my constant left hand gesticulation trying to get you to notice the shiny thing that tells you to leave me the fuck alone?
A few weeks ago, I accompanied my mother-in-law to the last outpatient step in her treatment for the Multiple Myeloma she was diagnosed with in October. We stayed in a hotel in Boston adjacent to Dana Farber and she spent three long days having her stem cells collected for transplant. [This whole process is incredibly fascinating].
Over the course of these long days, she was heavily medicated and slept often [understandably]. For the times she didn’t need me, like the high-functioning alcoholic I am, I quickly found myself a cozy place at the hotel bar.
I’m the only person I know who can become a regular at a bar in 3 days. I became a fixture at said bar after my 3 visits on the first day in between trips to check on her treatment. [I see your judgment, and I raise you the zero fucks I give.]
The first visit on the first day was most likely after noon but definitely after 10am [you know what they say, it’s double-digits somewhere, amiright?]. I was all settled in to finish my trash novel, when along comes Doug.
Now, I’m sure you know why bars have mirrors behind them, right? So that the bartender can see people coming up when his/her back is turned.
You know what those mirrors are NOT for? Using them to [not so] covertly check out the girl sitting three stools down from you. After awkwardly making eye contact in said mirror no less than three times, Doug took this opportunity to interrupt my silence and ask if he could buy me a drink, since mine was almost empty.
[VIMH©: GODDAMNIT DOUG. Yes, I want another drink but NO I definitely do not want you to buy it for me, for the aforementioned reasons. NOW I have to pretend that I’m “not ready” for another drink (as IF) and hope that you’ll get the memo and go away while I sit and silently weep over my empty glass.]
Doug isn’t one to take a hint. Listen guys: Doug is from Boston. Doug doesn’t just give up. Doug is BOSTON STRONG.
He stumbles through his best small talk, as I do my best to seem as disinterested as possible without yelling at him, never fully turning my head towards him while muttering a few “hmm”s and “oh”s with a sterile but polite smile [one thing you master as a server in an NYC restaurant is the polite smile that protects your guests from the small serial killer behind your eyes].
Sports Center blares the news that the Supreme Court upheld Tom Brady’s suspension and my audible expression of disgust gives Doug the conversation starter he’s been anxiously waiting for.
He does what all guys do when they are trying to gauge if a girl actually knows sports or if she has a closet full of pink hats, giving him the perfect opportunity to mansplain the big yellow forks on the field. Over my left shoulder I hear, “You like football?”
The restaurant is empty, save for a few stragglers finishing their waffles and scrambled eggs, which the hotel provides a 15% off coupon for [oh. Breakfast food is in this memory. Maybe it was before noon after all.]
[VIMH©: You’re a disgrace.]
The servers are sitting in a far booth folding napkins and the bartender is cutting fruit down the other end of the bar. The manager is doing his best to pretend he’s writing a very important work email on his phone when we all know he’s scrolling through Tinder. Doug and I are the only two at the bar. I see no way out.
I sigh a heavy sigh, put down my book, accept that I am just going to have to wait to see how our hero gets out of her latest pickle, and give in to The Doug.
Girls who know sports know the struggle. The tightness that comes to your chest when a guy or group of guys condescendingly challenges your sports knowledge, forcing you to swallow your anger, keep it cool, and enjoy expertly removing their testicles with facts and opinions, an innocent smile, and a quick hair flip.
Thoroughly embarrassing him, I school him on the actual facts of the Deflategate scandal [AKA not what the idiotic media sheep believe to be true], we talk four Superbowls, and the truth comes out: Doug is a Giants fan.
Cue even bigger eye-roll.
The only thing worse than being a Giants fan is being a Giants fan from New England. The only thing worse than being a Giants fan from New England is saying that you are a Giants fan because you picked the Giants when “the Patriots sucked.” [You people are the worst kind of people and you know nothing of loyalty and you are dead to me.]
Doug is late 30s, 5 o’clock shadow, blue eyes and a dopey smile. Now that I am actually looking at him, I notice that Doug’s t-shirt and jeans are marked with the same dirt that is trapped under his nine fingernails—the kind that doesn’t come off after washing your hands several times—the dirt and wear indicative of a hard day’s work doing manual labor.
At this point, I decide there is NO way I am going to get through this without another drink, and order one more from the bartender, which Doug announces once again is “on him.” The bartender gives me the look that a seasoned bartender knows to give in this scenario, the one that means, “You ok? Want me to throw him out? I’ll throw him out for you.” Having deduced Doug was a bit of a dope but generally harmless, I reassure him with a nod of my head, and accept my [not quite free] beer.
We talk for a while and I learn Doug’s life story, more or less.
As an icebreaker, he regales me with all the gory details of how he lost the better part of his left middle finger to a wood chipper. We talk about his job at the plant that powers the hospitals, how he works 12-hour days and then commutes an hour home, just to commute another hour back the next day.
I learn about his childhood in the backwoods of New Hampshire, and his 95-year old grandmother who, in the summers, ran a restaurant on her front lawn. She was diagnosed with cancer just three months ago. He tells me how he feels like he failed his little brother, who was fired from the job he got him at the power plant after a drug test, because he should have seen the signs he was using again.
His story was normal and funny and heart breaking and thoroughly fascinating, and when all was said and done I was actually quite happy I stopped being such a bitch and talked to him.
Truth bomb. I often use the excuse that “I hate people” as a defense mechanism that prevents me from feeling socially rejected.
In high school, I wasn’t popular and I wasn’t unpopular, I just generally existed in between several groups without connecting on a real level with many people. [There are a few exceptions, of course.]
Publicly, I attributed this to the fact that I hated most people anyway. In reality, I am just socially awkward and sometimes botch interactions with people, which was especially true when I was younger.
I was pretty [eye roll], so the Sorting Hat and human nature placed me naturally at the “popular table”, but I was a little weird and uncomfortable there, always feeling inferior to the pretty cheerleaders and the cool girls who knew how to talk to the boys without saying or doing something awkward. I was smart but didn’t try hard enough in school to connect with the kids with foresight, who took AP classes and set their sights on prestigious colleges when I just wanted to skate by. I liked acting and singing and so the drama club was where I eventually felt the most happy, but still felt that my outside popularity somewhat alienated me there as well.
I spent most of my time hopping around tables in the lunch-room when I was bored with people, assuming the persona I had created to fit in with each group. I wish I could go back and tell myself that it was ok to just be me.
College was similar: my [now] husband and I were fish out of water and so we assumed the part of the loud-mouthed, self-righteous Yankees invading the passive-aggressive territory of the Midwest. As I started to work in theater outside of school, I found myself accepted and comfortable and didn’t have the need to be loud and aggressive anymore [except for after tequila], letting that mask slide away.
As I grew up, I learned to fully embrace my awkwardness. I learned to laugh at myself and invite people to laugh with me instead of letting it embarrass me. That became occasionally charming and disarmed people and allowed me to open up and make real friendships that will last a lifetime. [The social lubricant helps with that. Thank you, alcohol.]
While recovering from the shadow of mental illness, I’ve tried to learn who I am and how I feel, and I realize I still have many faces. Now I know that the masks allow me to adapt and connect more widely with people, rather than acting as an insincere coping mechanism which protect me from having to get too close.
In my close circle of friends, I’m known as the Wildcard. Basically, this means that occasionally, after the perfect amount of social lubrication, I will suddenly go into “Wildcard status” and, without inhibition, do something crazy. [For example, the time I decided to tickle an Elmo in Times Square which resulted in that creepy, bed-bug infested knock-off chasing me through hoards of people and into a Sephora, where I told the security guards I didn’t know why he was chasing me and got him thrown out and instructed to leave me alone.]
One night on the subway, Wildcard status struck as a crazy-looking man walked through our car loudly preaching the word. Despite my husband’s and my friends’ protestations, I sat next to him and asked him about his life and why he was preaching on the train. Surprisingly, he didn’t stab me. Instead, I found out he lives a very normal life, is married with 6 kids and a bunch of grandkids, and he preaches on the subway in his spare time because that is what the Bible instructs him to do.
My interactions with this man and with Doug are further proof that I don’t actually hate people. In fact, I kind of like people. I like talking to people and learning about their lives, histories, circumstances, and passions.
I realized that these 3000 miles [on a boat from Rhode Island to Houston] will provide me an amazing opportunity to bring some stories to life from those we meet along our way. Stories like the one from the man from Coinjock, VA [remember the biscuits ‘n’ porn guy?], who was devastated when his dog died after eating anti-freeze, only to have a small white dog show up the next day and plant herself firmly at his side. [He also told us about the time he got arrested trying to take a black bear, dead by the side of the road, to make him into a rug. Wildlife officials don’t really take too well to fucking with protected species.]
I’m excited to think of the stories I can learn from people who have lived along the intra-coastal waterways of our great country for their whole lives. People who have made their livings in ways that I am not accustomed to and who live with a definition of happiness that is completely different than mine. Or yours.
One goal I am setting for myself for this trip is to do just that. I hope to be able to learn about them and myself as they open my eyes to a previously unknown world. I hope to share some of their stories with you as I am lucky enough to hear them. [I’m packing lots of Stoli, as I’m sure I’ll need the lubrication to break the ice.]