What’ll It Be

Every local watering-hole has that one female.

You know: each lump and roll squeezed into an outfit meant for a 16-year old girl, maybe crowned by several-day-old salon hair propped up by a half can of aerosol hairspray. There’s a bland but vague and checkered past slouching along behind her. (She’s what my mother would call “loose”.) I am fascinated by these women.

Despite her once good looks, she’s got a poorly modulated voice that could crack plaster walls and causes eavesdroppers to wince in pain. But, she’s popular because her saloon pals, that social family of local misfits, love her (as much as they feel sorry for her). They’re glad they’re not her. It’s a double-edged irony, if you think about it.

Why is that?

Before I can open the menu or skim the laminated specials, I’m already dreading an evening of table 86. Seated to my right, the foursome has been here long enough to accumulate a month’s rent of empties (and the appetizers haven’t even been served).

Three women, one man. In my going-out days, the lone guy was the “nice guy” who couldn’t get a date. Nor did he really want one; happy to be in the boozy, jaw-flapping sorority of known divorcees and self-proclaimed vixens, he hid until someone better came along. The women were his wingmen to get it him out of the house but not out alone. Too risky, too desperate. He can scope out the room while pretending to care about the conversation.

While I half-read the menu, they’re discussing who’s sleeping with who, who left who, who’s gone back, who’s kids belong to someone else’s gene pool, who’s aging parents are sick/dying/recovered/stingy/recently widowed/about to die/available. Yes, available: they’re trolling elderly dating material based on obituaries. In NYC, that was how some of my friends found good, rent-controlled apartments before they went co-op.

AFFLICTION script scrolls across the back of his t-shirt. Either this is a country band or a statement about his life. I’m thinking the latter. Table 86 orders another round of watery American beer with patriotic label as my salad – missing most of the ingredients touted on the menu – arrives. ‘Spinach Salad without hard-boiled egg, bacon, carrot, radishes or croutons with a side of house vinaigrette’ is how it should read. Because that’s all it is: a dish of poorly cleaned spinach leaves with cruets of oil and vinegar brought to the side. The dressing washes off the visible sand; it forms a grainy little blob at the bottom of the plate. Very beachy. I pick at the boneless wings and bleu cheese dressing, thankfully quite good. The whiskey is newly opened, so that’s safe, too.

“Really? A salad and wings? What sort of meal is that – a diet? Who orders that in a bar?”

One of the chubby single hen’s at 86 pointedly sneers at my meal choices. She shovels another fist of stale bar mix into her mouth and makes more aggressive criticism of my blouse and skort. I want so badly to pull out an accent and speak with her but which? Which dialect would be startling, offensive to her ‘billy Virginian aesthetic, and mildly intimidating? British? French? German? Russian? After a few seconds I decide she’s not worth the effort and pretend to ignore how her insecurities have spilled all over my table.

Their food finally arrives and her mouth is too busy to be mean.

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