It was just after 7 when I made my way into Murphy's. I was looking forward to sitting in my usual spot at the end of the bar, hoping it would be another good show. My days had been monotonously normal of late, which made this guilty pleasure more and more important to me. I ordered my usual virgin screwdriver, paying the same amount as the real thing to the bartender even though it didn't matter to anyone else whether I was downing liquor or not. Just something I did to "justify" being there. And, frankly, it set the stage for the "show." What show? Why, the show I got every Wednesday, watching the youngsters play "the pickup game."
It all seemed to start innocently enough. I'm a widower approaching retirement age with no thoughts of retiring, because my current life, such as it is, revolves around the nine to five. I like my job, and most of the people I work with, but there's no passion there. A shoulder problem curtailed my athletic endeavors, and game night with "the boys" just doesn't excite me as much as it used to. So one night, on the way home, I decided to pull into the lot of a quiet looking bar I had often passed.
I actually sat in the car for about ten minutes, watching a few others, couples and singles, enter the establishment, before convincing myself that it was okay to walk in. I certainly wouldn't be carded. And while I didn't drink, it was more by choice than by any attitudes deeming the practice either sinful or demeaning. This was more a debate as to why I was going in. Boredom didn't seem to be enough of an excuse. A hope? If so, of what? I wasn't ready to examine that question too closely yet...
But, in I went anyway. Once inside, I looked around and decided to go to the end of the bar farthest from the door. I figured that would be the best place to watch. Watch what? Again, I shrugged that off and sat down.
I ordered a ginger ale and asked for a menu, deciding to try the house burger with all the trimmings, even though it was listed as spicy and I am not usually fond of spicy food. I found it to be surprisingly good, and started to enjoy my meal, although I needed several refills on the ginger ale. No surprise there. Menu items that make you thirsty at a bar? Of course!
As I settled in, I started to take a look at those around me. Eventually, that was what hooked me - watching those who came and went, and the pickup games they played with each other. It was almost like a theatre experience, complete with heroes, villains, victories, defeats and occasional avant-garde like weirdness.
Oh, there were plenty of normal people, coming in as couples or groups, having their meal or celebration and then moving on without anything amusing or interesting coming of it. But then there were the real players, the stories that unfolded in front of me - the couples on the verge of breaking up, the singles trying desperately to connect with someone, the braggarts, the big shots, the gigolos and the sluts.
That first night, I was fascinated primarily by the singles, the way the men approached the women and the dance was performed. No, they didn't actually get out on the floor and gyrate together. I just likened it to a dance; the way one would lead and the other would follow, the animation in the faces and the gestures telling the story, even though I couldn't hear the words. I saw what I assumed were several assignations, and when the bartender started looking at me as if I was taking up space, I decided to start paying as if I were drinking the hard stuff, to give some justification for staying at the bar. That seemed to appease the bartender, and so it became the norm.
So, every Wednesday night I would stop there, get in my spot in the corner, take my time with my meal, and then pay what amounted to a cover charge to watch the show.
There wasn't a lot of turnover of clientele at this local place, and after about a month I had pretty much observed and catalogued the idiosyncrasies of most of the regulars. And if that had been all there was, I probably would have either moved on or stopped the practice altogether, having satisfied whatever curiosity had led me there in the first place. But there were these two regulars...
They were both young women, very good looking, and always dressed to kill, or, as I looked at it, dressed to draw the attention of the other sex. And they were very successful at it. But that wasn't the show for me. The show was the variety of ways the pair shot down their eager suitors.
At first, most of the regulars took turns at one, the other, or both, but after a couple weeks, they stopped trying. For a while I worried that the duo would stop coming in. But, there always seemed to be a new batch of possible suitors cruising in, and the show went on.
It was fun, the most fun I had had in a long time. To watch a brash young man, buff to the extreme and cock-sure of himself, approach the short, perky, blue-eyed blonde, seem to hit it off for a good 15 minutes or so, and then look like he had been shot, it made me feel good. The doe-eyed brunette seemed to have an insidious way making the guys hitting on her leave without quite knowing why they were leaving alone, or even that they had been shut out completely. The two of them seemed to have infallible radar too. There were times when I thought violence was in the air, expecting things to end roughly, and once almost started to get the bartender's attention just in case, but somehow, it didn't happen. The guy gave a nasty laugh, spit out a few choice words, and left.
Some of the loud parting comments of the brasher guys contained lewd and caustic references to lesbian bitches, and to tell the truth, I had pretty much assumed that the two women were lovers. After all, when they left, it was always together, and a couple times they were holding each other as they sashayed out the door. Did it bother me? No. Did the idea detract from what they were doing? Not at all. After all, I was just watching the show. I didn't need to worry about rejection, or the reasons for it, because I had no intention of becoming part of the show myself.
Ah, but the road to hell...
What started happening about four months after their first appearance didn't make any sense to me, or to anyone else, for that matter. And that may be why they did it. But for whatever reason, the two of them started to include me in their little show. At first, it was a nod and a smile, usually just after one of them had taken someone down. Since I had been watching, and enjoying the show, I would nod, raise my glass and smile back, getting a little thrill that the performers had acknowledged the audience.
Then, they started playing to me, moving from the middle of the bar closer to the end, and doing things like rolling their eyes when I could see and their target could not, or winking or giving some other sign just before the kill. I was having the time of my life, trying hard not to laugh out loud at times so that I wouldn't spoil the finish. Life was good again, at least once a week, and my memories of those nights made the rest of the world easier to take.
But as I walked in the door this time, I saw them sitting at the end of the bar - in my spot! At first, it didn't really register. But when they looked up, saw me and waved I stopped dead. They were smiling and gesturing for me to come on over, but I couldn't. All of a sudden, my world was turned upside down. I started to turn away, but heard a shrill whistle! It was the brunette, and when I looked at her, I saw that she was smiling, but the eyes seemed to be pleading a little, as well. Deep inside I knew, I KNEW, that it was just another act, that it was my turn, finally, to be part of the show. Still, I couldn't resist. I had to play it out. After all, I started reasoning as I picked my way around, I probably deserved it, having gained so much pleasure from the pain of my fellow man. And the fact that these young lovelies apparently even considered putting me with all the virile brutes I had observed almost gave me a reason to rejoice.
Unfortunately, I realized it would still hurt when it ended, and there was no doubt in my mind that it would end. And so, with a false air of bravado, I headed to the end of the bar.
"Hi, I'm Bob, what can I do for you lovely ladies," I said, finding I could actually smile and mean it.
The brunette smiled back. "I'm Barbara and this is my sister Nancy. Could we buy you a drink?"
"Only if I buy for the rest of the evening."
Nancy laughed and nodded, signaled the bartender, then nudged Barbara and mouthed "pay me."
I cleared my throat, looked at the two of them sitting in the last two seats, and asked "Can I have my regular seat?"
Nancy scooted over one and pointed to the chair between them. I sighed, and the ladies giggled as I sat down.
The bartender brought the drinks, and I started to sip my orange juice, but immediately made a face and called the bartender over. "Tony, this isn't my usual."
The bartender just smiled and said, "it's a screwdriver, just like you always pay for."
Giving him a look, I said, "You know better than that. Just give me the orange juice, as usual, no vodka."
The girls giggled again, and this time Barbara winked at Nancy, saying, "we're even," as the bartender laughed and immediately switched drinks.
"You knew I didn't really drink, didn't you?" I glared at the two of them, and then looking directly at Nancy, said, "and you thought I'd drink it anyway - maybe to act like something I'm not, huh."
.... There is more of this story ...