Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My Stool

I’m standing there thinking it's my bar and you’re sitting in my place. I know I can’t command the prime position on every visit, but if I must be left to stand at the bar, I'd much prefer that our stools be inhabited by regulars.

She is a pretend blond and overly eye-shadowed, talking in unnecessary decibels and flailing her hands around. Everyone in the bar is trying not to listen in on her banal conversation, the one about the complicated itinerary of her next trip and how she'll have too much time at the airport on the way back from New York – understandably frustrating to her but frankly, inconsequential to the rest of us. Her recurrent use of the word “like” is not enhancing her credibility with anyone standing beside me. I’m thinking, honey, could you please, like, lower your voice?

I’m chatting up the barman – quietly – while offering a knowing smile to the older man across the bar. We would roll our eyes at each other but for the mirrors on every wall, so we just flirt instead. We have a common nemesis, the loud one speaking English proclaiming her frequent flyer status for the whole bar to hear.

She is with a young guy with a two-day old beard. They are now both on their phones, both leaning over almost on top of me, stretching to see out the front windows, trying to assess the address, presumably to tell whomever they've called precisely where they are.

“I can’t see any number,” she says, loud and very close to my ear.

“Thirty,” I say, in a dulcet but mono tone.

They look at me like I have spoken in Greek.

“It’s number thirty,” I say, “The address. Here.”

“Oh." She did not expect me to speak English. “Yeah, thanks.”

They resume their conversation, with lower voices.

That worked.

Later she asks the barman about the toilet. He points to the back. I smile, but it’s a devious one. I know the toilet here, a chrome sided, Star Trek styled Turkish toilet, if you can imagine, built for a superhero like Iron Man. I never use it. I’m capable of squatting, but why bother? Half the bars on this street are owned by the same guy, all the barmen know me, at least by sight. Usually I walk next door or across the street where I can sit like a civilized woman.

She slides off the stool – my stool – and walks around the horseshoe shaped bar toward the restroom.  I mutter, under my breath so her English-listening French boyfriend won’t hear, “Good luck with that.”

In her absence he takes out his iPhone and dials nimbly, chatting away in a rough French accent, peppered with slang. I wonder if she hears this in his French. Has she been here long enough to detect the subtleties of the language, or is she still in the just-lucky-to-barely-understand stage?  (I've been there.)  The fact is, she may not listen to him enough to hear it; she was rather adept at talking and they'd been conversing in her language, not his.

The clock ticks forward, that pumpkin-hour-when-I-must-be-home approaches. My little factures are assembled, change waits on the counter. She returns, walking around the bar, tugging at her clothing, the way women should before they leave the restroom but inevitably we’re still checking that everything’s falling correctly on our way out.

“How’d that go for you?” I said aloud, emboldened by the last, fast sip of my second Leffe.

She looked at me, uncertain. “Huh?”

I tilted my head the direction of the toilet.

“Oh, yeah.  It was fine.”

I looked down at her shoes, medium-high heels with a leopard-pattern. They were splashed with water, or something. I tried not to smile, but I couldn't hold it back. She tucked her feet under the bar stool, my stool, drawing them in and out of sight.

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