dave and the bar
Itâs been so long since Iâve had a crush on someone, I feel like a barren woman: dried-up and empty inside. I mourn my early twenties, when my infatuations were incessant, particularly when I worked as a waitress, and met new men every night I worked. I got paid to flirt, essentially. The shamelessness of my behavior had a direct impact on the quantity of my tip. Then I felt like it was too much to handle - so many boys, so little time. These days, I wish I had enjoyed it more.

There were so many men available, but of course I had the biggest crush on the one I couldnât have. Dave started coming in a few weeks after I started working at this bar/restaurant in DC. He was about five years older than I was, and he immediately took to me like an older brother. He had a John Cusack-like quality, in looks and intensity, and that made my stomach burn when I spoke to him. He was smart, and funny, and sexy. He was also pretty morbid, and insecure, and co-dependent, but you wouldnât know it unless you got drunk with him. I realized that it would never happen, and just stood back and adored him.

Another waitress ö one closer in age to him ö fancied him also, but she was more the type to play to win. Laura was strikingly beautiful, with piercing eyes and sensual, bow-like lips. She always wore her hair back tight, in a bun, and dressed like a naughty librarian. She was smart, and funny, and sexy. She was also fairly evil, and insecure, and controlling, but you wouldnât know it unless you got drunk with her. Within weeks, he was hers.

To me, of course, fresh out of school with a writing degree and an intense fascination with melodramatic people, they were the most glamorous people in the world. I reveled in their invitations to stay late with them at the bar on weeknights, when most sane people were at home in bed. I told them stories about my ever-changing love life to entertain them, but mostly I watched them drink, sink into each other, quoting Nabokov and Joyce all the way.

They sniped at each other sometimes. There were times I acted as referee. (I realize now that their relationship worked best with an audience, and I was oh-so-willing.) I also watched her flirt with customers, dangerously, when he wasnât around. Sometimes she did it when he was around. I didnât know how he acted when she wasnât around.

Secretly I thought that she wasnât good enough for him. I would fantasize about the days when I was older and more sophisticated, and he would see that I was just as special as she was. I began to take his side when they would fight, at least in my head, though, on the outside, I was as neutral as Switzerland.

Six months after they had started dating, I noticed a new regular. Johnny, too, was dark-eyed, and a heavy drinker. He wasnât as bright as Dave, and I think Laura liked that. Here was one that would fight back, but could never win. She knew bigger words than he did. Quickly Dave was out; Johnny was in. Dave never knew what hit him, only that the seat at the bar reserved for him was suddenly, assuredly, occupied by a new man.

One night Dave came in to the bar, and snuck into his old seat. I smiled at him, chatted him up. I still thought he was the greatest, but even I knew by then not to take anyoneâs sloppy seconds. Johnny wasnât around, and Laura couldnât resist cozying up to him. She closed out early so she could get drunk with Dave. I was working the floor, and couldnât keep an eye on them.

Suddenly a stool fell. Every head in the restaurant turned. Laura stood laughing as Dave stormed out of the bar. She looked powerful, and she looked a mess. Her perfect mouth was crooked into an evil smile. Her eye makeup was smeared. There were tears in her eyes, but she held them back.

I walked over and lifted up the stool.

"What happened?" I said.

"I spit on him. He said something awful to me and I spit on him."

She couldnât stand up straight.

"Laura! You should go home," I said. I glared at her.

The turmoil in the restaurant began to lessen, and a customer called me over. The bartender spoke sternly to Laura. I walked to the front of the restaurant, and saw, out of the corner of my eye, Dave in the doorway. He walked back in, grabbed a beer from a customer at the bar, and threw it on Laura. And then he walked calmly out.

She stood dripping. We all shook our heads. Dave was banned from the bar forever. I learned an important lesson that night: Donât date alcoholics. Of course, it always takes me a few times to get it right. Iâm bright like that.


Monday, January 22, 2001


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