I make a lousy date, I realised the other night. First, I hate noisy, smoky bars; the loud music and the loud clash of hundreds of discordant voices vying to be heard, all those things that are supposed to give a place energy, sap much of the little I have and make me want to find a respite of quiet, or of sounds that make me feel — wind rustling leaves, lake water slapping the limestone, cardinals calling — anything but the chaotic din of human voices shouting over the chaotic din of blaring TV sets and blaring stereos.
There are many people who seek this out, of course (hence the din).
When I’m in such a place and I don’t feel up to fighting it, my only other way of coping with it is to become an observer, looking at the people surrounding me as though they are members of another species under my observation, a species with which I struggle to find a common bond, like a human might struggle to find something familiar about a salamander. I always fail.
This night one particular woman caught my attention. She wore a small black top with spaghetti straps and very short denim shorts that she struggled to pull down when she stood up. She was very tanned, a little taller than average, of average build. Physically, her best feature were her legs. Her hair was long, brown, highlighted and permed into ringlets. Her eyes were somewhat too far apart and gave her face a look that was too horsey to be beautiful or even pretty. She was with another woman of about the same age (early 30s), a young man, and an older man with grey hair. They were all chain smoking, a ritual of bar life I don’t understand; its symbolism and meaning elude me, probably because I find it more foolish and conformist than sexy or appealing.
I couldn’t tell what the relationship of each of these people was to each other. Were they two existing couples? (If so, who was with whom?) A group of friends? Two women/two men who hang out with one another who struck up conversation? Four complete strangers?
What were they talking about? They rarely smiled or laughed. There was no touching, not even in a friendly way, and no overt indications of flirting. Do they go to this place every night or every Friday night? What do they do during the day? Where did they come from originally (Chicago or elsewhere)? What goes through their minds before they end up here? What do they do when they’re not hanging out in bars or working? Do they work? Why do they remind me of everyone I see at these places? Why do they seem so two-dimensional to me?
But I thought about this big-eyed, somewhat horse-faced woman and marveled how she, with her imperfect features, flat chest, and — who knows? — featureless mind, could dress and carry herself easily and carelessly as though she were the sexiest, most desirable woman in the place she graced. If we ever met, she would look down at my weight, my haircut, my clothes, my shoes, my lack of style and sophistication, and my geekiness and treat me accordingly. She would not understand my still collegiate apartment, bare of practical furniture but filled with remembrances from childhood. I couldn’t see her being interested in any of the books, but perhaps in the bar downstairs, although it is quiet and mostly uncrowded. I would bore her as much as she would bore me. She would have hundreds of friends much like her; i would have only a few.
We would be like salamanders to each other.
Except she never saw or noticed me or my friend.
We are the invisible people.