Bar Napkins


Grab your lovers, people, hold them close, feel the validation. You’re barely carbon based without them. — William Giraldi, Busy Monsters

I had just watched Shame so I knew it was all about the eyes. The opaque detective glass between glance and stare. I see her in the front of the stage; I see her walk to the back of the bar. She smiles when I look at her, then head down. I’ve read about studies where people stare into each other’s eyes for five minutes, if that. They say they are attracted to strangers. Some fall in love, marry, procreate. This humanity.

My back is to the bar and something attaches to my left sleeve, her, end of the wood plank, looking around like she wants me to explain the job duties of a bartender. Oh, I get it. (Once I was at a music venue and the woman next to me asked if I wanted something from the bar — I didn’t want a drink (I told her oh I’m okay), but wanted to talk to her — and I never saw her again; she never came back; I’m not used to these social cues.) So, this is the first time I do this at-the-bar-talking thing so aggressively, the screenplay solid I’ll get this one No you don’t have to do that Don’t worry about it. We talk about cities, Minnesota, pre-law, what-have-you. Then a laugh, the eventual aloof boyfriend from behind, chubby with a beard. Him, You? I was told later he trying to hold onto her, but we were talking for at least 45 minutes. I had her attention. Later, I watched the napkin with her name and number float in my urine. There is something romantic to pen on one ply paper, fact. My waste is different.

So how long have you been in a relationship, I say after he leaves or maybe is still lurking there.

A month, it’s not going to last. I’m moving to Germany in early January.

I’m German. My dad was 100 percent, my mom had to ruin that. She laughs. You are beautiful, I say. A hanging green-screened parenthesis afterthought: you are the most attractive person here.

I think I just said the same thing two times, but maybe not. Repetition under the influence.

She laughs again, she says thank you. Her sangfroid smile and she has this piercing above her lip, somewhere. At work, I saw a postcard of Marilyn Monroe about to be recycled. I recovered it, and finally understood her beauty next to spine torn books and outdated National Geographic. There is so much elusive, fleeting power in thinking you are saving something from something far worse. Anyway, the second she starts spelling things out in this drunk penmanship lesson, I see the napkin falling into the toilet. This strange gift.

The kind of drunk where urine and water are the same. The kind of I have to pee where you make shapes with your legs like the sun lotion girl getting her swimsuit pulled by that dog. I am peeing, now. I pull out a blank napkin. I knew where the other is. It floats there in the exit of me, like that cartoon flag of surrender waved above logs, filled with bullets.

Outside, I pull it out of my inner coat pocket: cuneiformic, sopping, bunched. I think about document restoration, the humidors, the light that keeps them safe. I could never do that. I tell my friend I dropped it in the toilet. His laugh is nervous; he asks is that your urine? My other friend finds a near full pack of cigarettes on the ground, tips the girl who spotted them one dollar. I tell her she has nice eyes — not flirting — but how I would yell that from a baseball dugout, years ago when I thought I liked sports.

She writes her number, again, on my hands like the bottom of the highball glass was full of ink, this drunken calligraphy. Two versions, where her 3 looks like a pincer, slashed bottom 7 a gallows; I write a clear version on top as she repeats it a second time, third. Hers is upside down on my hand. I write a phonetic version of her name. Facebook will scorn my memory like a rulered schoolmarm when she adds me. So much for memory. My last picture of her: locating the right coat — pea, black — and a sleeve. Try to dress yourself at bar close.

I tell my roommate that it is really for the experience. I got to buy a drink for a woman with a boyfriend she was ignoring. I can have innocent fun, I guess. A few drinks, talk with her about her life. There was no touching, only of sleeves and layers. And there shouldn’t be. I get to be happy, not depressed all the time. My self-confidence, self-worth from even a year ago has increased. It isn’t arrogance, like Midwestern philosophy wants you to think. I am worth something, which is a new thought. I could do this, not think I am fringe: untouchable, unreachable by the world. Sometimes it comes to you; sometimes you can read your own writing; sometimes it gets soaked in your own creation-waste that must come out anyway, our nature.

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