Learning to Hate Bar Strangers
Show up at 7 PM. You’re the second to arrive – Friend 1 is already sitting at the bar sipping whiskey. Slip onto the barstool next to him. Apologize to the girl on your right for kicking the instrument case she has resting against the bar, acting as a barrier between the two of you. She tells you, “It’s okay,” and seems to mean it.
Start to tell Friend 1 about your week. Explain an emotional situation you were involved in. Friend 1 starts to weigh in when you hear the girl on your right say, “Are you okay?” Tell her you are, thanks. Center your body so that the girl can join the conversation, even though you’re not sure that’s what you want. Friend 1 buys the three of you pickleback shots.
The girl begins to chime in every once in awhile, spewing vaguely encouraging catch phrases like, “That’s so beautiful,” and “Break ups are hard.” When Friend 1 goes to the bathroom, she’ll gesture at his empty seat and say, “Watch out for him. To your left.” You are confused. “Who? My friend?” She nods. “Yes. He wants to sleep with you.” Tell her no; she probably had the wrong idea.
Friend 1 returns and you feel a bit anxious, so you focus your conversation around the stranger. “What do you play?” you ask, gesturing towards her case. “Oh, acoustic guitar. I’m a busker.” Mentally confirm with yourself that you know what a busker is. “Where?” you say. She begins to explain the different subway stations she plays in, and why, and which one she likes best. “If you like that one best, why not play there every time?” Softly, she says, “I have to feel the right energy. Sometimes I get very hurt and I want to leave and my energy is ruined so I have to play somewhere else. When people are enjoying me, and feeling emotions because of my music, and they’re hurt and confused and frightened, and they don’t give, it hurts my heart. I just… don’t understand it. I know they have money! I see their iPhones!”
Oh, you think. Here we go. Feel that this “I know you have money” logic is illogical. Think, I listen to my iPod and I don’t have to give anyone anything if I don’t want to, OKAY? Think, how do you know people are feeling so emotional about your music? Are they crying? Are they speaking in tongues? Think these thoughts so hard that your brain catches a fever. Redirect the conversation. Say, “Do you ever perform at open mics?”
She explains that she doesn’t. She is afraid of the expectations that come with success. Friend 1 and the busker have this intense conversation about limiting yourself while you sit in between them, obsessively checking your Twitter feed.
Friends 2 & 3 show up, much to your relief. You introduce them to the busker. You crave real conversation about things grounded in reality, like job interviews and traveling girlfriends. Suggest moving to a booth. The busker says she has to leave; she has to go home and feed her boyfriend. Feel Friend 2’s eyes rolling from three feet away.
Take another round of pickleback shots. The busker takes hers without waiting for anyone else. She speaks through pursed lips. “I’m holding the whiskey in my mouth so we can take this shot together!” Think, “Ugh.” As you’re moving your things from the bar to the booth, overhear the busker say, “Thanks, sorry I can’t tip you tonight.” Think it’s weird to have a “hurting heart” when someone doesn’t throw money at you, but then not tip the bartender.
When you get to the booth, realize that the busker is still among you. Hear Friend 1 say, “Why do you have to “feed” your boyfriend? Is he confined to bed? Paralyzed?” Chortle. The busker explains that she is the breadwinner, and he is home and hungry and without cash. She explains that he is a writer, and being a barista hurt his heart, so he quit. Feel relieved that you’re still not sure if you’re a writer yet.
The busker loves her boyfriend, she tells you. The story of how they met morphs into a charged monologue about the NYU theater program, Adderall addiction, and going to see Phish without “seeing” Phish. This monologue lasts for about ten minutes, and the busker recites it as she’s seemingly on the verge of tears. Friend 2 is gnashing her teeth. Friend 3 sits in the corner, amused. Friend 1 stokes the fire. You think, “For fuck’s sake.”
When she’s done holding your friends at emotional gunpoint, the busker leaves – but not before she bums a cigarette from Friend 1. As soon as she’s out of earshot, Friend 2 says, “I hate actors. I’m too old for this.” Be happy to discuss emotional situations, job interviews, and traveling girlfriends.
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