The lounge had a drink special: free vodka drinks for women. I bought the first round. She had the greyhound, me the screwdriver.
We sat across from each other at a tiny round table. It was one of those bar lounges frequented by children. It wasn’t a date, though it had the trappings. We were acquaintances. I think somewhere in us we both wondered what it would be like if we dated. She had a nice ass. I looked at it all the time. It was a yoga ass. She had a slim outline, but still girlish. I could tell that she would feel good in the arms.
Amelia had a problem with men, though. A scorn problem. I’d seen it before. The post-feminist generation. They don’t actually like men, but they still want dick. And this causes them all sorts of consternation.
We talked about dating etiquette.
“Look,” she said, “I know I’m not supposed to think this. I really see myself as a feminist and that everything should be equal, but when a man takes me out on a first date and he doesn’t pay, I think less of him. I’m annoyed by it. I can’t help it.”
She also said she didn’t like to coddle men. She’s the perfect example of the kind of woman who wants her men to be strong and manly, but yet still weak enough to be controlled.
She once admitted to me that she had a problem with men. She had looked at the floor when she said so. It was hard for her to admit this. She just couldn’t figure out what it was, exactly. I knew lots of women in her boat. My next door neighbor, for one. A colleague with pursed lips, for another.
But Amelia was smart and she basically had a decent heart. Like the rest of us, she still needed to figure out who she was. What luxury of introspection we’re allowed. I can’t imagine that this platinum age won’t end soon and the last thing we’ll all be worried about will be our identities and what ails the social politics between men and women.
We talked about our friends. I talked about my failed surgery. My stomach gurgled. A vise somewhere in my abdomen screwed tighter. I had thrown back my drink and now needed another. After two, I could pretend tipsiness and go home. I have been somewhat anti-social for the last twenty years and profoundly anti-social since the surgery.
“I’m going to get another,” I announced.
“I’ll buy. It’s my turn.” She had gotten about halfway through her own.
So Amelia went up to the bar and in short order returned with my drink.
“Wow,” she said, “I didn’t know that women drink for free tonight.”
“Yeah, vodka drinks only.”
I reached for the cool glass cylinder. There is something to the aesthetics of the cocktail that goes beyond the alcohol. This is possibly why most men go for beers and not the mixed drink. The cocktail is phallic. No way around that. Cocktails are for women. Sadly, though, since the surgery, beer gives me gas, so I’ve emasculated myself with berry drinks. What are you going to do? My hand wrapped around it, the cocktail.
“Well, I was pleasantly surprised I didn’t have to pay.”
I looked at her.
“What do you mean? This one was for me.”
“Yeah, but he didn’t charge me. I guess he thought it was for me.”
I looked nervously around the bar and at the bartender. The memory of an ancient humiliation had begun to surface.
“That’s not right,” I said.
“Well, when I finish this, I’ll just go up and pay for the next one.”
“Okay, but see, he doesn’t know that. The bartender doesn’t know you’re going to buy another one.”
“What difference does it make?”
Exasperated, Amelia had begun to flush, which she does when her exasperation grows, like it did when I once accidentally stole her apple off the top of the microwave at work, thinking it was a free apple. When she discovered her Macintosh gone, she immediately purpled. I remember worrying that she might start crying.
I prodded her.
“Why don’t you just go up and buy your next one now?”
“What for? I’m not finished with this one.”
“It just isn’t right.”
Years ago, I had gone into a bar with a bunch of friends, women all. The bar had the same drink special. But they used colored cups to signify the women’s drinks. Someone had gone up to buy a round. Soon, a colored cup was pushed into my hand. The bartender saw this almost immediately and became enraged. Much berating followed, until I gave up my cup, walked up to the bar and bought my own drink, which was poured into the proper glass. Truly, it was a spectacle.
“So, I’ll just go up myself and buy another drink,” I said. I heard a scratch in my voice.
“What? Why? I’m not ready for another one.”
“I just don’t want him to think we’re trying to cheat him.”
“But we’re not. I’m going to buy another one.”
Amelia is a moral woman. She always takes the high road. But she’s also practical. Now, these two things were in conflict.
“But like I said, he doesn’t know that. Look, can’t I just get you another drink now?”
“Okay, fine. Freak.”
So I walked up to the bar, bought another drink that was not for me, but for Amelia, though I was pretending it was for me and watched it get poured into a fresh glass. Then I returned to our table, sat it in front of me for a moment, before I pushed it to Amelia’s side of the table.
I sighed. Yes.