May 9, 2011

The Twenty-Somethings

“David!”

“Hi, Carey! Hi, Marie!”

“Come sit down!”

This was at a bistro in my neighborhood. The décor favored floorboards of uneven slats of aged wood, long communal tables, and huge windows. The bar offered dozens of microbrews and fancy saloon food. Sliders, of course, but Kobi ones. Mac and cheese, but with Gruyère. Duck confit salad. Pork belly sandwiches. French fries salted with paprika. It was that kind of place, responding to the meat renaissance, to the boutiquing of bar food.

David’s perennial loneliness finds solace in the company of women twenty years younger

I had become friends with the bartenders, Carey and Marie. Every Sunday after the gym I came in for brunch. Since it was after the gym, I’d sit there sweating in my workout clothes, hair plastered to skull, a music player dangling by the strap that Clarissa had made for me out of colored string. It was the only thing I had left of her that was always with me.

Carey and Marie were no more than twenty-three, the latter an aspiring actress and the other a too-skinny encyclopedia of knowledge weighing toward rabbits and glands. Carey was a little bit of goth and Marie a little bit of movie star. They were both too pretty, high-spirited, and surprisingly friendly to a man over twice their ages of whom they must have suspected harbored carnal thoughts about them.

It had been going on for months, starting when my real estate broker kicked me out of my apartment every Sunday so he could host an open house for prospective buyers. On that first Sunday, after a session at the gym, I stopped at the bistro for brunch and to kill time. I ordered a coffee. And after the bartender pushed the cup toward me with a kind of nurturing undertone, I ordered poached eggs.

“Did anyone ever tell you that you look like so-and-so?” No, it wasn’t me who asked. It was her. The pretty bartender. I looked behind my shoulder. No, she was talking to me.

“I don’t, but who is he?”

She told me that he played in a band. A drummer. I’d never heard of the band. By the following Sunday I had listened to a few songs and saw pictures of the drummer. A cool nerd. Mostly nerd. Big nose. It could have been worse. We traded some more musical interests. I learned her name. Marie. It went on every Sunday. I stopped ordering the bacon because she disapproved.

“How’s the vegetarian thing coming along?”

“Oh, great.”

She had made an impassioned plea for vegetarianism so I had tried to stop eating meat.

I became friendly with another bartender, Carey, with whom Marie had a friendship going outside the bar. Why they continued to talk to me and draw me into their lives I wasn’t sure. I figured they were so bored that they found someone completely out of their milieu entertaining.

Slowly, over the course of a few months, we learned a lot about each other. I loved going in there. It was a drug. I went  there to get high. I never pushed the relationship. I was afraid of being seen as a leering old man. So I hardly flirted, even though I like to, even though I do it reflexively. This all seemed stupid and a bit of a lie, but how do you navigate these things? Male enlightenment has its own set of conflicts. Finally, we decided it was time for the three of us to go out for drinks and dinner.

“How do you feel about a Brooklyn adventure?” asked Marie.

How did I feel about a Brooklyn adventure? I felt great about a Brooklyn adventure. Massively into it. We made a plan. The following Saturday. Then I told Golden Boy about the caper.

“So you’re over 20 years older than them. Twenty years. And they’re having drinks with you. On a Saturday.”

“Yes. Their idea.”

“Where are you going?”

“Don’t know yet.”

“Don’t know?”

“Haven’t heard from them.”

“You never will. Dude, they’ll never call you.”

“I know.”

I had been getting a little desperate. The previous year I racked up $7000 in restaurant bills on dates that went nowhere. I’d spend $200 on a second date so the woman could discover she’s not interested. I wanted some attention now, even if it came from age-inappropriate waifs who looked at me if not with lusty eyes than at least with kindly ones.

They did call me and a few nights later I found myself in a small and fancifully decorated Mexican restaurant somewhere in Brooklyn.

“I want you to know that you’re the first customer we’ve ever gone out with,” said Carey.

“Really? I’m flattered. Is this going to be awkward, though? I mean, really, we might not have anything to talk about. This might be weird.”

“We were wondering about that, too, before you got here. But we decided we wouldn’t let it get awkward.”

“Right, and these pitchers of margaritas will help a lot, I think.”

They did help a lot.

Carey and Marie asked a lot of questions.

“Where’d you grow up?”

“Do you have siblings?”

“Really? A sister? What’s her name?”

“Show us a picture of your cat.”

It came time to order food, but I couldn’t read the menu. It was too dark in there and the script on the menu was tiny. It was red, too. There was no contrast. This generated some laughter from Carey and Marie.

“Wait till your knees start hurting,” I said. Then I halfheartedly related a few dating stories so they knew that I still had some mojo left.

“I’ll read it for you, David,” said Marie. “You want the quesadilla? Not the meat one, right? The shrimp.”

“Yeah, okay, the shrimp. What else do they have?”

They helped me with the menu and later, reading the bill. They offered to split it, but I only let them pay the tip.

After dinner and some more drinks we talked about our love lives. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one pining away for a lost love. With little encouragement, I told them all about Clarissa. It just poured out. Then I told them about Sam, my cat who died. They understood. Marie squeezed my hand. They still hadn’t learned how to handle loss, and this is something I had never learned how to do either. We made more plans for more get-togethers.

I told Golden Boy about the night.

“So you had fun?”

“Yes, I mean, there’s a clear age difference.”

“That’s for sure.”

“No, I mean it’s apparent in a lot of ways. Like, I’d never actually pursue either of them. It would be too strange.”

“But why would you want to meet them outside of the bar, then?”

“Because they’re nice to me.”

“Nice?”

“They’re nice to me, Golden Boy. They act interested. They ask me questions. These ladies I go out with are practically sitting at the table with their arms crossed staring at me with eyes saying, Whaddya got for me?

“They’re skeptical.”

“They’re skeptical. And it doesn’t matter how much money I make or that I have a house in Vermont, they can sense that I’m a bit of a slacker, just enough of one to give them pause.”

“It’s a sad state of affairs when you go out with women over 20 years younger simply because they’re nice to you.”

“It really is.”

A few days later I stopped by to say hello. And it was as though Marie sensed and felt a lingering oddness to our relationship.

“Did it make you feel young?” she asked.

“Yeah, it did. I felt 35 again.”