“We’re gonna hook up tonight,” he says. “I know it. I just know it. I know these things.” He stumbles over the alliterative th-th at the end of the sentence and tries unsuccessfully to look me in the eye.
“Okay,” I say, turning my head away. “Your wife must be a lucky, lucky lady,” I say. His wedding ring is reflecting off the brass behind the bar.
He laughs. His buddy laughs.
It’s a Sunday night, and I’m sitting in a neighborhood bar in Anchorage, Kentucky on the outskirts of Louisville, propped up on a shoddy bar stool, gazing periodically at a football game I don’t care about.
I’m flipping through the latest issue of American Songwriter; Jason Isbell is on the cover, and I’m trying to read the article about Deer Tick and John McCauley’s renaissance, but I can feel the eyes of the drunk stranger two seats down peering through my clothes. I am killing a little bit of time, waiting on someone down the street.
Drunk stranger is the obvious kind of drunk — the kind of Nascar or Derby or frat boy drunk where you can tell he’s been drinking all day for no reason whatsoever. He’s got those rosy cheeks and blurred eyes, and he keeps reaching over to his buddy’s plate to grab fries using all of his fingers like he’s clumsily pulling weeds out of dirt.
I ignore his stare and keep reading, sometimes laughing or scoffing at an absurd comment I overhear from down the bar. (Am I asking for it?)
When I look up a few minutes later, drunk stranger is staring at me. Chin out, eyes wide and locked and dizzied.
“What’s up?” I say. He has become impossible to ignore, his glazed eyes leering over his friend’s plate to my face.
“We’re checking you out,” he says, trying to bring his friend into his mess.
His statement is not flattering or flirtatious; it’s just a horribly dull mention of the obvious. I can sense him staring, and I can feel his face off in its close distance, lips apart just a centimeter or two, drenched by stale air — a brief repose from the incessant deluge of booze. I’m not being cocky; it’s simply that I know what he’s doing.
I’m not uncomfortable — yet. I’ve sort of given up on the Deer Tick story, even though I want to know when John McCauley cut his hair and stopped drinking beer. I keep my magazine open and my hand on my IPA and my eyes on the screen.
“Do you find me attractive?” drunk stranger asks me. I turn.
His buddies laugh, as though I’ve just made a joke. Drunk stranger is startled by my honest response and has to shake his drunk stranger head and wiggle his blurry eyes to try to comprehend.
This isn’t the right question to ask, I think.
“You look like somebody I maybe knew in high school that I don’t talk to anymore,” I say, referencing almost every guy I knew when I was sixteen who dressed in polo shirts and chinos.
He thinks this is a hilarious joke and throws back his head in stunted adulthood man giggles.
Drunk stranger gets up to stumble around for a little while, maybe to go to the bathroom, maybe to find another young girl who is by herself. I start reading my magazine again and chat some with his totally sober and mundane friend, a scruffy looking pilot in his mid-thirties who seems both friendly and repelled by his friend.
He tells me the drunk stranger is harmless.
Oh, he is?
To me? Or to you? Right now? What about when I leave here in the dark alone? What about when you get up and go to the bathroom? What about if I stay to have one more beer? Is he still harmless then? What exactly are you standing up for? Who exactly are you standing up for? Your friend? Who has a wedding ring on and a seventeen-year-old daughter? Who is probably fifteen years my senior and drunk enough to struggle to put on his own flip-flop? Oh, yeah, he’s harmless.
Drunk stranger walks up to me and puts his arm around my waist.
I move it and tell him he doesn’t need to be touching the small of the back. No. I did not invite you to touch me. I did not ask you to feel the curves of my hips or the nape of my neck or any other divot or crumple in my skin or bones.
“Let’s go outside,” he suggests, leaning closer.
“No,” I say, and laugh. Because I do not know what else to do. Because I am uncomfortable and he is not harmless. Because he is creepy. Because he is married. Because he has children. Because he is offensive. Because he is disgusting and unattractive and unwanted and because it is so much easier to laugh than to punch or cry or crumble or run.
“Are you serious?” he says, drunkenly confused and insulted.
“Yes,” I say. “No thanks.”
His friends tell him it is time to go; they have swooped in to save the poor little blonde girl at the bar by herself, and they walk drunk stranger out of the bar so he can presumably drunk drive himself home to his wife and children who will be oh-so-luckily waiting for him.
The owner of the bar, an older man in his sixties who looks like my dad, approaches me to apologize and tell me how well I handled myself.
I smile and thank him.