I get to the bar and sit two seats down from a girl drinking brown liquor and reading a novel. I pretend that I could do this in public, read and drink. When the bartender comes by I order water with lemon and wait to order an actual drink until he arrives. I only have five dollars and if he doesn’t offer to pay I’ll be forced to put it on my credit card.
I check the time on my phone, seven minutes to seven. He’s always a few minutes late – rushing in like he just came from somewhere important. I’d been getting ready since five, which is the time of day when I start to get bored. I tried to be late, too, but I’m early. I put my phone in my purse in order to not bury my face in it the way everyone else who is alone at a bar does, but then I don’t know what to do with my hands. I pluck at a string hanging from my skirt. I wasn’t totally sure this was a date so I wore a like, in between outfit – it could possibly be a date thing, could possibly be a just-came-from-my-job thing. Though I don’t technically have a “job” job. Not like a go-to-one-place-each-day job.
The bartender comes back and I overhear the whiskey-drinking book reader tell him she is studying classic literature at Berkley. I note the number of times she uses the phrase “like, literally” and am relieved.
I feel someone pinch my shoulder from behind and it’s him. He goes in for a hug but I can’t turn around or stand up fast enough, so it’s the one-armed kind. We aren’t yet at the stage where we could joke about this kind of thing.
–Hey, he says.
–Hey there, I say.
He orders a whiskey and water and asks what I want. I tell him house red but instead he asks for a glass of something that has a difficult-to-pronounce name and a description that contains the words “pepper” and “palate” which was what I was hoping he’d do.
–Your lipstick’s nice.
He says this and puts his phone on the bar in between us.
I say thanks, smile. I’d forgotten I’d put it on, so now I’ll have to periodically lick my teeth to make sure red marks haven’t rubbed onto them.
He asks me how my day was. He asks it in the casual way of someone who expects a regulation-style answer. We’ve only hung out a few times, always on Fridays, so he doesn’t really know things about me. Like how my sister’s dead and like how my personality is different on a Tuesday than it is on a weekend.
Our drinks come and I take a kind of large sip.
He recently broke up with a long-term girlfriend and she knows he’s dating again. This I know because he told me unprompted over dollar beers and tacos. But he didn’t actually use the word “dating.” He said “hanging out.” I think his exact words were, “She knows I’m hanging out with another girl,” or something like that. Girl wasn’t plural. This information made me feel oddly proud.
I tell him my day was fine and he talks about his. I don’t really understand what his job entails. He says he works for a for-profit company that does non-profit work. He is in charge of “a team.” I try to picture him in an office – giving orders and having inside jokes. He smells like sandalwood.
He asks me about my feelings on Syria because he’s still deciding if he likes me. The phone between us buzzes before I can answer. He looks annoyed, speaks in Spanish to whoever’s on the phone. He plugs up his other ear with his elbow out like men do, makes a motion that he’ll be outside.
His family is Spanish. Like, from Spain, but he was born in Santa Barbara and grew up there. When he returns he says Sorry about that and I ask him to speak in Spanish because it’s sexy and because I “want to practice” the Spanish I stopped learning six years ago. He smiles and tells me to Go ahead, give it a try. I stumble through a few sentences that later I’ll repeat back in my head and realize what I conjugated wrong. A bar is not the place to try to speak another language. He moves on quickly.
–What’s the most dangerous thing you’ve ever done?
He likes questions like this. He has a new one every time. Where would you go if you could go anywhere in the world right now. What would you grab if your apartment were on fire and you had time to take only one thing. I’m starting to think it’s some kind of psychosocial experiment so I never really know how to answer. I don’t answer in the way I think he wants me to, though. Like, for example, for the latter question, I told him I’d grab the photo album filled with Polaroids from parties in high school. They’re stupid questions.
I consider telling him I once snorted a Percocet in college.
–I ride my bike without a helmet.
He’s going into the Peace Corps next summer so he knows all about this danger thing. He wants to build an economy in a place where people sleep in clay huts and where it never really gets cold. He told me this at our last Hang Out, and I’ve since periodically envisioned visiting him in some foreign place where we’ll eat with our hands and be greeted like celebrities like white people always are in documentaries and travel channel shows. I think about what I’ll wear. I picture my hair wrapped in a patterned scarf.