a bit of Shana and Donny.

“I feel like any conversation I have with any man right now is going to end with him mentioning a girlfriend… or just being a weirdo,” I said to my brother on the phone yesterday. “Maybe it’s a full moon thing, like that one Archie comic, you remember, when he dressed up in a wig and dress to escape the crazies?”

Yes, yes, my brother said. I had just finished listing all the “weird” male behavior I’d witnessed in the past two weeks: the Distant Friend who said he’d like to hear how I was doing, and then didn’t respond for several days, the married penpal who appeared to be sending me provocative poetry, someone I’d met online who, when I suggested we meet for a beer, asked, “Should I bring my overnight bag?” the guy who kept staring at me during a recent BBQ but turned out, at the very end of the evening, to be dating a girl he hadn’t so much as brushed elbows with the entire time I was there, a likable photographer I met with my boss for a work project, who had just moved from Rochester to Buffalo to live with his girlfriend, and a guy named Charlie who leaned all over me at Goodbar last weekend, buying shots and cracking jokes, assuring my wingwoman that he did not have a wife or girlfriend, but who didn’t even respond to a casual but friendly text message a few days later.

“Candi said he might have been so drunk he didn’t remember who I was,” I told my brother, “But he was just a liquor store guy!”

“Maybe this is because you talk to the guys at the bar who wear Wheeler’s Used Cars t-shirts, and not the guys in suits,” Ian suggested.

“No, I did talk to a guy in a suit lately, that friend of Plumtopher’s,” I reminded him. “He freaked me out.”

My brother had nothing more to offer, but I invited him to continue brainstorming reasons why every interaction I had with men lately had either mystified me or contained that dreaded line, “My girlfriend…”

At the same time, I’ve been watching a lot of A Bit of Fry & Laurie, a late-eighties, short-lived English comedy starring Hugh Laurie (Dr. House) and Stephen Fry, that guy who’s in everything. After lusting over House with my mom for the past couple years (you can find proof on this blog’s very first entry) I would probably watch Hugh Laurie read old grocery receipts and enjoy it. Still, although they’re genuinely funny actors, their skits in A Bit tend to wrap up with a joke that’s always a bit too tidy. They set up two engaging characters, play out an amusing conversation, and end it with one elbowing the other while the live audience laughs. It’s forced.

And, so is my life. In order to convey this properly, I will now switch to present tense.

I rant to my brother, release him from the phone conversation, finish work, and walk home to gather taco fixings and a leftover six pack to bring to my friends’ house. The three of us eat chicken tacos on the front porch and drink too much while watching a comedy I love dearly but which put Dawn to sleep, ending the evening a bit early.

I say my goodbyes, gather up my salsa, and head home. But as I reach my corner I pause, tempted by the sight of the bar across the street. It’s only eleven-thirty and I’m not quite ready to go home yet, so, warning myself to behave, I go on in. Ordering a vodka and settling in at the discreet, far corner of the bar, I admire a muscular guy playing darts with his friend, make unfair assumptions about the couple sitting next to me, and keep an eye on the bartender. The bartender wears huge glasses, skinny t-shirts, and full sleeve tattoos on both arms. I have actually met this bartender before while drinking vodka with a man I was very sorry to wake up with the day after Fourth of July. But I can’t remember his name, and this saddens me, because he has a big smile and those great tattoos.

A seat opens up in the middle of the bar and I move down, ready for fresh people watching. A female bartender appears, complimenting my earrings and introducing herself as Shana. Next to me, a man with bags under his eyes and white hair curling over his ears asks Shana if she approves of his Hawaiian shirt. He holds his shoe over the bar to show her that it matches his shorts, and she assures him it’s all very tasteful. He glances at me and, immediately deciding he’s the most entertaining person in the place, I tell him the shirt may be okay but the comb-over is a mistake.

We engage in acceptably distant banter about his hair, his grasp of the French language, a bad joke about cannibals. Then he offers to buy me a drink and I tell the tattooed bartender, sorry, no can do. A bit more banter, but I’m also watching Meryl Streep laugh with Stephen Colbert on the TV over the bar. I can’t remember why the elderly man started to unbutton his Hawaiian shirt to show me his chest, but I look at nearby Shana for help and she waves her hands, saying, “No, no, come on, let’s at least keep the nipples covered.”

Buttoning his shirt with great reluctance, he moves on to heritage, trying to guess what I could possibly be if not Irish. Somehow that leads him to announce that Obama is going to ruin this country, being a socialist leftist mumble mumble who’s trying to take credit from Bush for ending the war. I gasp and tell him Bush did no such thing and the war is very far from being over, at which point my Hawaiian-shirt wearing buddy exclaims, “F*** you!” flings his drink over the edge of the bar and storms out.

I look around, astonished at how quickly he’s vanished, and turn back to see Shana pouring beers, asking, “Where’d he go?”

“I don’t know,” I say, “I defended Obama and he said f-you and stormed out.”

She rolls her eyes. “Thank you.”

We joke a bit about him, she returns to tending bar, and the tattooed bartender takes her place. “So did you really not want another drink or did you just not want one from him?” he asked.

“Not one from him,” I respond, telling him about the Obama thing. The bartender shakes his head with a big grin, saying, “He hasn’t been president that long, it’s too soon to judge. And besides, I’m just happy he can string together a complete sentence.”

We bond over our enthusiasm for Obama’s command of the English language, and the tattooed bartender reaches his hand over the bar, introducing himself as Donny. We keep talking and he says, “Is your hair naturally red?”

“No, I dye it.”

“Because my girlfriend has red hair and she can’t tan like you are…”

I could just hear the English audience laughing.

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