I went to my old wagon wheel bar tonight. The place I’ve gone more consistently than anywhere else in the city on Tuesday nights these past (almost) five years. The place I’ll take my kids when they’re 21 and I’m 51, where I’ll get drunk like I did when I was 23 and complain about how much things have changed since the good old days and the kids will have to figure out how to navigate a cab through New York while I’m pretending to be passed out, but am secretly just closing my eyes and listening to them try to handle themselves.
My bartender was there. His new girlfriend was sitting in my seat at the end of the bar, so I sat at the opposite side with my friends to avoid her. I felt a tad dethroned, but only a tad, as we were always better friends than lovers. I felt a nagging twinge of annoyance as she sat there and watched me with laser eyes, not just because she was doing that, but because she didn’t have anything better to do. I did, but I was choosing to be there despite. I was in full judgment mode, ignoring her and him until she finally retreated off into the night.
“Girls do that to each other, way more than guys do,” my bartender said, once I finally had him to myself and I asked him if his girlfriend still hated me for knowing what we were. “Perhaps,” I said, thinking of Lana Del Rey.
With her away, he engaged my friends and poured me drinks when I wasn’t looking, like he used to do. He was mine again, only insomuch as he ever was from moment to moment, which was barely. But it was relieving to have my friend back. I’d worried that he’d changed.
He told me he did, that he was thinking about quitting the bar, as the hours were wearing on him and his new domestic life.
“I’m getting old, babe, ” he said, smiling. Smiling the friendliest smile in the world that so quickly twists into a grimace when the switch flips come 5am and he acts like he hates everyone including me, but secretly just himself which is why I never take it personally. I looked at him with my ‘whatever I don’t see age’ eyes, and initiated a thought experiment.
“What do you think I’ll be like at your age?” I asked.
His eyes widened and he replied all too quickly: “Scary. And smart. And smart. Scary smart.”
“Better keep drinking then to balance it out,” I said, and he poured me another glass of Sauvignon Blanc.