Not just an ordinary bar, a speakeasy bar tucked away in Williamsburg proper with an entrance so discrete you could walk right by it while knowing the address. Above the narrow gray cement entryway is the word “bar” painted in the most delicate of fonts. The heavy wooden door gives way to a long hallway and a second door, which finally lets out into a huge, wooden room with no decorations except for the back light on the bottles of liquor positioned in an array across the wall behind the bar.
This is my place of sanctuary in New York, my Cheers, where everybody knows your name and if they don’t they learn it within minutes because all the weird night owls of Brooklyn go there to banter with strangers when they need to be alone in public. “Regularity” isn’t a term you can apply to much about my life in New York City, but going to that place on Tuesday nights is probably the most regular thing I’ve done throughout these past four years. On Tuesdays, the bar is pleasantly scarce, allowing my favorite, long-haired, Alkaline Trio-loving bartender plenty of time to pay attention to me. Sometimes he sings my name when I walk in, as I saunter across the room before I take my place on the last bar stool, the seat that is reserved for the bartender’s favorite by unspoken speakeasy law.
So last night, I was sitting there when a man walked into the bar. He was a patron of some regularity, as the bartender and Mary, the regular sitting next to me, greeted him by his name, Connor, and introduced him to me. I watched him interact for a few minutes, without saying anything. There are so many instances in my everyday life where I am compelled to force pleasantries with people who simply must be liked, but when I am out by myself in Brooklyn, I allow myself be as standoffish as I want.
Connor started explaining to the three of us that he had come here to escape an odd situation in which he had felt compelled to suddenly leave his girlfriend’s house. “I just had to get up and go right at that moment,” he said, confused. “I don’t know what came over me, I just got up and left.”
“Why?” the bartender asked.
“I don’t know,” Connor replied. “I asked myself that and I just couldn’t come up with an answer.”
“Do you usually?” I asked, entering the conversation. My participation was like a prize for him, and he began to speak animatedly as if his words were a return gift.
“Yeah. You know how like, when you’re thinking about something, and you ask yourself a question, and your brain answers back with the answer? It’s usually a back and forth, but this time it was just a blank. There was no answer. Don’t you do that when you think?”
“It’s a pretty fluid process for me,” I replied flatly. There was something about Connor and his lack of introspection that set my loser alerts on high.
“So you just left your girlfriend?” Mary asked.
“Yeah, I just needed to leave.”
“What happened that prompted you to leave?” I asked, playing psychologist.
“It was a pretty normal night,” he said.
“But what happened right before you got up and left?”
“Well…” he said before pausing for a moment, “there was a dysfunctional vagina incident.”
The end of the bar erupted in a chorus of “Ooooh”s and “Okay”s, glad to finally have the logical truth. I said nothing but put my elbow on the bar and pressed my fingertips to my temple. He continued:
“Yeah, we’ve been dating for a while and whenever we have sex it’s like fucking PEMDAS. You know what PEMDAS is, right?” he asked looking at me with a challenge in his eye.
“Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally,” I said, squinting at him. “How does PEMDAS apply to sex?”
“Because she needs everything to be done in a certain order or else it derails the whole train.”
“You know, just because you can’t get your girlfriend wet, it doesn’t mean she has a dysfunctional vagina,” I said. The bartender stifled a laugh.
“I knew one of you women was going to say that,” Connor said.
“So you got mad at her for not getting wet and then you just left?” Mary asked in disbelief.
Connor shrugged, and said he would have stayed if it had been later or he was tired, but there were waterworks of self-doubt, so he left and came here. The bartender was shaking his head at this point and caught my eye. Once upon a time in college, I used to think there was something wrong with me, that my body was broken somehow because it wouldn’t respond the way the boys I dated expected it to. I decided that sex was inherently unenjoyable, that the whole act was just a patriarchal plot to keep women submissive, and that women who claimed to like it were probably just deluded in a way similar to Stockholm Syndrome or were simply enduring it to obtain some power in the relationship. It wasn’t until that bartender and a few sets of soaking sheets that I realized how wrong I was.
I wonder how many women live their whole lives thinking they’re sexual misfits because the men who govern their sexuality aren’t comfortable or giving or skilled enough with their own to activate the sexual response mechanisms innate in their partners, physically and mentally.
Connor did a shot and asked the bartender if he wanted to roll the dice with him in a game of threes, but the bartender dismissed the idea. Connor didn’t ask Mary and I to play, obviously, since we’re women and all. But I slapped a bill on the table and told him to roll.
I took his money every game with a smile on my face.