I think I’ll go back to my hotel room now & have a good cry.
Old. What is it that makes people think “old”? Where exactly is that line that turns an impression the all too brief and intangential corner from “young, vital, possible” into “old, out of reach, not worth bothering”? Is it the kind of jeans they’re wearing? Makeup? Hairstyle? Is it the xx pounds she put on after having a kid, or is it the way they walk? Is it a spark somewhere inside that has been banked – by bills, or a job, or being surrounded by friends with the same – and no longer flares out person to person on an instant’s notice? Perhaps it is the invisible walls we build up around ourselves at every small ding bump and scrape of the soul, carefully guarding against another of the same and eventually closing ourselves in. Martin told me in a spare moment of less-guarded passion – ever so gently, and with a bit of surprise –that I am “guarded”. Yes, yes I am. And all of those few who have made it in, whether for a moment or a lifetime did so by simply sitting quietly outside the gates saying with a gentle hand and soft and smiling heart, “it’s ok, I can wait. “
I used to (think I) had a good handle on how others see me. Perhaps I still do, but it doesn’t seem quite so crystal clear to me any longer, like something I can reach out and touch, turn and examine the facets of in the light. Today at work-lunch chatter I mentioned that we spent the weekend helping put on a fan club party in KC for a roving band of musical pirates… and my co-worker(s) said they’d never have in a million years have imagined me as a groupie. Why not? A few weeks ago I mentioned running pit crew for friends at the drag boat races, & the person I was talking to looked positively dumbfounded. As though I could't possibly be someone who spent their weekends doing anything but laundry. Trying to match up a new skirt & jacket with my daughter as fashion consult, she knocked down 3 options that looked “just right” to me, but that were apparently a bit too edgy for her on her mom. She said they just didn’t “look like you, mom”. Well, I guess they don’t. Not the ‘me’ she knows anyway. But they look great for the me on the inside. Why is that so not visible? My life USED to be so interesting! I used to DO things, KNOW people, BE places. “Something interesting” was always just around the corner one way or the other. An undertone of music and laughter and intrigue hummed through all of my days. There are still bits there that are, but there is apparently a chunk of me that has gathered enough dust to be totally unrecognizable. What was it tonight that garnered a different response from the helpful young man at Best Buy? Maybe because I was looking for speakers – good ones, with power. Maybe because I mentioned needing them for the drag boat races, having to overpower the generators. Maybe because of the time of night? Really, were those little details really enough to overcome the “middle class boring” responses that I would have generated elsewhere?
What AM I blathering on about anyway … simple question – I asked a clerk at Best Buy if they could recommend anywhere interesting to eat this time of night. (late – closing time) The answer? After a brief double-take and double-thought – as though he were sizing me up quickly, the boy took a shot & offered up Café 360*, a local hookah bar, that happened to also serve decent food. I know my eyes lit up, I know they did. Not for the reasons you might imagine, but because someone FINALLY offered up an option that wasn’t standard fare. Something I’d never tried before, something potentially interesting, off the beaten path. I’ve asked that same question in a thousand different places, a thousand different towns. Nearly always the answer is a major chain, “safe”. Places I’ve been a hundred times & could order off the menu without looking. Tonight, someone gave me an option that didn’t scream mundane middle class hausfrau buried in bills and grey days that march by one by one without fanfare. Hell yes, I was going to go give it a shot. I don’t care if it’s complete crap. I’m going.
Comfortable. A little edgy, with potential to be a lot edgy, but mostly comfortable. Gritty around the edges but clean. Feels like a college-town sort of place that folks of any age (but eclectic persuasion) might hang. Tables & chairs on the sidewalk speak to a potential busy clientele during the days, perhaps weekends… but on this Monday night it was quiet. Couple of tables of patrons quietly enjoying one another’s company. First impression was “local” – like maybe I was an outsider that didn’t quite belong, but that was quickly rallied, hidden under perfectly fine “I’ll roll with the punches” easygoing manners. Both of the young men working were very easy on the eyes. One had a young management sheen to him – smoking like it was still cool, sitting on a stool with legs crossed like a woman but without being effeminate. When he moved, he moved quickly, darting from here to there. As I left, he darted out the door – almost sprinting those two or three steps to a café table outside where he dropped into a chair and immediately pulled out another cigarette. Bored, interested, waiting for Godot, I don’t know – but interesting. The other young man was an even more interesting study. Pencil thin but not skin tight, jegged jeans emphasized the narrow body. T-shirt, old plaid button up over it. Longish dishwater blond hair gathered back into a messy but functional pony tail – he reminded me of Cody. Jerry, do you remember Cody? Of course I was attracted to him. Of course I was. First glance you might think “stoner”. /shrug and maybe that’s accurate, I don’t know. But he was GOOD. Laid back, casual, nevertheless he was really, really good at his job. He paid attention. When my drink got to ¾, he offered another. He was on it. He took my order, offered suggestions, advised when food would come out, collected plates & brought the receipt – not too early, not too late, helpful but not invasive, he PAID ATTENTION to his customers. He read their body language, timed it just right. And he makes a good drink too. Can I not emphasize that enough? Not too strong, not watered down crap. A good solid drink. Ahh.. there really is little I appreciate more than good service.
The food was fabulous. Crafted, not thrown together, but not pretentious. Fried chicken salad actually made with baby spinach and romaine (v. boring ol’ iceberg) as well as tomatoes and bits of green pepper. The fried chicken bits in it were plentiful and YUM! If I had gone there in a different mood, I might not have noticed quite so, but the Chicken Tiki (which came with the bartender’s quiet but highest recommendation) was amazing. The flavours were subtle, but they were a bouquet of subtle. You needed to pay attention to what was happening in your mouth, and when you did, it was like… like when I close my eyes to be able to swim in the boys’ harmonies when they’re singing something hauntingly beautiful. Wow. I even ate some of the rice, which I’ll pay for later tonight I know. But the rice had its own set of complimentary flavours – a pleasing aroma on the tongue. It’s what I always imagined saffron would taste like, muted; dawn breaking softly over a misty lake.
They took AmEx, and he split my tab food v drinks into separate tender without batting an eye. He knows the menu, the clientele, rolls with the punches and serves a mean drink. That boy owns that bar. Quietly, efficiently owns it. I hope they know what gold they have in him, and compensate him accordingly.
I didn’t try a hookah. I probably should have. Instead, I enjoyed my book, and the food. All my senses are sated now except for a wanting to be held, and a fierce desire to spend a half hour or more immersed in deep kisses in a dark hallway, corner, or alley. My lips are bloody tingling with that want, dammit. Can’t purchase that sort of thing – /wry tone -unfortunately didn’t see it anywhere on the menu. Spent time quietly swimming in long-ago but dearly remembered feelings of a time in my life when I felt young and hip and cool and wanted. I fantasized a bit about the young man behind the bar, and caught myself lightly running a finger around the edge of my glass as I did... unconscious invitation. I then reigned myself in from doing something fatally embarrassing like leaving a room key in the credit card folder. I left a really good tip instead – isn’t that what you do when you get older, and shouldn’t do the rather forward things you imagine doing, and maybe even might have in another life?
In another 20 or 30 years I’ll scoff at having talked about ‘old’ now, but so what? Old isn’t only what happens on the inside, and it isn’t only the choices we make (although we protest often and loudly that it is). Much like the if-a-tree-falls-in-the-forest, really, old is also something that happens if no one is watching. We need someone else – other humans – to recognize and acknowledge that we aren’t. We can fight that all we want, but humans need other humans. We need their touch; we need their acknowledgement, their recognition, their judgment. One brief instant of someone offering me an interesting option for dinner doesn’t negate the cumulative effect of xx some odd years of being perceived as mundane. Yes, I’m guarded. But I guess that spark on the inside? It doesn’t go out – it just becomes less visible. I wish it weren’t.
(Btw: Café 360 is in Louisville, KY. Give it a shot if you want something a little different, and with quietly fabulous food. I think my total was under $20 (for the food – we’ll not tally the bourbon), so expect it to be easy on the pocketbook as well as the rest of the senses.)