From where I stood behind the bar I could see Kenny’s face reflected a thousand times in the hanging glassware. He drew near, hands apart, sleeves rolled up, leaning on the glossy wood and shined brass rail.
“I’m tryin’ to fuck those girls at that table over there,” he said while making the kind of unbearably long eye contact so foreign to Pacific North-Westerners, and letting out a laugh I can only describe as “frat boy.”
“Ya, they’re cute for sure.” I made no attempt at being heard over the drone of SportsCenter, clinging glasses, and drunken conversation. I did not have a way of telling Kenny how little I cared to discuss the appearance of people on table sixteen. It just did not interest me, though nothing really seems to. His eyes were still fixed on me, wishing me to be some sort of reflection of him. I tried to look away, to busy myself. There was nowhere to go. Leaning closer still, he said in a encouraging tone, “go talk to them!”
“Go talk to them duudde!”
“I got stuff to do.”
“Bull. Shit. Go on!” He was completely unwilling to take no for an answer. I wondered what his stake was in all this. Wasn’t I just his bartender? What did he understand our relationship to be? I was not his bro.
The men on either side of him were listening now, watching the situation unfold over their plates of buffalo wings and half-empty two dollar pints of Bud Light. They wanted to see me go bother the girls on table sixteen. I had ceased to be their bartender – I was now their movie star. They watched with full mouths and hungry eyes.
He’s well-liked. Kenny always seems to know a handful of people at the bar. He’s a stand-up guy with Southern charm and charisma. I like him too, but we always seem to have some variation of this interaction. I’ve learned to search for distractions when I see him coming in. Who won the game last night? We’ve got a special on draft beer today! Did you hear about [insert actor or politician’s name]?
“You should go talk to them. Come on, say hi, just a little hello, they totally want it,” he continued.
“You hear they might sell the Sacramento Kings and move them up here? Sonics are coming back to Seattle bro! Basketball in Seattle once again!”
The Sonics are always a hot topic for discussion in Seattle. The mood of the entire bar can shift in a matter of seconds after someone brings up the forgotten team. I remember working the night they announced the team would be moving to Oklahoma City. The feelings of sudden emptiness in the lives of all the sports fanatics in town. The anger inside, as if they’d been personally wronged – as if it wasn’t just business as usual. That night they all made their pilgrimage to the temple of alcohol to escape the reality of the loss of their escape from reality. I served them booze. I was one of them.
“They’re looking at you bro! Go say what’s up!” The frat boy laugh returned, and somehow for a split second I became lost.
“Fuck it.” I span around towards table sixteen, dropping the plastic storm-pour in my hand. Walking in their direction I made eye contact with one of the girls. She smiled at me. I posted up at their table, making jokes. She laughed. I asked where she was from. She answered. I told her I was from Texas originally. She was interested. I threw caution to the wind. She invited me out that night. I gave her my number. She smiled. I walked back to Kenny at the bar, her number in hand. The whole interaction seemed mechanical to me, the product of endless ribbing at the bar. It was not significant, I thought, as Kenny opened his still half-full mouth to congratulate me.
“My mann!” He said.
“You tell her you gonna give her that dick?”
“Playa Playa! This guy’s a maack!”
“You think her friend is single too?”
“You’re killin’ it, bro!”
“Thanks, dude.” I began to busy myself with a load of dishes in order to end my conversation with Kenny. A few minutes later I overheard him boastfully discussing favorite Sonics moments of the past with some guys next to him; it was finally safe to look up.
I left at about midnight, thankful to not have to work the closing shift. The piece of cocktail napkin with ten digits scrawled across it lay quietly in a trashcan. Kenny had left hours ago. Stepping out of the stuffy, loud bar into the cold, rainy night was pleasant. The ambient sounds of industrial acres in a city not quite asleep paired nicely with the immediate melody of rain on pavement. The sloshing of every step leaving no tracks behind as each print was washed down into the gutter. It wasn’t until I was almost home that I read her text. Looking through my cracked iphone screen I found that the girl from earlier, the one from Kenny’s prompting, had taken the time to send me a text.
“hey, it’s Sarah :) when r u off?” I was kind of surprised she even reached out. I had just assumed that she was as uninterested as I. Wasn’t everybody just going through the motions?
“Off now, what up,” I replied.
“At The Zone by Safeco field, come by ;)”
I obliged, walking the few blocks out of my way to meet her at The Zone, a bar almost as stuffy and testosterone filled as the one that pays my bills. I wanted nothing less than to go back to some shitty sports bar, but almost as if Kenny was still leaning into my thoughts, I decided to proceed and see where this might lead.
Our round of drinks stood half-empty when closing time rolled around. Her friends had left about an hour ago, suggesting that she might be going home with me. I asked if she wanted to come home with me. She obliged.
We made our way across streets and up and down blocks, letting the light rain wet our hair. Walking up the steps to my apartment I wiped the water from my face as I dug in my pocket for the door key. I found it. We entered.
Up the stairs, down the hall, last door on the left. She stood in front of the entrance with her back to it, looking up at me. I gave her a kiss. It seemed appropriate, but I was not quite sure why. Maybe that’s just what people do, maybe this is all just human nature? How convenient. She grabbed my shirt and pulled me through. I stumbled a bit, fighting with the alcohol, overbalancing and knocking a framed picture off the wall.
I stopped and picked the picture up, righting it on the wall, forcing myself not to exclaim more obscenities as I realized the glass had shattered. Once I had hung it on the wall, I could no longer stand looking at it. I closed my eyes and turned back to the lady standing behind me. I figured she probably wanted to go to the bedroom, so I walked in there. She followed me in and we had sex on my already unmade bed. Someone’s elbow knocked a half-empty glass of water off my bedside table. It too shattered when it hit the ground. This time I pretended like I didn’t notice, but the sound of exploding glass had become all too familiar, unavoidable even, one of life’s only certainties.
A short while later we were done. I lay there in my own head, expecting some sort of weight to be lifted. I waited for the feelings of triumph Kenny wanted me to have, or wanted for himself. I waited for the imaginary high five. I waited and did not speak. I could feel her in her own head as well. I wondered what she was thinking about. Could it be the same labyrinth of self-doubt? Could she too be checking the road map to self-definition? Or maybe to her this was just sex, such a simple, enticing thought I immediately became jealous of the hypothetical woman I imagined next to me. I imagined her next to me – and in a matter of fact tone, she announced, “I’m going to the bathroom.”
“It’s over to the right of the kitchen.”
“This apartment isn’t that big,” She said in an ambiguous way that veiled her true thoughts. Again, I wondered what was in her mind as she rolled over and turned away from me, rising to go track down the hidden bathroom. And again I was pulled from my head, it was now her turn to let out an obscenity filled scream.
My shoulders tensed for a split second. I feared the scream was directed at me. I thought for sure she must have finally got fed up with me hiding in my own head. I was being a terrible and I knew it. She must be cursing the way I fail to be engaged even during the most intimate moments people can share. But then again, a liquor aided one-night stand that grew from a few shared laughs in a sweaty sports bar and a moist walk home can’t exactly be mentioned in the same sentence with “the most intimate moments people can share.” What was I doing?
It was the glass. Her scream was the result of a lonely shard piercing through her skin as she laid her foot on the cold, dangerous floor, still covered with the remnants of the broken water glass. The shard did not know what it was doing, it just happened to be sharp. Maybe it was just lonely, missing the rest of the glass, seeking some form of companionship.
“I’m gonna go get this cleaned up, I don’t want to be bleeding all over your floor–Yuck!” She tip-toed around the rest of the glass on her way out the door to the bathroom.
I lay back with thoughts forming. They were coming from all directions as they usually did. They came faster than before. Self-doubt, confusion, loneliness. I felt lost in my own bed. I turned on the TV.
The voices of the commentators came across before I could tell who was playing. The emblem in the bottom left bled through the harsh LED backlit 1080p resolution screen: ESPN, the word of God to the disciples I served every day. I was one of them. My focus shifted from the red lettering to the game on TV. The Oklahoma City Thunder were playing the Clippers.
Kevin Durant had close to forty points. The Thunder were going to win.
The grief rushes to me like water to a drowning man thrown overboard. There was nothing I could do, not even if I changed the channel, cause I knew that the channel was always going to be there with its red lettering and commentators and fucking basketball games that I want so desperately to not care about but I do and I know that I do even if they don’t care about me back. It gives me something to root for in life because walking the solemn streets of Seattle doesn’t quite cut it. I’ve never left a footprint on concrete, the rain can attest to that. I’ve never had a good time in a sports bar, no matter how many jerseys are hung on the walls. I’ve never broken glass that could be repaired without still seeing the web of cracks and imperfections that run all the way through it. There is not enough Gorilla Glue in the world and even if there is I know better than to try. Alcohol has been good to me, but you can’t make a career of what you love or else you cease to love it in the first place, like a brilliant writer penning words for DVD player instructions manuals. With every beer I serve and every eye that falls upon me behind the bar I need even more to escape from what started as my escape. Tears flood my eyes and I can not hold them back.
The TV shows a replay of Kevin Durant hitting a three pointer. The Thunder are going to win and Seattle is going to continue to not have a basketball team and one day if a team does return it will never be the Sonics. I will spend my life trying to root for an incarnation of what could not be, and it will never win. The promise land will be a barren desert stripped of its fertility by years of monoculture. The fruits of my emotional investment will always be inedible, too bitter to chew upon, too acidic to digest. My breathing becomes gasps and I can no longer see, blindfolded by what were once calm seas, now violent waves crashing over my eyelids like a tsunami over a tropical beach, washing away the margaritas and dozens of people vacationing. There was no way to stop it, nor did I want to. For the first time all evening I felt engaged, wholly present in the moment.
From the other room I could hear Sarah slipping out the front door. Hopefully the glass is out of her foot. I would have left too. I needed to be left to the consuming selfishness of my feelings. Once all the sobs and quick breaths were gone and my eyes had dried, I slowly came back to reality. I sat at the edge of my bed a while, examining the shards, breathing deeply. I turned off the TV.