Of course, the minute I walk in, I remember why I don't go to bars. There are dozens of people drinking and talking, all to each other. This is a happy hour. It is where you come with your pre-existing acquaintances. They were all enjoying themselves before I arrived, and I don't see what I could add to the proceedings. This is not my scene, nor is it my arms race.
It is all well and fine to intend to be confident and talkative. But if intentions were interventions, we'd all be eating steak. All I can do is stand around people, be in their vicinity in hopes that they will either provide me an opportunity to jump in or notice me and ask me to join the conversation. After half an hour of being alone in a sea of conversation, I would talk to anyone—even, yes, a man—just to prove I still have the ability to speak. But I can't bring myself to bother anyone with my voice.
I spot an attractive redhead at the bar. She seems to be alone, but she also seems to be very interested in her phone, so I don't approach her. But fifteen minutes later, while the Lovespirals' new CD is being previewed, I see her in the back taking pictures of things with her phone. She is standing by herself. She must not have come with anyone.
"Are you alone too?" I do not say.
"Yes," she does not say.
"Would you like to be alone together?" I do not say. It was a line I had prepared for just such a situation, but it seems too silly to use.
When she was at the bar, she may or may not have met my eyes when I looked at her, and she may or may not be at the very least acknowledging my presence now, so when she goes to pull a sort of periodical from a stack at the back, I take the opportunity to ask her, "What is it?"
"It's a magazine," she says. Her voice is not sexy or sultry or soothing, but you can't have everything. She hands me a copy, and we silently look through the magazine, 994. It's a fashion mag of some sort, but this is the Vanguard Edition. I flip through the ads until I catch a fairly amusing, tongue-in-cheek guide to becoming part of the vanguard. The first tip is to get a publicist.
"Did you find anything interesting?" the woman asks. I search through the magazine, looking for the guide again. I find it and show it to her, telling her it's pretty funny. She begins reading and comments, "Oh, I need a publicist!"
"Yeah, they really help get your name out," I say. We are inches apart, looking at the same magazine.
"What are you trying to do?" she asks. Oh no. She's on to me. I hear in her voice the possible answers being A) strike up a conversation, B) buy me a drink, C) get in my pants, D) stitch a skin suit out of my dead corpse after you stab me and steal my organs.
"What do you mean?" I ask cautiously.
"What are you trying that you need a publicist?" Oh. Whew.
"Oh, I don't really need a publicist."
"Then how do you get your name out?"
"Talking to strangers at bars," I say. She smiles at the realization that she set me up for that. It just may be the smoothest thing I have ever said in my entire life. I offer her my hand: "I'm Sunil."
"Caitlin," she says, shaking. Her hand is soft.
"What do you need a publicist for?" I ask.
She laughs. "I don't need one either. I'm already famous."
"Oh? Where would I know you from?"
"Well, I'm famous in my small circle of friends. Or infamous." I resist the urge to claim that I am famous on the Internet. She continues, "I prefer being famous in a small group than really famous."
I kind of want to be really famous, but for the purpose of this conversation, I will agree. "You can't go anywhere without being recognized."
"And you always have to look good wherever you go."
"And you always have to have a pen to sign autographs."
"I carry a pen all the time anyway," she says.
"What are you here for?" I ask. "Or should I say, who are you here for?"
"I'm here to see Lovespirals since I'm a big Karmacoda fan." But she cannot stay very long. "I am trying to decide whether to have another drink. I was only supposed to have one drink, but then I put it on the counter and the bartender took it away. If I get another, it would be one..and a half drinks." She makes a funny face as she calculates. I like when girls drink, as it makes them more likely to talk to me. "Are you getting a drink?"
"No, I'm all right."
"You don't drink?" I am not quite sure how she made that leap, but she says it with conviction.
"Do you feel tempted to, sometimes?"
"In places like this, where I am at a disadvantage. Everyone is drinking and all, 'Woo, I have no inhibitions!'" Either appropriately or ironically, I accidentally drop my artificial, confident speaking style and talk like myself.
"But that's why a lot of people and religions don't drink, right? Inhibitions can be a good thing." I'm glad she isn't judging me. "But you don't really feel drawn to drinking or anything?"
"Like right now, I really want a cigarette, but I'm trying to stop smoking." Oh dear, I am hitting on a smoker. But at least she's trying to quit.
"Nah, I don't crave it. Sometimes I feel left out of the drinking experience, but it's by choice, so I can't complain."
"Do you order something without alcohol?"
"Like a Coke?"
"Or cranberry juice or something."
"Oh yeah, sometimes I ask for a fruit juice cocktail or something like that."
There are lulls in our conversation sometimes where we just stand and don't say anything. "Where do you have to go that you can't stay?" I ask.
She does not give details, but it is a place down south that she will be driving to.
"I actually have something else I need to go to, too. A friend of mine is performing in the Mission. Actually, there are two other things going on tonight, but I can probably only make one." Unbeknownst to me, I have also been invited to a house party at the Bus Stop Co-op, making yet another thing I will miss.
"Two out of three!" she says. "That's not bad."
There is a particular snatch of conversation for which I cannot remember the context. Perhaps it spins off the discussion of fame, or perhaps it spins off the discussion of drinking. She says, "If people would just align with their"—I hope she says "path," as that is a concept I would go along with—"energy." Uh oh. Will she get all New Age-y on me? I once struck up a conversation with a cute girl in a vegetarian fast food restaurant. Her name was Faith, no fooling. She, too, was into people's energies and auras and horoscopes.
I just pretend that she really means "path" in the sense that people ought to align with the way things are supposed to be. "That definitely helps. You have to know when that is, though."
"Most people don't know," she laments.
A man addresses us. "Are you guys waiting for drinks?"
We are not.
When he leaves, we smile. "We're standing here to make the bar look more popular," she says.
"We're like the seat-fillers at the Oscars," I add.
This is not how it happens in TV or the movies. Within five minutes of talking to a woman, we're supposed to be leaving to go have sex. I am no Dean Winchester.
She has to leave soon, but she also wants to hear some live music. Lovespirals are not taking the stage when they said they would. We wait. "Unless someone's stolen it," I say, "I do have a seat up in the front. Would you like to sit down?"
"If they start playing, sure. Do you want to go and make sure no one takes your seat? I'll join you when they start playing."
"Nah, it's okay." We stand silently, and every now and then during our intermittent conversation, she asks if I want to reserve my seat. In retrospect, perhaps she was trying to get rid of me, but if she really didn't want to talk to me, she could have walked away easily enough.
A thought strikes me, and I laugh. She is already putting on her jacket, poised to leave, but it's worth a try.
"Speaking of publicity, you should come see my play!"
"You're in a play?" She smiles. "I knew there was something you needed a publicist for! When is it?"
"Three weekends in March."
"And where is it?"
"At the EXIT Theatre, by Powell St. station, on Eddy."
"I don't think I know where that is. I'm not from San Francisco."
"Oh, where are you from?"
"Far away. Two hours."
"Oh! North or south?"
"Little bit of both." This makes absolutely no sense, but I let it slide, guessing she doesn't want me to stalk her and kill her. "I may be back in San Francisco in March. Can I find out about it on the Internet?"
"Yeah, it's by the Thunderbird Theatre Company. They do original comedies."
"Yeah. The play is called DeathPlay."
"Deaf Play?" She puts her hands over her ears.
"Death, as in you die. But it's a comedy."
"DeathPlay. Is it a play about death?"
"It's about two rival theatre companies fighting to the death for the last theatre space in town."
I consider asking for her number just to be rejected, just to do it, never having done it before, but I don't want to press my luck. I'm not that brave yet.
"It was great meeting you," she says as she leaves.
"It was nice meeting you too."
"I hope you make two of your three things!"
And I do.