Last updated: February 22nd.
I notice how I’ve been here longer than usual for a Thursday night as she drags me to a set of free bar-stools. The brushing back or her straight layered hair tells me that she expects me to speak, “Look, before I start, I should probably warn you. This isn’t one of those quick, cheery little stories that pretty girls like you are accustomed to hearing as you let men buy you a drink.” I’m boring her. I can tell, and in record time too. I was trying to ensure that she would have a good time tonight, to restrain myself from, well, from my own thoughts.
But I lose myself when I begin speaking. Actually speaking I mean, which is very much different than what we, as people, normally do. You start really speaking when the words coming out of your mouth are words you would actually like to say. They aren’t formulated or controlled, but instead we are talking about exactly what we want to talk about and you have no idea how you are going to finish until, well, until you do finish…until you finish speaking. I don't want to say it comes “from the heart,” but it certainly comes from somewhere.
“But it’s a good story, I think. Or maybe not. You’re such a sweetheart, please just bear with me.”
Get us in a bar and you’ll start hearing people speak. Really you don’t need the bar, just give us the atmosphere. There’s confidentiality in the atmosphere of a bar. One of the noisiest and belligerent places ever and it’s the only place we can talk freely and feel fully protected. I suppose we take our dignity and our judgment and bury them into ash trays, or coat them in greasy foods that slide down our throats, or maybe it collects somewhere in those bustling and disgusting bathrooms.
So I’m sitting with this girl, who quietly and subtly shipped me away from our group after stories of asshole police officers and blurts of religious and political heresy that we disguise as “having a good time,” and I’m speaking. My first mistake I suppose, because I’ve always really adored her.
“I’m sitting at this bench; one of those oddly placed benches that just suffice to fill the emptiness of walkways and are doomed to this like, lonely purpose of catching wingless humans occasionally, just sitting there for no particular reason. Enjoying the weather maybe, but I was certainly pouring sweat as I sat on that bench that failed to take comfort in the nearby shade of oak trees behind me.”
Maybe I’ve always been a story-teller at heart, but it’s not like I’m this big public central figure. The gorgeous little life-sucker here isn’t exactly going to scurry off to her friends when I’m finished chatting and giggle out some nonsense while darting looks back to me. Honestly I just like to speak, my definition of speak, and the few occasions I get for this opportunity open me up to a world of exchangeable memories and mind-manipulative images with overbearing and yet truthful adjectives. I came up with that masterpiece of a sentence last Thursday, with no direct inspiration, and decided to write it down on a torn envelope.
“It was a nice little break from my day- to just sit there absently-mindedly with the combination of passing people and refreshing spring air.”
On Thursdays, we tend to flock over to the “Power Plant” for their cheap deals and “live” entertainment. This usually means I hang out for a bit, laugh myself to tears and then promptly leave at the peak of my enjoyment. It startles everyone when I am smiling big and cascading through memories and just suddenly stand up and wave goodbye. And then, on this typical Thursday night, I wander home and click on my computer monitor, and bring up some highly sophisticated articles in the world of philosophy and, as I like to label it, “High Thinking.” I’m too drunk to operate my laptop touch-pad, and frankly I’ll do without the risks, so I usually have to rudely burst through my roommate’s door and snatch his wired mouse. To be fair, I knock…after the door is already half open, and of course I ask for the mouse after it has already been unplugged.
Always have to make sure to keep up with the high-thinkers. I’ll be reading this essay about humans being four dimensional objects, don’t worry the author is clear to notify how “wide spread” of a debate this is in his 5 page long introduction, and I’ll be tapping my foot; getting that real anxious feeling that I can’t quite put my finger on. They’re off talking about each indefinable moment of time as just another part of a fourth human dimension and I’m like “woah, how did I forgot to grab a beer.” I sit back down and pop the bottle cap into the floor and say “Yeah, I guess it makes sense that we could miss an entire 4th of our own existence.” I actually do say this aloud; loud enough to feel the sting of my roommate’s eyes as he glares at me through his carelessly left open door. He’s wearing head phones and blasting his silly Japanese electronica music, but he’s very quick to slam the door shut when he realizes that it’s Thursday night and I’m at my computer. But, it’s Thursday night now… and instead of theological arguments and paradoxes I have a glossy, purple lipped beauty next to me.
“So yeah, I’m sitting there, with the back of my hand in my face as I pan out my bangs as far as they will go, which is exactly 2 ½ inches, and I hear a quick thud, tap…tap. Just like that: thud, tap…tap. I look over and this little girl is stumbling to her feet. Yes, she stumbled even while regaining her composure, little girls always do that. I suppose she was somewhere between 5 and 9 years old. I can never really tell how old kids are.”
The gem across from me is politely sipping on her tiny glass of intoxication as I babble on. I say babble on, and yes I’ve been drinking, but when I tell stories like this I talk perfectly clear. It’s actually disappointing how clear I talk, because I just realize how much of a mumbling ass I must be throughout the other 99.8% of my life. But she’s listening, like actually listening.
“I drop my hand onto my knee and glance over at her. She’s wearing this cute little white dress with blue flowers or something sewn all over and she’s smiling so much. So much that I realized how miserable I must have looked sitting on that bench mindlessly playing with my own hair. Kids have the luxury of being able to play off embarrassing moments by totally ignoring they ever happened. If I had stumbled around as she had there, I would have either awkwardly laughed it off or forcefully launched my face to the ground for the better aerodynamics of a quick getaway. This girl, on the other hand, professionally ignores it as her arms float up and out as she balances, putting her right heel smack in front of her left toes, and she’s genuinely smiling the whole time.”
I’m probably getting some “bonus points” here as a sweetheart because I’m talking about a lovable little girl, but I swear this was never my intention. Not when I started, at least. You see what I’m saying about really speaking?
“She’s a gymnast on an invisible beam now, right in front of left, left in front of right, and then thud, tap…tap and she’s falling over again. This happened a few times before she finally shows a weakness; sighing in my direction, and opening an invitation for me to ask ‘little girl, what exactly are you trying to do?’
‘Walk in a straight line!’ She’s very authoritative in the way she says this, and only shows the tiniest bit of excitement in the raising of her voice in the last word. I still think today that she was just begging me to acknowledge her, and that sigh was just her frustration at me for sitting there just like a boring adult on a boring lonely bench.”
I have to make sure the lady is looking at my eyes for this next part. That’s a vital part of storytelling, selective eye contact. I’ve found that if used correctly, eye contact is the absolute best way to send out signal flares that this specific part of the story is important. Like you’re telling this story about a dog crossing the street and almost being hit by cars, and you make some fierce eye direction when you get to the part where he leaped over the oncoming traffic and landed safely on the pavement. Couple that eye contact with a dramatic pause and your listener may even hold their breath!
“I say to the girl, ‘Walking in a straight line, but why would you want to do that?’”
Here’s my dramatic pause, followed up by a return to my conversational tone:
“Turns out the girl has thought this through and she makes a pretty good point. If she can walk in a perfectly straight line, she’ll never get lost! I start thinking about how true this in and how deep this girl just plunged into my soul. Yes, plunged right in. Think about it, not just in that literal sense that if you walk completely straight you won’t get lost, but if you stay on a straight path, always, you’ll know where you came from, how you got there, and most importantly…where you are headed.”
I can’t tell if the dramatic pause and eye contact was effective. She’s become very had to read, just staring blankly and occasionally sipping her colorful concoction of…something. Not sure what it is, wasn’t paying attention to her drink order.
“Sadly, it’s nearly impossible to stay straight. Thought about telling the girl that, but decided not to destroy her hopes. Then I got bored of that thud, tap…tap and just said it, ‘It’s not that easy, nobody can walk too far in just a straight line.’
‘But I gotta try!’ she really is adorable. ‘Shouldn’t I try?’ This killed me. I started thinking too hard about my life. Replaying everything in super chopped up fast motion that led to this moment at this bench. Suddenly I was depressed because I realized how many times I conceded my dreams and all that. I’ll stop with this regretful blubbering because it’s become borderline disgusting to people these days to hear about forgotten and discarded dreams. I blame that little girl though. Rascal got me thinking too hard. ‘Fine, try…try all you want little girl.’ She giggled and began to hover out her foot and aim it at the pavement. Then she just gave up and started skipping, stopping in from of some ugly flowers a few feet out from the sidewalk. She really got over the whole straight line thing, that fast? I understand now how irrational I was being to assume that this kid had the same life-lesson implication in mind that I did. She’s just a little girl, right?”
And that’s a rhetorical question. Yet another good touch for a proper story.
“Here’s where the events got strange for me, because otherwise this was just a normal occurrence where I wrap myself up in the complexities of absolutely nothing. Two guys approach her quickly. One is in all black: black shoes, black jeans held up by a black belt with a rusty buckle, and a tight tucked in-black t-shirt that is fading just as much as the hair on his head. But he’s got these crazy arching eyebrows and a wide smile. The other is dressed in a lot of red, a strange hat that was something like a French beret, a red V-neck shirt, and strange high-red socks. A weird couple of guys, and while I was deep into thinking if I had ever seen a man in red socks before, they swooped off the girl by each hand and quickly darted down the sidewalk.”
The attention to color is only something you bring out in stories when trying to explain three things: beauty (light colors), trouble (dark colors), or mystery (odd colors on odd objects). If I was telling the lady about a funny thing that happened on my last game of golf, color would be an afterthought. There’s no mystery, trouble, or beauty in golf. I’m really glad I didn’t make an embarrassing golfing joke so far tonight.
“They took her away so fast. Even though I was watching, I hadn’t even seen exactly what happened. I know that they covered her mouth so she wouldn’t scream, and I know that they were just about to walk off the sidewalk and into the parking lot when I finally decided to go after them.”
I took a large gulp of my beer, really the only gulp I had taken all night. I’m very good at going to bars and appearing like I’m drinking a lot and ‘partying’ but really I’m drunk without it and usually make do with the minimal amount. It was a terrible breaking point in the story, but good timing on my part. My delicate audience of one nodded over to the stage where some college kid was hooking up his Mac-computer to a bunch of speakers. Time for that “live performance.” I guess I forgot it was Thursday. We silently agreed to find a quieter place to continue the talk, which meant that my story was somehow keeping her interest, and wandered off to the balcony with our drinks.
The night air was refreshing, which pissed me off. It ruined the mood of my story, and I had to wait awhile and pretend like I was admiring the view of rectangular concrete buildings all around before I was back in the twilight-like atmosphere of the bar.
“I wasn’t exactly running but I did catch up really fast. It was one of those chases where you turn a corner just in time to see them make their turn. Pretty convenient. I caught up to them while they were waiting for cars to let go by in order to cross the street. I should have heroically grabbed one by the shoulder and spun him around, but instead I just gave a light tap on the side of their arm.
The man in red turned and said, ‘can I help you?’ Somehow not the response I expected.
So I said, ‘The uhh..girl…why…who are you?’ Yeah, I forgot how to talk. They just laughed and looked at the girl. She had such a blank expression on her face, as if none of this had fazed her, as if she wasn’t even mentally there: Just a physical empty shell that was on standby for whenever she returned and starting screaming. Then they all smiled at me, all three of them. ‘But you…well both of you…you’re like, the devil aren’t you?’ Don’t ask me where this idea came from, but I just immediately pinned them as a collective force that made up the devil. Something I’ve never believed in, but I was absolutely sure that they were the devil when I saw them. Words seemed to just pour from the man in red, ‘that’s usually where people make the mistake, thinking we’re the devil.’ That was so unsettling of a comment that I found myself wishing he had just confessed the sins of thousands of years and said ‘why yes, yes I am the devil…pleased to meet you.’ Instead, I get this notion that this is a common interaction and that I’m making some sort of huge mistake.
I just glared at them. For a long time. The man in black wouldn’t stop smiling while the red one was squinting his eyes and measuring me up. About 2 minutes went by before I turned around and walked away. I wasn’t going to be adding to whatever statistic of mistakes this man was referring to. I needed to take more extreme action. So I got in my car and cut off their path awhile down the road, drawing a lot of commotion from the people around. Rolled down the window, made sure to lock the doors, and asked ‘where are you taking the girl?’
The man in red answered ‘to a new home’ and with my wit I replied ‘what’s wrong with her old home.’ They both laughed.”
I stopped my story to make sure she was still following. The plot got a lot more intense and fast paced and I had to make sure it wasn’t pissing her off. I know when I’m reading those philosophy papers, if these high-thinkers just cut to the chase and explain their argument I get all whiney and confused. You need that buffer in between. Well, she looked pretty skeptical but altogether still with me.
“I went back to my glaring, now safely in my seatbelt and only half-rolled down window, when they started laughing. I was trying to be the badass young man in 4-door, paint-chipped sedan. It shouldn’t be a surprise to you that I don’t have the most intimidating face. However, if you do any face for a long enough time, you’re bound to get a reaction. That’s what I got, a reaction. The smiling man in black reached into his pocket and pulled out some folded over packet of paper, which he then straightened out and presented to me. I refused to get out of my car so I just peered over and could barely make out anything. All I got was that it was some court order, was signed with a signature that certainly looked official, and the edges looked still crisp from a copy-machine.”
I started clearing my throat and looking around at the ground. My story was just about to come to an end. She sat patiently; her glass held before her face and stained with her glossy lipstick.
“Listen, even if the man in red made a compelling argument that he had that court order to take that girl, something was up. It didn’t sit well and still doesn’t. You can’t explain things always, but I trust my instincts on this one. No, they weren’t the devil. But I’m sure there was more to it. That girl was still absent. So lively as she was trying to make her straight steps over at the bench and just so, well, gone after these men grabbed her. No resistance or happiness. And then these men just walked around my car and disappeared into the crowd at the main street, leading the girl by both hands. I’m not through with that moment. It’s going to come back, I’m sure of it.”
I tried to put as much conviction into my ending speech as possible. It seemed silly to tell this story out loud, now. That’s what you get from speaking of course. I meant every word of it though. Every last detail was exactly as it had happened, and every vague, creepy feeling I got from that day still is peculiarly haunting.
Maybe she thought I was crazy-- or that my story was nothing but the ramblings of a pathetic drunk man and that she had somehow wasted her time with poor judgment. I was just looking, hoping for some sort of recognition. Her eyes were so dazzling and sparkling.
She finished off her drink after thinking for a couple of minutes, and then offered her hand to me. There are a few different handshakes in the world. One that I’ve come to expect from a lot of ladies is when they fully extend their arms, dangle their hand over so that you may grab their fingers for a split second, and then they leave. This is just a courteous handshake, and really means nothing. Then there’s the business hand shake, a firm grasp and a quick forceful shake to cement an agreement. And then there’s the handshake we had, a light yet full grasp with a few small movements and a smiling nod. Respect, that’s what that handshake is. She left without saying a word. I left soon after, paid my tab, paid her tab (what a large tab it was), and went to the lake for a swim.