St. Marks & 1st

Picture Credits: Ruslan Alekso

A
bartender leans against the counter of the bar she tends, explaining to a man on
a stool how she prefers remaining sober on dates. Because when she’s drunk, she
says, everyone’s attractive. Then, after she’s hooked up with whomever that
other person happens to be, she doesn’t know if it’s because she actually liked
him, or if she was looking for something else. She keeps it at that, and the
man on the stool nods in appreciation. Whether his gesture is genuine or not, he
is outwardly captivated by the introspection she displays. A third man, sitting
some nine or ten feet away, next to a friend he’s just gone to see a matinee
film with, wonders distractedly what relation the man on the stool has to the
bartender. What position does he hold in her esteem such that she’s decided to volunteer
such a glimpse into her character? A co-worker, perhaps? A friend awaiting the
end of her shift? A hopeful romantic lending his ready ear? Thinking, You can stay sober with me. I can get on
board with that.

This
third man’s friend, having just finished expounding on a particularly
enlightening idea regarding the film, stands to go to the bathroom. Alone, the
third man pulls his phone from his pocket with the half-hearted intention of
seeing whether he’s received a text from his wife. Or maybe in his inbox he’ll
find an email from somebody. Or, if all else fails, perhaps there are some photos
in his gallery he might swipe through.

A
chorus of shouting arises from the other end of the counter. The third man
doesn’t look up to see the gesticulating arms and expressions aghast on the
faces of the sports fans, their eyes glued to the flat screen television.  He’s always held certain disdain for unconditional
idolatry of athletics, the steadfast fealty to a team. Long ago, however, he
crossed the threshold of age at which those initially inclined stop admiring blanket
condemnations of things like professional sport. When the witty diatribe is no
longer taken as keen or original but is received as the bitter yammering of a
self-righteous fool—a fool who never made
it
himself, no less. At least the athletes knew what they were to society, shaped
most of what they did around credence, and based their lives on tangible
objectives. No, at a certain age it is better to bite one’s tongue.

The
screen of his phone yields very little. There is no text from his wife, just a
promotional email from an organization he donated to until the credit card he’d
used to sign up expired. The photos in his gallery are somehow displeasing to
him, trite. They make him feel, in an instant, very small.

His
friend is back, standing over him. “Shall we?”

He
stuffs his phone back in his pocket—uncertain of why he pulled it out in the
first place. The bartender has left her station behind the counter. It dawns on
him that he’s afforded himself little design to guide a now weary mind through
what remains of the day. Besides, he is stuck thinking of the inadequacy of his
gallery, of the maddened, charged person he used to be.