I go to the same watering hole after work frequently enough to be “NOOORRRMMMed” when I sit down at the bar. Yesterday after an uneventfully busy shift at the restaurant, I trooped across the street and plunked down for a cocktail next to a generic, middle-aged fella nursing the last dregs of what appeared to be merlot. Now, I sit at the bar intentionally to talk to strangers, since I am a sucker for no-commitment social interaction, so it’s not unexpected or unwelcome when Generic Man strikes up a conversation. His execution, however, ramps the conversation from zero to Dexter in about 2.6 seconds.
Him: I saw you at [restaurant where I work]. I heard your conversation. That’s a lot to carry. You and I, we’re a lot alike. You have a heavy load on your shoulders, and you’re an extraordinary person. You’re so much above your station, so much more going on than people realize.
Me: Um. What conversation? [Does Frasier Crane here think I’m someone else, or is this the beginning of the weirdest, creepiest pickup overture I’ve heard in a decade?]
Him: It doesn’t really matter, does it? What matters is where you go. Where are you going now?
Me, figuring I’ll be cheeky and lighten things up: Bombay!
Him, looking a little confused: Is that near…Dubai?
Me: Honestly, I have no idea. But I’m getting a Flight to Bombay, and I’ll figure it out from there.
My favorite ginger bartender confirms that I want the usual (a gorgeous, smoky purple-grey mix of cardamom-infused gin, liqueur de violettes, and blue curacao) and Generic Man looks slightly petulant that I’m engaging in wordplay rather than giving his earnest bullshittery the gravitas he feels it merits.
Me, feeling slightly contrite: So, do you live around here, or are you traveling?
Him: More or less, less or more. Does it matter?
Me: Uh…s’pose not. So what do you do?
Him: I used to run [some blathery nonsense about hedge fund stuff]. I had a multimillion dollar [blah blah blah]. And now…..what do any of us do? I’m not sure anymore.
Me, channeling Every Lifestyle Blogger Ever: I’m a big fan of simplifying your life and reducing stress. Good for you.
This is clearly not the bedazzled reaction he’s going for, but he seems adamant in his refusal to participate in ordinary small talk, preferring the Cheshire Cat/Charles Manson method of flirting, after insisting that I am not a server at the restaurant but am in fact management (which sends both me and the owner of the bar into snorting giggles and causes me to aspirate some of my transoceanic martini). I’m trying hard to make some sort of subtle hand signal to either the owner or the bartender that translates as “HEEEEELLLLLPPPP MEEEEEEEEE,” but their self-preservation instincts have caused them to casually and slowly back away from Generic Man and are studiously ignoring my gestures (which, to be fair, may have told them to steal second).
Me, trying to track this conversation back to a semblance of normalcy until I can imagine a reason I need to move to the other end of the bar (better gravity further south?): What brings you in tonight?
Him: I was watching you at [restaurant where I work], but I left because of the book you are reading. You’re a romantic, I see.
Me, trying to connect some kind of dots and feeling like I’ve dropped into a real-life Magritte: You’ve got a fucked-up idea of romance if you think American Gods is a romantic book. Do you always talk like you’re in Through the Looking Glass?
Him: I was disappointed in you. It was the cover I couldn’t handle. Such a typical romance novel.
Me, losing my patience: Look. I work at [restaurant]. I wasn’t there reading tonight, and I don’t even own a romantic book. I think you’ve definitely confused me with someone else.
Him: I refuse to be third priority.
That’s it. I’m going to have to dig my own escape tunnel or they’re going to find my body with evidence of human gnawing on my bleached bones. I catch hold of the only rope I can find: butting into someone else’s conversation to step awkwardly out of my own.
Chef, sitting at bar three seats down: I used to have a duck. <pregnant pause> That was probably a bad idea.
Me: CHEF! YOU DON’T EAT YOUR OWN DUCK!
The burst of laughter, charitably provided for me by the chef and her conversational companion, is enough to catapult me into the conversation and firmly signal the end of my patience with Generic Potential Serial Killer, who sulks away from his seat and slips out the front door. I definitely owe her a drink.