I arrived in the middle of happy hour, stayed through the lull, and left when trivia was in full swing. October is many things, including baseball post-season, and since my cable package doesn’t include TBS I had to go out somewhere to watch the Cardinals game.
There weren’t many seats open at the bar, and when out on my own I prefer the fullness of the bar to the emptiness of a table. I surveyed the seats, the patrons, and the TVs. I picked a seat along the front of the bar, in front of a TV, and between two men. Most of the people sitting at the bar were men. I ended up between a guy who never stopped talking and a guy who never started talking.
As I fielded questions and feigned conversation with the talker, whats-his-name (I never asked), I worked hard not to make eye contact. I said time and time again that I really was there to watch the game. Something about this chatty man irked me.
There was nothing peculiar about him. His hair was cut short and peppered, his shirt was pressed, his jeans weren’t ratty, and his shoes were loafers. He spoke from a place between book and street. He joked about my beer selection to open the avenues of conversation. I laughed and told him if I thought it tasted like wet cucumbers I wouldn’t still be drinking it. He continued to talk, and had there not been something about him, I might have more readily opened up to conversation.
Though it aggravated me, I was well aware the situation was entirely my making: I chose to go to a local pub, where food and games and drinks await the friends and strangers who come together in this extension of a living room, and I expected to spend time talking with others. I wanted to. There’s a camaraderie that comes with sitting at the bar and watching sports on TV, and I know well of the existence of and potential for the uncomfortable talker.
This talker keyed in on specific aspects of me and seemed generally interested in my passion for writing and my bouncy-ball hops between St Louis and Atlanta (which I blamed on a draw to the Southern weather, as I am apt to do when speaking to strangers), and as much as I would fawn over this sort of respectful attention to my words in most situations, it made me leery. It wasn’t until I was back home, reviewing the evening, eating what was left of my dinner, that I understood what my gut was telling me.
The bar noises had shifted in the hours I was sitting there. Happy hour laughter and clinking glasses gave way to the quiet of shifting crowds gave way to the raucous whispers of the night’s trivia challenge. As the crowd grew, announcements of the trivia rules, the location of the table for turning in answers, and the categories for each question in the first round filled the air between songs. Then finally the anticipation gave way and the first question came over the speakers: Reese Witherspoon stared in a movie that shares a name with a Lynyrd Skynyrd song; what is the name of the movie and song? Whats-his-name shouted out “Sweet Home Alabama” and everyone within ear shot shouted an audible “sshhh”.
He looked around. The bartender explained that it was trivia night: no phones, no shouting the answer. Whats-his-name didn’t understand, he wasn’t playing. A man sitting to the left of whats-his-name said that everyone else was playing and he needed to keep his shit to himself or get a scorecard and play.
Soon after whats-his-name got up and walked toward the bathroom at the same time as the man sitting to his left. I had enjoyed my bits of conversation with this other man. The other man returned first, and rather quickly. Whats-his-name was pissed, threatening to kick ass for being made to look a fool at the bar after shouting the answer to the trivia question. Whats-his-name returned to his seat, and remained quiet about the trivia questions, but not quiet about anything else. I finished my beer and asked for my tab. Whats-his-name finished his drink and went to the bathroom again.
I was ready to leave. The game was over. I wasn’t staying, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave until I knew I was safe from exiting at any time when whats-his-name would be in the parking lot or be able to follow me to the parking lot. When it came time to leave, I paused before making my exit.
Thankfully whats-his-name walked out after his second trip to the bathroom. He didn’t pay his bill and was chased out by the bartender who came in fuming that he had peeled out of the parking lot like an asshole. He was gone, and suddenly I wanted to stay. I wanted to be social and play trivia and watch the Braves game.
Whats-his-name had been a pall over the evening. His overbearing presence, his non-stop talking, his insistence of expertise in every conversation, plus the overreaction to his embarrassment from the trivia faux pas, the over-friendly space-invading pats on the back, leaving without paying, and driving drunk, I was glad the unfortunate encounter was over.
I still left. I really had only planned to be out for the one game and had housework awaiting (exciting, right?). As I sat in my quiet living room and finished the rest of my dinner, thinking about the conversations and events, I realized I had just spent the evening with my ex-husband.
*featured image: 1029 Bar Interior by theopie (CC BY 2.0)