I don’t know about you, but I seem to spend a lot of time wishing I was younger than I am.
I haven’t seen many advantages to my current age. Aches and pains; general sag of body and mind; the thin, crinkling skin when you bend your arm.
But the other night I had an experience that gave me a different perspective. Probably short-lived, but still real.
I was supposed to meet my son for dinner. “Mom,’ he had said to me, “‘Do you mind if we stop by this bar beforehand? A girl who works for me is playing in a band there and I told her I’d stop by and see her.’ ”
We made a plan to meet at the bar around eight. I got there a little early, of course, because I’m older and wasn’t sure where exactly I was going.
When I got there, my choice was to hover awkwardly on the street and wait for my son who would probably be late, or to brave the guy at the door — was he a bouncer? — and go in.
Ronnie, and Claire, and Jake, and Nicole, and Rebecca, and Omar
Although I don’t usually go places that require a bouncer, it was cold outside, so I decided to enter.
I was behind a group of jangling young women. They were talking nonstop to one another, and paying little attention to this guy, who was checking IDs and trying to stamp their hands.
“Is Ronnie coming?” one of them was asking. He had told Claire he was, but she was such a flake.
Was he bringing Jake with him? “Jake?” said another. “The guy who just broke up with Nicole? Oh, God! Is Nicole coming?” “She’s coming with Rebecca,” said another girl. “Rebecca?” said someone else. “Who’s Rebecca?” said the first girl again.
“Oh don’t worry! You’ll love Rebecca — she’s cool,” said another. “She used to date Omar, remember him? But they broke up — I think like last year or something.”
“Listen, I gotta stamp your hands,” said the bouncer, roughly. He put a hard stamp on each of their fluttery hands. “Is this good for the night?” one of them asked him. “I mean if we wanna leave and come back, we get in free right?” He said yes, and they all went in.
I was next. “Lively group,” I said.
He shook his head, but he smiled. “That’s just the beginning,” he said. Up close this guy and I — we were very dissimilar forms of human.
He was huge. I am small. He was covered in tattoos. I have none. His head was shaved, his nose was pierced, and he had rings that looked like deadly weapons on every finger. For me — no rings, no piercings.
However, we were both wearing thick soled black shoes: In his case, boots, in my case shoes that we older people wear to keep our backs from hurting. In this way, we matched.
“I’m here to see — ” I said, and paused. He laughed. I liked this guy so much. We were different sizes, different ages, different styles, but we were on the same wavelength. I said, “Whoever is first, that’s who I’m here to see.”
“No problem,” he said. “I just gotta stamp your hand.” He was so gentle stamping my old hand.
“That’s so if you leave, you can come back in for free,” he explained to me. “I’m here til 3 a.m.”
“Oh, like those girls?” I said.
He said, “Yeah they’ll be in and outta here 10 times tonight.” And he rolled his eyes, as if to say to me, you get what I’m saying right? I didn’t really but I said, “Well, who knows? Maybe I’ll be back, too.”
“I’m here til 3,” he said again. A noisy line was starting to back up and seethe behind me.
“Calm down,” he snapped to the person behind me. “You’ll get in, don’t shove.”
Inside it was dark and not too crowded. There was a bar, and a stage, and some tables over by the stage. A couple of people were setting up microphones, unraveling cords, plugging them in and then unplugging them in what seemed like a haphazard way.
Of all the gin joints …
There was almost no one at the bar, so I went over and sat there. The bartender had her hair up in a top knot with a bright red-and-yellow scarf tied around her head.
She had on a tight T-shirt and the obligatory tattoos. She came over and asked what I’d like. At the same time, four or five loud young people were making their way to the bar. She brought me a glass of wine, and then turned to them.
“Hey Eli!” the guy in front called out. “Eli! Get up here and open a tab. You owe me from last time.”
“Go f*** yourself,” said Eli, cheerfully, and didn’t come forward.
“Come on man,” said the first guy. “Here, use mine,” said a third guy who came up alongside the first one.
He handed his card to the bartender. “F*** you, Eli,” said the first guy, and everybody laughed. Or did they? I wasn’t sure. They got beer, and the whole group moved over to the tables by the stage.
“Long night ahead?” I said to the bartender.
“Just wait ’til later,” she said. “When it gets really crowded.”
She told me that she had moved to New York five years ago from Omaha. No, she said, she didn’t miss Omaha at all. Yeah, her parents had come to visit a few times. “They’re terrified of the subway,” she said. “But mostly they’re worried my sister is gonna move here, too.”
Meanwhile people kept coming up to the bar. They rose up like sleek, clean dolphins, got their drinks, and sank back into the growing sea behind them.
I felt a strong undertow of anxiety in the room, and a loud self-consciousness hovering over everything, like foam, here in the beginning of the night when the drinks were just starting and the band had not yet begun to play.
Would the night go well? Would someone go home filled with regret for saying that thing? Would Jake and Nicole hook up? Would Eli slide out of buying a single drink and make his friends even madder?
Would someone, somehow, gain a pearl grain of confidence over the course of the coming hours, or would the small amount he or she came in with be eroded by the end of the night?
I was glad not to be trying to navigate those currents. It was nice to talk to the bartender, to wonder how my old pal the bouncer was managing at the door, and to speculate if the band would ever start.
I was safe on a bar stool, unbothered, but not ignored. I was warm, dry, and comfortable in my own aging skin, looking out, as if through a beachfront window, across the roiling sea.
Oh and by the way: My son finally did get there — right about the time that the band began to play.