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  • I go to the cigar bar to have one cocktail, while waiting for a 10 PM phone date with Jessica.

    I sit at the bar, order a drink, choose a cigar.

    It's just lit when I feel someone stumble into my seat a bit as he sits to my left. He says "You seem lonely."

    I pretend not to hear him.

    He says, "You seem lonely."

    I turn my head and say, "I seem lonely? I'm not lonely. I came here to have a cocktail and a cigar on my own."

    He says, "Where are you from?"

    I look down at my glass, at my cigar, pause, and say "I am from Amsterdam." It's not really true. But the whole story is long and complicated and not terribly interesting. Also, there's no reason for him to know the whole story.

    "Wow," he says. "That must suck."

    "Yes," I say, thinking about how very much the Dutch have taught me about being direct. It was an uncomfortable lesson to learn, undoing my awkward Canadian politeness.

    I don't look at him. I sip some water. I pull on my cigar.

    He says, "I used to do advance for the President. I've been to Amsterdam. I know how much it sucks."

    I say nothing. "I've got to find a way to make him go away," I think.

    There's a long pause.

    I don't look at him.

    "What's your name?" he asks.

    I say, "I said, I came here to have a cocktail and a cigar on my own."

    "That seems lonely."

    I turn to look at him. He is young. Lank blond hair. Striped tie snugged up against his buttoned collar, even though it's 9 PM. Dark overcoat still on.

    "I came here to enjoy my own company."

    I turn back to my drink.

    There's a long silence... three minutes? Five?

    Every time I shift forward in my seat, he mirrors me. When I sit back, he sits back too.

    "You could just ignore me," he says.

    "I'd rather not have to," I say. "I'd rather just sit here on my own."

    I consider moving a stool over, but don't see why I should be the one to move.

    Another long pause.

    "What if I bought your drink. You don't have to talk with me. But I could buy your drink."

    "I can buy my own drink."

    "What does it matter? What's the difference?"

    I say nothing.

    Pause.

    Pause.

    Pause.

    I smoke. I sip my cocktail. It's got chartreuse in it; it's fantastic.

    I've halfway forgotten that he's there, except that my body is tense in its turning away from him.

    He says, "Can I just tell you how much I hate my life?"

    I turn to him fully, look him in the eyes and say "No. It's too bad that you hate your life, but I don't want to hear about it."

    I'm turning my head back when he says, "Well then can I tell you how great my life is?"

    "No," I say. "I've been clear. I came here to be on my own."

    Pause.

    Pause. Pause.

    He doesn't turn to me when he says, "I'm Governor Walker's personal assistant."

    I say slowly, "I don't care."

    The lady bartender has been watching this interaction. It's been 10 minutes now. He still hasn't left.

    Pause.

    Pause.

    He stretches out his hands on the bar in front of him, palms facing eachother, "You could just take pity on me..?"

    "You don't want me to take pity on you."

    Pause.

    "I could just buy your drink... you could still be a bitch, but I'd buy your drink."

    "You're calling me a bitch now? I really think it's time for you to leave me alone."

    The bartender's worked her way over to wiping the counter beside me and whispers, "Do you want me to get him to leave?"

    "Yes, please."

    A small excuse about how we're old friends (we're not), and she does.

    It's not five minutes before the next one arrives. I think to myself, "I wasted so much of my 20s worried about not being attractive to men, when all it takes is being a woman alone in a bar!"

    He's taller. More handsome in a conventional way. Still young. Still tied and buttoned. Overcoated.

    He doesn't sit, leans in. There's a pretense of asking the bartender if the first one has left.

    Then he turns and says hello. Introduces himself.

    I decide that I'm not going to waste what's left of my time dealing with this guy.

    "I told your friend, and now I'll tell you; I came here to spend time on my own. I'm not interested in talking."

    "How do you know he's my friend?"

    He's grasping at straws.

    "I didn't come here to have a conversation. I came to be in my own company."

    This one doesn't pause in his persistence.

    "What's your name?" "Where are you from?" "What do you do?"

    I'm still learning this line of politeness; I answer the first question. Then I say, again, "I'm really not interested in having a conversation. Go back to your friends now."

    "Well I'm just being nice."

    "Fine. You've been nice. Now let me do what I want to do; let me sit here on my own."

    "Really, I'm just being friendly."

    "Fine. Now leave me alone."

    He does.

    At this point, the bartender and I are laughing.

    She's asking me where I'm from, and we talk. I tell her about my job. She tells me about an old books exhibit she saw today. She's inviting me to a tasting room tomorrow, but I've got to work.

    Number three also doesn't sit.

    He's older, heavy-set. He leans on the bar (why do they all attack from the left?), holds out his hand, tells me his name.

    I still don't want to be rude, but I also don't want to encourage him. And I'm trying not to smile at the absurdity of it all. I shake his hand, give him my first name and say, "So now they send the senior emissary? I've sent away two of you. You're the third."

    Somehow he hears "nerd" and says, "I'm part of the administration, not part of the nerd herd."

    "I don't care," I say. "I came here on my own to have one drink and smoke one cigar. I don't want to have a conversation. Go back to your friends."

    He stands there.

    Pause.

    He looks uncertain. Makes a frown that must be the source of that hard line across his forehead.

    "Tell them I gave you my number. Just, please, leave."

    He does.

    I turn to the bartender. She's smiling at me. We laugh. I give her my number. Next week she's going to show me around town.
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