I had been at the table for about ten minutes when he walked in to the bar area. I caught his eye and he headed toward me. He was smiling, but my first thought was that he looked really tired.
“You’re looking well,” I said politely.
“Thanks. You’re looking just fine yourself,” he said, pulling out the stool and sitting across from me.
“How ya been?”
“Just dandy,” he replied. He looked past me to the TV set mounted high on the back wall.
I decided I may as well broach the subject and get it over with. “So how are things with you and She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?”
That made him laugh. “That’s good,” he said. “That works nicely.” As our laughter faded to a chuckle, he continued. “I think we’re done.”
“No hope of reconciliation?”
“Sorry to hear it. Can I buy you a beer?”
He grinned. “That’s the least you can do,” he said with mock indignation.
“Hey, I’ve known both of you for years. This sucks for me too, having to choose sides.”
“Yeah, well, you better choose right or I’ll kick your ass.”
“Oh, yeah. Threats of abuse. That’s gonna win me over.”
The barmaid stopped at the table and we ordered our beers. He asked for a bowl of peanuts.
“I can bring you pretzels,” she said.
He curled his lip slightly. “Pretzels,” he sighed dramatically. “All right, then, if it’s all you have…” He sounded like a Jewish grandmother.
As the barmaid walked away, he sneered at me. “She liked pretzels. I like peanuts. Now I gotta eat frickin’ pretzels,” he grumped.
“You don’t gotta eat anything,” I observed.
“Whose side are you on?”
“My own, mister pouty-face,” I said. “My own.”
“Hey, that’s the right idea,” he said. “Look out for yourself. That’s what I gotta do now.”
The barmaid brought our beers and a plastic bowl of pretzel sticks. “Here you go, guys,” she said. “Can I get you anything else right now?”
He smiled at her impishly and I expected him to ask for peanuts again. Instead, he said, “Not now, but thanks for the pretzels. I didn’t mean to be a jerk about it.”
“Oh, no,” she said. “Don’t worry about it. I knew you were teasin’ me.”
He looked up at me as she returned to the bar. “My friends know when I’m being sarcastic, but strangers don’t always catch on,” he said. “I assume they do, and then I go home at night and replay the scene in my head and realize that they probably thought I was some giant asshole.”
“Oh, suddenly you care what people think of you?” I teased.
He looked at me, utterly serious. “I always have. You don’t think so?”
I let him off the hook. “Of course I do. I’m just messin’ with you.”
He was looking around the room at the other bar patrons. He was silent for a few moments. “God, I don’t want to jump back in that pool.”
“Dating,” he said disgustedly. “What a thoroughly miserable process. Just look at all these people. Desperation written all over them.”
“Is that what the tattoos say?”
“Oh, God,” he winced, like he had just coughed up bile. “That’s the worst part. Everybody under forty has got goddamn tattoos. I can’t stand them. They make you look like you need a frickin’ bath.”
He took a slug of beer and went on. “Okay, just imagine, hypothetically, that I was to get lucky with some woman, and actually get her into bed. And we’re rolling around and undressing, discovering each other, and she rolls over and she’s got this thing on her lower back that looks like Brezhnev’s eyebrows in a windstorm. All the Viagra in the world isn’t gonna help me.” He shivered. “Aaaghh!”
“Maybe she’d just have one of those ankle tattoos,” I offered. “Could you handle that?”
“Possibly. I could just tell her I have this fantasy and insist that she wear knee socks all the time.”
“Nah, just a fantasy. Fantasies are healthy,” he said. “Besides, young girls really don’t do it for me anyway. What I need is some soccer mom in her early forties.”
“You mean a MILF?”
“Yeah, exactly. A woman who’s mature and still attractive, who divorced some schmuck who treated her badly, and now she’s looking for someone kind and respectful that she can care for.”
“She’d have kids,” I pointed out.
“Probably, but maybe they’d be older and self-sufficient, so they wouldn’t be looking to me as a father figure. I could just be their pal.”
“You still have no intention of growing up, do you?”
His face darkened. “Never,” he said curtly. He turned to face me and wagged a finger at me. “Let me tell you, growing up sucks. Responsibility ages you. Look, I know, everybody’s got to take some responsibility. You can’t go through your whole life as a selfish hedonist, always looking for someone new to handle everything for you, sucking them dry and moving on…”
His voice trailed off. He picked up his beer and drained it down.
“Besides, you can’t count on anybody but yourself,” he went on. “Look at how many people get divorced every year. Didn’t we all say the same vows when we got married? Didn’t we all promise to love, honor and cherish, ‘til death do us part? What happened? Did we all have our fingers crossed? Or maybe we all had our own extra, unspoken vows. Vows we muttered under our breath while the minister’s back was turned. Obviously my wife did. Right after the vows we had rehearsed, she added an extra one, ‘Until such time as I decide this relationship no longer meets my needs.’ I just didn’t hear it. Maybe the organ was too loud.”
I motioned to the barmaid that we wanted another round. “What was yours?” I asked him.
“What was my what?”
“Your unspoken vow.”
He stared at me for a moment, then grinned sheepishly. “Mine? Yeah, I guess I had one too. Mine was, ‘With this ring, I hereby abdicate all responsibility for my life and well-being.’”
“Yowza,” I said.
He chuckled ruefully as our second round of beer was placed on the table. He picked up his bottle and rolled his fingertips around the mouth. “It’s funny,” he said quietly. “Even with a start like that, we lasted sixteen years. We almost made it work. If she had just been a little less independent, and I had been just a little more grown up, we’d probably still be together.”
“I suppose I should be paying you for this therapy,” he said.
“I’ll send you a bill.” I grinned. “Next week we’ll work on this tattoo aversion problem. I’ll take you to get one.”
“Yeah,” he said. “You just try.”