“But we can’t stand that bartender,” said my friend, when I suggested a spot for our regular get-together.
“Yeah, well, it’s still happy hour there,” I said looking at my watch. If we walked really fast, found a couple of bar stools, and ordered before we hung up our coats and purses, we could still buy everything for less than half price–with about 28 seconds to spare. I had worked late. This was as good as it would get.
“But we hate…”
“I know. Who cares?” I was really hungry (big surprise) and feeling a little more than broke. Happy hour Indian food for less than you could buy it at a carryout–alcohol included–sounded perfect.
“Fine, you leave the tip.”
“I can do that,” I agreed.
This was a place we had tried and tried again, with month-long breaks in between–always wondering why we came back. Oh, right. The happy hour prices, Monday through Thursday. And of course, the ambiance.
In a weird way, it is the ambiance. Mellow music, subtle lighting, slate-topped bar, soothing color scheme. Just not the best service, especially when the place is packed with guests participating in a shark-feeding frenzy before the tandoori chicken turns into a chewy pumpkin that no one wants at full price after 7:01 p.m.
Except the food is pretty good, and when it is not crowded, the bartender is actually very nice.
Before we had even settled in, said bartender gave us the happy hour menu he was collecting from everyone else. Excellent. He poured a glass of wine to the brim. He smiled at us when we smiled at him.
“He seems okay tonight,” I said looking around the nearly empty bar and practically empty eatery.
“You know, he does,” agreed my friend.
And when we touched martini glass to wine goblet, we toasted one another to one another’s day.
“I wasn’t rejected at law school. I was wait listed,” she said, and she showed me the letter.
“I was only reprimanded for one major error today,” I said.
“I can recommend Mr. Restaurant Gal to my firm if his start-up is taking too long–and it will pay a lot.”
“I vow to hang in there,” I promised no one except myself.
“To you being too hard on yourself. To being too hard on ourselves.”
“Have you heard from him?” I asked, after a bit.
“No, not for a week,” she said, after a pause.
And I thought to myself: To stupid boys. Does he not get how great this girl is?
“I’m sorry,” I said aloud.
“You two okay? How about another round?” asked the bartender who was being so nice tonight.
“Sure,” we said in unison. And the bartender poured such a generous pour, I felt compelled to remark, “Thanks for the half bottle.”
To which he responded with a laugh, “Do you need a bigger glass?”
“To generous pours,” I toasted my friend, who was trying desperately not to tear up.
“Sure,” she said. But we didn’t touch glasses.
Some days, I envy my friend her cute condo in the heart of the city. I envy her place, her space that is hers alone, with a lifetime of young and older adulthood in front of her.
Some days, she envies me my house, my marriage, my kids, the uncertainty of youth behind me.
Some days, I don’t envy her at all.
Some days, she is so glad not to be me.
Most days, we toast each other, a silent nod to being there for each other, no matter how good or bad or in between the times are for either one of us.
I want to beat the boy who dumped her.
She wants to beat the managers who don’t understand me.
I want her apartment, but just a couple of nights a week.
She wants my life, but only if it materializes as it was 20 years ago.
Which makes us even. And very good friends.