“I have to tell you something funny about your name.”
I have just met up with my new friend at a swanky spot to which I have never been. The contrast between this place and my beach bar, where I have spent countless hours, is nothing short of remarkable. Think flip flops vs. Manolo Blaniks. Think someplace to catch ocean views vs. someplace to be someone’s catch of the night. Think being left alone vs. being trolled.
Yeah, that kind of swanky spot. But because I can walk to this place from my new apartment, it almost feels alright to be there, even if the scene is not one I have ever made. And I like my new friend. She is smart and sophisticated and oozes confidence. I met her at my beach bar, but it is clear she is quite comfortable in this polar-oppostite environment.
“Your name is my fake name, well at least your nickname is,” my new friend tells me.
RG? Fake name?
“I know, I know. Not a common name, but maybe that’s the point,” she laughs. “It’s unusual, so it helps make it easy to tell a story.”
I have only had a glass of wine at this point. I have no idea what she is talking about.
“Haven’t you noticed? The first thing anyone–especially any guy–asks you down here is, ‘What do you do?’”
Actually, I haven’t noticed. That seems like such a D.C. question, one based on the unspoken value that you don’t want to waste your time talking to someone who can’t help further your legislative, legal, or professional agenda. I don’t recall it being the immediate focus of any conversation I have had down here. Inevitably, the topic comes up, just not right away. But then, my realm is pretty limited–when I am not working, I hang out at the beach and my beach bar.
“So, I got tired of it and started making up stories about what I did–coming up with outrageous, ridiculous jobs that were just this side of believable.”
“For some reason, your name is the name I use when I am the person who polishes the runway lights at MIA or the girl who tests the water in all the downtown fountains because we’re getting ready to put goldfish in them.”
I am looking at her like she is crazy, and yet….
“Next guy who talks to you, try it. It’s hilarious. What’s something you could say you do?”
If nothing else, it’s a funny pastime to come up with such a story. “Okay, I work with the sea turtles on the beach,” I offer.
“And you count the eggs in the nests,” my friend says.
“Because ultimately I have to…” I continue.
“Dye them!” laughs my friend.
“Because we match them up with the painted fin colors of their mothers,” I say.
“Which is the other part of your job!”
“Right, painting the tips of the turtle fins, kind of like tagging.”
On cue, a troller arrives at my side, says hello and asks my name. “Liza,” I reply, which is my new friend’s name.
He immediately follows with, “So, what do you do down here in South Florida?”
“I work with the sea turtles.”
“God, I love those turtles! That is awesome. You must be what, like a marine biologist or something?”
“Something like that.”
Over the course of an hour, his conversation ebbs from sea turtles and toward begging me for my cell phone number. I decline three times to give it to him over the next hour. He moves the conversation back to the sea turtles.
I get as far into the story as the egg dying part, and then I can’t sustain the joke any longer. It was funnier creating the story than putting it into practice. In fact, I am now several glasses of wine into the evening, none of which I have paid for as they have been “compliments of” multiple gentleman, only this one of whom I have actually spoken to. My head is spinning; I just want to go home. And now a thunderstorm produces a tropical downpour.
Across the street from my apartment complex is the kind of dive bar that Hollywood set designers dream about re-creating. I have never seen its front door closed except on Sunday mornings, and that includes everyday at 7:30 a.m. when I walk the pup. It is perpetually night inside this place; the only bright light emanates from the neon signs and the flickering TVs that flank the horseshoe-shaped bar. Last-night’s spilled beer and yesterday’s cigarette smoke permeate the scratched wooden bar top like so much furniture polish. At 11:30 on this rainy night, only two patrons are present: A young man wearing a Red Sox T-shirt nods for another beer; a woman obviously still wearing her work dress sits quietly nursing a vodka and tonic.
A show featuring a reporter sampling Chinese food plays on one TV. “Why the hell can’t they just show the swimming or gymnastics or something?” mumbles the young guy to no one. The woman glances up at him as he says this, then quickly looks down again at her drink.
If the bartender were paying attention, he’d take a moment to chat with her. She has hardly touched her drink. But this is not the type of bartender who makes small talk with the girls, or, for that matter, with anyone at his bar. It’s not that type of bar. It’s not that type of night, even if he were that type of bartender in that type of bar.
A young couple dashes through the propped-open front door, laughing as they point out how drenched each other is. They pull out stools on the unoccupied side of the bar and order two beers. They are happy and playful, and they create a modicum of levity in this dark place on this rainy night.
“I told my friend, ‘Look at this beautiful woman sitting alone. She looks so sad, I have to talk to her.’ Are you okay? What can I do for you?”
The woman looks up at the perky young girl whom she is surprised to see sitting so close to her. She looks around, wondering who on earth the girl is talking to.
“What can I do? Can I call a friend or someone?”
The woman realizes two things at that moment: Her cheeks are damp with tears. The girl is talking to her.
“Oh, I am fine,” the woman smiles, embarrassed. “I guess I am just having a sad night.”
“You want to talk about it?” the girl asks.
The woman wonders how much of her story this girl would really want to hear. She wonders how much this girl would really care. She wonders how long she has been sitting on this bar stool crying. She wonders how far-gone drunk she must be to be wondering any of this. And she begins to sob.
“I just live right there,” says the woman. “I’ll be fine. Thank you for being so concerned. Really.”
“Are you sure? We can walk you home,” says the girl, clearly relieved that the woman now seems more in control.
“No. No. I’m fine. All good.”
“Okay, but I’m watching you walk to your building.”
The woman pays her tab and hugs the girl. She walks slowly out the door of the dive bar and into the humid, still air. As she does so, she is at once chagrined and awestruck by what has just transpired. But instead of beating herself up about the chagrined part, she smiles a little at the notion that this sweet young girl–a total stranger–sought to take care of her. The woman has taken care of so many others in her life, she has forgotten what it feels like to be taken care of. And she has never experienced such immediate, anonymous care from a stranger. But then, she has never needed that kind of care before.
Because this was one of the darkest days in this woman’s life. Because the last of all she shared with anyone in Washington, D.C., had ended at a settlement table at which there was no need for the woman to be present. That’s the power of a power-of-attorney. You can close the last chapter of one part of your life and not even have to be there in person to turn the page.
The reality of this, of how she got here from there, lay cold in the woman’s heart on this night.
Last week was a very tough week, when I actually wrote this post. Somehow, it seemed more appropriate to share it after the storm had passed, the next day dawned, and everything was okay.