“Look at all these men,” he said. “You’ll never find a more attractive group of men in one place.”
He wasn’t one of the ‘attractive men.’ He knew it. I was the oldest woman at the bar. Did he gravitate to me thinking I’d be grateful for the attention? He sat down next to me a little too hard. The cushion wheezed under his weight. His shoulders softened. I was embarrassed for him, but I also felt a small sense of shame about why I was there. I didn’t want to talk about it.
But sometimes I did talk about it —when I had too much to drink—like last summer at the Hammer Museum when Amber Mark performed in the courtyard. It was crowded. A man moved closer until we were swaying against one another. He wanted to talk, wanted to know if I was with anyone. I told him I was waiting for someone who wasn’t going to show up. He was discouraged and encouraged by my answer. Since I had his attention, I used the opportunity to say Aleksandur’s name out loud. Forming my lips around the hard consonants, rolling my tongue over the fleshy vowels. I said his name like I said it all the time, while we made dinner or watched a movie. But those things hadn’t happened.
I explained how I’d met Aleksandur in San Francisco a couple of years ago. Total fluke. He was the bartender at the hotel where I’d stayed. Every night I’d begin my evening with a glass of pinot noir and end it with a cup of chamomile tea. Aleksandur always took care of me. On my last night he brought my tea, took my face in his hands, and in his heavy Eastern European accent gushed, “Where are you coming from with your wild hair and big smile?” I blushed.
As I left the hotel early the next morning, I slipped a letter under the door with his name on the envelope. I thanked him for being so kind to me during my stay. When I returned home, I began looking up every possible Bulgarian surname coupled with the name of the hotel bar.
When I was 14, my mom walked in on me in the bathroom wrapping Care Bear glasses I’d collected from Pizza Hut. I was adding them to a large packing box that included an oil painting I’d made of Michael Jackson’s transformation from Off the Wall to Thriller, a painting of Peter Pan sitting cross-legged on a red mushroom with white spots, and a journal I’d kept for over a year. My entries alternated between confessionals to Michael and prayers to Jesus. Dear Michael on the left, Dear Jesus on the right. I felt sure he’d appreciate the hours I poured into the paintings, and my patience in waiting for each Care Bear glass to be released until I had a complete set, but the journal was where Michael would really get a sense of my devotion to him. I’d read that he was a Jehovah Witness; it was important to connect with him on a spiritual level. My mother looked down at me spread out on the floor, “You’d never go to this much trouble for anyone in your family.”
I don’t know why she didn’t enter my world, ask to see the paintings. They were good. To me, Michael was family. Jesus too. I was an Ongoing Ambassador for Christ then. On weekends I’d get dropped off in small towns with names like Pleasant Plains and Fancy Prairie to witness door to door about everlasting life. I was dedicated to make-believe.
Now I’m sitting with this lonely guy at the awful Santa Monica Bungalow while I scan the patio imagining where Aleksandur sat, what he ordered to drink—tequila probably, maybe beer. Both. He was here on Thanksgiving. I saw a picture. He’d moved to LA two years ago and was dating a cake decorator.
“More guys than women here. Sucks for me,” he said. “See anyone you like?”
“I’m not interested in anyone.” I picked up the book I’d been pretending to read. “I came to look for someone who’s not going to show up.” I said it like it was the most normal thing in the world.
It bothered him that I wasn’t trying. He was trying, at least from the bench. In an environment full of the illusion of promise, talking to me offered him cover before he journeyed from girl to drink to girl to more drinks, and maybe an Uber home with one of those poor girls for some perfunctory fucking.
I stopped paying attention to him. I was watching two young women at the bar. They were talking to each other without eye contact, looking around to see who was watching them. They tugged at their skimpy tops revealing just the right amount of side boob.
“Here,” he said, and handed me a sangria. He hadn’t asked what I wanted.
“Thanks,” I said, careful not to sound too encouraging. The sangria was syrupy, and I didn’t want him to get me another. “You know what’s crazy?”
He took a long pull on his beer. Now he was watching the women play hide and peek with their boobies. I ploughed ahead.
“Here we are in this bar, like the shallow end of the pool, while the Pacific waves to us from across the street. You’d have to tie a cinder block around your waist to find any depth in this crowd.” It was a snobby thing to say.
He snapped to. “Do you think porn is bad?” Now the women were talking to a couple of boozy suitors who’d approached the bar. I kept my eyes on them. He continued, “I mean, is an older woman’s libido different?”
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Tim.” He didn’t ask mine. I was glad.
I downed my drink. “Why are you sitting with me?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said, “why are you sitting with me?”
“This is what I do,” I said. I flagged down the waitress and paid the tab.
I went to a bakery, ate a piece of chocolate cake, and listened to a couple argue about who was the life of last night’s party. Then I headed home to my family.