The minute she walked into the blue-light-pulsating, music-thumping, eardrum-shattering, sad sad sad “neighborhood bar,” which is what the online City Guide had called it, she knew she had made a hideous mistake.
“Pick some place where a yuppie or hipster type would never dare set foot,” he had said. “Some dive. A real neighborhood place.”
“Are you kidding?” she had responded. “We are very groovy up here. We’re talking brick walls and industrial chic lighting in places where millions of dollars have been sunk to make the joint look like the basement of a factory, where you will be gouged with exorbitant prices for a PBR because it’s all ironic.”
“Consider it a challenge,” he had said.
Ah fuck, she thought, a challenge.
It was certainly not her first foray into the parallel universe of online dating. Sadly, it was quite far from it. My lady had been divorced for more than ten years by this time, and had watched a string of relationships move from interest, to the first tingle of excitement, to the exhilaration of genuine possibility, to the frightening, heady, joyful moment when the roller coaster passes the peak of its climb and in that split second, there is no going back: momentum takes over; it is utterly and completely out of anyone’s control, because at this moment, there is love. There is real love.
And then there isn’t.
After a time, she would be back online, poring over profiles, scrutinizing descriptions, gathering courage.
There were less than a handful of people in the “neighborhood bar,” each one sitting at a measured distance from the others, making the throbbing lights and disco music seem thoroughly pathetic. Even the bartender looked as if she would rather be somewhere else. Anywhere else.
A first glance around the room didn’t turn up anybody she thought resembled his online picture. Certainly nobody came close to what her daughter-in-law Marie had called The Underwear Model upon seeing his online photo. “Oh! My! God! He’s an underwear model!”
“Do you know if there’s anybody here waiting for somebody? A guy?” she screamed at the bartender, leaning as far as she possibly could over the bar in order to be heard.
“Are you kidding?” The bartender retorted, “Everybody here is waiting for somebody.” She gestured with her arm, waving her hand around the room in a need-I-say-more sort of way.
“I mean, not that I know of. You’re just gonna have to look.”
And then she saw him. QuantamLeap. Standing in a dark shadow, pressed against the back wall as if pinned there, minutely nodding his head in time to the music in a good-soldier effort to not look as thoroughly uncomfortable as he clearly was. Off-white, baggy, mid-calf length shorts that could have passed for gangsta, could have passed for j. crew. Collared shirt. (“Collared shirt?” she thought. “I did not see that coming.”) She had pictured: T-shirt. Definitely. Very faded. Possibly with the name of an early punk band, but more likely touting some esoteric, but highly left-leaning thing. Noam Chomsky, maybe. But nope, collared shirt it was. And striped. (Striped?)
“Dan?” she yelled.
He was tall. 6’3”, maybe even 6’4”, so had to lean way, way over to get his ear in the general vicinity of her mouth. He nodded, minimally, in time to the music, as if he were not sure he wanted to acknowledge his identity to the person who had chosen this particular bar.
“Let’s get out of here,” she said. Knowing full well that he couldn’t hear a word, she made exaggerated pointing gestures toward the door.
With the last beam of blue light evaporating across his arm, Dan emphatically pushed the bar door closed behind them. The instant the door was closed, they stood unmoving, still on the stoop, as an exhilaration of relief – to be outside, out of the blue light, out of the inescapable throb of long-forgotten music, out of the scene of utter desolate encroaching loneliness — washed over them.