On Saturday night it appealed to me to sit at a restaurant bar by myself. It offered me everything that I wanted which was: an excuse to shower and put on something other than the sweat- and grease-stained shirts that I’d worn for 50+ hours this week, a place to sit near people but without being obliged to talk to anyone, strangers who didn’t know anything about me thus allowing me to be anything I wanted–allowing me any reality I wanted. And food.
I took a book and my bike and rode to Cart Driver which is a place I’ve been to before with lighting that is nice for reading. The bar was nearly full and I had to sit right next to someone. I ordered a small pizza for myself. I was the only woman at the bar and the bartender was a woman and maybe that’s why we would sometimes make eye contact and just smile knowingly at each other and then giggle and then go back to what we were doing. I alternated between reading my book and watching her snatch drink tickets from the printer and lie them out on the bar mats. Servers came and assembled their drinks on a tray and stabbed their tickets on the silver stake. In the book I was reading the main character is traveling alone in the Middle Eastern desert and going through a divorce and she’s really losing it, wondering who she really is and who her husband is–or was–and how it’s possible that they are such strangers now and if the desert is real or if she’s hallucinating.
My roommate and I wandered into the backyard one morning several weeks ago to find the garden beds flooded with water because the hose had been left on all night. This disturbed us both, mostly because water is a scarce resource here in the dry, high plains. And secondarily, because it wasn’t clear how the water had been left on. The most likely culprit was me because I had a track record of leaving the hose running (albeit, not all night). And I almost agreed that it was me but then I thought harder and I remembered that I hadn’t watered last night. No, I came home in a flurry and I didn’t water. My roommate didn’t think it was her either. Well, I proposed, the landlord had been around the day before getting some work done…idk. The point isn’t really who left the water on. The point is, what is reality and how sure are you of it?
The man to my left settled up and left and I was glad because now I could swivel my stool a bit and look out at the floor. A six top of women finished off a bottle of wine and left noisily. Another man got up from the bar when his date arrived and they got seated at a two top. I observed shamelessly for a few minutes before I saw someone familiar sitting at a four top across the room, next to the window. He wasn’t facing directly towards me but if he oriented towards the person catercorner from him and then a little bit farther to his right, I was in eyesight. It was strange to see him here but the strangest thing really was that this was not the first time I’d run into him this week. I saw him at the grocery store. We didn’t talk there either and the lack of acknowledgement meant that I wasn’t sure it was really him except then I saw his car in the parking lot so it must have been him. He does not have a distinctive face. He does have a distinctive car.
I turned back to my book and my pizza and I chatted with the bartender for a minute and then I caught myself thinking–no, it couldn’t possibly be him. I couldn’t really see that well from here and I didn’t remember his hair being that dark actually. And almost every man ever in this city wears ball caps and has unkempt facial hair. It’s probably just another stranger.
At the bike shop we check each other’s work and test ride each bike that comes in for service. Recently it’s been happening that I’ll take a bike out for a test ride and come back saying, that bike felt great. Then someone else will ride it and come back and say, that shifted like crap. Or, someone will check over a bike I worked on and say, the headset is loose. But I tightened the headset. At least, I thought I did?
I used to think of bikes as a science. There are best practices, rules of compatibility, standards of measurement: newton meters, pounds per square inch. And if you follow the instructions then the bike will work. That’s what I used to think.
Every time we met up he wore a ball cap. On our second date I told him about the water getting left on at our house–the whole fiasco of it. And he asked me, do you think you have a strong grasp on reality? And I answered yes.
But that was a few months ago.
When M closes up the shop at night she has someone else watch her lock the doors. This way if anything happens someone else can vouch for her reality–the one in which she locked the doors. This is very smart and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner. And maybe it has something to do with why, once I realized that someone I knew was sitting just a few feet away from me, I didn’t want him to leave. I know I said I wanted only strangers but maybe it was nice to have one person I knew. Maybe it was nice to been seen sitting at this bar, annotating another dumb book like it’s my fucking life’s calling. And as soon as he left, well, who could even say that it was real?*
(*The bartender might be able to say it was real and I’m thinking now that might be every bartender’s actual job.)