Bertrand Russell said there were three passions that ruled his life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and the unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. How right that man was about all of humanity, and me, and the price of my knowledge? $6.48 plus the tip, and a hangover.
It was 5:30 on a Saturday night. I packed my notebook and pen in my purse and headed to a local restaurant. I walked, knowing that I was going for a drink, and because the evening was perfect for a walk. It was warm, sunny, and I wanted to spend an evening without technology. I know, crazy, right? But how else can I experience life- others’ lives- if I have my nose in a phone or laptop?
I found a spot at the end of the bar, took out my notebook and pen, and looked at the others seated at the bar while I waited for the bartender to bring me a house margarita on the rocks, with salt (as a single mom, I cannot afford the good stuff). At the other end of the bar, sat a young married couple, perhaps married less than three years. Next to them sat another couple , possibly in their mid-thirties; then a forty-ish woman with long, curly burnt-oatmeal colored hair; next to her was a couple in their 20’s , not married, and then, me. A relatively good sampling of human life out-and-about on a Saturday night. Ah, and here’s my drink. Mmmm… just the right amount of tequila and lime.
I take a sip and begin observing the first couple. The husband’s right arm is in a sling and his wedding ring caught the light blinding me for a moment. His wife , an Asian woman with long black hair and a cellphone attached to her right hand, acknowledges his presence every once in awhile with a smile and nod in his direction when he speaks to her, then takes a bite of food, and goes back to her phone. Ahh, young love, in the stage of taking love for granted. Good luck, and I wish you well in your future suffering. I see the signs.
Next to them is the couple in their thirties. They talk together, laugh, and occasionally the man brushes a strand of hair out of her face. She takes a bite of food, a big bite, and then brushes his thigh with her hand. Then I see her take her phone out of her purse , do a quick glance at the time, and then bury the phone back in her purse. Yep. They have young kids who are with a baby-sitter. They probably have an hour or two left to pretend they are carefree, before they go home and pass out instead of making love. They found more love than they know what to do with. I smile , and suck deeply at my straw-filled word-making liquid.
The woman is next. I notice her arms. They are long and sinewy, like over-grown roots to a hedge bush outside an abandoned, foreclosed four-bedroom home. She’s not from the area as she’s asking the bartender where the “happening” place is in Plattsburgh. Ha. The bartender, a short, sweaty bald man, looks helplessly around, and vaguely points in two directions at once. For a moment, he reminds me of The Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz talking with a lost Dorothy, except Dorothy isn’t fourteen, she’s forty, and not cute anymore. She doesn’t smile either. I pity her hunger. Eventually, she addresses the young woman next to her. I take another drink of my now watered- down margarita.
The two people between us are in their mid-twenties. I think they’ve been dating awhile . I’ve noticed that she has been giving him little bites of food throughout their meal. He dismissively takes the food from her proffered fork. He then chews, smiles at her, glances at his shoes, and then wipes his mouth with his napkin. Yeah, he’s bored, and he’s trying to find a way to break up with her, but he doesn’t know how. He chugs his beer, and asks the bartender for a refill. Sam Adams. Hipster. I take his cue, and take another sip. Then I hear laughter. Wait. He’s smiling at the wall, and laughing, and she’s looking at his face. He wants to get laid. Get laid, and then break up.
Those people have left the bar, and have been replaced by other people, with other stories. Three new people sit down next to me, a couple in their early 50’s with their newly 21-year-old daughter. I know them . We exchange pleasantries, and they look at my pen and notebook, and my singledom is obviously apparent. “Oh, she teaches English, and she’s working on a short story” is what she says to her daughter and husband. I smile, suck down the rest of my watery margarita, pack up my belongings, and leave.
Of course, I stop elsewhere on my way home, and I know I will get a hangover, but I like observing people because they, as well as I, want love, knowledge, and they pity suffering. All those people in that restaurant will find love, and knowledge, and they will find suffering. It’s part of life, and it’s sometimes unbearably and beautifully painful. And, as life would have it, I walked home alone, with my pen and notebook, in the rain.