Reflect Upon It

He was visibly troubled. I had noticed that when nervous, he tended to rub his left eyebrow with his thumb. His right thumb. Again, without thinking, he raised his hand to his face, his thumb extending out and unerringly smoothing out his eyebrow.

I took another drag from my cigarette. Cigarettes I had promised to give up years ago. I had, in fact, convinced myself that I had quit. That my little cheats here and there we simply well deserved breaks. I didnít dare admit that after a beer or two, the desire for a cigarette becomes so strong I would gladly embarrass myself by asking every person in the bar if they could spare a fag. So instead, I now make sure I buy a pack before I go out drinking with friends.

His eyes darted back and forth. He was pretending to read the latest Information Week that he rescued from an abandoned chair before a waitress scooped it up for the trash. Thrifty I would call it. Garbage picking if someone other than myself did.

So he flipped the pages of the oversized magazine back and forth as he scanned the room with his wandering eyes. They moved back and forth from the bar, to the door, and out the window. A glare from the late afternoon sun made it difficult to see all the way up the street from his angle. Softly sighing, his thumb went again to his brow.

I signaled the waitress for another Bass. As she approached, I slid a five across the table, and waved her off as she began to dig for the change. The amber liquid was capped by a healthy froth on top, a small icicle of white running down the side. Condensation glistened in the setting sunlight, small droplets running down and into each other, collecting around the base of the glass. The bar was using coasters advertising the new Tequiza beer from Anheiser Busch, a violent collection of reds and yellows proclaiming the momentous joining of tequila and beer.

I made a mental note not to try it.

My attention went back to the slightly disheveled guy I had been observing. Probably one of the most interesting things to do in a bar, or most any public place, is to just watch the people in it. Everyone has their little quirks and mannerisms - some they probably donít even know about themselves.

You have to wonder what people are thinking. What would someone think by watching me? What would they assume and why? What habits do I have that someone would pick up on?

He was running his finger up and down the side of the glass, tapping out the remnants of a cigarette. Glancing out the window, his disappointment claimed his features. Shoulders slumped a bit more, and the corners of his mouth just flattened out a bit more, a non-expression. His eyes, though. Those eyes. They seemed to sink back into his head just a bit, the darkness of shadows playing across his brow claiming them further. Flecks of gold and brown glittered out when the light slid across the bridge of his nose just so, showing signs of life.

I glanced down at my watch. It was 5:23. I had just gotten out of work, and braving the cold, decided to head for a beer with a few friends who had yet to show up. A few Ďregularsí sat at the bar. A man who looked like a construction worker had a line of empty Budweisers in front of him and was chewing on the remnants of a cigar. Two girls were chatting away at the other end about whether to go see Times Square or a show. I decided to hold my tongue and not explain to them that they would see Times Square went they went to Broadway to hopelessly find tickets this late in the afternoon.

I caught my lead character eyeing the legs of the waitress as she shuffled by with a Scotch and water for the table by the door, which was occupied by an older gentleman who has just come in. Probably a banker or investment professional from one of the local Wall Street firms, I figured.

People began to shuffle in, dressed in their suits or Ďbusiness casualí dress. I figure the GAP and Leviísí must be behind the whole push for companies to adopt Ďbusiness casualí dress. With the Brian Setzer Orchestra swinging everyone into kakhis with Jump Jive, and Wail, it must be a windfall.

Like myself, he was dressed in a regular suit, off the rack. I watched his eyes light up a bit each time the door opened, only to reveal someone he didnít know and quickly darkening sky. The sun was beyond the buildings in the horizon and the dull blue tint of dusk had infected the colors outside.

He sipped cautiously at his beer, perhaps uncomfortable to be sitting alone. I followed his glance a couple times to women sitting at the bar, who were occasionally looking his way. I had the impression that they were waiting for him to leave, so they could claim his table. The ritual that turns people into vultures at a bar, scoping out who may leave first, so you can position yourself to be the first at the table, wresting it away from the other buzzards looking to fan out and sit down to consume their elixirs.

In response, he lit another cigarette, taking a long drag, and leaned back in his chair. It squeaked slightly under the weight, startling him. Pulling a foot up to his knee, he got comfortable again, exhaling a thin white cloud of carcinogens into the air. Then a sad, fitful glance to the door.

It did not open.

Someone had paid the five dollar admission for music, and the jukebox leapt to life, pounding out the opening chords to No Doubtís "Iím a Girl." A early twenty-something girl bounced back to the bar, rejoining her friends to the approving calls of "Oh my god! Cool!"

I looked around the bar. The place had begun to pick up. The bar area was crowded, and I saw my waitress taking shot orders from a group of newly employed friends. You can tell when people are new to a paycheck. The excitement of being free and clear, of a twenty to burn in your pocket, and dollar shots at happy hour is too much to contain. Glancing back at my friend (as I felt a type of connection with him now), I noticed a sly smile cross his face.

It was a smile that said he had been there, done that. An appreciation for the days of the past, for growing a bit older, a bit wiser. I felt odd understanding this. Part of me still missed the thrill of it all. But he was right. Been there. Done that. Drinking was no longer the sole objective of the night. It was share the time with the people you were with. The discourse, the interaction.

I glance at the door. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my friend looked anxious. I felt the disappointed look on my face just as I saw it cross his. The waitress obstructed my view, as she stopped by to see if I needed anything. Ah, the benefits of being a good tipper early on. I ordered another Bass just as some movement at the door grabbed my attention.

"Make that four," I winked. They had arrived.

As the waitress left, I saw the gleam in my eyes, a smile crossing my lips as I lifted an unlit cigarette to my mouth. I gave my reflection a quick salute and we turned to welcome the coming night.

© 1999, Robinson Publications, all rights reserved