fist-bump the drunk
Like what, I couldn't tell... stale booze, sure, and the musk of scents both chemical and pheromonal; but also sweat -- the sweat of thousands of unfulfilled pipe dreams (mine included) -- dripped all over a small stage in a cramped, basement karaoke bar packed with dozens of drinking, singing people, hoping for some connection.
I watched a man in his late-fifties as he nursed a pint and looked around the room, bobbing his head and smiling indiscriminately as he followed the next act and the next, singing along to choruses that I -- a child of the Amazon -- didn't know. He was tall, with a slight sag to his once-handsome, grizzled face, and he wore a pale t-shirt, black shorts, and flip-flops. He was alone.
Or at least, he'd come in alone.
Soon, he'd sidled his chair over to another lone, older guy, who was several drinks further along and perfectly willing to tie boats and drift together a while on the karaoke sea. I'm not sure, actually, that he was all that aware of his new companion. He wore a clover-green t-shirt that accentuated the leprechaun look of his frizzed, ginger hair as he closed and opened his eyes, bobbing his head constantly to an approximation of the rhythms of the music.
This was Jeff's Bucket Shop, a dingy little speakeasy where my lady-friend and I had gone this past Saturday night to (perhaps ironically) knock another item off our Dating Bucket List.
I'd already done my duty. Had climbed up onto the stage and belted out a passable rendition of Dean Martin's That's Amore, hoping my jeans were baggy enough to hide my knock-knees, and my gesticulations confident enough to disguise the pervasive fear that my throat was about to spontaneously dry into a graveled croak.
Now my lady-friend was up there... a red-haired vision in an electric-blue dress, belting out yet another rock standard to which I didn't know the words, to the admiring accompaniment of a bunch of patrons who did.
I sat on a bench seat against the wall -- bobbing my head and enjoying her enjoyment -- when all of a sudden the tipsy guy on the bench a ways down from me scooted over and tapped my shoulder. He wore a white, striped collared shirt, crisp hair-cut, and the sort of nondescript features that ensured he'd have to talk to strangers to keep from fading into the woodwork. He'd noticed that the singing lady and I seemed to be together, and felt it his neighborly duty to tell me about this time he'd brought a woman to karaoke.
He was almost desperately eager. I couldn't quite make out everything he was saying, but the gist of it seemed to be assurances that he was not being creepy. The woman to whom he was referring was his wife -- he showed me his wedding ring -- and he just wanted to help me out with some relationship advice.
He put out a fist for a bro-bump -- a plea for solidarity onto which the entire world seemed to compress. All I had to do was fist-bump the drunk... but I had questions.
I wanted to know why he thought my relationship was his business.
I wanted to ask him where his wife was today... why he was bouncing from one group of strangers to another in a karaoke bar in the ground, looking for connection.
I wanted to ask if he knew the older guy across the bar, and if he thought the two of them could be friends anywhere other than this bar - if, in a slower-paced morning-after, without liquid courage and a soundtrack loud enough to drown out any prayer of contemplative connection, he thought they could talk.
I wanted to ask him if this was all there was... if I was missing it by thinking too much, because the particular accident of my birth meant I grew up not learning the anthems of a culture I still, thirty-two years into life, sometimes struggle to comprehend.
I wanted to say all sorts of things -- anything, in fact, other than the artificial pretension of connection to be found in a fist-bump with a stranger in a bar.
Sometimes, though, a fist-bump is all you get.
Sometimes, you've gotta set aside your questions and fist-bump a drunk.