Hot August night

A familiar face peered out from the shelter of an open trunk. He was fussing with something inside, and he was trying to get my attention.

“Hey hey hey!” I shouted.

“Alex!” he called back. He knew my face but not my name. I didn’t remember his, either, so it seemed hypocritical to correct him.

There was no one around at that time of night, still and silent and harshly bright from streetlamp to streetlamp. The slightest motion would have gotten my attention: a breeze-borne takeout menu skittering across the sidewalk, a cockroach scouting from one shadow to another, a gypsy cab window sliding open. But there was nothing.

At first I wanted to think it was some kind of interesting coincidence to run into him like this, randomly, after so much time. I was so rarely in the old neighborhood.

The few still out now were either stumbling home or stumbling to their last cocktail of the night. Like me. And I had spent enough time in those bars through the years; I was bound to see someone I recognized this time of night.

It’s like every time I turn on The Golden Girls, it’s always the one where Dorothy’s lesbian friend Jean has a crush on Rose.

Well I haven’t known any personally, but isn’t Danny Thomas one?

Not Lebanese, Blanche. Lesbian.

I must pass by people I recognize all the time without knowing it, people I might notice if they meant something to me.

But whatever I thought about this one, he was gorgeous, and he was trying to get my attention.

I pulled out my ear buds. The sudden quiet, like a cold wind, made the hairs on my arms stand up.

“Remember me?” he said.

“Hey, yeah,” I said. “I do remember you.”

“From the bar.”

“Yeah. The bartender,” I recalled.

He worked—possibly used to work—at a gay bar just a couple of blocks away. He must have just finished his shift.

I imagined he was sorting through a change of clothes in his trunk, but I didn’t ask what he was doing or where he was headed.

I hadn’t seen him in years.

Armando? No, that wasn’t it.

Behind the bar he used to hide a deck of Trivial Pursuit cards. He pulled them out every time my boyfriend visited, which was more frequently than me, and probably more often than I knew.

Not that there was anything wrong with it. The bartender was straight—or claimed to be, like so many in that part of town. He was just a hetero dude slinging cocktails with his hard, round pecs and his big guns, who happened to enjoy the attention of other men. I didn’t feel threatened by him. I just didn’t have any reason not to treat him coldly, politely.

Alejandro? No.

I still couldn’t … ugh … remember. No surprise. We were never friends. He and my boyfriend had their little routine, but it was nothing to do with me.

He loved when my boyfriend quizzed him on slow nights. He wanted to show off how smart he was, but I always thought a far better test was whether he knew the answers to questions that weren’t in the cards.

I wondered if he still had that deck behind the bar.

Gustavo? I ran through my South American repertoire, trying him in a succession of names like dressing a paper doll. He must have seen it on my face, because he cocked his head and said, “Augusto.”

Yes. That’s the one. “Augusto!” I shouted. “Of course. I remember you.”

“Where you coming from?” he asked.

“Manhattan,” I said, momentarily blanking on further detail. “Duplex,” I said finally.

“That a gay bar?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I was watching a friend compete in a singing competition. Like American Idol.”

It was actually not at all like American Idol, but it did involve singing, voting, judges.

“That’s cool,” he said.

“Yeah. Eric,” I said, pantomiming a tiny wave as if I were just then saying hi.

“Eric! Right.”

So far I had no idea yet why he stopped me.

Through the years I’ve learned to understand a bartender’s friendliness. You’re such a good friend, and he’s been so looking forward to seeing you again. He has a heavy pour, because you tip well. And you come back again because he has a heavy pour. That’s just how it’s played. Everybody knows the rules.

In the bar, he had a reason to be nice to me. On the street, I guess he just wanted to say hi. But I didn’t have any Trivial Pursuit cards, so I said good night — “Well, it was great to see you” — and I continued on my way.


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the untallied hours

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