Empty platitudes scribbled on a bar napkin by some poor guy who was probably just trying to get them out of his system. The kind of stuff printed on posters and shipped across the country to schools and office buildings, the words that promise an impossible future. The handwriting is sloppy, but this makes sense given the number of napkins that feature a ring of condensation, the only memory of the drinks consumed, beyond any regrets this guy has tomorrow.
The bartender is flirting with a young man who is waiting for his friends to arrive. The young man is handsome, but in a conceivable kind of way and the bartender acknowledges this with both his wondering eyes and steady, affected voice. The young man laughs politely at a joke the bartender told, but his smile is strained and empty. The bartender does not seem to notice this and walks away with a look on his face that shows his belief that the young man made up his friends as an excuse to stay at the bar and talk to him. Minutes later, the unimagined friends arrive and them and the young man leave. The bartender does not betray his previous, silent burst of pride. He cleans a glass and asks if I'd like another drink.
I collect the napkins and sort through them, rolling my eyes periodically to assure those around me that I find no comfort in such shallow banality. I pause at one napkin that reads, There is no time like the present. This is a very stupid thing to believe. The moments which predate the current time are identical to the present. They were created and lived through, ten swallowed by the chasm of time which is currently working to collect this very moment and consider it the past. The future will likely work the same way, though, as another napkin dictates, The future is unwritten.
I try not to check my phone and am unsuccessful for a matter of minutes. Then I see that he has not responded to my messages and I place my phone back into my pocket and stabilize my collapsing head on the palms of my hands, leaning towards the bar, beckoning for someone that does not exist. I sigh, finish my drink, and eye the bartender. I do this somewhat flirtatiously, now that I know his loneliness. The method is effective.
The bartender gives me my drink and asks what a guy like me is doing alone and I am granted a sudden understanding of that man's false laughter. The man is more closely related to the series of napkins than someone like myself. But I am too alone to be judgemental and tell him that I have been stood up. He tells me that my drink is on the house and gives me a patronizing frown that costs me more than the rum and coke ever would.
An hour later and the bar is nearly empty. The bartender breaks the tragic news that it is last call to us and I pay my tab and consider the door. I turn to the bartender and ask him what he is doing now that his work is done. He flashes me a cheesy smile and, after all the patrons have gone, pours us both shots.
We have been talking for around thirty minutes but he has not left his side of the bar or invited me to join him. So, I sit and he stands, a barrier between us that insists on classifications that no longer apply at this time of night. By this time I have grown sick of his voice and either want to move this thing along or depart. He has only spoken of his friends or work. These are both dull topics, for his work seems to consist mainly striking out with guys and his friends have names like 'Danger Dan' and 'Big T'. I consider kissing him to shut him up, but then he excuses himself out the back exit for a cigarette and I'm bored of the taste of cigarettes. He makes me promise to wait for his return. I don't.
At this point of night, the street is mostly clear of the herd of obnoxious 30-something drunks, but the young drunks are still collected in packs, hoping at this time the 4am bars will deliver forgetful experiences. Such a bar does not exist, which leads to the existence of the 30-somethings that are only now returning home.
I forgot to turn the heat on before I left so my apartment is as cold as the night surrounding it. I turn up the thermostat and grab three heavy blankets and resign to the couch. I flip through a novel that drips with pretension and then I flip through channels that hold nothing but infomercials and reruns of shows I didn't care about the first time around.
After a while the heat is functioning and I shed my blankets and stare at the ceiling. I began to whistle the shitty pop song that was blaring from a cab's radio outside the bar. I stop whistling and think of the bartender. He was likely sad when I left, for both the lack of conversation and the physical aftermath he considered implied. He likely picked up the stack of napkins, sorting through them and finding some solace in their simple words. Perhaps he will finally be capable of appreciating the journey in lieu of the destination, or realize the percentage of untaken shots he will miss.I suppose there are worse things than empty platitudes scribbled onto napkins. I suppose there is the bar with the missing guy without napkins that reveal the lives you could be leading.