He has a certain charm. A scruffy, romantic Bukowski’s Bar Fly vibe. He works for the phone company, I think, during the day. But most every night finds him on his favorite bar stool.
He and the bartender, Dina are becoming friends. Or maybe more. But Ken doesn’t seem the type. Laid back, intellectual. He has an easy way with women, but never seems to flirt. He is all about conversation. Music, films, philosophy. And he is funny, too. In a sarcastic Lewis Black kind of way.
I chat with him most nights, standing idly at the service bar when my tables are caught up, picking out the stray maraschino cherry stems from the plastic bar fruit inserts, replacing the lemon wedges that somehow end up in the compartment with the limes.
Over the years, I develop a certain trust of smart men. You know the type. Up in their minds all the time. Their talk of higher concepts and casual brilliance usually alienates other men and even women.
In my youth and naiveté, I see this type of man as asexual and therefore safe. I can have them if I want them, but they certainly will never force the issue. Or even initiate, unless it is a sure thing.
So it seems with Ken. We all know about Angel. The love of his life. Long-suffering Angel. They were high school sweethearts. She got pregnant at 16 and together they decided to give the baby up for adoption. A very intelligent choice for their age and given the fact that they were indeed in love. They don’t live together, aren’t married, but still consider themselves to be in a relationship. Forever bonded, at the very least, by the trauma of their shared history.
I meet Angel only once or twice. She is a longtime food server at T.G.I. Fridays. She comes in only occasionally for a beer with her coworkers after closing. For the most part she goes straight home after work, while Ken is considered a regular at the bar, ever- nursing his mug of Bud Light. Every three weeks or so he orders a Diet Coke and drinks that. I suppose it is mostly just to prove to himself that he still can.
I play the music he likes on the jukebox, especially selections from the Queen album with the song “Who Wants To Live Forever”. This always sends him into a reverie and accompanying monologue on the movie Highlander, his favorite of all time.
He invites me to a party one night at the house he rents with two other roommates. I hang out for awhile and eventually drift into his room to check out his CD collection. We both rave about Pete Townsend’s Empty Glass sharing our admiration for certain tracks over others and the reasons why. And then, quite suddenly, we are kissing.
One night at last call, he invites me to come over and watch Good Fellas, a Scorsese film he can’t stop talking about. We watch the VHS tape in his room, laying side by side in his twin bed, propped up on pillows. It is all very friendly. Platonic. And then we are kissing.
“Come hither…” He whispers.
Unlike other men, he doesn’t roll over on top of me and start making out. Instead he wants me on top of him. And so I oblige. Because I want to. Because I think he is handsome, in his way. Because I think he is smart and makes me think. Because it feels good to be alone and so physically close to a man. To be wanted.
He leaves his t-shirt on, unlike other men. Maybe he is having a fat day, I don’t know. Or maybe he is just too lazy, being that I am on top anyway. Nevertheless, I climb aboard, consummating the act, with precious little inducement. After a bit of gyration, we both sigh with release and then it is over.
A couple weeks later at shift change I overhear Dina bragging to the day bartender about how good in bed Ken is.
“Well, he didn’t pull out any party tricks for me!” I snap from my table station where I am setting up for the shift.
She reaches in the bin and lobs an ice cube at me.
“Which movie did you watch??” I add bitterly.
I don’t need to pile it on, but somehow it feels good to let her know that she isn’t the only one he thinks is “special”. Even with her fancy Miata and the money she makes hand over fist it seems, behind the bar. At the end of the day we are both in the same bed.
The look on her face. Hurt. Betrayal. I have to admit I feel a little bit of the sting myself. But what about Angel?
Two years later I’m working at another sports bar and seeing this guy I work with. We are pretty hot and heavy, about two months in. He picks up a second job at T.G.I. Fridays. Comes over one night after work, pissed as hell at me.
“There’s this girl I work with named Angel…she told me you slept with her boyfriend!! What the fuck!”
It takes a good deal of time to talk my way around and out of this tangle with him. Eventually he gets over it. But I wonder, how Angel found out. Assuming that one good turn deserves another, I imagine it may have been Dina.
Or maybe one night, after one too many, Ken spilled his guts to relieve his own guilt. Either way, the sex meant absolutely nothing to me. He meant nothing to me. But he meant something to somebody else.
Another ten or so years later I run into him at a convenience store. He is divorced, two kids. His wife was not Angel, but some other woman. He still drinks cheap beer, as evidenced by the case of Keystone Light he chunks up on the counter.
I am working code enforcement now. He is living with roommates again. The house he is renting happens to be in my patrol zone. Every once in awhile I leave a door hanger reminding them to put away their toys. The various boats and trailers and nautical gear meant to be tucked away out of sight.
Other than that, he’s no bother at all.
After writing this memory today I looked Ken up on Facebook. The first item in his timeline is a photo of Charles Bukowski with a quote:
“I walk through rooms of the dead, streets of the dead, cities of the dead: men without eyes, men without voices; men with manufactured feelings and standard reactions; men with newspaper brains, television souls and high school ideals.”
His friends list includes every local bartender I’ve ever known. His ex-wife Kim, Angel, even Dina is there in the lineup.
Some things never change.