The Sad Truth About The World or The Happy Hour Crowd
A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "Solipsism"
Originally featured on 09-28-2009
As part of our series "Falling Into the Abyss of Wordiness"

 

He walked in out of the rain and I lifted my glass to greet him. I sat at my favorite cocktail table in the corner. Floating around my table, the happy hour crowd laughed and toasted. He took off his coat before wading through.

As he sat and settled on his stool, I waved to the Adam behind the bar and signaled two more Old-Fashioneds.

When I turned back to him, he was leering over his shoulder at a pair of legs on an attractive twenty-something a few feet away. When I spoke, he all but jumped, quickly removing his gaze and looking at me sheepishly.

“How’s your wife?” I said.

He grinned. “Fine,” he said nodding and then, “yeah, fine, she’s good.”

“What about her?” I said.

He glanced back at the twenty-something.

“Nice legs. Nice ass. I love how these young professional girls get away with dressing so hot at work nowadays. Short skirts, bare legs, cleavage, and it’s not even noticed. Or if it is, it’s never mentioned,” he said.

I thought it was interesting at that moment that he would mention clothing. He isn’t terribly fashionable. His outfit on that day was either black pants and a blue shirt or light brown pants and a white shirt, and some variety of a yellow tie. I can say it safely because he never deviated too far from these basic templates.

“I like it too. It seems like the sexual harassment scare opened up a whole new era of freedom and liberation in office fashion. Now these young successful fashionistas can dress as up or casual as they want, the whole time aiming to look really hot in that driven, brass tacks way, and without fear of attracting the wrong kind of attention,” I said, nodding and taking a sip.

“Who’d have thought that the sexual harassment suits and all those creepy bosses trying to score at work would ultimately lead to a sexier workplace for all us non-harassers? Eh? Eh, Comrade?” he said raising his glass.

I toasted with him emphatically, sharing in the exaggerated faux-communist jubilance. We’re friends, despite all the differences, the vastly different paths, him and his family-oriented lifestyle. I can tell whenever he’s out with me, there’s things he wishes he were doing. He wishes we were talking to that girl a few feet from him, for instance. And in a perfect world, he wishes he was talking to her alone near the corner of the bar. He wishes he could dance the way he used to dance, cutting through the crowd and grabbing onto the hips or putting his arms around a stranger. He hasn’t had a drunken-dance-floor grind-session since he met his wife. And it’s too bad. He was good at it.

I wave to Adam again and he nods.

“You think that you could still talk to a girl like that? Ya know, being married and all?” I said.

He furrowed his face. “Fuck you. Can I still talk to girls like that cause I’m fuckin’ married?” We looked at one another for a moment. He smiled.

I jutted my chin at him. “Go ahead.”

We sat there for a second, him looking at me, waiting for an out or me to smile. Then he got up and walked towards the girl, who was laughing at the edge of a small circle of maybe four coworkers.

All of them still wearing their office clothes, they didn’t stand close enough to one another to appear as anything more than familiar coworkers out for a drink to bond or blow off some steam. It was easy for him to break into their conversation. They all were probably thrilled that this stranger had broken the building awkwardness and provided them all with a foil. And, of course, the girl played her part, the part of the flattered yet skeptical and cautious lady about town to a T. At first, challenging him on his approach with sarcastic banter. Then, subtly complimenting his confidence and directness with her body language. Her coworkers exited gracefully, taking advantage of the break in conversation to take a scouting lap through the bar.

Now, face to face and alone with him, she blushed slightly, eyes widening. He is taller. He is older. He has nothing to lose. He is not intimidated by her looks or her clear status as the most attractive girl at our end of the bar. She could tell.

She was thin, though a couple of office pizza parties beyond fit. Irish-anglo-nordic kind of look, with a black skirt, red blouse unbuttoned three down and a thin gold necklace that hung down into her freckled cleavage. The type of girl you’d want most of all after a funeral for a good friend.

They both turned to look at me, and moments later he has brought her back to the table. She maintained eye contact with me: fearful, respectful, curious, green-eyed contact—until I spoke to her.

“Happy hour,” I said with a smile. “You happy yet?”

She smiled heartily at my meaning. Inversely, I don’t know what my meaning was and found myself a little disturbed at this lame platitude I’d just muttered. What does it say about me that it’s all the meaningless things I say make people so much happier than the stuff I mean?

I waved to Adam, indicating shots as well as drinks.

He was talking to her about her mother back in New Jersey. He told her that he’d just had a daughter and that if his daughter grew up to work in the city and looked and acted as sophisticated as her, then he would be ‘pretty psyched.’

“As a rule,” he said “I never go out for this many drinks on a Tuesday like this.”

It’s true. He didn’t. His wife would’ve been upset to see this. The three of us could all see where it was going. But because his wife didn’t know about it, it had no effect on her. It makes me feel both sad and powerful that this is the case. At first, my mind always fights the thought. But once I let it in, it washes over me and feels like a warm blanket over my shoulders and lemon juice in my mouth.

The shots arrived. I toasted them, and couldn’t wipe the grin off of my face.

“May you be in heaven thirty minutes before the Devil knows you’re dead.”

And then we drank ‘em down, the three of us, until we couldn’t remember what had happened either.

Read More By Doug Dean

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