“So, this is my strategy for finding romance, huh?” I say to myself, sipping at my vodka soda.
“What?” says Danny, that ever-present mischievous look decorating his thin face. “I can’t hear you over the music!” He leans over our table and cups his ear.
“Never mind,” I say, shaking my head. He turns back to watching the writhing mass of bodies that swarm the bar and nearby dance floor, and I follow suit.
Bored, and unsure of what to do with myself, I observe the crowd. Men and women stand in isolated clusters, talking among themselves like hydrophobic globs of oil, unable to mix. Globs of women dance tentatively on the main floor, throwing nervous looks at globs of men who laugh loudly and puff out their chests… But few, if any, move to mingle. It reminds me of a middle school dance, or how I imagine night clubs would be in Saudi Arabia.
“Maybe things will change as people drink more,” I say to myself, but it’s already eleven thirty, well into the night for San Francisco.
“What?!” says Danny. I wave him off.
I take another sip of my drink and watch as a swarthy young man, visibly emboldened by spirits, saunters over to a group of young women perched by the bar. The circle of women tightens up as he approaches, preparing to defend itself like an organism.
He’s doomed. I think to myself, morbidly enthralled by the spectacle. But one woman with wild red hair seems receptive, and flirts with him for a moment. He tugs at her hand and leans in to whisper in her ear, pointing towards the dance floor… but she resists, despite her smile and flushed cheeks.
“No dice,” I say out loud, smirking as I pound back the remainder of my drink. I set the empty glass back on the table and stare at it philosophically. I am starting to think that the bar scene is a trap, and the ever-tantalizing promise of intimate connection associated with it, a lie. “Do you know what all this is, Danny?” I lean over the table and shout so he can hear me.
“All of what?” he says, cupping his ear.
“The whole bar scene!” I say, gesturing around us.
“Uh, it’s a bar scene?”
“No, it’s a cultural myth, man; like Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny; all made up to sell alcohol.”
“I thought you didn’t smoke weed, dude!” says Danny, laughing.
“Yep, that’s the secret,” I say, smirking at his comment as I press on. “Nightlife is to booze as Valentines Day is to those chalky heart candies.”
“Sounds like you’ve figured it all out.”
A tall blonde woman stumbles out of the shifting crowd and straight towards me, pulling me away from the conversation. She is followed by her complete opposite: a small and nervous looking brunette who keeps pulling at her arm. “Alice, don’t!” says the brunette, fear flashing across her face as the drunk woman approaches me — as though I’m some dangerous animal.
Is this the state of man in my society, now? I think to myself, throwing the little brunette a contemptuous look. Guilty until proven innocent? I wasn’t even interested in this viking of a woman; she was far drunker than me, and not my type.
“Hey, where are you from?” she slurs, shaking her friend off of her arm and leaning against the wall next to me; the little brunette gives up on prevention, and stands off to the side, on vigil with her arms crossed, ready to intervene. I am both impressed and offended by her continued efforts.
“I’m from here,” I say. “The Bay Area. And you?”
“I’m from Minnesota,” she says, wobbling against the wall.
“Oh, cool. How long have you been here for?”
“Oh, nice. How are you liking it so far?” It’s typical filler conversation, and with a just a few more empty comments, I’ll be able to send her on her way without coming across as an ass.
“It’s good!” she says, leaning towards me as she rocks.
“Yeah, I bet it’s freezing there right now. That’s one thing we’ve got going for us in SF. Better weather.”
“Yeah…” she says. I can’t tell if she’s just too drunk to hold a conversation, or wants me to take the lead.
“What was your name?” I say, extending my hand. I know this will kill the conversation: formalizing relations and showing respect. It’s what we’re taught to do in normal situations, but from what I can tell, it’s the fastest way to blow your chances.
“Alice? I’m William. It was nice meeting you!”
“Yeah, you too!” she says, cheerily, and stumbles off to her group of friends.
“Dude, she was down!” says Danny; he’s well into being drunk himself.
“I wasn’t into it.”
“Whatever dude; you’re too picky,” he says, and gulps down the rest of his drink, slamming the drained glass on the table with a cartoonish finality. “I’m heading for the dance floor.”
“Alright, maybe I’ll join you in a minute,” I say, crunching on the ice in my cup.
I scan the room once more, and notice that the swarthy man and the redhead keep staring at each other and smiling, but neither will attempt another approach. Perhaps they’re worried about the dismal fantasy-to-reality exchange rate.
“But still, better to have tried and failed, than never tried at all,” I say under my breath as I move for the dance floor. I break into a strutting walk before busting out into latin-flavored hip gyrations; Danny whoops and gives me a high-five as I draw near.
“So, what’s the plan?” I say — always gotta have a plan.
“I dunno,” says Danny, running a wave across his body in a move resembling a vertical worm. “Let the ladies come to us?” I laugh, and commit myself to just dancing, dropping low to the ground in a semi-effeminate booty shake.
Looking around, I notice that a few couples have started grinding on each other, a now traditional American dance move that more or less simulates intercourse; things appear to finally be picking up.
“Crazy isn’t it?” I say, nodding toward a couple next to us in the thick of a grind, the woman’s posterior rubbing rhythmically against her partners crotch. “Thirty minutes ago, half these people were too shy to even hold a conversation.”
“That’s the beauty of grinding, dude!” says Danny, slapping my shoulder in drunken exuberance. “No skills required!”
“I’ll say,” I can’t get my head around grinding; it feels too disrespectful, and besides, I’m always terrified of how my partner will react to my erection rubbing up on her ass.
I continue dancing, and rubbernecking the crowd. I see the redhead and her swarthy friend are slowly moving towards each other on the floor, each pretending not to notice the other. Soon, they’re in proximity, and without saying a word, the redhead presents herself to him, tentatively shaking her rear end against his pelvis. Accepting her offer, the swarthy man grabs her hips and presses his junk against her; there isn’t even eye contact.
“I swear it’s like I’m watching the Discovery Channel,” I say under my breath.
Indeed, grinding is more like a primitive courting ritual than it is dancing, but this is the norm (across animal species, in fact — I’m fairly certain baboons and orangutans do the same thing), and I’ve lost many an opportunity to women who were turned off by my indecisiveness in escalating the grind.
“Confusing, isn’t it, Danny? Are we supposed to be assertive, and push for dry humping in the club…” I say, pausing mid-sentence to pull off a spinning move. “Or do we show respect, to combat the misogynistic culture, and toxic masculinity, and stuff?”
“Oh lord, guide me through these perilous waters,” says Danny, clapping his hands to the beat of the music in a mock religious fever.
“Live in the now, Willy-man, not in the wherever-you-are-now,” Danny smiles his mischievous grin, signaling playful intentions. But that is the core of it; too much focusing on what ought to be instead of on what is.
I see the head of the drunk blonde woman from before, bobbing above the crowd; I bend my knees slightly to avoid her gaze, but it’s too late; she’s heading my way.
“Uho,” I say, turning to Danny. “The viking is coming.”
“Good. Now get over yourself, and get weird,” says Danny, shuffling away into the crowd to leave me to my fate.
“Great,” I say, turning back around with trepidation. Sure enough, the blonde viking is making eye contact with me. Once our eyes lock, she turns around and presents her rear end, backing it towards me. “Just great.”
To my right, a pair of women are watching me and laughing; my face is far too expressive, and it betrays my predicament with ease. I feel a flush in my cheeks, and smile at them. One returns a thumbs-up, and I see a way out.
“Excuse me,” I say, approaching the two giggling women. “I’m looking for a temporary girlfriend, would either of you ladies be interested?”
“A temporary girlfriend, hm?!” says the darker of the two, with olive skin, amber eyes, and a button nose. “Like an escort?!” she raises one eyebrow and covers her mouth with a hand, gasping.
“Yeah, what kind of women do you take us for?” says her friend, a short blonde wearing a dress that looks like it once belonged to a Bavarian milk maid.
“Playful ones that try new things?” I know I’m reaching, but they laugh.
“What’s your name?” says the darker one.
“William, and you?”
“I’m Alana, and this is Tori,” she says, pointing to her short blonde friend.
“Good to meet you,” The viking is hip-thrusting her way toward me; I point toward her. “But seriously.”
“Fine,” says Alana. “I’ll be your girlfriend tonight if you dance with me.”
“Gotta sell the lie, anyhow, right?” I say, shrugging as I take Alana’s offered hand; at least there would be some chemistry with this dance partner.
We dance playfully at first, flinging our knees rhythmically side to side, dipping up and down, shimmying our shoulders. But Alana soon tires of this, and raising my arm, she spins in a pirouette before pressing her rear against me. There is no escaping the grind.
I place my hands gingerly at her hips, and swing with the rhythm of her body passively. I can already sense disappointment in her weakening motions, but don’t know what she wants. Should I press myself against her more assertively, increasing the sexual tension? Should I spin her back around? With no input, she goes limp in my arms like a dying fish, and we separate awkwardly. I guess men are still expected to lead.
We rejoin Tori at the bar, but the vibe is different now, and conversation doesn’t come as easily; Tori is giving short answers to my questions, and Alana remains quiet, only flashing quizzical looks. It’ll be time to move on soon.
“Y’all have a good night!” I say, drifting away from the bar.
“Bye, it was nice meeting you!” says Alana, and Tori just gives a curt nod.
The crowd is a swarming mass of sweaty bodies now, packed into the tiny dancing space by the bar. Other guys, who managed to start dancing, are having similar issues to me: many tentative hands and uncertain hip thrusts; many women awkwardly drifting away from grinding partners.
All this self-consciousness and confusion, even under the influence of alcohol, is boggling. But such is this goddamn millennial generation (of which I suppose I am a part). The scene reminds me of the lyrics to a song, Odd Look, By Kavinsky (featuring the Weeknd): “Your hesitation speaks to me, louder than a million words per minute,” … not the clearest english, those lyrics, but they feel poetic enough.
Keep in mind, these are not just fresh-faced 21 year olds we speak of, although they dot the crowd with their wide eyes, glowing faces, and nervous posture. No, these are people ranging from their mid twenties to early thirties.
I tell you, with each generation in America, we are taking longer and longer to grow up. Soon no one will be mature enough to have kids until they’re over 50, and well into menopause.
Indeed, that’ll be how our civilization crumbles; forget bombs and pandemics, it’ll be social ineptitude, and a universal fear of responsibility, that takes us down. I can see it now, birthrates plummeting until we can no longer sustain the economy and everything collapses. I smile sardonically at the thought.
“What’s so funny?” says Danny, materializing out of the crowd.
“Oh, you wouldn’t get it,” I say. “Where the hell did you come from?”
“What happened with that girl you were dancing with over there?” says Danny, ignoring my question.
“Oh, I dunno. I think I blew it. Not sure how.”
“Oh,” says Danny, shrugging. “Well, I met some girls, and they invited us to go with them to another bar. You down?”
“Cool, lets roll.”
Outside, we join a group of three women perched against the wall of the club.
“Will, this is Erin, Paula, and Diane,” says Danny, pointing at each in turn, from left to right.
“Heeelloo!” says Paula, with more than a hint of sarcasm; there’s a slight slur to her words, and she rocks against the wall as though ready for combat.
Erin is blackout drunk, her eyes rolling in their sockets like marbles cascading down the rim of a toilet bowl. She nods at me through a sedated haze.
Diane remains on her phone.
“How’s a going?” I say.
“Wait, who are you?” says Paula, moving to get in my face. “Like, where did you come from?”
“What do you mean?” I say. I can smell tequila on her breath. “Danny just introduced us.”
“But, like, do I know you?”
“I mean, we just met,” I give Danny a look that I hope says: You know how to pick ‘em.
“Whoa, Guys, we’re all friends here!” says Danny, pulling at Paula’s shoulder. “No need to get like that.”
“Guys?!” Says Paula, her rage redirected at Danny. “Do you see any guys here? All I see are ladies.” She smacks his hand off her shoulder. “Who the fuck do you think you are? Don’t you touch me!”
“It’s a figure of speech!” says Danny, shaking his hand. “what else am I supposed to say?”
“Say, y’all,” says Paula, her eyes narrowing to slits as she sticks out her chin.
“What? Like I’m from the South?” says Danny. “No way. I’ve always said ‘guys’. It’s just a figure of speech.”
“You’re being very disrespectful right now,” says Paula, waving her finger in Danny’s face. “And you’re lucky, cause if I was sensitive about my gender identity, I might knock you the fuck out.”
“C’mon Danny,” I say, pulling at his arm. “Let’s go.”
“It’ll be chill, dude,” says Danny, trying to wave me off. “Just give it a sec.”
“No man, this is clearly a shit show,” I say, tugging at him more forcefully. “Let’s just call it,” Danny slowly acquiesces, and walks with me down the street.
“That’s right, bitches!” screams Paula, with a tone somewhere between playful and violent. “You run on home!”
“Dude, what the hell was that?” I say to Danny, once out of earshot.
“I dunno man. They seemed chill at first.” he says, rubbing his eyes. I can tell he’s pretty drunk. “So are we just going home, or what?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “We could. things will be closing down soon anyway.”
A man passing on the street taps my arm anxiously. “Yo man, you got a cigarette I could bum?”
“Sorry, I don’t smoke,” I say. The man grunts and waddles off.
The interaction brings back a collection of vague memories. I used to hang out with the smokers on occasion, through high school and college—back when smoking was an identity. They just seemed to fit my personality more: a misanthropic crowd with a penchant for philosophical conversation. Somehow, I managed never to pick up the habit myself, although I often think my life would make so much more sense if I did.
“You know what sounds good?” I say. “Whiskey and cigars.”
“What? You don’t smoke,” says Danny, contorting his face in surprise. “Aren’t you a health freak?”
“I do sometimes, when I’m drunk.”
“Ha, don’t we all,” says Danny.
“Well, what’d you say? We could smoke ’em on the balcony. Enjoy the night a bit,” The thought of just going home and sleeping seems depressing to me.
“Alright, fuck it.”
“Yeah boy!” I say, slapping Danny’s shoulder and smiling. “Who needs women when you’ve got cigarillos and moonlight?”
“Sounds like a shitty substitute to me,” says Danny.
“Course it is. But what can we do but accept the lemons that life has given?”
“You know what kind of lemon I’d like right now?”
“A female lemon with a nice figure?” I say.
“Exactly. I’m starting to understand arranged marriages,” says Danny, shoving his hands deep in his pockets like a cantankerous old man.
“Don’t worry, it’ll only be a matter of time before we get them over here, once the birth rate starts declining and all,” I say.
“Never mind, you wouldn’t get it.”
We turn off of the main strip, and head uphill towards the residential neighborhoods, the noisy revelry growing faint behind us. Soon, it fades to nothing, and all we hear are crickets, wind, and the rhythmic plodding of our shoes. The silence, accompanied by the silvery darkness of that bright night, is like a soothing balm for restless souls.
“This is what it’s all about, Danny,” I say, breathing in the cool air.
“Hm,” he says, deep in thought.
“These little moments, beyond the main attraction, are where life get’s truly beautiful.”