Matthew Lickona 11:49 p.m., Dec. 10
Three girls walk into a bar on a Friday afternoon. The bar is called the Alley. From the outside it looks like an old fashioned kind of nautically swanky place along the coast. The building hangs off the corner of a strip mall which was attached to it as upper class suburbia grew over a smaller beach community. The whitewashed wooden exterior with a brassy gold sign and deep green eves tells of the establishment it might have been. As you walk into the door, you are hit by the bent arm of the thick caramel wooded bar littered with locals and various alcoholic beverages. The restaurant is ineffectively protected from the bar and its patrons by a narrow walkway, then a frail half wood and half glass shield.
We slowly walk the path between the bar stools and the shield hoping to find three stools that would allow three girls to booze together. My friend Curly, a regular at The Alley, perkily asked two older gentlemen if they could move down so we could sit together. They agreed and moved down. We sat on their left.
As the older bearded gentleman ogled me and tried to engage me in conversation, I continued to check out the bar. In all my drinking I had never been to a place like this. The restaurant portion looked as though it had once been the crème of seaside fine dining. Its clientele ranged from 20 something locals for whom this is the closest bar and pre-geriatrics that have been frequenting the dining room since it opened 21 plus years ago.
The backdrop for the bar is provided by two half circles of glass. Each window drips three red stained glass diamonds down the center. The glass panels of window are accented by a long trail of dusty plastic ivy. The faux flower boa softens the hard brass and wood that forms every other piece of the bar. The place is small and dark, intimate. You are in the belly of an imaginary yacht sailing through the center of Newport Beach. I knew if I leaned too far forward I might accidently graze the cheek of one of the bartenders with my lips or if I leaned too far left and I might end up in the lap of the elderly bearded gentleman. There was no room for standing, walking or dancing, just drinking.
A bartender seemed to materialize from the mash of woodwork and brass surrounding him. He flashed a sparkly smile full of warmth, “What can I get for you girls?”
Curly quickly produced her silvery credit card, “Three vodka sodas.” She smiled flirtatiously and leaned forward, just a little.
My best friend and I looked at each other with the silent understanding that this bartender was beyond cute. He was actually good looking. He had dark skin which started naturally but then had been further darkened with firm kisses by the sun. He wore a big waterproof watch on his strong arms and his chest burst ever so slightly through his navy blue t-shirt, revealing his secret physique. Finally, his kind brown eyes had those perfect smile lines that came from happiness and again, lots of time in the sun.
Three girls, three vodkas and one bartender. Now, if we were different girls a competition may have ensued. My friends and I, however, like to take a more organic approach; let’s see who naturally catches his interest and then who has chemistry. Maybe none, one or all….or most likely he’ll be flirting with the blond 23-year-old at the other end of the bar.
He was so good looking that he made me nervous. Curly became up in arms about the fact that this cutie was a newbie at the Alley. She loudly demanded to know his stats from the bartender who is her friend and he introduced the Cutie to her. The two engaged in conversation as my Bestie and I discuss how good-looking this man was. She turned to her iphone to begin twittering about it while I just tried not to stare. As his beauty settled into my conscious, I transformed into a useless mound of self evaluation.
God, I wish I had worn a different shirt. Mine was a little too big, thus it kept slipping down in the front to trashily reveal my flesh-toned bra. I developed a nervous tick where I tugged my shirt back every few minutes. I would smile, talk to my friends, tug at my shirt, take a drink, tug at my shirt again. The most unfortunate part of the situation is that this tugging and twitching was happening right in front of him. After he finished telling his deepest secrets to Curly, he decided to constantly wipe down the bar around my drink.
He stood squarely in front of me in this small bar where we were close enough to kiss. I started sweating as I continued to pull my shirt into place. Lost in my sweating and twitching I, I barely heard him ask, “So, what ethnicity are you?”
Oh god. I he was talking directly to me. I told him.
“I thought so. I have always wanted to go there to surf. I went to Bali instead.”
We chatted about Bali and which places he visited and how he could tell my ethnicity. I told him I knew Bali because a few of my friends went there every year to wear helmets and try not to die while surfing over a coral reef. I tugged again, increasingly annoyed at my shirt.
Disappointingly, he moved down the line to Bestie next. “Is your drink ok? Do you need another?”
She replied, “Sure. It’s been a tough week. I had a big project due for my MBA, but it’s finally over so we are celebrating.”
“Oh,” the Cutie replied, “I did my MBA a couple years ago. I know how tough it is. I’ll make sure this one is a double.” He winked and smiled as he poured her a fresh drink.
This is unreal. He is cute, he surfs, he’s educated and he has a heavy pour.
The other bartender slung an arm around Cutie, “Hey girls have you met this guy? He is my brother’s friend. They work at the firehouse together.”
Curly stammered, “You’re a firefighter?”
Oh yes, let’s recap: cute, hot body, grad school, firefighter, and bartender with heavy pour. We also learned he already owned his own home and he was bartending because firefighting was not mentally challenging enough. He was now thinking of opening a new restaurant with the owner of the Alley. I was sure I hallucinated this man into existence to satisfy my drunken fantasy that amazing guys still wandered the earth freely.
Bestie and Curly started twittering frantically at the newly acquired information surrounding Cutie. I don’t have a sweet iphone and I tend not to be so techno savvy so I pulled out my book, Naked by David Sedaris. Cutie returned.
“So I overheard you say that you have a masters also? What is it in?”
“I have an MA in lit hence the reading while they twitter. I’m a book nerd.” I laughed. He smiled and shook his head seemingly entertained by my book wormish tendencies. Did I sense chemistry between us?
“Do you need another drink?” the dutiful Cutie asked.
“Not yet, but water would be great.”
“Are you the designated driver or something?”
“Maybe, but mostly just thirsty.” I smiled and twitched my shirt into its proper place again. I began to notice that although he checked on the status of the other people at the bar and my two girlfriends, he would always return and linger, wiping the same spot on the bar right in front of me. My stomach did cartwheels.
Unexpectedly, his short shift ended and he took off his apron. My heart fell a little as I realized he would be leaving and the game was over. He had chosen none. He was clearly just doing standard bartender niceties.
I made eye contact with him as he stepped out from behind the bar, walked down the line of stools, took a seat next to me and ordered a drink. I smiled breezily and asked, “Are you joining us for an after-work drink?”
“Yeah, thought I’d sit for a minute after my first day as a bartender.” Yes!
“And how was your first day? Was it all you had hoped for in a bartending side job?”
“It was good. Fun. I mean real different that fire stuff, but that’s exactly what I wanted. So, do you live close by?” OMG, is he trying to see me again?
“No I live in San Diego, but she is my best friend and I’m up visiting.”
“Do you come here a lot?” he queried as he touched my arm. Yay! Standard bar come on.
“Fairly often. I usually come and visit when I can.”
He smiled satisfied with the information he gleaned but was then distracted by Bestie and a conversation about iphones and bumping.
Apparently, you can bump phones and all your personal information gets transmitted to the other person’s iphone. Cutie bumped with Bestie, then asked if I had an iphone. I shook my head sadly as he tried to be funny and bump my t-mobile sadly old bar phone. He finished his drink and put his hand on my back. “Well your friend has my information so you should call me when you’re in town.” Holy crap.
I smiled again and said, “Sure.” Bestie and Curly smiled and gestured at me with a mixture of congratulations, elation and the mild sting of disappointment. I beamed back with victory, happiness and guilt.
We ordered another round and then laughed and gossiped about the cute bartender until we became distracted with a new conversation. The spirit of sportsmanship filled the bar as they drank every blueberry vodka soda the bar had to offer.