The other night I went to a wonderful cafe called Tea & Poets in South Miami and I did stand-up for the first time in two years during their open mic night. What I performed was essentially the monologue I I’ll be reading for the upcoming episode of Thousand Movie Project Podcast and, to my surprise, it went really well, with a youngish crowd of about fifty listeners laughing at mostly the right places.
Part of the reward was noticing that the conversation in the back of the store, mostly from teenagers disinterested in whoever was onstage, began to get quiet as I went from one joke to the next and the swell of laughter broadened.
The bigger surprise of the night, however, is that, as I was getting ready to leave my apartment, I got a text from somebody I used to date almost a year ago exactly. She’d just seen an ad for open mic night at Tea & Poets on Instagram, and she saw that I followed their page, and she wanted to know if I thought it was worth the trip.
I told her yes it’s terrific and that her timing was funny cuz I was heading out the door to perform there and she said ok well maybe I’ll stop in and see you.
So I drive out to South Miami and stop at Sunset Tavern to have a Pabst Blue Ribbon while going over my material a couple more times. Then I walk to Tea & Poets where I put my name on a list, grab another beer, take a seat—and then she comes in!
My old flame.
We drifted apart on awkward terms last year but she smiles when she sees me and comes to join me on an ottoman and everything’s cool, we banter over drinks, and then, after a while, I go up on stage—doubly nervous, now, because this woman I haven’t seen in a year is here, I’m wanting to make a good impression, etcetera.
Anyway: the set goes well, as I said, and when the cafe closes at 10 we take our beers outside and we sit on a cast-iron table and talk for an hour. Conversation’s fluent and she’s very forthcoming and we’re having a nice time and I mention to her that I’ve gotten very interested lately in the conversational maneuvers of lonely older men at bars. How they always make the same kindsa remarks about the fact that I’m reading, and then they use that to reel me into conversation. The lonesome older man in the wild. But then I mention that I’m somewhat belatedly coming to realize that I am often sitting by myself in the places where lonely older men are hanging out and thus I’m wondering, “Am I a lonely older man?” I don’t feel like one, I tell her, but I wonder if they ever do?
Finally she says it’s been fun and I walk her to her car a block away, we hug goodbye, and in strolling back to my own car, maybe a quarter mile in the opposite direction, I creep into a bush so I can pee, cuz everything’s closed.
I drive home in a glow because the performance went well and because I’m delighted to be back in touch with this person and, yes, it was an absolute delight speaking with her, and I’m trying to focus exclusively on the reward of good company and good conversation, but there’s a creeping notion that, y’know, maybe…something can flourish from here?
Turning onto the street where I live, it’s around 11:30 p.m., and my headlights catch, on a dark sidewalk, sequins, so many sequins, flickering about. I see there’s a figure with explosively long blond hair and an eye-catching dress standing there, idling, walking back and forth languidly.
I slow down, wondering if I’ll recognize her from the area, and I realize…it’s not a woman. It’s a man in a wig.
Not just any man in a wig.
It’s the guy who sells bottled water under the overpass! I talk to him every day!
I gape as I roll by and he catches my eye and pivots quickly away and hustles off and turns the corner.
I regret that my immediate reaction was to gape. I start dreading what it’ll be like if we have to cross paths tomorrow under the overpass. Is he going to mention this? Is he gonna keep me there trying to explain that it isn’t what it looks like, or that it is what it looks like but he only does it on Wednesdays?
I park at my building and go upstairs and have a quick meal and go to bed and in the morning, at the coffee shop by 7:30, I write my page quota and I do a little reading and eventually, with a stabilizing breath, I take out my phone and send a direct message to the woman in question, the old flame who joined me at the coffee shop last night. I tell her it was nice to see her and that I appreciate her sticking around to catch up with me and for being so forthcoming (she revealed some heavy burdens in her social life).
It takes a couple hours but finally she gets back to me saying, “Thanks, I had a great time too. I’ve recently started seeing someone but I’d love to hang out as friends if you’re down for it.”
Which, frankly, I am. She’s great company, and I’m starting to think that, while I might not feel like a lonesome old man at a bar, it’s best I start taking every possible preventative measure.
Walking back to my apartment in the late morning I start dreading that I’ll cross paths with the water vendor under the overpass. What am I gonna say? Do I pretend I didn’t see him (her?)? Should I draw casual attention to it?
“Saw someone who looked just like you last night!”
The worry’s all for naught, though.
He isn’t under the overpass when I reach the intersection.
And for a moment I’m saddened to think he might not turn up again.
A guy like that, by himself all the time.