He sat down in the plush chair.
“Can I help you?” asked the waitress.
“Yes,” he said, “A big, dry, dirty, vodka martini. Absolut”
He put a credit card down.
“Of course, right away,” she said.
It was the nicest hotel in town. It had the old people, wealthy out-of-towners, and the classic booze and cocktails every historically listed venue should have.
“You expecting someone else?” the waitress asked.
“You’re enough for me, sweetie,” he said. “But, yes, someone else will be here if I’m lucky.”
Pained, she said, “Ok, sweetie.”
He could feel her eyes roll as she walked away.
When the drink arrived, it was what he wanted. A glass of clear liquid, filled with minute, dancing particles of olive.
“Good,” he thought, “a delivery system for olive juice.”
He took a big, deep drink. Something in his brain calculated how many ounces that swallow was costing him. The price on the menu told him that the drink was was worth half a class as a teaching assistant. He wasn’t a mathmatician, but he figured this big swallow was paid for by his standard 15 minute stand up routine on the Enlightenment on first day of class. It seemed a good exchange of a few dollars and cents for a good buzz.
The woman he was here to see was late. She was a graduate student too. She was beautiful. They’d been writing electronic mails, a new fangled thing. He’d never stopped thinking about her since he first met her, and he’d go to the library and enter a long series of letters and numbers and wait for the modem to lock into that low hum; then he’d read her diatribes, mostly against him and his work. He loved it.
They met at a tea for graduate students. It was the kind of thing he hated. But he knew he had to polish the egos of his professors, just as he hoped, someday, his students would polish his. Showing up at these social events was part of academic life.
She was some kind of hippie anthropology student from Kansas studying pueblo people. But damn, if she wasn’t his match.
“Excuse me,” she said.
“What?” he said.
“What’s this shit about, ‘Whatever is is good,’ being a Christian thing,” she said.
“Because that’s what every faith ever has held,” he said. He set down his plate and crossed his arms.
“Do you know anything about indigenous cultures,” she said, setting down her plate. “I mean anything?”
“Let’s see,” he said, putting his hand on his chin and looking skyward. “I don’t know, human sacrifice?”
“Are you that ignorant,” she asked. Now she had her hands on her hips.
At that moment something in him gave way. He was in love. It was everything about her. Her hair. Her eyes. Her anger. Her complete and total willingness to fight. Her intelligence.
“Look,” he said. “You’re right, I don’t know shit about indigenous culture.”
In a rare moment of intuition and intention he said something else.
“Maybe you can instruct me,” he said.
Their eyes connected.
“Yes,” she said. “We could do that.”
“If you’ll let me tutor you on morality and ethics,” he said, picking up his can of beer.
“Oh yes,” she said. “Fuck you,” she added.
This was the woman he was waiting to meet while he sat in the lobby of the bar on the plush chair drinking an expensive martini ruined with olive juice. But maybe he’d been waiting for her his whole life.
They had only seen each other once since that first meeting. It was really an argument not a meeting. She left the coffee shop and slapped him. He felt lucky she didn’t dump her soy latte on him too.
After that it was mostly emails on the weird, dodgy university system. Back and forth they went about epistemology and ontology and then eventually to what they thought of each other, all on a screen with green, illuminated text.
“You’re such an asshole,” she’d write. “You don’t seem to grasp that I don’t care the slightest about you.”
“Fine,” he’d write back. “Please, let’s stop writing each other.”
But they kept at it.
“I don’t really feel comfortable that you love Margaret Thatcher,” she wrote. “That’s messed up.”
“Who do you love?” he asked
“Don’t try to do psychological stuff on me,” she wrote. “Ok? You won’t win.”
“Why would I want to do that?” he asked.
“Hmmm. I can feel it,” she answered. “Harriet Tubman. Gloria Anzaldua. Frida Kahlo. Rosa Luxemburg.”
“Rosa Luxemburg?” he asked. “How about Hannah Arendt?”
“I’m not sure about Hannah,” she wrote.
“Because you’ve never read her,” he typed.
“And you’ve read Anzaldua?” she responded. “I think maybe you think I’m not as smart as you. Which is wrong.”
“I don’t know,” he wrote. “I’m not that smart.”
“Well,” she wrote, “nobody over here challenges me like you do.”
“Nobody is going to dispute your designation of ‘asshole’ when it comes to me,” he wrote. “I am one. Guilty!”
It went like that for weeks.
“Why don’t we go on a date?” he asked, finally.
“What,” she asked back, “You like me?”
“Yeah,” he wrote back. “I like you a lot.”
He followed that.
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve said ever.”
He sat there for what seemed like an eternity waiting for her response. The green cursor square thing just blinked, and blinked, and blinked. It was mocking him.
Then a response.
“Yes,” the message read. “Lets do it. Let’s go on a date.”
Finally. When the message appeared he felt that weird feeling he felt back home when he caught a grasshopper in his hands. It would jump in his clasped hands like a heartbeat.
“I got it,” he thought. “Now what?”
She walked across the lobby toward him. She saw him. She sat down.
“What the fuck?” she asked. “Why here? You’re going to rub capitalism and colonialism in my face?”
“Of course!” he said. “My paymasters are here.”
There was a pause.
“I like it,” he said. “And nobody that knows us, our students or professors would ever be here.”
“Yeah, well it looks like we just walked into Room With a View,” she said. “The Elephant Bar,” she repeated the bar’s name. “Where’s David Lean and Hadji?”
She had the darkest hair, but her eyes were green. Those eyes looked out over everything like a soldier’s looked over the top of a trench, expectant of the worst yet full of a hopeful determination to survive.
“C’mon, you can say you’ve been here, right?” he said.
“Ok,” she said, “but buy me a fancy drink.”
“Another dirty martini and a Singapore sling for her,” he asked the waitress.
The drink was a feat. A large ice cube in a tall glass with an umbrella.
“There you go,” he said. “You can go native.”
“Fuck you!” she said. And she took a big swig from the straw.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“Good,” she said. “I hate you, you know.”
She rhapsodized on the drink.
“I think they’ve done it. Made a cocktail I’ll remember. Not sweet or cloying. Not bitter just to challenge. Just the kind of thing that would get you out of bed in the morning to write another chapter of “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
“Who doesn’t,” he said.
“You are a classic narcissist,” she said. “Totally stopped at when I said, ‘I hate you’ and missed what I said about this fucking fabulous drink.”
She looked at him and smiled.
He looked at her.
“Let’s dance,” he said.
A small band had started to go play. They were playing a very respectable version of On a Slow Boat to China.
They danced awkwardly.
“This is such a racist and sexist song,” she said.
“I know,” he said. “Everyone should be outraged.”
“It’s like a rape fantasy,” she said.
“Except when Ella Fitzgerald sings it,” he said.
The singer kept singing. They kept dancing.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m not much of a dancer.”
“Me neither,” he said, then he twirled her around.
They danced around alone on the dance floor.
It was the band’s first song, and then they finished.
“Better than that email thing,” he said.
“I guess,” she said.
They sat back down. They drained their drinks and ordered two more.
“This really sucks,” she said.
“What do you mean?” he said. “We’re getting drunk at the fanciest place in town, my treat.”
“I think I like you,” she said.
He had a childish feeling of accomplishment, like when his 6th grade teacher put a sticker that said “Good Work!” on his paper about ghosts.
“Let’s dance again,” he said.
And they did. Now the band was playing “At Last.” The singer was doing something as close to Etta James as anyone could in such a place. He was drunk though, so, for him, it might have just as well been Etta herself.
“You really don’t know how to dance, do you?” she said.
“No idea,” he said.
Then they kissed.
And then they looked at each other for a long moment.
“That was inappropriate,” he said.
“I’m going to report you,” she said.
They kissed again, deeply, deliberately. By now there were lots of elderly people shuffling around, and they’d more or less forgotten about where they were.
The song ended.
“Hey,” she said putting her finger under his chin, “let’s go play pool.”
For a moment he thought, “this is a set up. She’s going to kill me.”
He could imagine ‘going to play pool’ would end with his disappearance. He thought of his bereft students. Especially the kid called “Dart” who wore a backward baseball hat and could be counted on to twist up his face when things got complicated.
His hand would go up.
“Is this gonna be on the test?” he’d ask with an expression of someone who’d gotten the wrong change at a 7–11 after buying a Big Gulp and a hot dog with a hundred dollar bill.
What would Dart do if he was dead, and some other hard ass teaching assistant didn’t say, “Dart, don’t worry about it! You’re a genius kid, you’ll do fine on the test whether this is on it or not, right? There’s forty questions on the test, dude!”
Dart might just walk into the ocean if he was dead.
“Pool,” he said “So this is the night where we do things I can’t do sober and try them when I’m drunk?”
“Yeah,” she said and pulled him from the dance floor. “It’s a test.”
Back to At Last!