He was a pleasant-looking man, probably a little older than I. He mocked himself as he wheeled across a floor littered with tables and chairs. It was clear he had only one arm to work with. I debated between whether to help him, or preserve his dignity and let him do it himself. Eventually he was close enough to engage conversation.
His first words were, “You’re beautiful.” To be honest, most of the people in the VFW sport grey hair. One quarter of them are women accompanying their husbands. The other half are lonely. So I suppose I stood out, but I never know what to say. I said “Thank you,” because I’m told that’s the correct response.
He told me his name, and asked to buy me a beer. “It’s not necessary,” I told him. He said he wanted to, so I showed him what I was drinking, and allowed him to order a beer and chat for a while.
Back in 1980, I was working the store alone, as I often did. A class ran downstairs — I want to say it was woodworking or tooling of some sort. It drew men who often ogled me through the glass. Only once was I approached. It was one of the younger men, using a crutch and missing a leg. He asked me on a date. I told him no — probably too quickly. I explained that I had to go home and pack because I was moving to an apartment closer to work. I realized it sounded like an excuse, yet I was glad to have a real reason to decline. I was nervous and unaccustomed to random men asking me out. I often wonder if he knew I shot him down so quickly because I was shy, or did he think it was because of his leg?
Here I was again, older, much wiser, in almost the same situation. I remembered the guilt of turning the younger man down, and had no intention of reliving that, and no honest reason to refuse.
It’s a happy place, a good casual spot to grab a cold beer after work, and I know a couple of the women who work there. While he went up to the bar, my girlfriends took their break and sat down at the table. I prefer bellying up to the bar because it’s easier for men to join you at a table, but the stools were all taken tonight. When he brought my bottle to the table, it was clear he was a regular, which made conversation easy. We passed around pictures of their grandchildren, who were adorable, of course. Eventually, the women went back to work, and I was left to make small talk.
He strained to find the words he needed, but I learned about his boys and what he had done for a living. The details were difficult to understand. He struggled to remember if he was 72 or 65 or some other number. Then he would get frustrated, and say, “Oh, screw it!” Which made me laugh.
So while he spoke, I had time to think.
What is it about a bar that makes women so approachable? Had I been in a restaurant or coffee shop, it’s unlikely that anyone would have spoken to me. Bars are social, I suppose. I really enjoy stopping for a beer after work on a Friday, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. Unfortunately, because it’s so rare to see a woman alone in a bar, they assume I’m looking for company. I’m not. I just want a cold beer and to check emails on my phone while doing some serious people-watching.
Was I leading him on by letting him buy me a beer? I’m not sure. Maybe I should have said, “If you’re looking for someone to chat with, you can join me whether you buy me a beer or not. If you’re looking for someone to date, you should know I am not available.” But what if I really want to be alone? Then I should say “No, thank you,” and risk feeling awful about it. Why do men put women through this?
Don’t think I haven’t tried the shoe on the other foot. I know what a leap it is to ask someone if you can buy them a drink. But at what point am I obligated to say yes?
- because I know it took a lot of courage to ask?
- because I know he had more obstacles than most to overcome?
- because I’m in a bar alone, and I should expect to be approached?
- because I don’t wear a ring on my left hand?
Back in the 80s, my desperation overshadowed what little confidence I had, and men avoided me like the plague! Nowadays, I’m not the least bit desperate, and am quite comfortable in my skin. Men sense these things. I get hit on a lot more in my 50s than I ever did in my 20s, and don’t think I don’t appreciate it!
I met Bubba in a bar. He let me buy my own drink — the first one anyway. I can’t resist a man who enables my independence. It’s a good story and one worth telling someday.
That was back in my 40s, and apparently I still have it.
My girlfriends tell me I have to come back for the VFW BINGO. My daughter tells me she loves BINGO, but I still regard it as something little old ladies do on Sunday afternoons. I looked at them and said, “How old do you think I am?”
Peace . . .