Over the Drinking Age

2.20.14 VFW
Shot of the VFW out the sunroof of my car

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 . . .



6 thoughts on “Over the Drinking Age

  1. Lois

    Loved this Jean, there was so much here you covered. First, I would have liked Bubba too for not trying to buy me my first drink. 🙂 I’m much more comfortable in who I am today but I’m not approached as often and that may be because I’ve quit going to bars or because I’m the one with the disability.

    I’m pretty straight forward so if I hadn’t wanted company I would have said so without any guilt attached. One suggestion (coming from one with a disability) treat the next person with a problem the same way you would treat a able-bodied person. We appreciate it. 🙂

    1. That was a thought-provoking comment. Not because I don’t know to treat those with disabilities the same, but because I usually do. So what made this incident different? It’s because I struggle telling any stranger I want to be alone. Lois, you helped me learn something. I know how to say yes to everyone, but I don’t know how to refuse anyone. I don’t want anyone to think I’m a bitch, but to have them think I was one because of their disability is so much worse. I think it would be a horrible hurt to inflict on someone.

      1. Lois

        I hope I didn’t make you feel bad, that wasn’t my intention. It’s a shame that we still can’t just be ourselves around everyone.

  2. That is a very sweet story full of an aching to have life be a little less complicated. That’s my take anyway. I’ve never been to a bar alone. Not comfortable with people either but there are always good stories if you are willing to listen. I liked the possible comment solutions you came up with to handle approaching men. “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.” I’m an old lady and I have never liked bingo. You either do or not no matter how old you are.

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