This past weekend (several past weekends by the time this actually gets published) I went to an arcade bar with my sister, her husband, and his best friend.
Normally, I adore the concept of arcade bars. Yay, arcade games! I’m all for playing games with some cool people with a drink in my hand that is more sugar than alcohol.
But this arcade bar was brimming with party-going, college-age, frat-soro, whoo-people. True, I’m making assumptions on their characters and sweeping generalizations on the demographics of an entire bar scene, so please forgive me. I was peeved that two machines I wanted to play right from the get-go were broken, with nearly every other machine having an adjoining line to play it.
I was suitably soured on being social.
And I’m not that social to begin with.
Plus, bars are sucky places to try to be social. Music pumps so loudly that your eardrums don’t have the capacity to deal with anything else. You find yourself shouting at people in order to compensate, but in the end, you’re only contributing to the cacophony of voices competing to be heard.
So after finding little to entertain myself with, I decided to stand at a vacant table (there were no chairs) by myself. My sister, Alya, had secured herself a Pac-Man machine. Her husband, Carlos, and his friend, Fro, had gone off somewhere else (I had no idea where).
I had a fairly tolerable time staring at the different people mingling raucously around me. Rowdy clutches of guys pumped their fists in the air when their buddies won the games they were playing. Scantily clad (for November) girlfriends held (I’m assuming) their boyfriends’ hands and led them to wait in lines for games they wanted to play. Gaggles of friends congregated around these teeny tables with no chairs, laughing and chatting as loudly as they could against the general mayhem of sound.
Despite my reluctance to participate in bar-time rowdiness, I do take a certain delight in watching it take place. It’s the fun of observing situations you could never hope (or do not want) to be a part of.
Eventually, I came to the realization that I was being a bit of a weirdo just standing at that lone table and staring at people. I decided to buy myself a drink so that I could look more natural as I continued to stare at people.
Before I left the table, I let Alya know where I was going so that she wouldn’t worry that I had been carted away by strangers or something like that. She nodded her head in acknowledgement but beckoned me to come closer for a moment. I leaned in, and she muttered, “So far I’ve been hit on by two guys.”
I shrugged in a them’s-the-breaks kind of way and went to get myself a drink.
I bought a rum and coke from a nice girl at the bar. Then I headed back to my table to continue my duty as solitary sentinel of this arcade bar.
Just my luck that two guys had taken my spot while I had been gone.
I considered endlessly roaming the entire bar with my drink in my hand for the rest of the night, but then thought to myself, ‘Fuck it,’ and walked right up to the table.
“Do you mind if I just chill here?” I half-shouted at the two guys.
One of them said, “What?” so I had to repeat myself a little louder. Once they understood what I was asking, they graciously inclined their heads and indicated that I could join them in standing around this minuscule table.
Side note: Every word we thereafter spoke to each other was yelled.
“Thanks,” I said, and placed my drink on the table. I was wearing my over-large black pea coat so it was a bit of a struggle to lean against my arms on the table without getting it dirty. “You guys can keep talking to each other and ignore me if you want,” I assured them. “I just want a spot to stand at.”
“That’s okay,” the taller guy replied, and at that moment, as I adjusted the sleeve of my pea coat once more, I swept my glass onto its side and spilled a liter of rum and coke on the table.
I stared at it for a moment stupidly, then I looked up at the two men who were looking down at the mess and shouted, “Sorry! I didn’t mean to do that! Just so you know, I’m not drunk or anything! This was an un-drunk accident.”
They laughed and proceeded to help me clean up the spilled drink.
And just like that, I had my first truly social moment at a bar.
We started talking (hollering) about our respective jobs. One of the guys was named Joe. He lived in the area and was showing the other guy around. The other guy’s name was Jeremy (I may be spelling that wrong), and he was from Montreal. He had graduated from college and had wanted to do some traveling in the United States before committing to settling down.
The three of us conversed about a wide range of topics, and what was so awesome was that it all just came naturally to me. You might not realize what a breakthrough this was for me, but holy flubbernuggets, it was amazing.
Joe talked about his trip to Slab City and how mind-blowing the whole place was. Jeremy extolled the autumn appearance of the Blue Ridge Parkway drive he took. I was having an honest-to-god conversation with two strangers who I had just met, and I was liking it.
We even talked about man-buns and bad haircuts.
When Alya, Fro, and Carlos came up to me and told me they were ready to depart, I said good-bye to Joe and Jeremy. Before I left, Joe thanked me for just starting up the conversation. He said it’s not often that people just talk to each other normally like that, and it was really cool that I initiated it.
I inwardly thought back to my original intention in approaching them, which was to simply stand nearby and people-watch next to them. But outwardly, I smiled and said, “No problem.”
Sometimes it’s okay to do things in a way that you don’t normally do them. You could end up with a great conversation in a bustling, boisterous arcade bar.