I can tell the woman is preoccupied by the amount of time it takes her to decide what to drink. She looks familiar, but in a general sort of way. It’s likely her appearance. Short fedora, conceptual/geometric tattoos, abstract asymmetrical hairdo, men’s button-down shirt and chinos. It’s a personal style very common these days. Call it hipster-nonbinary. I wouldn’t be using feminine pronouns if we hadn’t spoken.
The bar’s not too busy tonight, but there are enough others that I can legitimately avoid lingering near her. I can feel her gaze even when I turn my back. She’s looking for something or someone, and, in the absence of any acquaintances in the room, she focuses on the bartender.
She sips at her shot and beer, mutters to herself, and looks up and down the length of the bar. For a few seconds she engages the couple seated next to her, but they soon get up and leave. As do several others. Now there’s just a cluster of my coworkers, whose shift has ended, and her. She beckons me over.
——So what are you into? What are your passions?
I give her the Cliff’s Notes version of my biography, regretting sharing each innocuous detail as it spills from my mouth. Because I can see her gears turning. She’s sizing me up in order to gauge how much to unburden herself of the weight that’s been crushing her ever since she walked in.
She says she was a performer but had a crack-up. She gives no details, nor shares much else personal. Instead, she wants to talk about a trans weightlifter at the Olympics. How they bested the previous world-record by a hundred pounds. That this is a symptom of a world gone crazy. She says something about young people transitioning being the same as forced sterilization, the destruction of traditional family structures and roles. She insists that we have to admit there’s a clear difference between men and women and that every other gender designation is left-wing delusion.
It’s every bartender’s burden to be amateur therapist, but some cases presented can’t be joked or free-drinked away. The things she talks about are clearly a deflection from what’s truly bothering her. But the heaviness of it is crushing.
She tries to hold my gaze as I walk away without agreeing or contradicting her statements. It’s last call. I start my end of the night clean-up.
——I’m making you uncomfortable, right?
No, I answer, it’s just the end of the night and we will not resolve the entire issue of gender identity in the next ten minutes. She wants agreement or argument, but I refuse to engage and this frustrates her. I tell her to come back next Sunday to continue the conversation, but hope to god she doesn’t.
After the locks are on the doors, I ask Eber and Emma if they know the woman. They don’t, except for seeing her in the bar in the company of a cop who’s a regular. They ask if she was hitting on me. If only. I tell them I feel like I got hit by a ton of bricks.
What’s it called to rage against the thing that’s clearly your own personal conflict? Self-loathing, irony, just the human condition?