Linda Rand with her next Pandemic Diaries installment “Karma Police,” recalls a night while bartending, running into someone she remembers and how things have shifted.
I’m bartending, “Karma Police” by Radiohead is playing. I love this song so much. It’s sad and sexy, reminds me of loneliness and excitement, that tangled net that captures my imagination with its dangling potentialities. All the liquor bottles sparkle and gleam with the glowing red and gold lights, the spirits within dancing. I straighten my vintage headdress, the one with tiny little rhinestones in the feathers. It’s good luck and tends to fill my tip jar a little faster.
A couple comes in and sits at the bar. They order Maker’s Manhattans. After a little small talk, and looking into the woman’s large green eyes, I have a stirring. I can’t tell if I like her or not, if I’m attracted to her or not; it’s a strange feeling of recognition. When I take her credit card for a tab and see her hyphenated last name I start with recognition. I look at her eyes again. Yes, they are the same—she has aged a little, her features slightly less defined, a little heavier.
My heart picks up a beat. I can feel my pupils dilate. Does she recognize me? Of course, she doesn’t. I look nothing like I did when I first saw her, at my most vulnerable, deserving so much more. I look again at the guy she’s with. He is staring at me with a big smile. I am not interested in him; I’m interested in her. He fades off, a little checked out, a little sullen. They don’t seem to talk much to each other.
When she gets up to go to the bathroom, he leans towards me, trying to engage me in conversation, animated again.
I am busy checking her out, her ass in white pants, slow and ponderous after the cocktail, not the pert, smug ass that I remembered in pencil skirts. Yes, I remember her swishing around her office, telling me that a couple should be independent, that instead of wanting my partner to do something for me, I should do it for myself instead.
“You should get your own glass of water,” she is saying in her white, orderly, sunlit office.
“While I’m nursing?” I ask.
“Why not?” she replies.
I had a newborn. It was obvious she had no children.
The latest thing my partner-at-the-time had done was leave the stroller behind my car, so, when I backed down the driveway, I crunched it. He was a stoner and hadn’t changed at all when our baby was born, and I would never be the same. He wouldn’t lock the doors at night, laughed off my fears. I couldn’t relax, my vigilance with a new life was in overdrive. I couldn’t sleep.
Needless to say, that relationship ended.
My children are now older, I cut and bleached my hair, and I’m feeling on top of things. I make another round and she returns, and he fades back into his bored indifference.
Hmmm, I think. Where is your perfection now?
I stare nakedly into her eyes, bold eye contact, to see if she can sense me somehow. Later, I come from around the bar to drop her check, so I can lean in close, smell her hair. I have a brief urge to kiss her neck, to be intimate and on equal footing.
How quickly our roles can shift. Our stability is on quicksand. I wonder if they are bonding now in self-quarantine, closer than ever, their alienation a momentary blip, while I am once again finding my way.
“Cosmo Lounge, in Portland, Oregon” | Photo by Linda Rand