This was originally written in 2003, after I'd published Dancing Barefoot, and was still working on Just A Geek. At the time, I wasn't sure if I was a writer, an actor, or some combination of the two, though I was trying very hard to convince myself (and the Voice of Self Doubt) that I was just going to be a writer.
I enjoyed writing narrative nonfiction, and the feedback I got from my narrative nonfiction work was overwhelmingly positive, but it was (and is) very important to me to be a fiction writer. I had some ideas for short stories, but I just couldn't overcome my self-consciousness long enough to turn the ideas into anything more. It was frustrating to me, so I went to Old Town, determined to get some kind of narrative story out of the experience.
I still haven't written the short stories I was trying to create back then, but I think that what I did write that day has a clear narrative voice and holds up rather well.
"Can I get food at the bar?" I ask.
"Thanks," I say, and take a seat.
The waitress working the bar appears to be about the same age as me, in stark contrast to the other girls who look like they're all in their early 20s. There are heavy bags beneath her tired and sad eyes.
"What can I get you?" she asks.
"A Guinness and a cheeseburger," I say.
She turns, and pours me a pint. It's still settling when she puts it in front of me.
"Not many people drink Guinness in the middle of the day," she says.
"Is that a fact?" I say. In my mind I'm Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe, and I'm in a 1920s Hollywood speakeasy.
"It is," she says, "I think this is the only pint I've poured all day.
"Well, I don't like to drink beer I can see through," I say, as I lift the now-settled glass to my lips.
Her laugh doesn't make it to her eyes, but it's still friendly. I find a kindred spirit in her sadness. We're both in a place we didn't expect to be. I bet I'm the first guy she's waited on all day who hasn't stared at her skimpy outfit while talking to her.
"Hey, honey, can we get another pitcher of Bud over here?" calls a guy in a George Zimmer signature suit at the corner of the bar. His tie is loose and he bounces his leg on the rail. It shakes under my foot. I don't like that at all.
I look around the restaurant. I've never seen it this full during the day. John Fogerty tells me that there's a bad moon on the rise.
"Sure," she says, and walks down to the taps.
Two young girls turn heads as they walk in and sit at a table behind me. "Oh my god! Your eyebrows look so great!" the tall one says.
"Don't they? I totally had them tattoo'd on," she says.
I tune them out and count the rings down my glass: one . . . two . . . three.
I look down the bar and see Men's Wearhouse and his business partners putting their best midlife crisis moves on the waitress — my waitress. Brown Suit stares at her chest while Blue Suit flashes a capped smile at her. She giggles and fusses with her hair, and fills their glasses.
"Hurry back!" Brown Suit says, as she walks back up the bar.
Five. I stare at the top of my beer. It looks like clouds over a black sky.
"So what do you do?" she asks.
" . . . I guess I'm a writer."
"You guess you are, or you are?"
"I am. I'm blocked today."
"A convenient literary metaphor."
"You are a writer."
I laugh. "Yeah, I guess I am."
"Have you written anything I've read?" she asks. A loaded question.
"Probably not," I say, "I wrote one, and the people who read it seem to like it, and I'm working on another one."
"But you're blocked today," she says.
"Yeah. This place is sort of involved in my career choice, so I thought I'd come here and try to break the block."
"How's that working out for you?" she asks. A flicker of mirth passes her eyes.
"Well, at the very least, I'll get a Guinness out of the deal."