The bar was empty when I got there except for two men playing pool, two men talking to one another at the bar, and a black cat that paced the length of the bar and stopped near me to lap up water from a whiskey glass filled to the brim. I could not relax enough to write a proper journal entry, since I was too self-aware to focus on anything except the awkwardness and pretentiousness and loneliness of sitting alone at a bar writing to oneself about Abraham Lincoln's voice. I also texted friends frantically, seeking entertainment, failing at the extroversion I boasted of in my last post. Raj graciously responded with some comments about a YouTube clip of sharks eating seals in slow-motion.
Soon the bar filled with clusters of patrons. Some were obviously in the bands; they dressed as you would expect amateur musicians to dress (hair short enough to be straightedge for work, but long enough to be tousled for play, and big belt buckles). Some were the bandmembers' lady friends; they wore dresses and boots. There were not many unaccompanied people. There was another loner down the bar also pretending to text message, whom I ignored because of his Ed Hardy-like t-shirt. There was a heavyset mid-thirty-something man in a Nirvana t-shirt and torn jeans who looked so desperately awkward that I had could not stop watching him: he fidgeted with his neck, then put his hands down at his sides, then shoved them into his pockets, then brought a pair of ridiculous oversized sunglasses out of his pockets and put them on his face, then adjusted them, then took them off and hung them off his front left pants pocket, then crossed his arms, then looked around him, then slowly traced his collarbone with one hand, then lolled his head around. He slouched, he shifted his weight from one foot to another. Nobody else saw this but me, because nobody else was paying attention. Watching him, I thought for a moment that it was the gimmick in Fight Club, and that standing before me was the imaginary embodiment of how I felt!
A youngish man sat down at the barstool next to mine to order a drink. I looked briefly at him, smiled, and decided that he would be the one to fulfill my daily quotient of talking to strangers. I started the small talk (easy enough: "Are you in one of the bands? No? Uh...") and then he reciprocated awkwardly with his own small talk ("No - just here to hear music!"). We chatted and it turned out that we had both developed the same strategy for how to cope with weeknights in Chicago: bookmark the websites of the music venues, check them each day, listen to the MySpace pages of the bands, and select a club. He wore a corporate logo on a button-up shirt - these are the shirts that end up en masse at Goodwill - which provided entry into some new topics of small talk, and soon we were nattering on about construction industry newsletters (somebody must review the suppliers, I learned), the University of Iowa (there is a nice independent bookstore in Iowa City, but it is a party school, and probably not worth the visit, I learned), and rock-influenced pop (nothing to learn here). The conversation was halting and tedious, but it produced enough preliminary intimacy that we moved together to the stage and sat together for the next three bands. As usual, I asked questions and listened, and the stranger talked. But he was not a talkative one, so mostly we just occasionally smiled at each other and noted briefly how pretty good and how not so bad the musicians were. He said he had studied "computers something" in college but would have preferred to have studied "how groups of humans interact."
The first band was decent. I was turned off by the bassist's metal chain necklace and tricolor wristbands, and the rhythm guitarist's guitar-face. He was only strumming chords, for God's sake, no need to shit a brick. I am extremely judgmental, especially about vanity. The second band was older and at one point had eight musicians on stage, so they were better at rocking, but still only decent. Their bluesy guitarist was very nimble and their lead singer had an excellent blue-eyed soul voice, but the histrionic way he mimed the actions the lyrics were describing brought up unpleasant memories of my sixth grade drama class. The third band seemed lackadaisical, or I was just tired, and I left my new friend with a friendly pat on the shoulder and a "Maybe I'll see you at another one of these venues!" Not bloody likely, my friend, but maybe! He extended his hand awkwardly, and I prematurely grabbed for it, so that only three of his fingers were involved in the hand-pumping.
And then I put on my gloves, my blinking bike lights, my reflective pants-cinching slap anklet, and coasted home on a quiet residential street in six minutes. The night was not so bad, and totally unmemorable, so I thought I would write it all down here.