“So. I was talking to the bartender. And he told me all about you.” The guy sidled into the bar stool next to mine without as much as a hello. I think anyone can back me up on this—there are some strangers you don’t mind sitting next to you in a bar.
And then there was this guy. A little overweight. Badly dressed, in clothes that managed to make him look twenty years older than myself, despite being no more than thirty-three or thirty-four. Balding in George Costanza way, so that what hair remained formed a little saddle over the top of his head. None of those things usually puts me off. I like big guys, hair isn’t what attracts me to a man, and clothes don’t really matter when they’re in a pile on the floor. I just didn’t find this guy all that attractive, though, and I couldn’t really put my finger on why. I didn’t even want to look him directly in the eyes.
There were two bartenders working that night. I knew them both. One of them is a pretty boy who’s dumb as a paper bag full of gravel; the other is a skinny former twink for whom someone should throw an intervention because of his addiction to too-small tank tops. I cast a look at them where they stood at the bar’s far end, lounging and cleaning glasses. “Oh yeah?” I asked. “And what did your buddy tell you?”
I’ll be the first to admit it takes me a while to be comfortable with someone I’ve just met. I have to get used to his physical presence; I have to have a while to size a person up, to get to know what kind of person he is. I’m on guard until I decide someone’s not cruel, or racist, or one of those guys who mistakes being a Mean Girl as wit. This guy did nothing to make me comfortable. He sat sideways on the stool and leaned in to violate what personal space I tend to protect; he addressed me as if we’d known each other for years. I wasn’t expecting a personal letter of recommendation from a mutual acquaintance, like some grand old dowager out of Downton Abbey, mind you. But my instincts told me this guy was too familiar, too fast. “My buddy the bartender said you had a little bit of an attitude,” he said.
“Did he, now.” On winter mornings, I have to get up and turn up the thermostat to get the heat going. His information flipped a switch in me that felt like the furnace in my basement, roaring with heat and anger. I began wondering which of those assholes would have said such a thing.
“I have another buddy from Manhunt that you fucked a while back,” he continued on, while my eyes shot daggers away from him. “He said you kind of have a Midwest attitude about us East Coast boys and think we come up short.” The information stoked the flames even higher. The problem was, I couldn’t really deny that I’d probably said something to that effect to someone, sometime in the last two years, from Manhunt. “I told him was probably exaggerating, or misread you, or something.” He licked his lips. “He said the sex was hot, though.”
For the first time, I looked at the guy full on. He was still a little too close, hovering a little too eagerly. He was too expectant, too anxious. If I possessed some kind of Geiger meter for neediness, he would have been clicking off the charts. And I realized in a flash: I was being played.
A few years back I had to read and review a book by Neil Strauss called The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists. It was a dreadful volume on an alleged sure-fire pickup technique written by some raging dick in L.A. who’d transformed himself from an ordinary raging dick into a super-cocky raging dick who claimed he could pick up any hot chick he damned well pleased. At least, that’s what I remember, eight years on. To accentuate the message of being a dick, the guy had someone draw up line drawings of himself as a bald-headed ladykiller superhero who, in cartoon form, looked uncannily like a penis with a cheesy goatee. The whole package was bound in faux leather and embossed with gold lettering on the cover. Like a Bible. Get it?
The guy’s technique for picking up chicks—I’ll give it to you for free—is basically a combination of grandstanding for attention, ignoring the chick you desire, and then finally getting her attention by insulting her to her face—taking her down a notch or two, effectively. Attractive women are so used to compliments, he decided, that outright rudeness gets attention. So a guy using Strauss’ bible would approach a woman, tell her she had nice hair, and then ask who did her extensions. Or tell her she has a nice dress, and then comment that he’s seen it on three or four other women that night. Or just go all in, and tell her that he bets she’s really high-maintenance.
One of my big objections to The Game was that I really didn’t believe that so many women out there were so desperate for a little validation from a total fucking stranger that they would leap into bed with any schmo who walked up to them and said, “I guess vertical stripes aren’t as slimming as they say,” or “Do you need some advice on getting rid of that zit?” Maybe I just grew up with strong women who would deck a guy who came at them with such a lame approach. Maybe my female friends now are too confident and intelligent to be manipulated with such lame zingers.
Whatever it was, the realization that I was being negged by a total stranger in a bar situation was like a bucketful of cold water on the flames that had been roaring a moment before. I could practically smell the smoke from the dead embers. I looked down at the bartenders again and realized that both of them, if anything, thought more the big tips I gave them on a weekly basis than they did about their ‘buddy’ sitting next to me. As for the Manhunt guy, if he’s a local and I haven’t been back to fuck him again, I probably didn’t enjoy him all that much. So what did I care about his opinion of me?
As for this guy—well, when this happened, I’d just had the most rotten couple of weeks in some years. I just didn’t give a shit.
“So basically what you’re telling me,” I said very slowly and loudly over the bar’s background music, “is that you’ve heard I’m a total raging asshole, but you’re willing to let me prove otherwise. That's charming.”
He started to stammer. “I never said you were an asshole.”
“Oh, that’s right. Your buddies did,” I said. Then I asked, “Does this pickup technique usually work for you? Because it’s really not doing a thing for me.”
“I didn’t say. . . .”
I’d taken out my phone by then, and was poking at the screen to check my mail.
He leaned in again. “Men say I can suck the chrome off a bumper.”
I’ve always disliked it when guys used that phrase to sell themselves to me. It doesn’t sound remotely sexy at all. I’d like my bumper slobbered over, but I’d like the chrome to remain intact, thank you. (Do they even make chrome bumpers any more? Isn’t the analogy as timely as I’m as long-lasting as a 33 1/3 phonograph record, baby?) I managed to find my phone more absorbing than that come-on.
He sat there for what felt like the longest time while I studiously ignored him. After what seemed like an eternity, he finally slid off the stool. “Well, I guess if you’re not interested. . . .” he said.
“Nope,” I said to my mobile web browser. I was relieved when I felt him scurry away and vacate the space next to me.
“You doon’ all right down here?” asked the dumber and beefier bartender, slamming his hands down on the bar in front of me. For a moment I thought about asking him if he’d been the ‘buddy’ of the pickup artist, but I decided that it really didn’t matter. The quickest way to make me assume an attitude is to tell me I have an attitude, and we’d already managed to run that flag up the pole. I assured him I was dandy, and set my phone back down on the bar now that the coast was clear.
I felt a rush of air beside me, and then the pickup artist materialized beside me again, as if from thin air. “I’m really a hell of a bottom,” he pleaded.
It was kind of a shame he hadn't led off with that. I looked him in the eye. “No,” I said. For the final time, he slunk off.
If that’s ‘tude, so be it. I’d like to stress that it’s Southern-by-way-of-the-Midwest ‘tude, though. I’ve got some regional pride.