by Dell Franklin
I’m wondering about these three men in pleated shorts, polo shirts and high-end thongs sitting together at the small bar in Schooner’s Wharf. It’s about 4 of a Saturday afternoon. There’s plenty to see of surf and sky and interesting dog and human activity on the beach just off the pier, including surfers riding curlers. Inside, there’s a variety of local characters, including Crozier, the “Pirate,” who holds court on the other side of these three men on a stool with his name on it on a brass plate. I’m talking to a local on my right about baseball, but the three guys to my left, all around 30, haven’t said one word to each other, haven’t looked at anybody, haven’t even gazed at the view beyond the window, but have instead for at least 20 minutes straight poked at little phone contraptions without looking up.
I take it hard when somebody sitting beside me in a bar ignores my nods or subtle signals that I might want to meet him or her, for these venues are not just for visiting regular drinking pals, but meeting new ones, and also fulfilling what my mother always considered the most valuable asset a person could have—observing the human condition and engaging.
“You’ll never be bored checking out people,” she told me.
Finally the guy on my left paused to sip from what had become a stale designer beer (all three drank pints of dark, so they looked like clones) and I said, “What’s so fascinating about that contraption you keep poking? Are you playing some kind of game?”
He was too shocked and confused to answer right off. “What?”
“Are you playing blackjack or something?” His friends kept poking.
“My wife and me are emailing,” he said tightly and turned away.
“Are your friends emailing their wives, too?” I asked.
He was back to poking, but said, “Yes!”
“What are you all emailing about?” I persisted.
His two friends finally peered over. They were not the types to take issue with somebody who looked and acted like me when none of them would go through life looking like they needed a haircut. I felt resentful at their taking up stools that could be occupied by people eager to engage me in drunken palaver, no matter how aimless and stupid it is.
I said, “The other day I saw two people in this bar emailing each other from 10 feet away. What’s that all about?” I pictured him and a gym-trim woman emailing each other from across a room in their townhouse.
He had no answer. He didn’t like me. I wear beach hand-me-downs and haven’t had a haircut in a year and haven’t really combed it in weeks because it doesn’t do any good, but I have money on the bar and just a minute ago bought the pirate and my fellow baseball expert a drink and I’d probably buy this trio a round if they gave me any indication they weren’t robots.
“Don’t you think the art of conversation is being impaired if not out-rightly killed by the kinds of gadgets you and your bar mates are poking?”
He turned completely away from me, like one of the hundreds of bar flies have over the years when my approach went afoul, though I did succeed about some of the time. He whispered to his mates, like a woman scheming to go to the john together for security reasons. Oh, please don’t leave me alone without my contraption! They got up and left, leaving half their stale beers and meager tips, and in a split second 3 very cute Latina girls around 21 took their places.
They were smiling and happy and the tiny one beside me smiled when I nodded at her and I asked her where she was from, and she said Fresno, and that she and her friends were all graduating from Fresno State, and I asked them their majors, and they told me what they were and I asked them what they were going into in their lives, and they told me, and I accused the one beside me of being beautiful, which she was, and she thanked me in a humble but excited way and when I asked her if she was 100 percent Mexican she told me she was half Philippine and I told her one of my tennis partner was a Philippine lady who kicked my ass and I bought her and her friends drinks and she squeezed my hand and looked into my eyes with genuine gratitude and said I was “sweet” and…. §
Dell Franklin is founding publisher of The Rogue Voice, has ceased going to the barber and regularly visits the local watering hole for conversation.