Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Midnight Conversations in the City That Never Sleeps

Saturday night, long after I should have gone home and gone to bed, I had a conversation at Marshall Stack that reminded me why it's better to stay home alone sometimes.

I sat at the bar alone and ordered a glass of cava, keeping to myself but making myself a target for late night revelers who are baffled by a woman out on the town by herself.

Two British men struck up a conversation with me, naturally asking me what I do for a living. Naturally, I preferred to talk about my travels, so I told them about my recent trip to Tunisia, gushing about how happy I was there and my dreams of returning for a longer (if not permanent) trip.

"You know what you should do," one of them said, leaning into me with his pint of beer and his beer-wet lips. "Pick the place that scares you the most, and go there."

"Well, I kind of already tried to do that," I responded, referring to my Peace Corps candidacy and nomination for service in Central Asia. I've spent nearly a year regretting that I wasn't able to go.

"That's not good enough," he said. "You realize, you're doing nothing with your life."

"Uh, yeah. I know that. I think about that every day. I know my life has no meaning." I might have known it, but I didn't want to hear it, not from a stranger, not in my favorite bar, and not after countless glasses of wine and not enough food, mentally racking up the Weight Watchers points I'd consumed in pure alcohol that night.

He persisted. "And your Tunisia trip doesn't mean as much as you think it does. It doesn't mean anything."

I was shocked and hurt. I'd had strange men lecture me as to why I'm single while chatting me up at the bar, but I'd never had someone stab my existential crisis in the heart and then turn the knife. So I capitulated and said "OK, whatever you say."

A slowly-eaten snack later, it was time to go home. I stood up from my stool, grabbed my coat from underneath me, and began to fasten its silver clasps. My emotional assailant turned to me and reminded me to remember what he said, reiterating how I'm not doing enough in life and that just avoiding regret isn't enough, I have to really live.

I suppose in another lifetime, on another night or in another bar, this could have been a transformative conversation, inspiring me to sell all my belongings, move abroad and help humanity. Instead, I lost it. I started screaming at him, "Enough! OK? I get it! Enough! Leave it alone! I can't take it anymore!" and when I was dragged away by the bartender, I completely fell apart.

"I know I shouldn't let mean, drunk men make me cry in bars," I sobbed to Neal. "But why do people feel they have to do this to me? Why do I deserve this?"

Neal offered to kick the guy out of the bar but I knew that wasn't the solution. Already on my way out, I said goodbye with a hug and a kiss and tried to leave it all behind. But it has stuck with me all week like a hangover, making me live even less than I was before.

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