Finally, I arrive at the restaurant. The Alum wants to order a bottle of wine, but that seems like too much of a commitment, so I demur and say I prefer mixed drinks. I have no idea what mixed drink to order, so I chat with the bartender for a bit in an effort to decide. He asks me what TV shows I like and I say Mad Men, so he brings me a Sidecar. It’s Retro, the bartender says. You’ll like it.
The place is busy, noisy. I can mostly hear The Alum, but not entirely. We chat first about my divorce. I don’t get into the details, providing just the minimum information. He listens to the facts, and seems to file them away, not asking too much, just listening.
He tells me about his new job. He found the job through a personal referral, and is very happy there. He tells me about the interview process.
I order another drink, and though I liked The Sidecar, it’s making me fantasize about Don Draper, so I ask the bartender to surprise me with something different. He makes something up on the spot, involving a mix of things I wish I’d asked him to write down, because it was good and I could not hear what he said was in it over the din.
The Alum and I move on to other topics. We’re probably due for another alumni event, so I ask if he has suggestions, knowing he will. He suggests a pizza place that is supposed to be really good. I don’t doubt that he’s right: he’s from New York, and New Yorkers know pizza.
It is also possibly the least-conveniently located place I imagine. But he says it’s worth the trip, and tells me about it to persuade me: It has old pinball and Donkey Kong machines. He tells me the story of how he found the place the first time – off the beaten track as it is. He tells me everything about it.
It’s not an unpleasant conversation, but it’s becoming a long one. It feels a bit like a math test where you’ve been told to show your work. I wouldn’t mind that, but the subject matter feels like it’s more suited to a multiple choice test.
Bubble in, I think.
It’s becoming late and there’s no obvious point of exit. Everything I say prompts a response, a story, even if it’s a remark that is clearly intended to wind things down. But I can’t be out all night – even on a weekend, which it isn’t.
I finally get up rather abruptly, and say, Thanks so much, but I have to go home to my child, she has school tomorrow.
He seems disappointed, but insists on picking up the check. He lingers at the bar and since I realize it will take a very long time to actually exit with him, I decide to exit alone.
It feels rude, but it also feels like a boundary, and that’s the thought I savor as I drive home, carefully avoiding the fake snow and manic, dancing nutcrackers.