Reader Advisory: some explicit language.

”I was both within and without, simultaneously enchanted by and repulsed by the infinite variety of life.”

-F. Scott Fiztgerald, The Great Gatsby

I went for a walk, with the intention of getting a beer and maybe talking to someone, although would almost certainly end up ignoring most everyone. I opened my apartment door, wandered in a straight line, and ended up at a local brewing company.

Two men walked out the door as I approached, two good old Southern California looking fellas: trucker hats, vintage shirts, shorts, flip flops. They said something to the maitre’d, who responded by sleepily tilting his head in their direction.

I asked if I could just walk in. MD said yeah, if you’re sitting at the bar. Apparently, he did not care to show much attention to anybody–a kindred spirit.

I had no intention of getting a table and ordering food, since I’d already decided I was going to get a buzz off one beer and leave. Plus, I was alone. So I made my way in.

Whelmed (though not overly) by the weekend crowd, I stalled my entry into the throng of bodies at the bar, and looked for the bathroom. Found it on the opposite side of the room.

I passed the bar, and scoped out my seat, the one most isolated where I wouldn’t have to talk to anybody. Went to the bathroom, washed my hands, and left. A big, hulking man was entering as I was leaving, and I yielded the doorway to him.

He was huge.

I felt small.

I reminded myself that it’s okay to be in my body.

Went to the bar, took my place, a few seats removed from either patron at both sides of me.

Perusing the taps, when the bartender approaches me and asks what I’m interested in. Unsure how literally I’m expected to answer (is this the time to admit I’m still not over my Chinese money plant that died a year ago? Or that I wonder if I’ll truly feel content with myself?) I just say I’ll have an IPA.

They pour the beer for me and place the pint in front of me, offering a warm smile before returning to business with the other patrons. Amber golden light refracts through the beaded droplets of condensation which gently meander toward the bartop. My hand clasped about the glass disrupts their travels, as I take my first large gulp. Self-contentedness is within reach, after all.

Surveying the surroundings, and I notice the man to my left is obviously drunk, though not belligerent. He was saying something to whomever was to his left, seemingly just to talk. Another party approached, had to take up the space, and he obliged their request to move to make room. He was now sitting directly next to me. Naturally, I dreaded this. I didn’t want to talk a random drunk old man, and I knew he would want to strike up conversation, which he did.

Immediately, I pull out my phone to text my mom back, a legitimate reason to retreat to my own mental space and ignore this person next to me. Unwilling or unable to care, he begins the ritual of small talk. I don’t remember the first thing he said, but I replied, ‘haha, yup.’ and tried to return to my phone. He kept talking, no matter how hard I tried to appear unavailable, and I eventually submitted to his conversational probes.

With hardly any warming up, he launches into his masculine thoughts on the bartender, how hot she is, and how he’s a regular, so it’s fine for him to talk like this.. He points out some women walking past in a sly manner, hand crossed past centerline and hiding his mouth, boyish & sleuthy. He’s trying to get me to agree they’re hot. I agreed that they’re women.

I’ve never understood this ritual of evaluating people as they walk past. I don’t care about strangers, and I know from experience that intent observation makes the observed uncomfortable. I don’t like being uncomfortable, and I don’t like to make others feel that way, so I try not to do it. However I feel, I also try to appease those who speak to me to avoid confrontation, so I simply agree that they are women and walking past. Uninterest in my enthusiasm (or lack thereof) is his overall vibe in response. He just wanted to say it.

He tells me his name–I repeat back: “JO-hnny?” 

“No–” he says, “DON-ny.” I misheard him.

“People always think I said Johnny. I don’t know what language I’m speaking.” Slurring, with too much saliva in his mouth, he laughs. “Maybe I don’t know how to talk.”

Maybe it just gets hard as you get older?

“No,” he says, “I think I just can’t talk.”

“Anyway, I’m Donny.”

He offers his hand for a shake

I accept, shake his hand. 

“I’m Jason.”

He repeats it for clarity, I inform him he said it right.

“Right on.”

We bullshit. I don’t remember what about.

I say something, and he chuckles and says, “Oh, what, so you’re a Republican?”

I’m confused, because I don’t know how what I just said relates to being a Republican. At present I rack my brain, but can’t remember what I said, because his conclusion didn’t make sense. Maybe it was my general energy of “leave me alone” and “I don’t want to talk to you.” Is this what older white people think “being conservative” means?

All I remember is being confused and asking, “How does that mean I’m a republican?”

He says, “Oh I don’t mind man, I’m a republican through and through.”

Feeling challenged, and like this is my opportunity to stand my ground and assert my beliefs. I say I’m pretty much the opposite of a Republican.

He screws his face up, ponders for a second, and asks, “So what, are you some kind of socialist or something?”

Actually, yes, I tell him.

He throws his head back, a look of exasperation paints his face.

“So you wanna be like Sg-hina, or North Korea? H–You want all that shit?”

In some words, I say no, because those aren’t democracies.

“Oh,” he realizes, “so, you’rrrre, like, a *Democratic* socialist.”

Exactly, I say.

“So, yoooou, are basically, into what *I* was developing in the 80s.”

Familiar with the tendency of old drunks to talk about how they actually were the first to develop something, even if their belief aligns with precisely nothing in history. Over the years, I’ve heard individual claims of being the first to invent some small brass fitting used on AC’s; stumbling upon the true cause for climate change (bottled water companies are harnessing clouds for water and systematically destroying the shade they provide;) but never had anyone told me that every political archivist and historian misattributes the genesis of a social economic philosophy by over 100 years.

I nod and say, oh, yeah.

I don’t ask follow-up questions, because I don’t want to hear more incoherent babbling. He doesn’t seem to push the subject.


We shoot the shit, so to speak, for a few minutes, and he laces in a few weird comments about women.

He notices that I’m failing to engage him in this “locker room” talk, so he digs a little.

“Don’t you like women, man? Or are you into boys.”

I say that no, I do like women, I have a girlfriend. He nods.

“I had a girl, for–shit–musta been 20 yearsh. Didn’t work out, now I’m a free man.”

I ask him what happened.

“We just had our differences. But we’re still good friends. We talk all the time.”

I tell him that’s good. He agrees.

A few seconds pass without any further comment, and we both look ahead of us, sitting in the lull. I stare at the TV.


Pretending to be interested; to look like I’m focused on something other than the unease I begin to feel at this lull in conversation.

Paradoxically, and periodically, I dislike both talking and silence, which is why I generally avoid people. Donny seems as though also dislikes silence too, so he begins to shovel noise back into the void, seemingly the best way he knows how.

“She’s so hot man, look at her.”

He is talking about the bartender again, who is directly in front of us. This is weird, and I don’t know what to say.

“They know me here, they’re used to me.”

I simply nod in acknowledgment.

He makes another comment about how attractive he finds her. I say she’s just trying to do her job. He assures me she’s “used to it.”

She says something a bartender would say, passively shutting him down but not exactly making him feel unwelcome. He continues with his slobby admiration.

He says something about daughters, and I say, “she’s somebody’s daughter,” or, “what if she was your daughter?”

The bartender smirks and says, “Believe me, I’ve told him that before.”

He says, “Oh, well my daughter is hot, too.”

Record scratch.

I believe in directness.

“That’s a really weird thing to say, Donny.”

He says, oh, I’d never come on to her or anything, but yeah my daughter is hot.

Repeating my assessment that it’s strange to have such thoughts, more so to admit them as nonchalantly as he does, I tell him I think he makes the bartender uncomfortable.

She moves to another spot to help another customer. As a woman whose job requirements include being nice, she may be used to being heckled and ogled by weird men, and continues to do her job and not engage with strange energy.

“He doesn’t mind, does he?” He points at a male barback, who smirks at him and apologizes, but says he’s taken.

“I don’t mind,” Donny assures me, “it’s all good. You still love me.” The barback laughs and turns his attention elsewhere along the bar.

For some reason, he asks again if I like boys or girls. I remind him that it’s girls, and that I have a girlfriend.

“Ohh, sure…”

He holds up his beer and smiles into it mischievously, takes a swig.

“I do! We’ve been together, oh, almost 3 years now.”

“Right on,” he says, putting his beer down in front of him. “What’s her name?”

I tell him her name.

I feel honor-bound to point out that my partner is actually non-binary, and uses she/they pronouns. But at the time of my conversation with Donny, I didn’t assess him as someone who had their finger on the pulse of gender theory. I kept it simple, for both our sakes.

He asks what I do for work, and I tell him I’m a mechanical designer at a light company, designing light fixtures.

“Oh really? Yeah man I’m kind of a light designer too. Sort of like an electrician.”

I ask him about it, how long he’s been at it, does he like it, that sort of thing. Turns out, he is *almost* an electrician, he says. Gets into some minutiae about being an independent contractor, regions he does jobs, etc.

Within the doldrum of these mundane exchanges of information, he somehow finds the motivation to reveal something a bit more personal. He remembers something…

Donny’s mind flows in and out of presence at this bar, drifting to marooned islands of the past.

He talks about a past romance he had, a threesome, he calls it. I expect he is about to regale me with some lewd tale of the good old days.

To my surprise, Donny says that he loved a man, who was an addict. This man used heroin. The man, apparently, used heroin in the bathroom at the place Donny was living with him and the third in their relationship, a woman. I could tell Donny felt betrayed by this.

Donny says he tried to get him help, tried to get him to quit, but that the man wouldn’t do it. Donny feels that he chose the heroin, and gave up on their love.

He speaks of this nonchalantly–I half-expected him to physically use his hand to wave the memory away at some point. But he was obviously very hurt by this.

“There was another one, though. This guy…” 

He grabs his shirt with both hands around the upper left chest area, where there is a logo with a three-letter acronym.

“Guy started this company. We’re partners. He’s doing real well now.”

He tells me this other man also had an unspecified drug problem, but was able to overcome his addiction and start said company. Donny says they knew each other for 12 years. It’s unclear if their relationship was romantic. I am interested, but I decide it best not to ask. He seems the type to offer the information if he felt inclined.

He says, “Okay man, I spilled all my shit. Now you.”


“Yeah,” he insists, “What’s your story? I just spilled my fuckin’ heart out to you.”

I oblige, and think of something interesting to say after the immense revelation he trusted me enough to share.

I tell him I have a history with a myriad of drugs, and that I’d began to wonder if I was autistic.

Confusion washes over his face.


Yes, Donny, it just makes sense. I’m not formally diagnosed, but the more I read about it, the more my entire life makes sense.

“No, man, I don’t think so, you seem normal to me.”

I tell him that maybe, because I’ve spent my entire life analyzing my peers, pouring over the shame I felt at “not fitting in” with incessant detail, and studying the behavioral nuances of characters in movies, books, TV shows, etc. with the neurotic intensity of a KGB operative on assignment… maybe I’ve learned how to be “normal.” Although it’s very difficult and draining.

“I really don’t get it…”

He is genuinely confused.

I tell him I’m like a bird trying to swim, or a fish trying to fly. It might be temporarily possible for either thing to happen in some cases, but it’s very unnatural.

Donny ponders.

He’s quiet.

He looks at the ceiling, opens his mouth as if to say something, but closes again. He wobbles a bit.

“Sorry, I’ve just, gotta, ponder this for a while…”

I understand.

We are silent for a bit. But not for long.

Donny tries to “open me up,” by getting the attention of the man next to him, whose back is turned to us. He introduces himself to the man, and they shake hands. The man obliges; smiles; is polite.

Donny gestures to me, says something about how he’s trying to get me to open up. I laugh, shake my head and say oh, no, no. The man and I make eye contact, and I quickly flash a grimace at him, and cross my neck with my hand flattened downward.

Cut it off, I advise.

The man tightens the corners of his mouth, protrudes his lower lip slightly, gently shuts his eyes and nods downward. A quick, universal gesture of understanding, and acceptance. 

Donny is mumbling something with a good-hearted energy, and the man gives him a friendly laugh, then turns back to his group. That encounter is over after roughly 15 seconds.

Donny turns his attention back to me, and we chat some more, about sports, China and North Korea, other things: he’s a Kansas City Chiefs fan, but has no special place in his heart for baseball.

He says I should put my number in his phone. It would feel strange to deny him this after our heart-to-heart. I oblige.

I send my phone a text from his, because he is too drunk to enter the number himself. In a little elbow-to-the-arm, tongue-in-cheek, boys-will-be-boys sort of way, I reply to his text with:

“Fuck you donny”

I chuckle, I smirk, tell him I’m just fucking with him.

He reads the text.

“ ‘Fuck you donny’ … oh, okay, no worries.” He seems to be a little offended, but does not make a fuss. I feel bad about it, but we move past it.

He buys me a beer, and we chat some more. Eventually I help him to sign his receipt, because he can’t do it in his condition. He has only the most minor of fits regarding the size of his bill. Perhaps he feels obligated to challenge it, in an old-timey haggling sort of way. He pays it anyway.

The bartender tells him he should get some dinner and a ride home.

He agrees about dinner, and tries to remember the name of an Italian place nearby.

He can’t remember. I don’t know the area well, so I don’t know it either.

“Oh well…”

A few seconds of silence pass.

“Hey, you hungry? You wanna go find that place?”

I’ve been dreading this.

I don’t exactly feel threatened, though I can’t help but suddenly recall everything he’s shared with me about his proclivity for younger men. Most directly: I would hate to spend more time than necessary with literally any stranger–I cringe at the thought of going to dinner with some of my closest friends of over 20 years.

“I’d rather not go to dinner.”

I say this gently, with as much warmth as I can muster.

“Okay, fair enough.”

Thankfully, he doesn’t persist.

We bullshit about nothing in particular for another few minutes.

He begins to stand.

“Welp, I guess it’s my time.”

“Be safe, Donny.”

Donny is navigating the relationship between his altered sense of balance, and the unyielding insistence of gravity. He stumbles slightly toward the pillar behind him, the back of his left shoulder bumping it and altering his posture.

He grasps the wooden trim adorning the vertical edges of each side of the square pillar.


He throws his head back, gives a momentary, hiccup-ing sort of cackle, disdain at my silly little suggestion. He uses his crimped grip on the pillar’s trim to support his weight. The momentum he generated with his head movement would have toppled him, were it not for this precarious grip he has found on the barely suitable carpentry.

He pulls himself toward the pillar and makes contact with it, before redirecting his momentum in a surprisingly graceful twist. Donny is a skilled runningback in this moment.

Before he showcases this inexplicable agility, however, he offers me two profound words:

“Fuck that.”

He’s gone.

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