It’s subtle. Like camouflage it blends into the environment avoiding the detection of the casual onlooker. But the careful eye notices. There are still irregularities in the landscape that cannot escape the attention of the meticulous observer. Oh, on the surface it looks like everything else, but it moves differently. It tries not to be noticed.
It laughs innocently, honestly. It opens wide like a door on Thanksgiving Day. It dances not for applause but for the mystery of the next step.
It… is beauty.
* * *
Having a drink on a Friday during happy hour at your favorite watering hole is much like a ritual. Each week it’s done at the same time with the same observers at the same place. Sacred substances are ingested and inhaled to intensify the experience. A few of the tribal members—the “mystics” of the clan—partake of their inhalants far away from the others; their ways are not easily understood for they practice the old magic.
Animals are sacrificed to appease the appetites of the patron gods and goddesses, and the background is decorated with the usual nostalgic memorabilia, mementos of great deeds and times.
Still, what makes a ritual special is the meaning you attach to it. After all, the human animal is a spiritual creature, able to ponder things great and small. You can’t get any smaller than happy hour, but it has meaning, and somewhere between the bending of elbows and inhibitions I had forgotten it, until she walked in.
I caught my first glimpses of her through the windows of the bar. She would appear, disappear behind a partition, and then appear once more. Each time she vanished my eyes would impatiently wait at the next window for her to materialize and ease the throbbing that had prematurely begun in my stomach. In retrospect, the chime that jingled as she swung the door open and closed signaled more than just another patron entering this white-collar retreat. She had my undivided attention and this focus on her as she walked down the aisle created a “Turner Classic Movies” moment. Everyone was a shade of black and white, but she stood out—draped in vibrant color.
Her skin was caramel like the candy with the cream center that I used to buy at the neighborhood movie theatre when I was a kid. Her hair was the color of cherry wood, and it bounced about her shoulders in loose curls as she walked. The red tint of her lips was more warm than hot, and her bark-brown eyes seemed to search the bar for familiar faces.
You might say that I was smitten, but it was more of an excited curiosity. It’s the feeling that you get when you’re six and you’re opening a present but you have no idea what’s inside. Except that it wasn’t Christmas, nor was it my birthday, so I had no reasonable expectation of receiving a present. In fact, I was a lot like Charlie Brown, the kind of kid who might find a rock in his trick or treat bag on Halloween.
Shaking that thought from my head, I tried to focus again on the woman who had just entered the bar.
She sat down in the back of the room in a booth next to some people I was vaguely familiar with. She said a few words, made a few gestures, and suddenly an otherwise morbid collection of souls sprung to life as if they had just been zapped with a defibrillator.
After a few rounds of laughter their waitress came over and they all placed their orders. Stuffing the order slip book and pen in her apron, she walked away laughing, and I began to wonder if what ever this woman had goin’ on was contagious. I was in need of a good time myself.
To my surprise, the waitress completed their order quickly (she’s normally very slow) and returned to their table with their drinks. “Miss Life of the Party” gripped her frosted-over mug and raised it into the air. The others followed her lead almost hitting the lamp that hung above the table as they positioned their glasses for a toast. Upon impact some of their drinks spilled out to accompany their boisterous hoots and howls. Much of it landed on the table, but some of it found its way onto the lap of my intriguing subject. This was just the break I needed.
Giggling to herself, she got up and walked to the bar. The barmaid pointed towards me and then swerved her hand to the left. After nodding to the bar maid and mouthing what appeared to be a “thank you” she began to walk to my end of the bar. I leaned back in my chair, stuck my arm in the air, and waved my hand to give her a landmark. I was sitting at the other end of the bar; the restrooms were right around the corner, so I pointed in the direction she should take once she reached me. When she noticed me, she scrunched her face up, hunched her shoulders a little, and grinned.
“I can find my way from here, but thanks anyway,” she politely whispered as she passed by me.
Immediately I felt at ease. She had a good natured smile to go along with an aura that gave me the impression that she was genuine, and I don’t care who or where you are, that type of feeling always disarms you. So, pleased as God on the seventh day, I smiled back.
I had about five minutes to figure out something to say that would start a conversation interesting enough to steal some time away from her friends who were no doubt eagerly awaiting her return. I quickly popped a mint into my mouth and confidently prepared to make a fool out of myself. On the “ladies man thermometer,” I was somewhere between chilly and being in danger of needing a couple of limbs amputated.
She exited out of the ladies room not long after she went in. As she approached, we briefly made eye contact, and for a few seconds every organ in my broad chest and ample abdomen leaped into my throat. I managed to fight off the almost overwhelming urge to freeze up and carefully uttered a few words.
“I noticed that you’re wearing what’s left of that beer you were drinking. Can I get you another?”
She stopped in mid stride and smiled in a way that let me know she anticipated that I would hit on her. Putting her hand on the back of my chair, she turned towards me and spoke candidly, “That was good. Most guys don’t have a clue of what to say at first.”
I wondered whether if she knew I needed to hear that and was just giving me the encouragement that was necessary for me to press on.Or, was this rose just a rose, a simple verbal expression of how she really felt? I decided not to be self-conscious about it and felt myself gravitating to the side of decision-making the sun most often shines on, the benefit of the doubt.
“And thank you for the offer.” she added, “You’re sweet, but I already ordered another one.”
“You‘re welcome.” I said, trying hard to maintain my cool. “Though, I‘m still hopin’ to have the opportunity to buy you a Heineken.”
“Hmm, observant, too. How long have you been watching me?”
“Observant?” I asked, playfully trying to avoid her question.
“Yeah. You knew what I was drinking? The other explanation could be that you’re Dutch, but bein’ black and all, you have more chance of being a psychic.”
“I saw the barmaid pour it from the tap.”
“That works as well. So… how long have you been watchin’ me?”
“Is there an echo in here?” I looked around pretending to follow her voice from wall to wall. I felt a strong desire to lie, and for a moment I wanted to be someone else, someone a lot smoother, a ladies man perhaps. But there she stood with not an ounce of pretense in her body (at least none that I could detect), and she had done more than most women ever do—stop and talk to me. Besides, she had repeated herself. That meant that not only did she want an answer, but also that the answer was important. So I decided to be myself, the person who, if in fact she wasn’t pretentious, she would like the most, the person I liked most.
“I’ve been watchin’ you since you walked into the bar.” I replied.
“Honesty, I like that.”
“What else do you like?”
“Introductions.” She smiled again.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m Jay, and your?”
“A Bible name. Not bad.”
“Familiar with the Bible?”
“A little. I’m not an authority, but…I’m not a neophyte either.
“Oooo,” she playfully responded, pursing her lips, “Easy with the vocab. It is happy hour. There’s a two-syllable limit on unfamiliar words. System failures, crashes. You know.”
“You crazy!” I burst out laughing, and then she snickered. I was amazed at how easy it was to talk to her. Everything about her said welcome.
“Let me guess,” I continued, “Que sera sera. Hakuna matata. You’re some kind of artist aren’t you?”
“No,” she answered, “but I could see you makin’ a livin’ as a foreign language song consultant in Hollywood.”
“What.” I said, then half-grinned and squinted my eyes. “Consultant-foreign-song-lan...” Then it hit me. “Oh! Ohhh! I get it. I…think.”
Rebecca laughed to herself. I laughed at her, and you know what: she was okay with that.
“No seriously, seriously, I gotta know,” I continued between breaths, “What do you do for a livin’?”
She began to compose herself. She didn’t care at all that most of the bar including her friends were now looking at us to find out what was so funny. We caught each other’s probing glance again, and I wondered was she thinking the same thing I was thinking. This doesn’t happen everyday. I felt foolish that only moments earlier I believed her to have some ulterior motive when she complemented me on my “pick up” line. Whether or not she wanted to encourage me was unimportant. I realized that it wasn’t her sincerity I doubted, but that I was unsure of my own ability to “kick it” with someone I was very attracted to.
I waited till we both settled down enough to form coherent sentences for another opportunity to speak. Having quietly enjoyed one of those awkward places in time that strangers have together when they are searching, finding, and appreciating “the moment,” I attempted to get a few words in, but she beat me to it.
“Look, I need to get back to my friends; they’re waiting for me. But you’re more than welcome to join us.” Rebecca offered. “I don’t normally invite people I’ve just met into my circle, but somethin’ tells me they would like you. And, you seem safe enough. How ‘bout it?”
I hung on the words “…more than welcome…” and “I don’t normally…” She was an attractive combination of zeal and humility. The type of woman who would give it all even if it meant she might lose everything.
“All right. Sounds like fun.” I accepted knowing that any change in my personality would be viewed with skepticism. I had given her a picture of my true self, and the invitation into her world was extended to that person and that person alone. That knowledge was coupled with responsibility. In a brief time I had become a caretaker of a small part of her that she had extended for no other reason than it felt right.
Though things had begun smoothly, I was certain that in the future she would be more cautious, not because she wanted it that way, but because there was so much to gain, and time had taught her what I was reminded of during this happy hour: true beauty rarely escapes the attention of the meticulous observer.