The Bearded Lady
Posted on August 15, 2019
It had been a rough night. Not rough as in end-of-the-world, but annoying and depressing and monotonous enough to make me want to get out, so I finally did. Damn the consequences. Damn my job. Damn the world.
I had it in mind that I would find something – some sort of an adventure – something to take away from the mind-numbing existential crisis that was the retail experience of my work life. I wanted a story to tell. It was my Friday, after all. Weekends were for creating stories, and that had always held true for me.
With adventure in mind, I left the confines of my claustrophobic and overpriced apartment in the West End and went out into the open air of Portland; My city. In doing so, I inadvertently ran into a couple of my friends who were going bar hopping together, and they burst into greetings when they saw me from across the street.
Franklin was a cosplayer friend of mine, and he was a good ten years older than me. But he was funny and down to earth. Spencer was a former landlord of mine, renting out a room for me in his home when I’d needed it most – referred by Franklin, actually. I liked them both and hadn’t seen them in a while.
We chatted, we caught up. I found myself first in a bar with them called The Bearded Lady, drinking absinthe and dancing by myself in the corner to some music in between conversations with my friends. I met a man who introduced himself only as Zafir. He spoke with a thick accent I couldn’t place and had a pencil mustache gracing his upper lip. He had his eye on two ladies, or so he told me as he raked them with his stares. They were gorgeous, and I knew they were out of my league. I sucked in some of my drink as I took in their curves, and then ultimately pushed them out of my mind as I silently wished Zafir good luck in his endeavors.
He asked me what brought me to The Bearded Lady.
“Chance,” I said, taking another swig from my potent absinthe cocktail and shrugging.
He seemed to like that, and gave me the faintest smile. He supplied me with his own story of how he had met three of the other people upstairs with us at another bar called “Sonny’s” and that they had all sort of been bar-hopping ever since.
“I love him” he pointed at a man with white hair and glasses, wearing a Hawaiian shirt. “And her,” he said, pointing to an attractive young woman in a dress barely covering her skin, drunkenly tapping keys on a typewriter. “And him,” he said, pointing to a suave-looking man in a purple suit, fashionable, sitting on the couch and regarding everyone else with a curious and discerning eye as he swirled his drink in his free hand, the lamp next to him casting a glow on one side of his face.
And then, when Zafir was gone and I was by myself – indulging in the music – a woman with long dark hair and even darker clothing came to stand next to me. Without a word, she slid her hand softly over mine, like we had been in a relationship for years. Silently, she stared at me, grinning, daring me to do or say something. I disappointed her. “Sorry,” I said. “I’ve got a girlfriend.” She dropped her grip from my hand and gently patted it as if saying “Your loss, friend” before letting it go. We both stared at jewelry in a case in front of us – (an art exhibit) – for a long while before she moved on to easier prey in the room.
And then, there was more conversation, scattered around The Bearded Lady. I talked with an older gentleman about E-Class cars, though I mostly just listened. I had a discussion about body image with a young woman who was fiery and angry and at war with the world. I spoke about fidelity, about life and what it all means. I shared stories with complete strangers. I helped the DJ clean up stray cans and glasses other people had left upstairs when the party was over and it was time to go home, though I wasn’t sure why I felt the need to.
When we finally decided to take our leave from The Bearded Lady, I took a last glance at it before we set off – my body warm and buzzing from the alcohol.
On the way home, I saw a friend of mine named Emily and her boyfriend Jason coming back from hanging in the Old Port. When Emily saw me, she shrieked my name and ran to me, throwing her arms around my neck. We hugged, and I hugged Jason as well, and introduced the both of them to Franklin and Spencer and we resolved to hang out again soon. They were the type of friends I never hung out with again soon, but it felt good to say anyway. I continued on with Franklin and Spencer.
We trekked through the West End, people watching and cracking jokes. Franklin was now renting out a room at Spencer’s, and the two of them invited me over to watch Star Wars fan films and have some beers with them. I accepted. We watched the films on a projector against the broad side of a shed, and we laughed as someone nearby took offense to the volume of our entertainment and cranked up their own music to drown out the audio from the movie. We didn’t care, because although the movie was playing, we were thinking about the night behind us and talking about our individual experiences at The Bearded Lady.
I returned home eventually, enjoying the brisk air and laying in the dark of my room in the apartment. My awful day was made tolerable by night, and even enjoyable with the kindness of friends and the random chaos of strangers in Portland. I totally forgot my troubles, and didn’t pay for a single drink the entire evening – and this is why I count myself lucky most of the time. It seems like whenever I seek out an adventure or a story – one is there waiting for me, across the street, in a cozy bar, or coming back from downtown.