[My photo: Not on the night of the party]
I was surprised that the Beacon Bar didn’t just close for night to provide the space for the private function. Only the bar itself was open to regular customers. The rest of the space was ‘reserved’ for a party…or whatever it was. And a party it surely was…except for one man.
No sign was needed to tell me that the such and such bank was opening an office in Mexico City or that Doris, in Accounts Receivable, was retiring. So, how did I know it was a large group of bankers? It was simple. They dressed like bankers. All the men were in dark suits and the women (alas, only a few) wore dark power suits. A generalization, I realize. But I have only a limited time to tell this story.
I arrived in time to secure two seats at the bar. I ordered a Chardonnay for my wife (who was still forty minutes from arriving) and a Greenpoint Pale Ale for myself. Then the rush of the crowd began. The front door opened so many times the wind blew my napkin down into the dark recesses of the floor among the purses, shopping bags and boots and umbrellas.
I looked around and the sea of black outerwear made me think I had crashed a convention of funeral directors. I kept my iPhone in front of me and checked it often…just to look like I had something to do. Finally, Mariam arrived and began telling me of her day at the office. Then we both fell quiet, trying to decide if we should order a second round before Happy Hour ended at six or go home and try to stream something on TV…it rarely works and most of the time we’re left to listen to WQXR and Mozart and Vivaldi and Beethoven. A better way to spend time as far as I’m concerned.
But we lingered.
It was when Mariam leaned down to get her handbag that I looked over her lowered shoulders and scanned the room. That was when I saw him. I stared at him for a few more seconds than necessary. I looked around the room and noticed that everyone was engaged in a conversation of some type…some in groups and more than a few couples. (Office flirting? Most likely).
I looked back at the man. He was alone, sipping a white wine. His eyes kept darting around the room, looking for a friend or anyone to talk to. No one was paying him any attention. At first I thought that he was not part of the party…but somehow, he fit in…with his black trench coat and graying mustache and conservative neck-tie.
Then, like an unexpected wave from the sea of memories, I thought of how I often found myself in similar situations. At school dances, faculty parties, childhood gatherings and adult reunions. I’ve never been very good at making small talk. I often just stood against the wall or at the end of a sofa and pretended I had something very important on my mind. The only important thing on my mind in those situations, was how lonely I felt.
I looked back at the man. Still he stood by himself. Still he kept looking around. Still he sipped his white wine. I felt an intense sorrow for the guy. Then I thought that perhaps he had just fired someone or that he was the office snitch and was distrusted and disliked by everyone else. But, I dismissed that negativity.
He was simply invisible to the others.
[My photo: not on the night of the party]
I mentioned the guy to Mariam who turned for a quick glance. She understood my thinking.
She turned to me: “Why don’t you make your way to the men’s room and stop and ask him what the party was all about?”
I made up my mind to do just that. I took a sip of my half-empty glass of Greenpoint Pale Ale and turned on my chair to begin my push through the crowds to get to the rest room and to take the opportunity to be the only person to speak to the lone man in such a crowded space. When I slid off my seat, I noticed he was gone.
My hesitation had made me miss out on making a complete stranger feel that someone noticed him. Something I wished had happened to me…all those years ago.