#8: At Last

May 16th, 2012

I sipped a glass of bourbon that cost more than a whole bottle would wholesale and watched the three-piece jazz combo perform a medley of Etta James’ “At Last” and an original composition apparently known as “Test One Two.”

“Test one two, test one two,” went the lyrics as the singer snarled to the yuppie linebacker working the sound board. When it came time for a verse of Etta, a line or even another “At last,” she turned back to the inattentive audience chipping and chirping over their conversation and high-priced gourmet vegan cuisine. She would peal out the verse in liquid velvet and then snap back to snipe at the Bluetoothed, sweater-wearing mega-hunk frittering away with the board.

If she was being a bitch, her voice had earned her that.

I sipped my whiskey and checked my phone again. I was still way too early for my internet date.

As the night went from me being early to my date being late, the bald, happy keyboardist and the incongruously Goodfellas-looking bass player started the opening riff of “My Girl” but switched to “Nothin’ But a Woman” after the singer simply ignored them. Well, a medley of “Nothin’ But a Woman” and “Test One Two.”

More diners trickled in during “What’s Going On.”

The linebacker left the sound board and took over the drums for “Midnight Train to Georgia.”

A waiter snipped to the bartender, “I think that might be my favorite thing they’ve played all night” during yet another round of “Test One Two.”

When my internet date does arrive, she will be a charming young attorney who seems as interested in hearing about my life as I was in hearing about hers. My second drink will make me sillier, which is when she will start using the term “hanging out” instead of “date.” I’ll still try to see her again – lord love an Irish girl.

But this story isn’t about that. This story is about sipping bourbon and waiting among vegan cuisine.

The ceilings were high, topped with elaborate candelabra that looked like tinsel neurons. The bartender was manicured. The waitresses were dressed in a way certain men like and so were the waiters. People sipped specialty cocktails suffixed with “tini” and laughed and chatted and dined on seitan and mushrooms in perfect, perfect, perfect lighting.

Who are these people, these denizens of a better-lit world? Are they the rich and fancy? Are they like me, broke as a joke but laying out a bit too much for just one Wednesday night? I saw an older family. I saw young dates. I saw happy reunions and work events.

It didn’t matter that night if my fellow diners and drinkers were wealthy and refined or, like me, silently cringing at the bill under outfits only previously worn to job interviews. That night, as the velvet voice curled Etta James around tables and neuron candelabra, we were hip and cultured. We were refined and charming and vegan and all the things certain people say you should be.

Whether it was as much a costume party for them as it was for me didn’t matter. We had paid our admission and, at least for a night, all belonged beautiful. At last.

Written May 2012

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