Dave and I meet at a restaurant, the Famous Fish Enterprise or whatever it’s called, a few blocks up from the beach. The restaurant is thronged with the twenty-something species to whom this restaurant/club milieu is a first home; the carefully unshaven young professionals and Players who lean with hunched and easy panache over long glass-littered bars, or tables full of drinks and wrecked snack plates. They have vivacious but normal-seeming girlfriends and wives. A lot of the guys wear backward baseball caps. Those that don’t wear backward baseball caps wear suits that seem carefully arranged to look like unbuttoned after-hours business dress, and a few of the guys are sporting the Squashed Insouciant Beanie, that ubiquitous Where’s Waldo beanie that crushes and droops a little at the apex, suggesting bohemian disarray. The look doesn’t really speak in this environment because everyone knows Bohemia doesn’t watch televised sports, and so the beanie crowd look like fakes, and they are. The backward-cap guys and after hours business dress guys are in their element, though. They make easy eye contact and chit chat with bartenders and waitresses, and they all look like some version or hue of Ryan Gosling or Ryan Reynolds.
The deciding game of the World Series is all over the 30 huge flat screens in the place, it looks like Mission Control in there with all the glowing panels. The buzzed young guys and their significant others are wearing the collective ‘fuckyeahtheWorldSeries!’ mask and high-fiving each other, the men jerking their heads around and hollering every time one of the paunchy millionaires onscreen swings a bat or jogs a little across the televised grass. All the guys here tonight are sporting Establishment tattoos and heroic eyebrows and are laughing loudly. The ‘Im here straight from my important job in my unbuttoned suit’ guys laugh angrily, like Billy Baldwin or Tom Cruise overplaying drunk because some acting coach somewhere told them that a drunk Young Turk looks at his gathered posse and angrily whips his hilarity-contorted face from friend to friend while laughing. “Haw!haw!haw!haw!haw! haw!haw!haw!haw! oooh shit, man! Haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!” Their girlfriends or wives could be the nameless and merely competent actresses on endless and interchangeable Law and Shooting shows and faux-funny internet ads; lookalike, neutrally beautiful young ladies with radiant curtain-hair like polished rayon and cackling, nose-wrinkling support laughter accessorized with a possessing paw fastened determinedly on the tattooed forearm of the backward cap.
During this last game of the World Series (all the games of the world series, really. All baseball games, that is), doughy muscular men, some tallish and paunchy with a mullet-mustache set, throw the little white baseball around and occasionally sprint in expensive panic with their big fannies jumping. When they aren’t called upon to move they can be seen dramatically standing stock still while waiting for the little white ball to drop like a speck of cotton from out of the arc lighting. Often the live feed will show a moth or gnat or other innocent fluttering around out there under the lights, unaware of the Moment, and sometimes the wealthy outfielder will drop an incoming ball after having waved away his colleagues, “I got this!”, and when he drops the thing which it is his massively overpaid job simply to catch and hold onto, he’ll chase after it with electric anger, like it’s the ball’s fault, and he’ll pluck it up and throw it towards home plate with all his strength and it’ll usually get about as far as the pitcher who will snag it out of the air and then strut around with angry eyes, clutching the little ball and looking all around. The whole affair is wrought with oddness and ceremony. All the while the ‘after hours business dress’ and now even the backward-cap gangs in the restaurant are yelling and slapping hands and drinking and laughing and cavorting “haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!” and jerking their angrily laughing faces around to aim and fire their humorless barking at each other. Their potent little drinks have tiny colored straws in them.
Despite my misgivings I find myself wishing I were one of them. As I get older the desire becomes incrementally stronger and, I would suggest, more perverse. Why didn’t God make me a guy who understands the appeal of sport spectating and occasional boozing and loudness, a regular guy who can lose himself in this tumult and tribe-think and freeing conviviality, back-slapping with a group of like-minded men and dissolving like a drop in the placid Testosterone Sea? Down another quantum pathway I would’ve played sports in high school and pumped iron, had The Stones on my bedroom wall and not a stylized cartoon poster of big-hipped Elton John peering like an elf from underneath a top hat, I would’ve had one of those thick paperbacks of sports statistics on my bedside table next to my State Championship trophy, and would have followed my dad in his daily brow-furrowed examination of column after column of tiny numbers in the Sports Section, like two guys following the stock index. Instead I sat by my Tensor lamp and pored over the beautifully bound and illustrated shiny hardcover of the complete lyrics of Bernie Taupin (thanks, Diana), surrounded by my Revell spaceship models and sketch pads and other such you’ll-never-get-to-first-base folderol. So on nights like this, and they are few, I fall into brief fits of reverie. Looking around in wonder at the backward baseball caps, I almost say aloud “how did I miss this boat so completely?”
Three guys at the table next to Dave and I are ordering drinks and being handsome and successful with their shaded jawbones and parted hair and general enviability. Enviability is a state, if not a word. I spy on them in my peripheral vision and occasionally with one of those bold direct glances which, if intercepted, can be quickly reframed as admiration of the exposed duct work overhead. They’re watching the game with interest but no particular fever while they wait for dinner, chatting and laughing normally, holding their hands in Rodin shapes before their mouths as they cant their heads and exchange confidences, as men do in parlors and mahogany-paneled private libraries.
I turn back to Dave and we continue our conversation and about half an hour later I glance over at the guys at the next table and I gasp and I feel my face getting hot. Their dinner has long since arrived, it is lobster, and these three recent exemplars of mellow male reason and coolness are wearing enormous bibs which fasten snugly around the neck and cascade down and over the knees like the drop cloth on a picnic table. In the center of each bib, right over the solar plexus, is a grinning stylized cartoon lobster. I can’t tear my eyes away from these nitwits, and if they’re stupid enough to don gigantic fucking bibs in a mixed gender restaurant, they’re too far gone to notice my staring anyway. Did I not get the memo about the bib thing? I glance around and no one is staring at these disabled clods, these bib-proffering jackasses.
To my utter amazement the Three Baby Hueys, now tipsy and blinking slowly, their little freak arms reaching with difficulty out from behind their expansive plasticized bibs, begin making time with the black-haired, classily-pierced babe waitress when she comes to check on their inebriated lobster-destroying process. From what should be the genital-shriveling humility of their bib status, they blearily regard her with naked lust and start coming on to her! The guy nearest me actually leans out toward her and leers, and struggles to free his bib-ensnared ass-pinching arms. It’s just awful. This is not Robert Pattinson standing around at The Cape in an Alpaca sweater with a hip little bib like a necktie, hoisting a Heineken and laughing at the lobster held aloft in his left hand. This is three grown men made idiotic by their decision to put on enormous castrating bibs. And before my stupefied eyes the hot waitress receives the bib-guy’s advances and warms to him. She is flirting back. SHE IS FLIRTING WITH THE BIB GUY. This is the world I can never join, the world I can’t even comprehend. It moved on without me when they were handing out membership cards. While I was timidly romancing the trombone player in marching band, the hot girls who couldn’t even see me were just biding their time, waiting for these louche drunks to put on their huge fucking bibs and excite them.
“Dave, check this out,” I whisper urgently out of the corner of my mouth. “These guys are wearing bibs!” It’s less funny to me than fucked up, especially now that I see the waitress warming up. Dave is everything I am not and knows his way around, writes articles for Oracle, is built like a 23 year old and takes business trips. He haunts the cocktail lounges of Manhattan when he is called there by his urbane, yacht catalog-perusing corporate masters. He glances over at the drunken flirts in their man-bibs and turns back to me.
“Yeah,” he says. “They ordered lobster.”