(This was back when there was never a night I didn’t feel young and pretty, and I exclusively drank vodka sodas.)
The other night I found myself in the bar at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I patiently wait for a bartender to help me order my twenty-dollar speciality cocktail. When I finally make eye contact, I lean forward, and strain my voice over the live jazz band, “A Whiskey Smash,” I say, whatever that means. I picked the first thing off the menu.
I move to a more open area around the bar to wait for my overpriced drink. I look around me because I am an absolutely insufferable people watcher. I will stare, and stare because my level of physical self-awareness is typically next to nothing. I’d care about rudeness, but I think it’s presumptuous of me to assume anybody would be paying attention to anything but themselves at any given moment. So I watch the room like it’s a mid-week movie.
I am interrupted by a voice coming from my left. “Is that your pink drink?” it asks me. I turn around to find a short, balding middle-aged man in an ill-fitting suit. He’s pointing to a heavily garnished light pink concoction. My immediate thought is that, “I hate that color and I ordered a whiskey dummy. Do I look like a pink drink bitch?” But, maybe I do, and this man seems lonely, and I want to feel young and pretty.
“Ha! No, not my pink drink,” I say with a smile. I choose to be charming tonight because I want to be noticed by someone who feels lucky to have my attention. I don’t need it, but it’s easy; so I take it.
“Are you staying at the hotel?” he asks, taking a sip from his vodka soda, my signature drink at age twenty-two.
“Oh no,” I say shaking my head at the thought of ever being able to afford a night here. I shouldn’t even have bought a drink. “I live in LA. Are you staying here?”
“No. I’m staying at The Avalon. I’m from New York. The hotel I am staying at was having a function, like the one going on here, so I thought I’d get away, but..” he gestures to the loud gathering on the patio, indicating that it’s hard to find relaxation even on a week night. “Are you with the party here?”
“Yes, by proxy I am.” I ask about The Avalon, a boutique hotel that I used to pass on my work commute. I always wondered what it was like on the inside. The outside has a distinctly Southern Californian 60’s vibe. I like to imagine that Don Draper stayed there once. Sure enough, I am told that the entire hotel is retro, and I immediately want to go. It’s hard to ever leave LA when there are so many places to visit in a ten mile radius of your home.
My craft cocktail, stuffed to the brim with too much crushed ice and too little whiskey, is served, along with the bill. I tip generously on my imperfect drink because it’s a place that requires little else.
I tell him how much I’d like to see this hotel, and my love of mid-century furniture. I confide that I’ve always been drawn to that era, and wished I’d lived in the good ole days when change was possible, ideas were fresh, and dresses could twirl. He tells me that he had never thought much about the time period until it had been popularized by Urban Outfitters styled hipsters (my words, not his). I take a sip of the sweet, minty whiskey liquid. The only thing wrong with this drink is that there isn’t enough.
I ask what he does for a living and he tells me something boring that I can’t remember. It involves finance, energy, and even though I am being as bubbly as I can for a Wednesday night, I can’t be bothered to inquire further. He asks me what I do. “I work in PR,” I say, because I do now. I’m acutely aware of how much this sounds like something a young girl in the bar of the Beverly Hills Hotel would say to an older man. I’m living a cliche for fifteen minutes of the night.
We discuss different parts of LA, museums, and I tell him he has to see the Kubrick exhibit that everyone has Instagrammed a hundred times. Although it has become the most popular indie art destination in just a few short months, it really is a wonderful exhibit. I tell him that my favorite part had nothing to do with any of the films, but rather his early work as a journalistic photographer. I tell him how fascinated I was by his ability to capture moments and emotions before he was twenty-years old.
I’m nodding and smiling, smiling and nodding as I painfully map out the different neighborhoods in LA. My boyfriend unexpectedly sidles up beside me and takes the drink from my hand. He’s been on the patio shooting the shit with industry people, his least favorite activity. I had chosen to hover near the bar, rather than a group of people wondering if I was important.
He seamlessly joins the conversation about the exhibit, and introduces himself. I realize I have no idea who this older man is. We’ve not made introductions. It didn’t seem necessary,
My boyfriend politely steals me away to the party, and I don’t talk to Neil, at least I think that’s his name, for the rest of the night. I move on to meeting new people, laughing with people my own age, and making jokes about the unidentifiable appetizers in the dim lighting.
Even though I never speak to him again, I keep glancing inside at the man at the bar. His back is to me, but I can tell that he doesn’t engage with anyone else for the rest of the night. And I feel guilty for having left him. I don’t know him. I don’t know if he has a wife, kids, a job he hates. I don’t know if he’s the happiest sap on the planet. Sitting alone at a bar could be just what he wanted that night, but I still narcissistically felt like he was my responsibility, and I was reckless. I suddenly feel very young, but not pleasantly youthful. I just feel silly, flighty, careless, and selfish. I don’t like it. I don’t feel young and pretty anymore.
I feel myself growing up, and know I can’t ever go back.