He squeezes onto an oval stool and looks up at the lean bartender with a lean smile. The bartender smiles back and looks him in the eye. Their eyes lock for a second longer than either of them would have expected of the other.
“And you?” the bartender inquires extending his palm and muscular fingers.
“Strangers passing in the street,” the man says. “By chance two separate glances meet. And I am you.” He glances over at the mirror behind the bartender. “And what I see is me.” He beams. “And do I take you by the hand. And lead you through the land. And help me understand the best I can.”
He greets the bartender’s firm handshake and gazes through the bartender’s eyes into the blood vessels beyond his pupil.
“Interesting,” the bartender replies, “I was just having a conversation with a friend of mine concerning the very approach you have presented.” He releases his hand. “The formalities of introduction and seemingly empty transition from silence to awkward conversation appears in certain cases to only lead to further awkwardness and empty formalites.” The bartender reaches for a glass. “’How are you,’ ‘what’s up’ and other forms of verbal greetings seem vague and devoid in meaning, but in most cases they seem necessary and perhaps mandatory for other approaches, as the one you have begun. They are, in large part, when instigated, shunned.”
“Formalities can break the ice.”
“And in certain cases it doesn’t appear as if there’s any other way to get in touch with someone except through the initial formality, as disdainful and empty as it might be to say. If you start a conversation with a stranger by quoting poetry, lyrics, or philosophical inquisitions, they smirk, roll their eyes, and at times simply ignore or write off your attempt at intimacy. It seems inevitable that some individuals prefer the void over expeditious attachment.”
“Sometimes they’ll just laugh.”
“I bet they can become downright insulting at times.”
“Sometimes it’s painful.” He draws money out of his wallet and points to the tap closest to him. “Is it fear of the unknown, ya think?”
“I am really not at liberty to speak for other individuals, but in my circumstance I must adhere to the two possibilities of genius and insanity, and often I find the two are indistinguishable and, in certain cases, inseperable.”
“You seem like a smart guy. Do you think I’m crazy?”
“Couldn’t tell ya.” The bartender slides the foaming pint to the edge of the bar. “For there are many things I cannot claim to know.”
“I only know,” he sips the beer, “because I know that I know not.”
“Ahh, very Socratic.”
“Like that, do you?” He points to the stake of polished shot glasses next to the register.
“How could I not?” The bartender reaches for a shot glass. “Bourbon ok?”
“Scotch, if you don’t mind.”
“Yes, of course, the drink of true sophists.”
“Can there be such a thing?”
“I’m not entirely sure.” The bartender sets the Scotch next to the half-empty beer glass.
“So where did you come from?” he asks the bartender.
“Figuratively or literally?”
“Figuratively.” He shoots the Scotch.
“I’ve been here all along.”
He winces. Coughs. “Is that so?”
“I think we all have.”
“Me included?” He sets the empty shot glass next to the beer mug.
“You especially.” The bartender crosses his arms and leans against the rail behind him. “I think it might just be a matter of perception and miscommunication that keeps us from the mutual realization that we’re all in the same conscience boat.”
The bartender glances away and looks out the door at the passing traffic. “We are stuck in the illusion, the samsara,” the bartender continues. “I’m stuck in the illusion too. Sometimes I let myself think I’m better than the guy next to me just because he gets drunk every night, beats his kids and fucks his wife’s sister. When really the difference between him and myself is no greater and no less than the division I experience within my own psyche.”
The bartender looks back. “I’ve has some very dark thoughts cross my mind. Deep, awful, and downright horrifying in my opinion. I’ve never done these things I think of, but the thoughts came from me and I can’t imagine the thoughts are that much different from the thoughts of those whom I look down on.”
“Hell, sometimes I think I know other people better than myself.” He finishes his beer. “Who knows what murderous intentions I may be capable of if I were to put my mind to it?”
“I think that’s true for myself as well.” The bartender swaps the empty glass with a full one, spilling a bit of foam onto the handle. “I cannot fully imagine ever knowing myself entirely; it sounds somewhat frightening to contemplate.”
“Interesting.” He whips froth from his lips. “Do you think you could know me better than you know yourself?”
“Though you just met me.”
“Did I?” The bartender frowns. “I’m not so sure. It seems like I do know you. Almost as if I knew you before you walked in the door. As corny as it may sounds perhaps we have known each other all our lives but are just now becoming aware of who we are.”
“You ever watched a movie when you were a little kid and watched it again later in life when you were older but didn’t remember watching it before?”
The bartender reclines on a stool behind the counter and drapes a rag over his lap. “You remember watching the movie and being able to predict what was going to happen but you weren’t sure why. Pretty soon it gets downright eerie because you begin to predict what the characters say and do before they actually do it. Things fall into place a little too ergonomically for you to ignore.” The bartender crosses his arms again. “Point being, as you watch the movie, the entire time, because you’ve watched it before, you feel you know it somehow.”
“I think I grasp what you’re saying.” He brings the frothing glass to his lips. ”So what do we do now that we’ve established a mutual reflection?”
“Well there’s a problem you see.”
“And what might that be?" He licks his lips.
“I am working under the unbiased possibility of insanity.”
“Myself as well.”
“Do you keep up the operative that you might be crazy every time you talk to someone?”
“Maybe not cognitively, but the possibility is always there.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I know your name, Taliesin,” the bartender says smiling. “But I appear to have forgotten my own.”
Peters is a senior at Texas Tech University with a triple major in English,
philosophy, and natural history and humanities – this last is a liberal
arts degree set up by National Book Award-winning author Barry Lopez. His work
has appeared in The Next One journal. He also likes
wearing multi-patterned shirts and moccasin shoes.
Copyright 2003-2006 AntiMuse