This place is so crammed I can barely find a place to stand. I post up wedged in-between an old lady in a floor length fur coat and fuchsia lipstick, bocadillo of ham in one overly-ringed, fleshless hand; and a group of college-aged Spanish suburbanites shouting wordlessly to the tune of “Seven Nation Army” and spilling their dobles on the napkin-littered floor. Pablo dropped his sandwich and is mocked. It’s not quite 4 pm. The walls are lined with colorfully-wrapped ham legs. I suspect at least the uppermost level must be papier-mache (how could this much ham exist in the world?) and the barmen are grizzled and in clean crisp uniforms of starched collars and red and blue vests. Two out of four have a gold medallion of some version of the La Virgen nestled in wiry chest hair.
The food is cheap and decent. The drink is cheaper and less decent. I partake of both.
The bar is a ring Four people-deep and everyone stands and I sip my beer looking across at punks and abuelas in furs and tourists and middle-aged men in gold and polyester. There are no cliques here; leisure is communal. An intense amount of eye contact is acceptable in Spain. At least four sets of eyes are fixed on me. I’m suddenly conscious of how high the waist of my pants is. I’m still too soft for this.
The sandwich is good and the meat is ribboned with fat. Between bites I’m sending lewd messages to a guy a thousand miles away. Electronic love has lost all its taboo in a world where I have two apps on my phone that can get me bottom-shelf sex with a flick of the wrist. These are the kind of messages that shouldn’t see the cold light of day and I’m not entirely sure how the cloud works but he’s got a way about him and you can tell by my dark lipstick that I’m a hedonist. Send.
I had a bad breakup a year ago and broke up with the city of San Francisco too. Came to Spain on an easy visa for a change of scenery and for Hemingway. The scenes changed but I have no stomach for bullfighting.
It’s the 21st century and hence socially acceptable to online date, I tell myself. Now my phone buzzes whenever another single person crosses my path within a certain distance. A moving panopticon of the lonely that radiates out from me 500 feet in all directions (really it uses meters but I still haven’t internalized what that signifies in the practical world). At some point in London whilst hiding from the rain in a vintage shop I couldn’t afford I crossed one such and for months we’ve built a rapport based on blind optimism and the emotional convenience of distance. We’ve never met, but people are willing to cast their nets wide in the digital age of disposable profiles. On the back of three Moscow Mules I recently booked a ticket to see him because one must take chances or else what’s the fucking point. Because these are the times we’re living in.
I have nothing to anchor myself to reality except my faith in proactive choices.
Don’t tell my mom, she’d worry.
And for reasons like this I’m always broke; I have grand visions of fantastic life and vibrant joy and whiskey sex and parties and black poetry. I’ve lived it in small spurts always peppered between long blocks of confused idolatry of inconsistent men and jobs of small responsibility and even smaller consequence (and even smaller paycheck). I get restless: I’ve changed apartments eleven times in ten years. I’ve done all the drugs, the sex and the rock and roll and all I have to show for it is anxiety, feelings, and damaged hearing. I’m too sensitive for one-night stands but I like the concept. I’m too old for drugs; they work too well now. I don’t own a hairbrush; I still fuck up my spin cycle; I’ve had my heart broken twice; none of it has sounded good on paper.
I’m quite a catch.
In my revery an abuela has managed to displace me in my sanctuary of counter space with two sharp elbows akimbo and the unapologetic aloofness of someone who lived through Franco and accordingly merits such compensation. I am powerless in the face of such humanity.
I reach into my pocket knowing I can pay for this meal entirely in coins because I’m a goddamned adult. I count them out on the two square inches of dry bar top remaining to me whilst periodically checking my phone because it stopped doing notifications months ago (strains and pressures from its international lifestyle), which I consider a personal affront. My friend Phil mutters something about all the dick and dinner I could be missing. He’s not wrong, but I’m a boheme and consider my privation to be of a deeper, more profoundly poetic variety.
My dopamine levels are depleted from the weekend so I’m feeling morose in a very Victorian way. The carbonation of the beer is helping with that.
Damn people and their jobs and their private lives and their self-control.
A sudden twinge in my left knee reminds me that I should get it checked out before I go. It’s been various states of swollen for a while now, likely something to do with the knee-level metal posts lining every sidewalk in the city. The bane of the walking texter. But then I remember it’s Sunday and am relieved that there’s no one to call; pronounced fear of second language phone calls.
Idly contemplating how many shades of black to pack.
The only thing keeping me here is a great quality of life and friends in low places. Why would I ever leave. A rolling stone gathers no moss, but if moss is a sense of material accomplishment and progress in meaningful work, then I guess I gotta reevaluate a few things. Take stock of assets and liabilities. I could always focus on the benediction of my fervent joie de vivre. That particular joy of living is worth its weight in good wine and prophylactics. When I’m lucky.
And I’m often lucky.
(Only time will tell).
Christ the reception in here is poor, I can’t be sure if my wanton dispatches are even getting through. I gotta get the hell out of this place and onto higher ground (physically and metaphorically). I hope this barkeep doesn’t mind a fistful of damp coppers, because that’s what I’m leaving him. And a glass smeared with my darkest lipstick.