I pride myself on knowing a good bartender when I see one. Unfortunately, the guy across the bar from me wasn’t one. I’d already watched him botch his last three drink orders. A tad too much orange juice here, not enough gin there. The customers took the glasses with big smiles and even bigger tips, but I knew better. It was my job to know the difference between a decent drink and a cocktail that earned its keep at a place like this.
Well, technically “job” incorrectly implies that I was being paid.
“Are you going to order something or…”
The waitress purposely let her sentence trail off, but I heard the message loud and clear: “Or just sit on that bar stool for another hour, staring at the menu like a freak.”
I turned over my shoulder and flashed her an apologetic smile. “I’ll probably just need another minute to decide.”
She huffed out an annoyed breath and flipped her notepad closed. I tried to offer an apology, but she was already gone, waltzing toward a table full of red-faced businessmen with cash to burn. They were already on their fourth round of drinks for the night. One of them reached out to grip the back of her leg as he ordered. I rolled my eyes and turned back to my happy hour menu.
I’d practically memorized it, but I was no closer to deciding what I was going to order. It was my first night in New York and I was out alone, a little broke, and a lot hungry. I’d convinced myself that I could splurge for my first night in the city, but the twenty-something dollar appetizers still made me gasp. What choice did I have though ? Food critics critique food. Good food. They don’t rank the top ten fast food joints in order of least-likely-to-give-you-a-heart-attack-on-the-spot. If I wanted to transcend Buzzfeed and actually create a name for myself in the city, I had to rub elbows at the best restaurants. I just hadn’t quite worked out how I would afford it yet.
The couple to my right were served another round of appetizers: seared mahi mahi and fresh spring rolls. I watched them dive in, not even bothering with the Thai basil dipping sauce. Heathens .
“Can I buy you a drink?”
I shifted my gaze from my neighbors over to the balding gentleman sliding into the bar stool beside me. He looked closer to my dad’s age than my own, but that didn’t stop him from eyeing me like I was the answer to all of his prayers. Little did he know, he was about to be the answer to mine.
I smirked and dropped my menu onto the bar. “How about the crunchy tuna rolls instead?”
His smile fell. “Are you serious?”
Why is it customary for men to buy women drinks when they want to get in their pants? You know what will drop my pants? Crunchy tuna rolls .
“This restaurant is known for their food, not for their drinks,” I explained.
His gaze slid from my face down to the menu and back again.
“But, I was kidding,” I added to ease his mind. I may have been from Texas, but even there, gifts from strangers seldom came without strings attached. I was desperate, not stupid.
Still, he ignored my protest and flagged down a passing waitress to put in the order.
I should have felt guilty for asking him to order me food when I had zero intentions of going home with him, but I didn’t. After I took a picture of the food for my blog, I’d let him eat it. As soon as the crunchy tempura and spicy aioli hit his mouth, he’d be thanking me for suggesting it.
He dragged his gaze down my body and I narrowed my eyes on him. He was wider than he was tall, with a pinstripe suit and sweat coating his forehead. I watched him dab away at it with a handkerchief before he spoke up.
“So are you from around here?” he asked.
I didn’t want to lead him on, but until I had a photo of that crunchy tuna roll saved on my phone, I had to humor him with conversation.
“Staten Island, born and raised,” he bragged. “I do construction in the city though.”
I nodded as I pulled out my phone. It was rude to check it during conversation, but I couldn’t resist. I’d put in an application at a restaurant earlier that day and was anxious to hear back from them. I doubted they’d get in touch with me during happy hour on a Friday night, but I still had to check.
He scooted his stool almost imperceptibly closer to mine, dropped his hand to my leg, and squeezed.
“Know anythin’ bout construction, honey?” he asked with a thick New York accent.
My heart stopped as I registered the feeling of his meaty paw on my bare skin. It was there for one, maybe two seconds before I reached down and yanked it off.
“Touch me again and I’ll stab you in the eyes with these chopsticks.”
His beady little eyes opened wide at my threat—clearly, he wasn’t used to his prey biting back.
I was already scooting off my barstool when my phone vibrated in my hand. What a perfect exit . I wanted to get far away from Meaty McGrabsALot and I had to answer my phone.
He twisted on his stool and threw his hands up in defeat as I walked away. “Oh c’mon. Stay! I was just playin’ around.”
“Well then, you should work on your delivery, ’cause that wasn’t very playful .”
By the time I pushed through the door of the restaurant, I didn’t have time to consider the unknown number on my phone. It was about to stop ringing and I hated returning calls from strange numbers. That inevitable conversation: “Yes, hi, you just called me—No, I don’t know anyone named Lupita—uh, no soy Lupita, lo siento.” Apparently, I shared my digits with an elderly woman from the Dominican Republic. Whodathought?