"It was awful, and I will never, ever forget it," said the woman at the end of the Hyatt's horseshoe-shaped bar. She and her friend were discussing what geeks they'd been in high school. To look at them now, all frosty-tipped and toned, was a reminder that life does indeed exist outside the classroom, though it may not seem like it at the time.
"We needed a pencil to do the paperwork that first day of school," she continued. "This was 11th grade, mind you, and I had just moved to a new state and a new school. I was pretty uncomfortable and anxious. I said, 'Does anyone have a pencil I can use?' and — I'll never forget this — a kid said, 'Yeah, I got one,' and he threw it at my head. Then his friend threw one. Then another guy. Pretty soon the whole class was hitting me with pencils."
The story reminded me of Carrie, when Sissy Spacek gets pelted with tampons in the shower. How can your self-esteem recover from crap like that? The two women looked pretty happy now, though. They were in their forties, attractive, and could afford to stay at the Hyatt. Things seem to have worked out for them.
As for me, Lordy B, I was just glad I'd landed in what was probably the best eavesdropping venue in the entire city. The bar at the Hyatt — and there is now only one, in the main atrium (the one at the very top of the building closed down a year ago) — is smallish and rounded. It's the perfect amalgamation for the senses; sound bounces from lips to eardrum. Every person around me could've just as easily been speaking directly to me.
I always love hotel bars because they're chic and full of travelers, and the service is usually pretty exemplary. The service at the Hyatt, however, was not. I am sort of baffled by this. In a city full of so many talented and competent bartenders, why is the Hyatt stocked with the physical equivalent of near beer? I sat for about five minutes before I was even acknowledged by the server, who took my order but didn't remove the old glass and grody napkin from the person who sat there before me. Then he plunked down the bottle of Anchor and didn't offer me a glass. He also never wiped the bar, so I had to do that myself. The two bartenders (two! And I still felt ignored!) didn't speak English very well either. I feel like a jerk for pointing that out, but the misunderstandings just added to the general aura of incompetence. Harumph.
All my annoyances soon faded, however, when I tuned in again to those around me. The table behind me was full of co-workers who had all voted for John McCain (they were discussing his loss in measured tones), as well as a middle-aged couple to my right who were lovingly discussing Sarah Palin. So this is where all the Republicans in San Francisco are!
Eventually the pair next to me paid their bill and left, only to be replaced by two youngish professional guys. From what I surmised, they were connected through their wives, who were both in dental school. They also made a lot of money, although "a million dollars doesn't go very far in Palo Alto," one of them noted. They also had little kids. So here I was, next to two men who were seemingly living the life that I would like to have: being married to a professional with children. They don't have to worry about paying rent or passing on their DNA to future generations. The world is their proverbial oyster.
But it didn't take long for them to start complaining about their wives. "Do you ever notice," the blond-haired one said, "that when you go to the grocery store and get, like, ten bags of groceries, and you're feeling all proud that you took care of business, then you come home, and your wife is like, 'Uh, you fucking forgot to get the Crest with baking soda in it,' or whatever?"
The dark-haired guy chuckled. "Yep. Totally." He wanted to move back to the Midwest, "where we could buy up a whole town, practically," to raise his family, but his wife didn't want to. "Do you ever just get pissed about that?" he asked.
"Oh, hell yeah," said Blondie, taking a swig of his drink. He said he was in the same boat; his wife insisted on living in the Bay Area.
"Why should their wishes automatically be honored, but never ours?"
"That's easy," Blondie said. "If she ain't happy, she won't let me be happy. If I want to be happy, I have to make her happy."
Man, I was next to two Archie Bunkers. It was heaven!
The more I listened, the worse their lives sounded. One guy's wife was gone from 7 in the morning until 9 at night, seven days a week, because of dental school. When she gets home, she studies for an hour and then goes to sleep. Homie wasn't getting none. Ever. The other guy said his life was pretty much the same.
So I ask you — and if I'd had the balls, I would've asked them — what kind of existence is that? I may not be able to afford a town in Iowa, but I can spend time with people who are important to me.
"Yep," continued the dark-haired one, "she's out there, drilling some cadaver's face, while I'm home with the kids."
I flagged down the bartender — who was actually standing right in front of me, but never noticed my attempts to make eye contact — and ordered a second beer.
Nearby, a drunken businessman was talking sports to whoever would listen. He ordered a vodka tonic and a shot of whiskey when he sat down. Dang.
"So," said the dark-haired guy, stirring his drink. "Your job as a lawyer ..."
"Yeah?" said the blond-haired guy expectantly.
"Are you... fulfilled?"
Wow. If I'd had to wager on the next thing to come out of this guy's mouth, it definitely wouldn't have been that. Apparently, the drunken businessman felt the same way. "That's like what chicks say to each other!" he let out with a guffaw, butting into their conversation. They seemed surprised that anyone had heard them.
"Yeah, guys," I said with a smile, unable to help myself. "I've been listening to your dude talk for about an hour now, and frankly I'm disappointed in you both. I thought you were men."
They laughed right back, though somewhat awkwardly; not so much because they got caught for saying anything in particular, but because they realized everyone was listening to everything they'd been saying. That has to feel funny.
But, boy howdy, was it fun for the rest of us. Suddenly I felt I had interfered too much, and that these men deserved time away from my prying ears. I also knew that once they knew I was listening, the conversation would never be the same anyway. I got up and put on my coat, stepping out into the night.