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Mr. Social's Night on the Town: A Burnt-Out Case

Going out and burning out.

I will print up a card that reads "I am a burnt-out case. I am not looking for sex, or to go home with you, so please speak honestly and don't worry about making too much eye contact." Handing this card out would make it far less burdensome to go out.

What I wanted from this one was to buy her drinks and listen to her talk, and then to leave her be.

It's a boring story, how I got into the few hours I spent drinking with her, mostly at Izzy Bar, but starting at Decibel, where I avoided meeting strangers out of fear. She had a kind face with a bright smile, large eyes, and a clear forehead. She lied that her name was Katrina, and I didn't hear her real name when she told me.

She wore blue and a bead necklace wrapped twice around her throat. She was small, and told me that sometimes she goes to bars alone, if she can't find a friend to come along. The longest she ever walked was from 52nd St. to 9th St, and that was to find a bar.

She came from Alaska and attended a good university, where she majored in English, then tried New York for no clear reason. She told me she is a writer who doesn't write; her professors thought she was talented in college, and she would like to put things down in stories but can never get down to the work of it.

She works during the day and listens to the radio after work, eats food, sleeps at night, and on the weekends she drinks cheap white wine, ordering it that way from the bartender, "cheap white wine, please." She is reading Achebe, Things Fall Apart, and likes to dance.

If she had one more cheap white wine, she would be drunk, but yes, she would drink one more. She knew her limits and was willing to ignore them. I was gone long on gin, buying drink after drink, happy to count out the 20s, overtipping and soft.

She was going to get up and dance by the DJ but felt too shy.

She was calm. NYC usually destroys that, the willingness to sample life at intervals, rather than head on, to wander undirected. She will leave NYC for Seattle, maybe, or San Francisco, Atlanta, or another city on a long recited list. She will be fine wherever she goes, she feels. She is afraid of being raped when she goes out to bars alone.

Men hit on her and I enjoyed that, watching the interaction, studying them, flying in a gin airplane and looking down on their trim haircuts. She vanished once from sight with one of them, and came back a few seconds later, looking apologetic. Finally a Hispanic man began to touch her while they talked, his mouth close to her ear, his hand touching her shoulder, then her hip, then her back, then her shoulder again. I watched them for several minutes, fascinated to see his formal vocabulary of intimate gesture. You could see it working, an interest and affection emerging over her body. She came back to me.

I'm sorry, I didn't mean to leave you.

Is he nice? I asked.

I know him, she said. He was nice to me when I was in here crying a few weeks ago.

You should talk to him, I told her. He touches you while he talks. It's interesting.

He did? I didn't notice.

Yes, he puts his hands on your side, then your back, and he talks in one ear, then the other. It's fascinating. You should go back to him.

I had no idea. Would you mind if I talked to him? I really want to.

No, not at all. I wanted to see you drink and listen to you. I just ended a relationship...it's just nice to see people. I am going to go home, though.

Oh, she said. Well. She nodded.

I hope you enjoy yourself very much, I said, more or less meaning it. Let me give you some money for a cab home. I pressed $7 into her hand.

I have enough money for a cab, she said.

But you won't let yourself take it, you'll save the money and take the train. It won't be safe.

Yes, that's true. But you can't give it to me. You must be a good friend to have if you're trying to give me cash to spend time with another boy.

I don't know about that, I'm kind of self-centered, but will you take the money?

No. I'll be talking to this Spanish boy. He can get me a cab. Or I can find my own way home.

Are you sure?

Yes, Paul.

Two hands met and pressed, two pairs of teeth flashed. I went for the door, glad of the air.

Out on 1st Avenue I felt a second flare of jealousy, fading out over the 9 blocks south to the 2nd Avenue station. It wasn't for her, just for the self-imposed situation; I wanted to not be alone, to not feel always so abandoned. She had nothing to do with me, no shared neuroses, unsimilar lives, entirely different choices, but I liked hearing her story, getting a few seconds of the voice in my head, remembering the face, the necklace she wore. It was all very human. It was good to have known her.

Reader-contributed artwork by: Christa Neu


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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