Wandering Through the Woods

X is gifted. She's golden and gorgeous, and when she enters a bar, she owns the room. She's got it, that thing that makes flirtation as present as her breath. And watching her flirt is watching a performance, fully immersing. This winter, we've walked through the rain-shiny neighborhoods, bar lights glowing iridescent like oil slicks. We'd give each bar a look as we passed: is that the crowd we want to explore next tonight? Several times, we have ended up with wealthy tourists and conference-goers at a fancy bar in a fancy hotel.

The hotel is swanky, beautiful, and weird. The lobby is full of lovely and mismatched chairs, including a giant one that reminds me of Lily Tomlin, and another, a carved wooden throne with stylized lion armrests. The long bar itself is carved from redwood—legend has it from a single slice of a single tree. Framed in wide panels of redwood, five or six large portraits of aristocratic-looking people hang in the corners of the bar; the portraits aren't paintings or photographs, but LCD screens. The portrait subjects wobble a little bit as they breathe, and occasionally one will look right into a drinker's eyes.

One night, we first spoke to two men in town for a fancy food show. X nudged me towards one who I promptly learned was unpleasant. I didn't know how to remove myself from the conversation though, and X saw I was stranded. She brought her conversational partner over, who was much more pleasant than his friend. Neither, however, were people I wanted to get to know better. She excused herself to get another drink and whispered in my ear, "Diversify!"

She called me over with her eyes when she had our drinks and I excused myself to get mine. I met her in a stand of German software engineers that had collected around her and with whom she was already deep in talk. She was the golden prize, the apple, the grail, the victory ribbon that each competed for through jokes and braggadocio and good stories. But I was soon intercepted by a man who initiated a conversation that got interesting immediately. I didn't want to date this man and knew that the second we started talking, but talking to him was fun. I didn't want to diversify. I was more interested in this conversation. Who knows how real his stories were: Grandmother a gyspy who taught him to read palms? Another night, while X was getting to know a single dad in town from New York, I found myself in a conversation with someone who claimed he owned racehorses in Lexington. Whatever. I really don't care—these conversations ended at the bar where they started.

I'm not a flirt, or at least one that works like this. I can't flutter from person to person easily, and witty conversation doesn't always roll out of me. But as I said, it is a true pleasure to watch X work a room. And her ease with unknown people is contagious, so I'm learning to find my way to enter into new conversations.

There's no rush. This meeting people is a skill which I'm relearning slowly. I have no deadlines, expectations, or needs other than to find my own way along this path through this strange-to-me forest. The trail is unclear, exciting, circuitous, and a hell of a lot of fun.


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