"This song was inspired by a cocktail," the singer purred over the microphone in the cramped club. "I was out at a bar, and my date ordered a sidecar with sugar on the rim. And I thought 'That's a new one. And kinda sexy.' And I do love a double entendre."
I had arrived alone and chosen a seat at the end of the bar, tucked into a corner of the lounge where my momentary solitude might go unnoticed. The seat turned out the prime real estate, offering me a view - via the mirrored wall behind the crooning blues band - of all the currently seated patrons, as well as those entering and exiting the room.
"Thirsty?" The bartender asked over the slow drum of the song.
"Of course I am," I replied. Without having to ask, he fixed me my standard Vodka and cranberry, handing me the glass with a wink.
I played with the straw, turning lazy circles through the ice in my drink, watching the people watching the band. The place was packed, the crowd uncommon for the small lounge nestled in The Poconos. The mob had followed the instruction of the Milford Music Festival flyers, which directed them to this club for the evening. All around me, unfamiliar faces stared at the band, or into their own drinks. The voices of strangers shouted conversation at one another over the music, talking about their weekends, their families, their lovelives. People perched awkwardly on the arms of couches eyed the bar, waiting for someone to get up and give up their seats. People at the bar watched the bartender, waiting for him to glide their way so that they could ask for another Rum and Coke, a Jack and Ginger. I guessed that most of these customers chose this venue out of the three offered for the evening because the performance was indoors. Saturday's still air was thick and heavy, dripping with heat and the threat of rain. Walking, or even merely sitting, outside guaranteed perspiration and discomfort in the syrupy warmth. Air conditioning felt like heaven.
But each time the door opened, sticky air seeped in, betraying the cool promises of an air-conditioned evening. I wiped the condensation from my cocktail, thankful to be seated next to a small fan.
"Is anybody sitting here?" A tall man pointed to the vacant chair next to me, his eyes hopeful. His date stood close behind him, obviously hoping to have a seat.
"No. No one's there," I said sweetly, giving the chair a nudge in his direction. "It's all yours."
The man pulled the chair closer to him, gestured for his date to take it. "Thank God," the woman sighed, settling herself on the cushioned barstool. "That heat out there makes you tired even when you're standing still."
I nodded in agreement, sipped my drink.
The man gazed at his date. "Better?" He stood over her, smiling down in her direction.
"Perfect," she replied. "I don't want to be anywhere but right here." She wrapped her arms around his waist, gave his torso a quick hug.
While I sat alone, waiting for my friends to arrive, the thought occurred to me: Maybe I have been doing too much looking back, and probably too much looking far ahead; But not nearly enough looking left and right. My thoughts revolve around my past relationships and the one I'm going to have next. I think of what went wrong before, then where I'll meet my next date. I wonder why I didn't get married four years ago, and when my wedding bells will ring. I worry about my decision years ago to forego college, what occupation I'll claim in ten years. I'm too concerned with past and future, forgetting completely about the present. I take for granted my surroundings, choosing instead to focus on the past I already had and the future I think I want. I never thought to actually enjoy what's around me.
Pollo and Chuck sauntered in, rounding the bar and waving to me. I set my drink on the ledge of the bar and rushed to greet them. The music picked up as a few more friends arrived. The drums pounded in my ears, in my chest, as hugs were given, received. And for once, I wasn't concerned with my next date or with choices already made. I smiled and enjoyed the moment, not wanting to be anywhere but right there.