Maybe it was the unseasonably warm Manhattan weather and I felt unencumbered in just a sweater and jeans. Perhaps it was the joy I experienced riding the cross-town bus, iPod pumping Ryan Adams (Hell, I still love you, New York) while I watched the different flavors of city dwellers enter the rolling observatory on Second Avenue and exit on Fifth just before we cut through Central Park. Either way, I had great spring in my step when I entered the draped entrance to Barbao, an upscale Vietnamese restaurant where I was scheduled to meet my friend Christopher.
It was early and so was I, but I figured that I’d enjoy a well-needed drink at the empty bar. The bartender handed me a menu and I scanned it. The night before, some other friends had served me a fancy rum and, although I usually choose that spirit only when I’m sunburned and somewhere that pipes in reggae music, I figured—what the hell?—I’d let my freak flag fly. I found a drink that had rum as a major ingredient and before I knew it, I waved the bartender over and said, “I’ll have the Jane Fonda.”
He cocked his head and squinted his eyes slightly as if he misheard. Truth be told, I never in my life would have guessed that one day I’d be sitting in a restaurant with golden drapes ordering a drink named after the star of both Barbarella and her own Pregnancy, Birth and Recovery Workout tape. But I didn’t flinch. I just nodded, trying to appear secure, although I have this sinking feeling that my smirk (and jowls) may have been more reminiscent of Richard Simmons than Richard Gere.
While the bartender was crushing exotic flowers into my tall frosted glass, an attractive young Vietnamese woman danced in wearing a charcoal evening dress and big DJ headphones over her ears. She elegantly slipped off the music cans and draped them over the strap of her leather handbag. As we were the only two at the bar, she glanced over and smiled. As I was summoning my facial muscles to do the same, my bartender said, “Here’s your Jane Fonda!” loud enough that people on the street probably thought the actress was being summoned for her table. Before I had a chance to explain, the bartender slid down and asked the well-dressed hipster what she required.
“Bombay Sapphire, neat.”
Come on. Who drinks gin straight? So here I was sipping a freaking Jane Fonda next to a 100-pound woman with a taste for gin and huge ass headphones while I had just grooved out to my dainty white iPod earbuds. I no longer felt free.
My friend Christopher walked in and I quickly caught him up. “Well then,” he said, “I guess I should follow the man’s lead.” He lowered his voice and demanded Knob Creek bourbon, straight.
“Thanks very little,” I said, sipping my floral concoction.
He laughed. “Did she see you drink from your lithe straw?”
I hadn’t noticed, but he was right. If someone puts a tube in my liquid, I unconsciously suck. And then I remembered something my wife Lala pokes fun at: When I grab the plastic pole stuck in my bev, my pinkie automatically jets out like I’m at an English tea party.
Christopher must have seen me tucking in my little flesh kickstand. “I noticed the sad little pinkie thing too,” he said, “but I thought mentioning that would have been far too cruel.”
It should have come as no surprise that the host led us to the back where, instead of chairs, plush couches awaited. Everywhere around us were couples, including a white-haired foursome gumming their last meal.
“I think they sat us in the love nest,” I told Christopher.
“We can thank you and your Jane Fonda for that,” he said, grabbing his menu.
Robert Wilder’s most recent book is Tales from the Teachers’ Lounge. Daddy Needs a Drink appears the first Wednesday of each month in the Santa Fe Reporter.