I was at Brando’s Speakeasy, this bar on Dearborn that is almost exactly midway between the Harold Washington Library on State and the Federal Prison on Clark, when a small man with curly salt-and-pepper hair tried to buy my friend Khloe a drink.
It was the night of Valentine’s Day, and though I had been looking forward to spending the night at home, alone, eating my feelings, I went out at Khloe’s invitation. For I am Filipino, and as karaoke is practically the Philippines’ national sport along with basketball and cock fighting, I felt duty-bound to attend.
Brando’s had a fancy electronic system where you could sign yourself up using a massive touchscreen that was mounted near the front door. I found this preferable to the usual method of flipping through a heavy vinyl binder of poorly photocopied pages with songs organized by title or artist. This gave Khloe and me more time to order snacks (happy hours specials included $5 flat breads and teriyaki meatballs), find ourselves a spot near the stage, and check out the crowd.
There were the obvious regulars, the people who didn’t have to stare at the lyrics displayed on overhead monitors while singing songs by Lady Gaga or Kelly Clarkson. Across the room was a large group of people who cheered for each other heartily but also spent a lot of time looking at their phones. Sitting with me and Khloe was a girl, Jackie, who was eager and excited and made us all laugh when she accompanied her performance of Queen’s “Bicycle” with interpretive dance. Behind us at the bar sat a few stray pairs and some single men, who nursed their drinks while eyeing the one TV in the place that was tuned to the Olympics.
Khloe was early in the lineup that night, cooing “I Second That Emotion” while playing up to the crowd. She left the stage, getting in people’s faces to make them smile, and dancing with whoever was game enough to join her on the floor. She wore a leopard print dress so she looked hot. But more than that, she looked like she was having fun. Because she was having fun.
For her second song, Khloe sang Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.” which really got people going. Picture it: a small dance floor crowded with middle aged office workers in business casual attire, art students dressed like hippies, goths, and hippie goths, and couples dressed for a romantic night out in their nicest party dresses and suits. The song ended, much too quickly, and we settled down to hydrate ourselves before the next time we felt compelled to get up and dance. My attention was on the stage, so I missed the small man with the curly salt-and-pepper hair creep up.
I can still feel his breath on my face, and the way he breathed: quickly, shallowly. Like he was trying to catch up. Leaning forward, knees bent, he had his hands planted on the fronts of his thighs. A one man huddle. He wanted to buy us ladies a drink, he slurred, but he had eyes only for Khloe.
Khloe who was no longer relaxed but alert. Sitting up, back straight, tense. She politely declined, not really looking at him as she did. And he was so confused — why couldn’t he buy her a drink? He just wanted to buy her a drink — but she said no again, claiming that she doesn’t drink alcohol. More confusion, and Khloe gave this guy a break, tried to be nice. She grabbed my arm, claiming me as her girlfriend, which I gamely went along with, and said if he wanted to get her something, anything, he could get us some water.
But he didn’t want to do that. He didn’t want to buy her water, even though we insisted. Jackie piped up. “I’d like some water,” and the guy barked “I’m not going to get you water!” which struck me and Jackie instantly as being rude and also hilarious so we laughed. Laughter was, it seemed, magical in that it made this fellow disappear.
And then the tension in Khloe dissipated and her erect carriage loosening so she could sit back with the rest of us and enjoy the singing. Someone got up to sing Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing”, and as I joined the entire bar in song, I was glad to be there singing my feelings in a room full of people instead of eating them alone.
Don’t make me close one more door
I don’t wanna hurt anymore
Stay in my arms if you dare
Or must I imagine you there...
And then he was back. The small man returned. Breath still shallow. Still wanting to buy Khloe a drink only this time instead of trying to get through to her he addressed me. He didn’t want to offend me but was I sure he couldn’t buy her a drink.
So I asked him. “What did she say when you asked her before?”
“What did she say?” I asked. I didn’t look at him. Instead, I watched the stage — another song, another singer — while I felt Khloe grab my hand and squeeze it tightly.
“She said no,” he reminded me.
“Well,” I replied, “I guess that’s your answer. That’s it.”
I didn’t watch him walk away. Instead I turned to Khloe to check that she was okay. I rolled my eyes with Jackie and talked about what an asshole this guy was for saying to her that he wouldn’t get her water. All the while I could feel his eyes on us, watchful, hopeful. Looking for another opportunity. Another chance to speak to someone who wasn’t interested in anything he had to say.
Don’t walk away from me
I have nothing, nothing, nothing
If I don’t have you
About the artist...
Jasmine Davila is the co-host and co-producer of Miss Spoken, a monthly lady-centric live lit series. She has appeared in venues small and medium sized, reading in live lit shows such as Tuesday Funk, 20x2 Chicago, Funny Ha Ha, and Feminist Happy Hour. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter as @jasmined.
Want to see more of Jasmine's work?
Check out her piece, The Movie of the Week, from Issue IV: Be Kind, Rewind!