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Friday, December 16, 2005


"Bar pics are the worst!" exclaimed a voice from the table directly across from hers. She glanced up from her book at the rowdy group of mostly boys, young men in their early twenties, and girls about the same age. They were college-aged, but she didn't take them for college kids. The girls were dressed up from jobs at sales counters and reception desks. Some of the boys wore casual office-type clothes while others were in nice jeans and neat T-shirts.

They were sending each other text messages on their phones, laughing riotously at what she could guess were obscene comments, perhaps about the other coffeehouse patrons, perhaps even about her. A few of the guys put their heads together, apparently examining a picture that was sent to the phone of the exclaimer, a photo of himself it seemed, that everyone was laughing at.

Bar pics are the worst. That phrase made her pause. Bar pics. It made her see this group of young, energetic, carefree people living the kind of life where you are so happy to be where you are with you you're with that you start snapping pictures of each other, just for fun. Kids like this probably have so many pictures that they have to designate them by location, such as "bar pics," or "park pics," or "weekend at the beach pics." Her heart hurt a little to think of how much affection lay in this group of casual young people, such that they wanted to immortalize their lives and each other.

Of course, it was easier now, with digital everything. When she was their age, people were more frugal with film. You tried to save it for special occasions, or at least occasions when you felt pretty sure that the subject being photographed would turn out looking pretty good. You didn't just go snapping pictures any old place. Kids this age must have more pictures of themselves already than she would probably have in her entire lifetime. She searched her memory for a single picture of her in a bar, young and tipsy, flirty, loud. Like these girls. Was she like this once?

There was one picture taken of her in a bar about twenty years ago, when she was 21 or 22. She thinks of this picture and remembers it being a good one, one where she looked happy and pretty. She wore contacts then and was a little thinner. Maybe a lot thinner.

Another burst of laughter erupted from the table and she could see that the object of this teasing laughter, the young man who had bemoaned the whole category of "bar pics," was flushed and embarrassed.

"Dude! I could not BELIEVE when you did that!" said the guy sitting next to him, slapping him on the back. The girls squealed and giggled, as a phone was passed around.

"I think you should take that picture off your phone, Sara," the flushed young man said. His jaws were clenched tightly, his face still flushed but unsmiling now.

She ducked her head so that she'd appear to be reading her book but she was completely focused on this drama. What picture did he want Sara to erase from her phone? And why?

The girl, Sara, giggled and waved her phone in the air triumphantly. "No WAY! If you're stupid enough to strip in a bar, you can't whine because I snapped a few pics!"

Just then she noticed that one of the young women wasn't laughing. She was sitting quietly, her face pale. There was a dignity on her face that was transparently arranged and deliberate.

It reminded her of the naked, raw expression she had once worn when she herself walked into a bar, looking for her married lover. She'd been about the same age as these young people, and she never tells anyone now that she had let herself fall into this trap. No one would believe that someone as sensible and level-headed as she would have ever been walking hopefully into a bar, expecting to meet up with the married man she'd been seeing for a little less than a year. But there she was, and as she scanned the faces in the dark and smoky bar, her eyes fell upon her lover. She could feel her features light up in recognition and excitement and then she looked at the woman sitting next to him. His wife. In those few seconds she realized that at the last minute, his wife had insisted on coming out with her husband and he'd not had a chance to contact her.

The wife had seen her face light up. She'd undoubtedly taken in the excitement and hope and perhaps even the sexual way that her ### (something her body did inadvertantly) when she'd seen him. When she saw the wife's face, and saw that not only had she recognized the raw hope and beauty that had appeared on her face but that she'd seen it before, in the many other women who'd wanted her husband, she had turned around abruptly and run from the bar, crying.

And this girl now, would she stnd up and run? Because her face, it so clearly showed that she had not been present when her boyfriend had done the strip-tease in the bar, and that she was extremely hurt that the other girl had not only been there, but had felt familiar enough to take pictures.

At the table behind her book, she watches the young man and finally knows how she had appeared that night in the bar, that night when she had known how it felt to hurt someone else when all you'd thought you were doing was having a good time. The guy feels his eyes on hers and they lock eyes, fellow conspirators in the contest which neither, in the end, had won.

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