When you hang around in bars, you encounter more than your share of people who have had too much to drink. I, myself, try not to overdo things (which is a big reason I stick to beer in public), and besides I'm what is known as a "happy drunk". This means I may get sentimental and affectionate and sometimes quite glib but I do not get aggressive or mean. In any case, I'm not a Minnesotan, which means I don't need the excuse of a few beers to open up. Here, it seems, it can take a few drinks for people to overcome their socialized diffidence.
Sometimes -- not often, but sometimes -- there will be a guy at the bar who has reached the state of being cut off from further service who will say something unkind to me as I walk by. Usually this takes the form of the words, "You should cut your hair", spat out in a hostile tone. (As longtime readers of this journal will know, in San Francisco people will tell me this even if they are sober.) I know perfectly well that I should completely ignore insults from strangers, but sometimes I stop and, with a big smile, ask why. Or why they care. Or, if I'm in the mood, I'll say something like, "And you, sir, should cut off your drunken tongue." Always with a great big smile and happy laughing eyes and no challenge at all in my tone or body language. The response is always a repetition of the previous sentence ("You should cut your hair" -- guys this drunk can't really take in anything new) and then I walk away as I should have done in the first place.
Ok, this has happened maybe twice.
But what has happened more than twice, sometimes more than once in a single weekend, is that guys will have a bit too much to drink and then tell me something really nice. One evening last summer, on the back porch of the Eagle, an inebriated man came up, almost shyly, to tell me what a good-looking man I am. I thanked him and went back to the conversation I'd been having. He came up to me several times over the evening, apologizing for bothering me, but repeating his assessment. And then expanding his assessment, into an account of how he'd been seeing me here for a while. And how cute I am. And then apologizing for bothering me, but I really am such a good looking man. You get the idea.
I know this sounds pathetic, and I should give no more attention or heed to this than to the guys who work up an inexplicable anger at my yard-long braid, but it strokes my ego nonetheless. I give it no real significance, but when I see a guy who has confessed such a thing to me at a later, sober time, I nod and smile. I'm trying to work up the reputation of being a nice guy, you see.
What I do give significance to, even as I'm never entirely sure how best to handle the situation, is when guys who are not strangers to me are more drunk than standard and then tell me how hot they've "always" thought I am. This is surreal to me, as I may be many things but bar-standard "hot" is not one of them. At last month's bear bar night, with my shirt fully open (as I've noted before, it's something of a running gag for my friends each to unbutton one more button when they see me), a friend of mine who had never before made a single physically flirtatious gesture began to rub my chest and tell me how much he likes it when my shirt is open. I said something about ironic sluttiness, and maybe he should try it, and he said, "No, not me, but you, you've got the goods." Yes, he used the phrase "you've got the goods" (how could I forget such a wording?) Then he said some more complimentary things, with an air of having wanted to say these things for a long time, leaving me slightly flabbergasted, and more than slightly flattered.
Ok, that was an extreme situation, but it wasn't unique. I have (let me see, four times now?) had people, after a few drinks, tell me how they'd been noticing me since they first saw me march with the Freedom band X years ago (where X > 5).
I am, of course, filtering. For every one of these conversations there are scores that are nothing like this, and a significant number of encounters with strangers who find me invisible or worse (as had been the bulk of my bar experience in previous years). But this stuff happens enough these days that I can't wholly dismiss it as aberrant.
I figure that I share a neurosis with a great many of the people here in that I find it very very difficult to take in compliments of this sort, although with experience one does learn to respond with some degree of grace. And I know that people might be a little bit free with their affections after drinking, to an extent that you can't really hold them to afterward. But still, on the whole, I find that I believe people when they say these things under these circumstances.
How do you read a Minnesotan's mind? Give him a few drinks.
How do you turn Steven into a barfly? Give him experiences like this. He'll go back for more.