I'm the only person I know who didn't get into The Wire or Treme, shows that have been dubbed "city symphonies." They remind me of donuts, which are my least favorite food, despite their amazing ingredients — bread, sugar, and fat. These shows have great acting, myriad subplots, metaphor, and tension, but when you throw it all together, they become a giant bear claw of meh to me.
Part of the problem is that I generally cannot tell what is happening on each show. I can't follow the subtleties of the plot, probably because nothing makes me want to. Shows like this are the same as jazz; I like reading about it, and I'm happy it exists, but I can't sit through it.
Still, I like the concept of a "city symphony," especially since bar-hopping is a microcosm of this idea. Each place I go is a different episode. In theory, bars have their own vibe and are populated with all sorts of people, though this city's differences are not as stark as Baltimore's. Sometimes my visits are transcendent, like a good piece of music; other times, I am constantly looking at the program to see how many more movements are left until the end.
Andalu, in the Mission, was like a Beethoven symphony, or a beignet, both of which I can stomach in small doses. I went there for what I told myself would be my last-ever Internet date. I'd given it the ol' community-college try: I met men who started talking about their hemorrhoids in the first three minutes; who lived in their parents' garage; who held our first date on their 30th birthday and began to rage and then cry when it wasn't going the way they wanted. Enough.
"City symphonies like The Wire are meant to be swallowed whole," said my date, in so many words. He then went on to further explain the form while I picked at a plate of almonds. I nodded my head once in a while and looked around the bar. Half of it is a restaurant, although they feature small plates, so technically the entire place could be considered a saloon with expensive bar snacks.
The first rule of dating for men should be to always ask your date about herself. Women are programmed to ask other people questions about themselves. Men are not. Even if you don't feel like asking her questions about her own life, at least move the conversation toward inquiries about what you have been yammering on about for the last hour: "So, what do you think about low-emission space heaters?"
Underneath my annoyance in such situations is the fact that in a relationship with me, there is only room for one know-it-all, and it ain't the other person. My date was the male version of myself, minus the D-cup and sparkling wit. Viewers who know me can analyze my facial expressions, and understand why I picked up a fried calamari and made its eight arms do a little can-can on my plate before I dipped it into the aioli.
Behind me, at the long table by the wall, a group was celebrating something. They had the vibe of co-workers; people who know each other inside and out, yet have never set foot in one another's living rooms. The ringleader was a guy in expensive eyewear who I'm guessing was on the forefront of the mojito revolution 10 years ago. Now he has moved on to caipirinhas, but is already working on an exit strategy before those too become overdone.
Our bartender was very kind and attentive. If I had to guess, he was new at this job, and damn glad to have one. There was just enough worry underneath his actions to denote a neophyte. He also did things backward; he filled up our water glasses when our drink glasses were empty, but didn't ask if we wanted another drink. He asked to take away our dishes when we were only halfway through eating. I'd rather have imperfectly eager-to-please than arrogant perfection any day. I pictured him at closing time, diligently doing his side work and adding up his receipts. Being new, he has to walk a fine line between subservience to the kitchen staff and leadership in the front of the house. It's tricky. I bet he spent that night lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, replaying the night's events and composing do-overs of his mistakes. Tomorrow night would be different.
My date was still talking while I thought about the bartender, but I still enjoyed myself. I even asked him more questions about his life and work. He's pretty funny, as it turns out. He said he bought a used Prius, but it came with the license plate that said "SV DA PLNT," or whatever variation of "Save the Planet" fits on a license plate. "I hate it when people use their cars to tell me what to do," I said.
"Oh me too," he continued, telling me more about his adventures. I think my focus on his not asking me anything about myself or including me in the conversation was the same self-centeredness that I was accusing him of having. But part of the reason we want a partner in life is because we need a fan. I'll be yours if you be mine.
If this date was a city-symphony episode, it would probably end with me wiping my mouth with a napkin, then the camera panning up and up into the rafters of the room, then swooping over to the bus boy out behind the building, smoking a Marlboro on his break. He checks his cellphone for messages, but there aren't any. The only thing he sees is a digital picture of his daughter, who is tiny and pink in her christening dress. "Hugo!" yells his boss through the door. He quickly throws down his cigarette butt, and the camera zooms in as he puts it out.