Airport Bar by Zoë Ruiz

I’m at an airport bar at LAX drinking a glass of champagne at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I’m thinking about how I pitched a column idea to an editor of an online literary magazine in December and the editor accepted the pitch and now it’s the beginning of April and I haven’t written that column and it’s been awhile since I’ve written a column for Ohio Edit.

I emailed that editor on Christmas Eve. That was also the day when I made a reading resolution for 2014. My reading resolution was to read books that pertained to freedom. I ordered books online and bought books from a bookstore down the street. I didn’t mean to buy books at the bookstore. I was only there to buy crossword puzzles for my best friend’s grandmother. I was spending Christmas with him and buying gifts for his family. I grew up in Los Angeles, have family in Los Angeles, but drove to Rancho Cucamonga to spend Christmas with my best friend.

On Christmas Eve, I ordered books online, bought books at a used bookstore, and when the books from my online order arrived, I looked through my bookshelf and gathered a stack of books that I wanted to read in 2014. I took a photo of the spines and posted it online. I haven’t finished reading one of those books. I’ve started one and then started another. I go back and forth, fall asleep while flipping pages.

I don’t particularly like airport bars. They lack joy.

9 a.m. on a Saturday morning and the bar was already filled. I had to sit next to someone. I had two choices: an overweight weight man in his fifties drinking a pint of beer or an attractive young man drinking what looked like hot black tea. Both had put their bags on the barstool next to them, making it clear they wanted their space, that they didn’t want anyone to sit next to them.

I walked up to the older man and he looked at me and then I looked at his bag and he said, “My wife is coming.” So I turned to the young man — I say “young” but he was probably my age. Most of my closest friends are at least ten years older than me and now when I see someone my age, I describe them as young — so I said to this “young” man who was clearly my age, “Sir. Sir?” And he removed his bag and then went back to staring at his phone. I would’ve taken out my phone too but I left it in my car.

I realized I left my phone in my car when I was on the bus to the airport. I last looked at my phone when I was buying a cup of coffee on York Boulevard. My best friend, the one I mentioned, the one I spent Christmas with, had replied to a text that I sent him at midnight. I had sent him two texts the day before. One while binge-watching a TV drama late at night and before that, while driving to the pharmacy at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.

My first text read: I think 2014 is when I come out to my family.

He replied: I will support you.

Hours later, I sent him a text while I was binge watching TV: My mom and her family are so homophobic.

In the morning, when I was buying a cup of coffee, he replied: It’s worse in Latin America.

Which is true. Homophobia is worse in Latin America. Which is why my mom is going to have a hard time. She’s close to her family in Colombia.

***

As I was drinking a glass of champagne, the older man’s wife arrived. She sat down next to him, apologized for running late and spent the rest of the time on her phone. I glanced at her phone. She was playing a game. It looked like a stupid, brainless game. Like a desperate attempt to look at anything that wasn’t her husband. He ordered another beer.  And this is how they spent their time before their flight together. He looked at a basketball game on a TV screen and she looked at a computer game on her cellphone screen.

***

For a moment I thought I was wrong about joy. That airport bars lacked them. Because a man walked into the bar, he wore a tailored suit and stylish glasses — the fact that I use the word “stylish” suggests I lack style. I don’t even know how to describe the glasses. They just looked expensive and good on him. Joan Didion knew how to describe these things. She knew, especially in her earlier work, exactly how to describe clothes and furniture. Of course she had worked at Vogue so it made sense.

When I was in my early twenties, I wanted so badly to be exactly like her that this obvious difference felt like a wounding. I felt it very strongly when I was rereading Play It As It Lays for the twelfth time. The man who drove Maria Wyeth to her abortion wore “duck pants” and I had to look up what kind of pants they were. And I realized I would never be Joan Didion. Because it would never occur to me describe a pair of pants so specifically and even if I wanted to  like I want to now with this man’s glasses   I couldn’t. I’ve since gotten over not being Didion. I see why I loved her so much but now see her in a different light. Almost fairer, more realistic. I was talking about joy and I believe much of Didion’s work lacks joy. I could argue that Play It As It Lays is a portrait of a joyless life.

Back to the man with the tailored suit and stylish glasses. This man came into the airport bar and he seemed to know the bartender. He smiled at her. He talked with her like he knew her, not like she was a stranger. And because of this I saw the bartender not just as a woman serving rushed and stressed and sad people their drinks but as a woman who had friends, who had a life beyond the airport bar. Which is obvious to say. But it’s not an obvious thing to do. To look at people and see them for who they are. Not to reduce them to roles or to what we want to see. It is my belief that the hardest thing to do is to see people as they are and to love them as they are, exactly as they are.

As the man with the suit and glasses was leaving, he said he’d be back soon to have a midyear check-in with her. He said he was happy the bar was busy. I thought I had glimpsed joy in this bar because they knew one another. I assumed their knowing each other was indicative of community. When really it was about business.

My best friend just emailed me that she is at the airport gate. We are heading to a Japanese spa located in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I am closing out my tab and about to shut down my computer. I wish I had a better end. Except maybe this is a good end. My rushing and racing to see a friend who knows me and loves me and sees me for who I am.

 

Zoë Ruiz has contributed to The Weeklings, Salon, Two Serious Ladies, and other publications. She is the former managing editor of The Rumpus. She studied creative writing at UC Santa Cruz and now lives in Los Angeles.