Suddenly I am alone in line. I feel overwhelmed and a little panicky at first. I never go to bars by myself—I mean, why would I? Especially to a place like Clery’s. I might go to one of my neighborhood haunts, like Pho or the Franklin, if I knew someone who was bartending there that evening, but Clery’s? I can barely muster up the gumption to go there at all, and this would certainly be harder if I hadn’t had a quick martini before coming over with Photo Chick.
I stand on line for just a few moments before being whisked inside by the nonchalant bouncer. People are crowded around the door—there is a throng of twenty-somethings trying to get in, and a handful of them trying to get out, including two bitchy-looking brunettes, who are trying to nudge their way out on either side of the crowd. I see them coming at me from either side, elbowing and pushing at people, finally whacking me with their skinny arms on their way out the door in a way that is slightly too aggressive: I can’t help but think of it as a brunette on blonde attack. In their defense, they do look really drunk, as though one of them might be rushing out the door to puke and the other might be rushing along after her, to hold her hair. And if that is the case, I guess I can let their aggression go.
The minute I am past the front door of Clery’s I feel like public property. All eyes are on me and it is palpable. But is this because I am a blonde? Or just because I am a woman? I see guys searching my face, much like the guy from the line, looking for a vulnerable crack in the too-cool-for-school exterior I have affected to buffer me from too aggressive drunk guys. When they can’t find the chink in my man-avoidant armor, their eyes travel down the length of my body, taking in my breasts, my hips, my ass in these hint-of-lycra jeans. This is happening on all sides of me, and I can almost feel the gaze of these guys touching my skin: it gives me goosebumps, and not in a good way. “I knew Clery’s was a meat-market, but this is ridiculous,” I think. I feel hunted. I pray that my brother will find me soon.
I am just starting to feel overwhelmed by the task of scouring this bar and looking for my brother, when I notice a ridiculously tall, line-backer of a guy moving slowly through the crowd, like a glacier through icy waters. “Is that Dave?” I think. Dave is a friend of Undercover Brother’s and of mine. We went to high school together, and had advisory (my school’s version of homeroom) together freshman year. “DAVE!” I yell, loudly as I can over the blaring dirty hip-hop and the baritone bellows of the drunk guys around me.
“K-uhr-rsten Ah-menn,” he says, and all of a sudden, I feel like we’re back in the halls of Souhegan High School, as though it’s ten years before this moment and we are meandering up the halls to advisory together. Dave always thought it was hilarious to pronounce my name completely wrong—why would I expect it to change now? I run over and jump on him, give him a big bear hug.
Dave is 6’9”, 350lbs. I bounce off him like a raindrop off of goretex. “I am so happy to see you,” I say. “Where’s my brother?”
“He’s downstairs, by the dance floor, trying to meet chicks.” Dave gestures to a small line that has formed by a flight of stairs leading down into the basement.
“Christ. Another line,” a part of me thinks. This is the brunette underneath it all thinking, my everyday self, the me that hates to wait indefinitely, with no sense of when resolution will come. “Perfect, another line,” another part of me thinks: the research hungry part of me, the morbidly curious part of me, the UNDERCOVER BLONDE self. Something in my face must have betrayed my mixed feelings, because Dave quickly says: “Eh, you won’t have to wait in that.”
The line is about 7, now 8, now 10 people long and growing. The brunette underneath it all feels a surge of insecurity as I watch the line snake around the side of the staircase: “Come down with me,” I say to Dave? But he has is already talking to the bouncer, telling him that I need to get down there, and that I shouldn’t have to wait.
“Dude, she needs to go downstairs,” he bellows, “her brother is down there. You have to let her down.” The bouncer is maybe 5’6”, and has to crane his neck to look up at Dave.
“I can’t do that, you guys gonna have to wait in line,” the bouncer shakes his head, his face a stone wall. He has one arm spread out to his left, as though blocking a throng of people about to surge past him the minute he lets his guard down, and is talking into a walkie-talkie that he holds in his right hand. His eyes dart this way and that in protective paranoia, as though he’s about to get rushed, as though the entire bar is clamoring to get down to the basement, and is he takes his eye of the ball for even just a second, he’ll get trampled. His neck is craned up a Dave, who is at least a foot and a half taller than him, but his face is fierce and tough.
“Dude, her brother is down there,” Dave says emphatically. The thing about Dave is that he’s a pussycat—he’s 6’9” and though the bouncer should be scared shitless of him because of his size, his voice remains that of a gentle giant. “Her brother’s in the Navy. She hasn’t seen him in four years, right, K-urh-sten Ah-man?”
I open my mouth to tell Dave it’s fine, that the line isn’t that long, that I’ll just get behind the other eager drinkers…Then a bold though crosses my mind: why be obedient? All of my life, I’ve been obedient. I never cut the line, at the restaurant, I never seat tables in my section first, I’ve never cheated on a test, even dumb menu quizzes at 647. So maybe, just this once, it’s time for me to be a little bold. I’m blonde, after all, and I need to see if blonde girls get special treatment. Hell, it’s research, right? And besides, the last thing I want to do is stand in another shit line and get hit on by another glassy-eyed B.C./Bowdoin alumn.
I angle my chin slightly down, widen my eyes, form a small pout with my lips. “Yeah,” I say, “Please? My brother is in the Navy…I haven’t seen him in four years.” The bouncer and I are probably the same height in real life, but tonight I am wearing heels, and I tower over him. I toss my hip to one side, and put a hand on the opposite hip, so that I’m closer to his eye-level. With my left thumb and forefinger, I reach for the blonde tendril that has fallen in front of my left eye, and begin to twirl it around my fingers. “Please…?”
The bouncer does not smile. His tone does not soften. He pauses for a minute, thinking. I see his eyes dart above my head, to the right, to the left, as if scouring the area to make sure his boss doesn’t notice. “Okay, here’s what we’re gonna do,” he says, looking at me very seriously, very meaningfully, as though he is about to let me in on some sort of government secret. “You need to give me your I.D. and I’m gonna let you go down there and say hi. You got five minutes to go down and say hi, then you gotta come back up here and wait on line like the rest of these folks. Five minutes, that’s it. And I don’t wanna have to come down looking for you. Got it?”
I exhale deeply—hadn’t realized I was holding my breath. Dave thumps me on the back and disappears into the crowd (as much as a 6’9” 350 dude can disappear in a throng of average-sized people.)
“Oh, thank you so much!” How about that—it worked. “You have no idea how much this means to me. I haven’t seen him in four years,” I gush. I don’t know why I keep saying that—it’s a blatant lie.
“Yeah, yeah…” the bouncer says, and he resumes his protective bulldog stance atop the stairs. I shove my I.D. in his hands and descend the stairs to the basement.