She was watching me. I couldn’t see it at first, but I certainly felt it. Then I saw it. I had turned around quickly and just as quickly she looked away. The second time it happened, I was sure.
Maybe it was a Wednesday, Thursday or even a Tuesday. It certainly wasn’t a Friday or Saturday. On those days observation becomes a bit more difficult. In the swirling chaotic environment of a weekend bar, it is certainly more about participation. The minute you stop to observe, you become part of the problem if not the entire problem.
She sat at the far end of the bar at a seat everyone avoided until absolutely necessary. It’s funny how an abundance of choices often causes confusion, whereas the option of one yields the clearest path forward. Take a menu, for instance. If there are too many options it can feel overwhelming. But if there’s only one thing available, guess what you are having.
Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard observed that, “Anxiety may be compared with dizziness. He whose eye happens to look down the yawning abyss becomes dizzy. But what is the reason for this? It is just as much in his own eye as in the abyss, for suppose he had not looked down.”
Or looked away. Because what was happening with this woman became like a game. I looked up and she looked away. I didn’t know the object of this game, but if being observed bothered me I probably would have chosen a different employment. One of the first things you teach a new bartender is to recognize that you are always being observed by someone somehow.
However, doesn’t observing a phenomena change the phenomena itself? Isn’t that called the observer effect? And if we don’t know that from particle physics then we know it from participatory physics. The example I would give to prove this is wave function collapse in quantum physics, or, in participatory physics, when the owner comes in. Trust me, that changes everything.
But she wasn’t the owner. In the dining experience, solo diners often get overlooked. They most often get sat by the swinging kitchen door, or the exit to the restrooms or at that breezy table by the open window. Dining rooms aren’t set up for solo diners. There literally are no tables just for one, at least not in my experience. However, bars are set up for solos — so are counters. And I’ll say it here, communal tables are just plain weird. I don’t get them and I’m a social animal. No one wants to be forced to interact. The freedom for you to be you and for me to be me doesn’t mean that we have to do that together. Or, as I like to say, your right to say something doesn’t mean that I have to listen to it. But try telling that to some people. They really don’t want to hear that, which is doubly or even triply ironic.
This woman always had a journal or a notebook, something in which she scribbled things periodically when she wasn’t watching or, in fact, while she was watching. None of which was much of a concern.
When dining by myself, I have noticed that I have a better understanding of what a bar or restaurant is all about. If you sit by yourself in a dining room, you tend to blend in with the background. I often think that food reviewers should always dine alone — that way their experience doesn’t interfere with the experience. Since there is no one there to interact with, all you can do is observe.
Eventually, I looked down.
“You’ve been here a couple of times,” I said to her.
“Yeah, I love the pork chop here.”
“I notice you always have a journal.”
“I am working on a book.”
“Really, what about?” I asked.
“It’s an observational story about watching what goes on in a restaurant.”
“Who’s the observer?”
“I am not sure yet,” she said. “Maybe the bartender?”
Leaving me with these thoughts:
• I think that’s already been done.
• “And when nobody wakes you up in the morning, and when nobody waits for you at night, and when you can do whatever you want, what do you call it? Freedom or loneliness?” wrote Charles Bukowski.
• Sometimes when the shoe is put on the other foot it feels uncomfortable.
• If you cannot stand being by yourself, then being with someone else isn’t going to fix anything.
• So, was I watching her watch me? Or was she watching me watch her? Where’s that Kierkegaard guy when you need him?
• Bars are there to socialize and to not socialize. The difference is always up to you.