THE BLOG

What a Strange Man in a Bar can Teach

11/15/2012 06:54 pm ET | Updated Jan 15, 2013

So a middle-aged woman walks into a bar...

She's a reasonably attractive woman for her years. Not an ageless beauty like Sophia Loren, but it is clear that effort has been put into her upkeep.

She is Madison Avenue's dream customer, a sucker for beauty ads, who has wasted embarrassingly large sums of money in the pursuit of the one magic cream that actually lives up to its promise of eliminating wrinkles. Each year, when a new miracle product is introduced to great fanfare and the spokesmodel plugging it demands we add it to our morning cleansing routine, this woman obliges. Her morning facial cleansing, toning and moisturizing routine now wraps up in time for afternoon tea.

She has lost six pounds, sixty-four times in the last ten years, but not an ounce from her hips. The lengths she goes to in order to avoid getting her hair wet should be written up for the army corps of engineers to help with hurricane preparedness.

But back to the bar. The bar scene has never been her milieu. She just can't understand how nursing a drink in a room full of strangers could be considered fun. Perhaps this is because the few times she endeavored (at a much, much younger age) to meet suitors in that environment, she came up short. Could it be because she was tall, or because she still used words like "suitor?" She will never know. She does know being painfully shy didn't help.

But back to this bar. It's a dive bar under the railroad tracks in a fairly deserted neighborhood in Philly. The exterior walls have been lacquered with graffiti. The windows haven't been cleaned in at least five years. You know the place.

Her son's band is on the bill at that bar on that night and she had to be there. If her kid played in a yurt in Mongolia she would make sure to be there. She and her husband, who are older by half than the next oldest person present, grab stools at the bar. She has never tasted battery acid, but she suspects the chardonnay she ordered was infused with it.

As she chokes down a sip, she notices that a man sitting at a table catty-corner from the bar is gazing at her. Intently. She smiles, then looks away, pretending to enjoy her swill. When she next glances in his direction, his eyes are still fixed upon her.

"I knew I looked good tonight," she thinks to herself. "In fact, I've never looked better. No wonder a strange man in a bar is staring at me. I hope my husband notices."

Her husband does not notice. Soon, the band is introduced. The woman knows their whole set by heart and she sings along, gyrating to the music and cavorting for the handsome younger man so obviously smitten by her mature charms. He responds by continuing to stare at her as if she were Venus incarnate. He stares obsessively. For about an hour, the attention is flattering. After that if becomes creepy. After that it becomes even creepier.

"Is this what movie stars have to endure?" the woman wonders. "How absolutely dreadful."

When she can't bear the unwanted attention any longer, she turns to her oblivious husband and says, "Honey, would you please surreptitiously glance at the man at the corner table? He hasn't taken his eyes off me since we got here."

She hopes she hasn't just triggered a scene. Her husband has never had to deal with a weirdo like this before. He follows her instructions, and sneaks a quick look at the man whose face is still frozen in place, mesmerized by the object of his attention. Then he looks back at his wife.

"Honey," he says with the slightest hint of a smirk. "Turn around and look up."

She does. Not 10 inches above her head is a large flatscreen TV broadcasting the Yankees playoff game live. The bartender says It's a nail-biter.

She is embarrassed. Humiliated. What hubris!

But in an odd way, the experience is liberating. She feels free now... free to embrace those stubborn six pounds, free to stop looking for hope in an ointment. The man in the dive bar did her a huge favor. Completely unbeknownst to him, he gave her a much-needed shot of reality. She is just another middle-aged woman who walked into a bar... a middle-aged woman who appreciates the lesson but is still too embarrassed to write her story in the first person.