I like going to the bar on a loose weekday, late in the evening when my day has finally wound down and I’m looking to de-stress for a couple of hours. Problem is, it’s the middle of the week, thus not too many idiots are up for a drink at 11.00 pm, and because of this most inconvenient fact, I tend to make said trip to the bar all by my lonesome. Sounds depressing, no? It isn’t, oddly enough, but that’s probably because I tend to go the local, or the almost local, where I know a couple of the regulars and the barmen, and can therefore sit in relative peace without a random idiot attempting to funga my ass. At least that’s usually the plan. Thing is, us Kenyans are generally a chatty bunch, often feeling the need to converse with strangers, especially female strangers, in a bar, all by her lonesome. A woman alone at a table won’t get bothered, I’ve found, save for the creepy staring from a distance, but sit at the counter and lo and behold… It is for this reason, along with my uncanny ability to attract lonely souls (kindred spirits, I wonder?), that I often end up in deep conversation with a strange man, a man who upon meeting me, 5 minutes earlier, immediately feels the need to share his life story with me. I may wander into the local looking to lose myself in the noise for a couple of hours, but more often than not I end up talking to one or more of the fellas about their woman problems, because woman problems must be shared at the counter, with a woman, no? No.
Now I must cut the figure of a wise woman (stop laughing), because these geniuses keep turning to me for ‘a female perspective’, expecting me to make sense of the occasionally stupid shit they do. They figure, for the hefty price of a double, I am only too willing to counsel their confused behinds, all bloody night long. While I was sitting there having random conversations with random strangers, I inadvertently became the woes whisperer. That was the beginning of my own woes… You know how I keep saying you need to listen, really listen to what a man is saying? Turns out I may have been wrong on that one. After yet another evening of random conversation with a stranger at the almost local, it has dawned upon me that men are just as duplicitous as women, perhaps even more so.
These are my confessions,
Just when I thought I said all I can say, my chick on the side said she got one on the way,
These are my confessions,
Man I’m throwed and I don’t know what to do, I guess I gotta give part 2 of my confessions,
If I’m gonna tell it, then I gotta tell it all,
Damn near cried when I got that phone call,
I’m so throwed, I don’t know what to do,
But to give part 2 of my confessions…
This lovely stranger (no longer a stranger I guess, now that I’ve had random conversations with him more than three times) is a fascinating study in the complexity of the Kenyan man. The first time I met him, he found me in deep conversation with one of the regulars, his pal. He was seated a couple of stools down the counter with his woman, a woman I noticed because she was exceedingly beautiful, and exceedingly drunk. As the night wore on, and the crowd began to thin out, I found myself right next to them, and I struck up a conversation with said woman. Well, as much of a conversation as you can have with a drunken woman, but that’s beside the point. Ms Drunk and Lovely was gushing over her man, talking about how kind he is, and how much she loooves him… I was suitably smitten with her to not ask too many questions, preferring instead to bask in the glow of their, umm, love. Yes, they’re that couple. ‘Which couple?’ you ask. The one that engages in very public displays of affection, but not the nasty kind that involves sticking tongues down throats, more like the gentle kiss on the forehead every two minutes. Aaaaawwww… What? I am nothing if not a romantic, no? Probably not.
Imagine my surprise when, a couple of weeks later, I run into said man at the counter, alone this time, and as we talk he starts to paint a slightly less rosy picture of the aforementioned love. I made the mistake of asking him where his lovely lady was and that set him off. He started off with how much he loves her, then it became how hard marriage was, and how he doesn’t like it when she drinks too much, and how sometimes he doesn’t want to go home, and then back to how much he loves her, he loves her so much. FYI, that’s a typical counter conversation, ‘the good (love), the bad (pain) and the ugly (sex)’. So the man tells me (almost) everything, then we drink a bit more, then everyone goes home and gets on with their lives. Only a couple of weeks later, I happen to find out that part of what he told me was a bit of a lie, this from one of the regulars, after I enquired as to his and his wife’s whereabouts. ‘Wife? What wife?’ my pal asked, confused. Turns out, the marriage bit was not entirely accurate, and by that I mean she is not his wife, but his girlfriend. And yes, there is a wife, somewhere. Say it with me…Hmmm… Thing is, when you find out that a significant part of the story is false, makes you wonder, how much of the rest is true?
Another random conversation later, back with the (occasionally) married man, and this time I steered clear of the ‘wife’ story, figuring that if he went to the trouble of concocting that elaborate cover, then it was a ruse worth maintaining. Far be it for me to question another’s tales of love and happiness, and woes. Thinking about it, I realised that he wasn’t looking to deceive me for some nefarious purpose (he wasn’t trying to funga me), he was just looking to paint his situation a less lurid shade of red. His misrepresentation of facts was simply his way avoiding the ‘What about your wife?’ conversation, a conversation that tends to come up whenever a married man talks to another woman about his girlfriend. Despite the fact that he was talking to a stranger, he still felt the need to edit his story, because the whole point of the conversation was to find a sympathetic ear and there is nothing a drunk bastard loves more than sympathy (except maybe a sympathy shag, they love that too). Put differently, you’re allowed to bitch about your wife in the bar, but to bitch about your girlfriend, when you have a wife, well that’s just bad form, no?
Fast forward a couple of months later, and I’m back at the counter, and who do I chance upon? That’s right, the happy couple, or not so happy, depending on what time of night you meet them (they’re also that couple, the dramatic types who have silly, passionate fights at 3 in the morning, kissing and making up before they get to the car), and as always they’re both waxing lyrical about how lovely the other is, while I’m sitting there thinking, ‘I want whatever they’re smoking, because that’s some good shit!’ In my conversations with them since, neither one has ever brought up the wife/girlfriend issues, not even when they’re at their most drunk (which happens disturbingly often, because they’re that couple, the one that gets drunk, always). I assume that despite the occasional drinks we share every so often, we are still strangers, and therefore must continue to maintain the façade, each of us playing the role we have carefully constructed for ourselves within those four walls.
And thus we get to the point of this long-winded tale.
Damn, how does she bring it up, how does she break it down,
Man you at the clinic, dawg slow down that’s yo child,
But if you keep it, then you gotta tell your girl you was cheatin’,
And you went raw dog when you beat it,
That’s when she gon’ tell you to beat it…
I’ve finally realised that any conversation had at the bar counter must, by necessity, consist of half truths, misrepresentations, and, surprisingly, brutal honesty. Any less and all you’re doing is having a bit of a wank on someone else’s tab. Don’t worry, this isn’t just about talking to strangers in bars, despite how it must look right now, I’m not that much of a lush (yet?). This is about talking. I’ve learnt that when we have conversations with random strangers, more often than not we choose to omit the less than savoury details of our lives, not because we’re deliberately trying to be dishonest, but because talking to a stranger gives us the opportunity to reinvent ourselves. Talking to a stranger is a chance to give your story, the way you think your story needs to be told, rewriting the fairy tale, so to speak. Thing is, talking to a stranger is also an invaluable opportunity to get an outsider’s view of your insides, it’s a chance to unload your deepest, darkest crap without fear of repercussions. A genuine conversation, one without the whitewash bullshit typical of PR campaigns (read attempts to get laid, or paid), can be revealing, liberating even, but it doesn’t work if you spend half the time concealing what you’d most like to reveal.
Today’s soundtrack is a BOGOF, ‘Confessions Part II’, the original and the Jermaine Dupri remix featuring Shyne, Twista and Kanye West. The former is one of my favourite Usher jams, in part because of the most excellent video that involved him taking off his shirt (Ah Usher…sorry, I drifted off in a fog of vague lust…), but mostly because it was refreshingly honest, even though, as it turns out, the song wasn’t actually about him. The remix, continuation is a better word to describe it, the continuation is better, and I don’t say this lightly. Press play and skip to 1:00, the rap by Shyne, recorded on the phone while he was in jail; its 30 seconds of perhaps the finest rapping I’ve heard in a long time (please keep in mind that I listen to rap three times a year, on average). This Shyne fellow has a most intriguing bio, in case you’re interested, he was convicted his involvement in the night club shooting incident in N.Y. (yes, that shooting, the one that led to J-Lo dumping Diddy and finding a slightly less ghetto (read more white) man). These lyrics are his confession, I assume…
Sittin’ in my cell, head about to burst,
Wouldn’t be alive if I didn’t shoot first,
Had it made, sorry for the ricochet,
but I’d be in da grave if I didn’t let it spray.
I never said that I was perfect,
Nobody walkin’ on this earth is,
That night, I would’ve gotten murdered,
If I ain’t grab the ratchet and let them cowards have it…