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  • Writer's pictureAnderson

The Most Interesting Man in Tile Bar

A quick note from Hailo:


I knew Anderson was a good fit for Hot Literati this year because of his artistic ego. He knows that he's good. If you're asking someone else if they like the art that you're creating, then why are you making it? Is it art anymore? Anderson's writing is really decadent and you can feel in it that this is what he loves to do. That's a writer.



What makes a man drink alone at a nondescript bar under a mantle of coats and defenses at the beginning of the weekend?


We were chosen out of an abyss of applicants which I like to think numbered in the thousands, the two of us new Hot Literati. Myself and H. (II). The alpha H., we all know already, our sleepy coquette overlorde. All of us chic, all of us mysterious.


To prove our worth and our ability to work together, we were tasked with finding the most interesting person in the bar and interviewing them for an impromptu profile. We’d have to excavate their shell and make something of the pearl, and of course it had to be beautiful. An exhibit with three faces: hydra of a stranger.


A glossy runway venue, our Tile Bar was not. Dim, dense, understaffed, our meeting venue could only have been out-dungeoned by the confinement quarters of The Count of Monte Cristo. Old friends mingled here in the murk, vintage jukeboxes teased neon from the corners, tenured NYU professors traded bear hugs and congratulations. When I went to the bathroom, I saw someone had left a wedding ring on the counter of the sink.


And when I returned: the assignment. How did we select Mr. Adam for our profile? I’d have better luck explaining the intricacies of Hawking’s black hole information paradox. It seems inevitable that some observations are irretrievably lost under the conditions of unimaginable pressure and complete darkness. Even love evaporates away.


More concretely: there were few people sitting alone, and he was one of them. The choice was arbitrary. My new comrade was still nervous, unsure of how to approach and uncomfortable with raising their voice thus far in the night. At this point I had sipped through two mezcal sodas and felt empowered, so I made the first move.


He had an optimal positioning which I immediately respected. Much of human communication is nonverbal, and in this respect our Sir Mystery was speaking loud and clear. Seated near the entrance to the bar, close enough to easily grab the bartender’s attention, near enough to the door to ensure a quick escape. Clever. He was tall and stooped over his two drinks – one beer, one stiff shot of something brown. He stood looking about with glazed over eyes, watching everything going on around but hazy enough to avoid making direct eye contact with anyone. Skillfully elusive. When I got close enough, he looked over to me with a standoffish body language: turning the eyes, not the head, keeping his posture straight and unmoving, unwilling to easily open up.


I felt the need to lie about our purpose. In the fantasy world I created for him, we were journalist students working together for an interdisciplinary project. He softened then, turning to us and giving a wry smile after scanning us all.


“Adam. Just Adam.” He refused pictures. He kept his occupation and his neighborhood secret. The more precise the question, the less transparent the answer. His favorite word: “No.” There is primal power in refusal, and in the great big world Adam was taking a breather from, it seemed he didn’t have much power elsewhere. He didn’t seem to particularly love his career. He had no plans for the entire weekend. With three daughters and a wife he refused to describe, one would be forgiven for assuming Adam doesn’t get much of a say in home affairs or decisions, in the way that one shackled by love tends to be.


And yet: “No, I’m not in love,” without hesitation. “Not really. Not anymore. But that’s not what it’s about, is it? Don’t get me wrong. My family loves me. I take care of them. But am I in love? No. Who is?” In writing this and revisiting my faint memories of Adam, this moment comes to mind often. If love isn’t the fuel, what keeps an engine running? I can’t accept in myself or this man that love is not a very common urge; for I saw the crinkle of his smile under his mustache when we complimented his insights, and I saw the laughs, the smiles, the comfort he showed when leaning on the dark wooden bar, the comfort you build after having felt sorrow and jubilation in a familiar place, a beloved place. For a man unmoved by love, he was eager to show off how proud he is of his eldest daughter (freshly enrolled at Binghampton) and he became very talkative when the subject of his dog came up. For some reason he seemed to me ruined by love, exhausted by the effort of it. “I come here often,” he said, waving to the rest of the bar. “No one recognizes me. The drinks are cheap. What more can you want?”


“No, I’m not interesting at all,” he loved to boast, with a devilish smile from the side of his mouth. “And I don’t think this place is very interesting, either. In fact I chose this place because it’s not interesting at all. I avoid interesting places and people. I find them pretentious.” He doubled down on this often, denying that he had an interesting job, any interesting opinions, or an interesting backstory. When we commented about our fascination with something, he’d change the subject. He shied away from answering interview questions and consistently tried to take on a mentorship role to us. “Photography is such a beautiful art. It’s the only real way of looking at things. I don’t trust videos; the angles are all wrong, there’s too much you have to fake.” He recommended Man Ray to us, and smiled genuinely for the first time when he spoke on his hobby slash second job teaching photography classes to youth.


He allowed us to view the world through his eyes. And what a grim world to see. In his photographs, New York’s iconic skyline resembled fence posts of a trench dug into a battlefield. The heavy hand of time lingered just out of frame. In one haunting diptych, Adam showed us two shots he took more than 15 years apart from the same spot. In the first photograph from 1998, the Twin Towers poise gracefully over the city; in the successor, there is only the tombstone-shaped One World Trade Center standing alone in the mist.

“You’re a New Yorker, too,” he abruptly said, nodding at me, after probing my comrade for their backgrounds. When I asked how he could tell, he laughed, and just said, “You have that look.” Maybe what he meant was: he saw something in common with me. It could have been the all black wardrobe. It could have been an innate sense of alienation, originlessness, exile. Adam had left his entire family behind in Poland in the late 90s. Thanks to “fooling around”, he’d flunked out of university, and it seemed a better option for him to flee to America rather than participate in Poland’s military draft. “Nostalgia never dies,” he said about the time and his decision to leave. “But a man does. Sometimes, you have to escape. The memories will still be there.”


Often the most interesting parts of a person are what they don’t say. Such seemed to be the case with our Mr. Adam. If that was even his name. Barbug, wallflower, whatever the term may be in your corner of the world, Adam personified it: quiet, unobtrusive, secretive, observing. He was the kind of New Yorker that has obviously acclimated to the big city, because he’d mastered the art of minding his business and staying out the way. But something about him stood out. The other is a mirror of the self, and everything we notice about others speaks to reflections of the viewer’s gaze; maybe we saw a part of ourselves in Adam’s obscurity. A hidden diamond waiting to be explored, silently desiring to be singled out and presented as prized. These days, it seems we all suffer from a common loneliness.


By the time we ran out of questions to ask, Adam had warmed up, and was beginning to speak candidly about his thoughts on art, photography, and the nature of what makes a person interesting (“Not trying to be is the only way to do it.”) I sensed disappointment as we subtly shifted our bodies away from him and prepared to disengage. He didn’t hold onto us, but after we regrouped to debrief, I felt his eyes on us, appreciative, intrigued, distantly warm to match This Night Has Opened My Eyes, which if I remember correctly, had started to play as we told him goodbye.


“He said he’d cure your ails, but he didn’t, and he never will,” Morrissey moaned. And Adam wasn’t happy, and he wasn’t sad. Is that what he saw in me, that familiar New York apathy?


We went for dessert after, and I split to meet with my lover and make war and love, and I’ve never stopped thinking about Adam. We never agreed on what makes a person pretentious or not. We never told him the truth of our assignment or our backgrounds. Really, knowing Adam, there was plenty to lie about. I don’t know if that was really his name at all. The only thing he couldn’t have faked was his passion for photos, his passion for obscurity, and his disinterest in love. Days later, as I’m taking photos in the dark with the flash on, not caring for who in the club glances at us with whatever expression they’re wearing, I find myself wondering: who here is in love, and who is actively avoiding it? Can we flee our hearts like one would flee the draft? I think it comes regardless, without our say in the matter, like young writers snapping at the bait of an interesting new opportunity. If any of us are really interesting at all.


2 Comments


adia.bhatia
Feb 18

For a man unmoved by love, he was eager to show off how proud he is of his eldest daughter..for some reason he seemed to me ruined by love”- what incredible, astute observations. Clearly written by a talented therapist. Even if Adam didn’t feel interesting, I’m sure you changed that for him for that one evening. Loving this work! Can’t wait to see more 🖤

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Hailo
Hailo
Feb 19
Replying to

agreed. such a tenderness in the writing + perspective

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