Emily, Graham, Oscar and Tony walk into a bar.

Every Friday evening, the party of four enters through the side door of The Academic sometime around seven, commanding the attention of any guest who happens to already be inside. Their standing reservation is for a prime spot in the back corner, and the overzealous host leads them to their private booth as he imagines the impossible scenario of sitting with them.

The four friends mostly keep to themselves, but inevitably one of them will head for the bathroom or approach the bar to greet the owner Holly, who is always seated by herself with a bourbon in her hand. She’s the only one in the place who isn’t entirely enthralled with the group, which should be a hint to the others looking for even the most minimal of face time.

There are occasions when myself or one the other regulars are able get a word or two in, a brief comment on the weather or the news whole exact language we’ve been obsessing over all week. All I want, all any of us want, is to take just one of them home, even once. Even as we work to convince ourselves otherwise, in the long run, the goal is essentially meaningless. Anyone lucky enough to catch even a glimpse of their love is inevitable pushed aside for a newer, younger, more beautiful partner the next day. Then again, life is about moments, and these are the moments that I crave over all others.

Tonight, luckily, I am absolutely on. I honestly don’t know how it happened – must be an inimitable mix of booze, style and timing – but somehow I manage to capture the attention of all the regular people. In the middle of a particularly captivating anecdote, Oscar happens to pass by my table and stops to listen. I try my best to pretend I don’t notice his proximity as I continue my story. I detect him laughing along at the right parts, and it’s so overwhelming that as soon as the end happens, I scramble to the bar to replenish my glass.

Holly is scrolling through the music playlist and complains to no one that she doesn’t know what to put on next. I suggest the latest Executive Producer record, and she adds it to the queue. Right as Friend starts up, Graham calls out in fervent approval. Holly graciously acknowledges the song was my selection, and Graham throws me a smile I won’t soon forget.

I go outside to regain my bearings and calm my excitement. The air is crisp and a street light flickers overhead. As I reach for the pack of cigarettes in my pocket, Emily is walking towards me. Without saying a word, I extend my hand and she elegantly takes the two smokes I’m holding. She lights both and hands me one. We both stare into the world, analyzing how we each got here. The silence is broken by an inebriated couple who just turned the corner, arguing over his essence, how she is never not embarrassed by him. They pass by us and then out of earshot. Emily and I crack up at the same time, delighted to be the only witnesses to the bickering. She thanks me, I assume for the cigarette, then heads back into the bar.

I take a deep breath and follow behind her. I notice that the karaoke machine is now set up but untouched. Riding an interesting wave, I stride to the stage and tell the sound guy to put on Shadows of Leaves Dancing on Your Skin. He completes my request, and I launch into a forceful rendition, totally oblivious to my surroundings, utterly unaware of how it’s being received.

The song comes to a close and I hear a single enthusiastic applause. It’s coming from Tony, who waves me over to their table. After sitting down, Emily hands me a full drink, which I graciously accept. All four of them show me lascivious eyes, and I realize, impossibly, I might actually have my choice tonight.

Stay cool, stay cool. Relax, relax. Take it all in.

Suddenly, the door to the bar bursts open, and in strolls a truly captivating presence. All heads turn as her magnetism envelops the room. I can’t take my eyes off her. Now I’m not usually in the habit of relinquishing a well-earned position as a romantic interest, but I can easily see the four faces around me melt as she declares with no hesitation, “Emily, Graham, Oscar, Tony – you’re ALL coming with me.”

She turns back out the door, and, after exchanging agreeing glances, they get up from the table and follow her outside, without even saying goodbye. I’d follow, but I wasn’t invited. And I never will be.

I’m left alone at their table and start scribbling notes on a napkin so I can remember this night, as I prepare to tell my future grandchildren how close I came to the greatest moment of my life.

Even at my best, I’m no match for the Big Whoop.

November 13 – Whoopi Goldberg gets another EGOT
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