It has been six and a half years since a mysterious man in black crossed my path in a New York City bar. To this day that chance encounter seems to have no significant meaning, yet my memory of him persists.
The city had yet to win me over. The crowded streets and constant noise of car horns were far less appealing than they seemed on Sex and the City, which at that point was my only experience with New York. I found recluse from the busy streets in a karaoke bar where the alcohol flowed as easily as the second-rate singing.
I had already been there for quite awhile when I first noticed him. He emerged from a crowd with a Corona in hand. He was somewhere south of six feet tall with sleek black hair. He swayed to the music in his classy black suit, his natural rhythm evident. The color of his eyes still elude me.
It surprised me a little when he got on the small stage and started to sing a Johnny Cash song. I don’t know if it was the fact that had I seen this man on the street he would have seemed so dignified and perhaps even above singing in an Upper East Side karaoke bar, or if it was the fact that after the previous and questionable songs I didn’t expect anyone to sing a song by one of my favorite musicians, or if it was the fact that he really could sing.
I couldn’t help but stare at him. He was attractive, yet understated, but that wasn’t why I was drawn to him. There was just something about him. I still can’t put my finger on it. I wanted to know him.
Where had he come from in that black suit? In Manhattan, it was likely a fair assumption that he had come to the bar from work. But that only raised more questions in my mind. Was his job stressful? Did he hate it? Why did he need alcohol at the end of his day?
I returned to that bar every night for almost a week. He never let me down. Every night without fail he would arrive. I continued to watch him, wondering about all of those unanswered questions that I had asked myself time and time again. He was the only person who could answer my questions.
And then something wonderful yet wistful happened. He asked me to dance. I reluctantly said no; I was torn. I have no rhythm and feared I would make a fool out of myself if I danced with him. I would surely lose my opportunity to speak to him. He looked disappointed, but Corona in hand, he continued to get on the stage and sing Johnny Cash.
I now realize that our reality at any given moment is likely far less dire than we believe it to be. I don’t imagine he would have become critical of my lack of rhythm while in an atmosphere that seemed to make him enjoy himself.
I had one more night in the city. I had one more chance to get to know this man. I had one more chance to have my questions answered and figure out why I couldn’t get him out of my mind. But things always seem to have a way of going awry when you give yourself such standards. And that night was no different.
On that warm August night, I arrived at the bar like every other night but the atmosphere outside the bar was tense. And then came the news. As a result of an event that occurred at a bar close by, they would no longer allow me to enter because I was underage.
I knew then that I had lost my chance. I waited outside for awhile, hoping he was not yet there and I could catch him before he went in. I waited even longer, hoping if he was already inside he might come out for some fresh air or maybe even a cigarette. But I never saw him again.
In the grand scheme of things, I suppose our chance encounter isn’t so significant that I should dwell on it, yet I do. Not speaking to him is one of my biggest regrets. For unknown reasons, I feel as though I was supposed to know this man’s story. Now all that exists is my memory of him with Corona in hand, emulating the man in black.
Photo: Photo courtesy of Johnny Cash’s official facebook page.