Building A Shrine

Last year, Christmas Day, I walked out of my parents’ house in Little Neck, Queens and hoofed it to Great Neck, Long Island, which is a town over, but still a good walk. I’d had a heated argument with my father over what I viewed (and still view) as eminent domain abuse in Brooklyn and needed to clear my head.

(That’s why I’m not in that picture of my dad and bros standing around a wood-burning outdoor stove in my parents’ backyard—in case you were wondering.)

I walked to the movie theater on Middle Neck Road and bought a ticket for Young Adult. I had time to kill, so I decided to have a drink at a nearby bar that was once called the Living Room.

A cute brunette was tending bar, while this cross-eyed, 40-something-year-old man chatted her up. For some time I think it was just the three of us in there, and the topic of breast implants came up. The bartender was thinking about getting an enhancement. The cockeyed patron was telling her not to—his way of saying, “Honey, I want to sleep with you just the way you are.”

I was trying to get a sense of her breasts, but the loose sweater she was wearing wasn’t helping. So I just told her to do what makes her happy. I was two months into a hard breakup—staying with my parents and away from my ex, who was living in my apartment until she found a new place—and trying to be happy for once.

Man, I was really hoping this ugly dude hadn’t gotten to second base with the bartender!

The movie would be starting soon, so I paid my bill, and went back to the theater. It was packed, and I discovered firsthand at least one of the things Jewish people do on Christmas: they see indie flicks starring Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt. But what really shocked me was how much G-d’s chosen people talked during the movie. Like, at no point shutting the fuck up. I always thought that stereotype had been cornered, but you learn new things on Christmas Day in Great Neck.

After the movie, I decided to go back to what was once the Living Room. The bartender was still there, but so was Mr. Fuckedeyes. I really thought he’d be gone by then.

At some point he did leave. I don’t know how that guy drives.

The bartender told me about her ex-boyfriend who was too Italian—or was it too controlling?

And she told me about the one tattoo she has.

I must have asked her if she had any. You know that point when you’re flirting and you run out of shit to say, so you grasp at stock questions? Yeah, we had gotten to that point.

Although I couldn’t see the tattoo—it, like her breasts, was hidden under her sweater—she said it was a ladybug. When her father was dying “in the dead of winter, ladybugs fluttered into his hospital room.” It was an omen, she thought. And so she wears it on her skin now.

I was drinking water.

The bartender’s mother had died in some horrific way—without ladybugs.

The bartender was raising her brother alone.

The bartender was thinking about going back to school.

The bartender didn’t normally give out her number… but there was something about me.

I had an empty bottle of VASSO in front of me. I said I was going to take this home, as a way to remember the experience.

“You’re going to build a shrine to me?” she said.

“Sure.” I said. “But this can’t just be a bottle.”

She put a strip of duct tape on the bottle and etched her name into the tape with a pen that was losing ink. The plan was that every time I came back to see her, she would give me something to add to the shrine.

I thanked her and walked back to my parents’ house. It was winter, but warm.

I don’t know what I ever did with that bottle.