I was in a hole-in-the-wall, neighborhood bar. I had never been there before. I don’t often walk in its direction, but on this day, I was passing it, saw empty seats at the bar, and stopped in. It almost immediately put me in a bad mood. At the biergarten where I often go, I not surprisingly get beer. This place had liquor bottles behind the bartender, and after toying with the notion of wine, I said, “Give me some sort of Scotch.” The barkeep held up a bottle and said “Oban?” I replied, “It doesn’t have to be that good.” He then rattled off the names of three more single malts. Expensive Scotch is all they had. I took the Oban, but I was annoyed. I became more annoyed when I found that it cost $20. I silently vowed that this would be my only visit to the nameless-to-me place.

          I sipped my drink and took out my book. I both wanted to be out of there and to get my money’s worth. As my carefully-measured-to-make-sure-you-will-not-get-too-much-even-though-it-cost-two-sawbucks (does anyone say “sawbuck” anymore?) drink was nearing its end, a woman, gesturing at the stool on my right, asked “Is anyone sitting here?” I replied that it was open, and she and another woman sat down. I only glanced at them. The one nearer me was perhaps late 30s and the other a few years younger.

          I returned to my Scarlett Thomas novel. The two women talked to each other. I did not hear their conversation, but after a few minutes, the one nearer me, Kris, I soon found out, said, “That’s a nice jacket,” and gingerly rolled some of my sleeve’s fabric between her fingers. I thanked her, not knowing what to make of the compliment. The jacket is an old Harris tweed. I bought it fifteen years ago in a secondhand store. She went on to say that a tweed was always good. “You can wear it everywhere. You can wear it to a wedding.”

          We three started chatting. I asked what they did. The older one was the athletic director and soccer coach at a famous private school in Brooklyn, and the other was a PE teacher and lacrosse coach there. I joked, but I am not sure they realized that I was joking, that they must make a lot of money considering how much tuition their school charged. They quickly rejoined that they did not get paid much and not nearly what public school teachers get.

          I found out the older one was from Rhode Island, and she smilingly confirmed that everyone in the state not only knew each other but that almost everybody was her uncle. She told me that she went to Assumption College, and then added, “In Massachusetts.” The other one, Margaret or Maggie, said she was from Connecticut but was quick to add, “Northern Connecticut.” She had gone to Marquette University, and she had enjoyed Milwaukee.

          One of them asked about the tee shirt I had on under the Harris tweed. It had a circle on the chest with “73” on it. I said, “It’s the best number.” Margaret wanted to know why. I said that not only was 73 a prime number, its two digits are prime numbers, reversing the digits yields another prime number, and that 73 was the 21st prime number, and 21 was the product of 7 and 3. I said that I had learned this from Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, who went on to give other noteworthy aspects of the number 73 that I no longer remembered. (I was surprised when I learned that 73 has its own Wikipedia page. Do all numbers?) Margaret said that she did not know what a prime number was; Kris rolled her eyes and said, “A Marquette education.” (I was surprised about the professed ignorance since I thought that prime numbers were a basic part of education and a simple concept. A few days later, however, I was still reading the mystery/romantic/math book PopCo that I had in the bar, and I found the narrator’s grandfather saying, “No one knows very much about how primes behave, that’s the problem. Problems to do with primes have puzzled the greatest mathematicians.” Ok. They aren’t that basic and simple.)

          Margaret said, “You must be smart.” I repeated that my 73 knowledge came from The Big Bang Theory. Kris said, “I figured 73 could not mean your age.” I replied, “It once was my age.” I was flattered that she said, “No way. I thought that you were 60 or something.” But my ego did not stay inflated long, for Kris soon labeled me “cute.” The inflection for this cute was not one announced about a boy band member or a young man or woman spotted in a bar or even for a puppy or baby. No, this inflected “cute” was the kind used in conjunction with describing your great grandpa.

(continued December 6)

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