What the heck am I doing at the 23rd floor bar as a solo woman in her 20’s with no intention to drink anything stronger than tonic water? It’s 10 p.m., all lights are mostly out, the voices are quiet, ice clinks. I am sober as a bar of soap and about to sit on a bar stool next to two strange men. Both are old enough to be my father so I decide to ask them about their lives. Recently someone informed me that asking a person about their life is a task more intimate than even hitting on them.
I pull out my notebook and start collecting the tidbits. Andy, the more talkative one describes his own city as “A rathole.” Alright, I envision a large burrowing variety rat.
The guy sitting with Andy also has a name and comes from a city other than Milwaukee. He has a face too, but he asks me not to take it with my camera because he claims he used to work for the central intelligence agency. I’m just going to call this person “Math Guy” so that I don’t cause any trouble here. As I sip my carbonated water, Math Guy informs me that he has been to “over 80,000 different bars” in his life. He repeats this several times so it must be fact. Andy guesses that 80,000 bars means Math Guy goes to three each week. Math Guy adds defensively, “That number includes restaurant bars!”
80,000. He just figured it out one day. Just like that? I ask him what prompted him to count. Math Guy takes a long pause and wears a wearied look, “I’m a weird person. A very mathematical person, but I’m not as good as I used to be. When I was younger I any time I entered any room I would immediately be able to tell you how many people are in the room and how many are women and how many are men.” Math Guy stands up dramatically and mutters, “Right now there are 24 people in this room,” before disappearing for the bathroom.
When he returns Math Guy starts asking me about my life like he wants to change the subject. I don’t want to change the subject and soon Math Guy admits that if he hears six people recite their phone numbers the next day he will be able to accurately remember each person by their phone number and not their name. He’s bad with names. Math Guy says being so mathematical has caused him great suffering. He says this slowly and with great hesitation. I don’t ask about the suffering.
Instead, I go home and tell my dad (another math passionate guy) about Math Guy’s 80,000 bars. My dad whips out a calculator and says, “If he is my age and he started going to bars at the legal drinking age, that’s 4.325 bars a day. That would mean some some days he goes to four, and some days he goes to five. All different bars? I don’t believe him!”