I probably have more stories here than I should.
There was arguing with the waitress about the merits of Joyce’s Ulysses. (Her pro, me con.) There was the time I had to ‘abandon ship’ here-a reference only my sister will understand and I think everyone is better off without the full details of that story. There was the tale of the woman I loved and could not have.
But perhaps the most amusing story was the time I invited a woman here on a date. A first date.
We’d met at a party and through the power of Ouzo and Jager I’d managed to introduce myself. Things seemed to go well, although who can tell under those circumstances? So it was that the next day my friend insisted I call her if I was interested. Not three days. Not a week. The next day. I was interested and as it turned out she thought meeting me for a drink would be great.
I was early. Nervous, as I am a terrible dater. I set my coat down at a table and went to the bathroom. Leaving the bathroom, hands damp, heart a little tight, I looked up to see coming through the entrance, lo and behold…
My ex-girlfriend. And her new beau.
Our breakup had been…messy. Even ugly in parts. I was not innocent-no one is-but I certainly was unwise. I had been in love. You might imagine the kind of wisdom I was to acquire in that relationship…or maybe you just know that there are people who make your heart pang like a dog suddenly pulling away from the leash. Life is like that, sometimes.
Now, as I prepared to meet a girl, the old one came through with a man who I could tell just by the look of him conformed to her in ways I would not and could not.
She put on a smile said hello. He and I shook hands and I had his measure in a moment. I was not better than him but he was with her and I was not. I smiled and took a fleeting moment of superiority but there was a part of my brain, the writerly part, that stood back and laughed with all the glee of Lex Luthor.
This is your life and it’s right out of a goddamn movie.
They sat a few tables away and through stolen glances I saw she had sat with her back to me. I didn’t blame her. I let it go; I was the ghost singing in her basement and she did not want to visit me anymore.
My date arrived and we ordered drinks and charmed each other. I did not have the Chimay, as I am now but what I did have I cannot remember. We laughed and eventually I walked her to her car and she touched my nose with hers, asking me if I’d like to follow her home.
Not too bad a start to a relationship I say.
It feels darker now. Is memory lighting the scene or did it actually get darker? The waitstaff is still all adorable tomboy lasses, short hair, long boots, black blouses or jeans, tattoos. I confess I do not know, despite coming here for drinks since it opened nearly ten years ago. So much has changed from a visual perspective yet so much is the same from the plane of the heart.
Once upon a time, the Sapphire Hotel was a joint for travelers, sex workers, sailors and gypsies. I wonder if it was as welcoming a century ago, if it was a place where souls were soothed in small rooms, where tiny dramas played out like a hand of cards. I can see old women sitting by crystal balls at entry tables, waiting for an unwary traveler to bestow gifts or curses upon. Maybe there was even the occasional lost soul, taken to a room by a gypsy dancer, falling in with the spell the hotel cast.
I like to think that Portland, for all its roughhouse history and shanghai tunnels had room for a seedy, loving place, where people would stop just to stop, have a drink, wink at the person across from them and accept that the woman with her back turned six feet away was done with you. Not unlike Lady Sally’s Brothel. Yeah, it’s idealistic but so what? Some daydreams are worth having, even when they can never be true.