This jazz café in Detroit is only open on Fridays. It is tightly packed with acquaintances. Even those you’ve never met before look familiar. And after a few drinks, it is not inappropriate to invite yourself to their tables to investigate social connections. Our stories are similar in this circle, which is why we stick together. This college boy, who is presently talking to you, has you stuck at a table that is shoved beside the corner where the musicians play: an upright bass, a piano, a guitar, two singers, male and female, who trade off the microphone between songs when they aren’t sharing it in a duet. Mounted on the burgundy walls are tarnished brass instruments and old records. The place is lit with lamps of vinyl, lace, and some Tiffany knock-offs. It reminds you of an eccentric great-aunt’s house. The couches are even embroidered with flowers and topped with clear plastic slipcovers. And it smells like dust and smoke. The college boy is studying sculpture. He is exasperated with his life, he tells you, as though he is unaware of the strange and beautiful sanctuary he is sitting in. He complains that nobody gets it. Everyone is living a life that ignores beauty and shits on art. You simultaneously hate and pity him. He claims he is not enjoying a time he will soon idealize. You drink your gin and tonic. (You never know what else to order.) He pulls out a cigarette, and you imagine what his life will be like in six years. He does not know it yet, but he will resent his family, his job, because they will keep him from evenings like this. Feeling bored in a sea of friends while musicians, who play for fun, not money, are goofing through a piano cover of Sublime. Jesus Christ, this is tiring, entertaining his boredom, nodding at how the world has already disappointed him before the age of twenty-two. He will remember this night, and the slew of nights like it. He will think about it longingly. He will misremember, though, recalling dancing along to the music, when he really just hunched over his phone and forced strangers into his conversation. You will remember letting him discontent you.
Shannon McLeod teaches in Adrian, Michigan, where she also coaches a youth slam poetry team. She has led creative writing workshops in venues as diverse as a children’s summer camp and a women’s correctional facility. Her writing has appeared in Gawker, Hobart and NEAT.