Ten

Bartender, 52

He looks just like his pictures. Ten kisses me on the cheek and he smells amazing, like sandalwood, maybe? He’s got a graying beard and dreadlocks full of silver beads and diamond studs in his ears. “You’re so cute!” he exclaims, and I’m sure I blush right to my hairline.

He’s Haitian by birth, lived in Paris and Manhattan, and now here. He is effusive, thoughtful, a bit hippie philosopher. I like him immediately.

“Do you like to travel?” he asks me, and tells me he books a trip to Iceland for a music festival every fall. “I don’t know why I asked you that,” he says, “I was just thinking I should ask you and you’re so easy to talk to.” The day is gray and cold and he wraps his hands around his coffee. “I love holding my coffee like this when it’s cold out.” He slides the cup across the table to me. “Here, want some?”

It is disarming, no, that’s the wrong word, because that would imply my defenses are down and they’re not. It’s been forever since anyone has said this many nice things to me in a row, has been this flattering. “I like your gray hair,” he says, “it means you’ve lived. You should change your pictures. No, wait, don’t do that, if you have better pictures up everyone will see you’re beautiful, and those pictures don’t do you justice.” I might have giggled and blushed, like a teenager. I’d say he was a player but I didn’t catch the tiniest bit of artifice. I’d say he was child-like but he didn’t seem naive, just open.

We are at a strip mall Starbuck’s looking out the window at the parking lot. We talk about work and travel and he tells me a little about his kids, he has two, one girl, nearly grown, one ten year old boy who he has one day a week. He’s done a lot of interesting things, he was a math teacher and an accountant and for a while he ran a Carribean restaurant. “I think Haiti might be lost,” he tells me, “between the earthquake and the storms that global warming brings, I think it will get much worse before it gets better.” He had an Israeli girlfriend for a while, she taught him how to say “I love you” and “Goodbye” in Hebrew.

It is raining when we finish up and he asks if I can give him a ride a few blocks back to his apartment. He’d walked down, which explains why he wanted to meet at the Starbucks instead of the indy place I’d suggested. He doesn’t have a car. He kisses me on the cheek again before he gets out of the car and he smiles. “I’m so glad I met you,” he says, and bounces off to his apartment.

I think of what a friend told me about bartenders: They’re either teetotalers or drunks. I wonder if this is true and if so, which one is Ten? I look him up when I get home. I find a story about his restaurant, now closed, the place was a little notorious for noise and shenanigans. A few girls got caught with fake IDs there, a few locals were busted selling weed, back before it was legal. The reporter mentions a DUI on his record, 15 years ago; it was all they could find on him. Is this why he doesn’t drive? Is it okay for me to ask him? The story also mentions his place was a community hub for immigrants and outsiders in a changing neighborhood, it mentions how warm and friendly Ten is, it talks about a fundraiser he held after the Haiti earthquake.

I get a text message from Ten about an hour after I get home. “I think you’re awesome. I’m free on Sunday. Want to go for sushi?”

I really like sushi.