The thing about living near Harvard is that you run into smart people. You know that guy at the laundry mat fumbling with his quarters? Dr. of 19th century American lit!
You know the drunken bumbler, looking-to-be-freshmen kid stumbling down the street at 11pm? Brand Harvard freshmen!
You know that 32-year-old woman at the bar trying to buy you a drink? Harvard teacher, Doctorate from Princeton with five years experience lecturing. Or so she says.
Yeah, so I was like at this bar and stuff looking to eat my bacon cheeseburger and this voice comes from beside me, "Did you come here to eat a cheeseburger or watch the game?"
The bar is in the center of Harvard square, it is well kept, hip, a bit fashionably dingy, with a red theme. The Celtics game is flashing on TV screens around us. I looked at her, respectable looking. Well put together, not homeless (very important to establish at bars in this city), looks like she might be an interesting chat partner.
"I came here to get out of my room," I say, taking a bite from my cheeseburger.
From there on, it all went downhill. She had taught at Princeton, she said. She was really smart and spent most days locked in her room doing smart things, she said. Harvard "owed me a drink" she said.
I told her I had had enough to drink, leaned forward to pay my bill with a $20 and heard her say "going already?"
So I decided. OK. She is smart, relatively pretty. She wants to talk to me. "You want to talk to someone that much?" I said, pulling back from the bar.
She smiled weakly. My stomach lurched left right and center. I need to use a bathroom, I decided. "I can buy you another one," she said gesturing to my near empty glass. Either she was lonely--something I can empathize with entirely--or she was a cougar--something I have never encountered in the wilds.
So I chat her up. She chats me up. I ask what she thinks Cuba will be doing. Economic reform? Human rights improvement? I express my hope and elation when Raul came into power, but explain things have been slow to reform. These are the things I care about, I say. She nods.
"Human rights?" she says. "I wonder if you're willing to look at America's human rights record. Look at Vietnam, that's one big violation."
I look at her. She looks at me. "You think that, per person, the US has more human rights violations than Cuba?"
She says she doesn't know. Says she isn't sure. And I'm sitting thinking: this conversation isn't enjoyable. Don't get me wrong, she is nice. But my burger is done, my drink is drained and I'd really like to walk the few blocks home to my apartment bathroom. Not use the bar bathroom.
"I guess thinking about this is good practice, huh?" she asks.
"Ha," I say, "good practice." I pull $3 from my pocket, place it on the bar and begin to walk away.
"You gone?" she says.
"Yeah," I say. And we both wonder what could have been.