My Brah is my drinking buddy. We are both pre-empty nesters, as in getting an early start on the bachelor reset. He pings me, scoops me off my stoop, and out we go to our three favorite bars, located on three of the four corners of a highly trafficked intersection in our neighborhood, which is populated mainly by extraordinarily wealthy semi-retired alpha male Gen X-ers, their hot-yoga-loving, collagen-injected MILFs, and their gummied-up children.
The three bars are where me and my Brah can be found after dark. We refer to them as the Bermuda Triangle. There’s also the Extended Triangle, which includes drinking establishments that line a long avenue, a bit like the handle of the Big Dipper. Nearby is the Little Dipper: two remaining dive bars that are a little bit off the radar but only a short Uber trip away. We’re just two overgrown frat boys on a perpetual pub crawl through advancing middle age.
As regulars at the bars we attend, we’re treated kindly by any male bartender over 30, who will typically throw in a round for free, which we feel obliged to toss right back in the form of a super-generous tip. (Note to bartenders: Bromancing pre-empty nesters tend to be good tippers.)
Reciprocally enabling as we are, my Brah and I are by no means alike. He’s an alpha: rich, confident, gregarious, productive, optimistic, a Wharton grad who retired a long time ago after making all the money he needed. I, on the other hand, am a beta at best—a cancelled college adjunct and, making matters considerably worse, a failing poet who is, at this very moment, questioning if it may be his calling in life to be a full-time Wingman.
Nevertheless, when we bust through those saloon doors, the bartenders smile at us both, go straight for the jugs of Tito’s, and start pouring. We saddle up on our stools, position our iPhones on the shellacked or white marble bar, and wait for our drinks to be served. This is when I reach underneath the overhang and feel for that essential bar hook designed especially for my tote. Yes, my tote. My Brah makes fun of it, calling it my pocketbook, shaming me for the lightweight windbreaker I feel obliged to bring along just in case I encounter a draft. Properly raised Jews always pack a layer.
Back when I was in my prime, I was a definite conversationalist (born to lecture). But on date nights with my Brah, it seems I’ve slowly been conditioned to behave in the Wingman manner—in other words, to zip it. While my Brah strikes up convo after convo with other regulars, I’ve learned to mind my own beeswax. I think most drinkers assume that the diminutive sidekick (me) is either deaf and/or mute. Despite our shared desire for companionship, my Brah and I hardly converse at all—unless we happen to fall on one of our turbo topics: ’70s Fila tennis wear worn by Bjorn Borg; our mutual love for properly pressed crusty Cubano sandwiches cut diagonally; and schmaltzy power ballads.
What do I really accomplish night after night sipping Tito’s and sodas through a paper straw in the Bermuda Triangle, Extended Triangle, and Little Dipper? I simply get one step closer to losing my liver and self-esteem—to becoming a permanent resident in a mental hospital. Think Melville. If my Brah has an unusually pressing urge to confide in me, my ears certainly perk right up. I relish the opportunity to listen and give thoughtful marital or parenting advice. If, however, I’m compelled to whimper about the ditch I’ve dug in life, my Brah will default to scrolling ancient text messages, opening work-related emails he’s been putting off for eternity, or reviewing photos taken on his last ski vacation. He, in other words, will phase me out completely.
Despite knowing full well that any 55-year-old man belongs in bed by Netflix 9, I keep succumbing to the peer pressure and rallying for Brah. For two years now I’ve been telling myself it’s time to “hang up the old cleats.” The writing is on the wall. If all goes well, me and my degenerate Brah are back in the Bermuda Triangle every other night, “reunited,” which, as the creamy smooth Peaches & Herb hit from the ’70s tells us, “feels so good.” Then I wonder again what I am doing here.
One night it came to my attention that my Brah had picked up another Bro—a new Wingman in training. My guess was that this mysterious new pre-empty nester had weaseled his way into my position on an evening when perhaps I bought myself a pack of Tums and pulled out early or pussied out completely with a lame excuse like “the wife wants me home” or “I’m on lockdown, man.” I began to notice this new Bro getting kinda cozy with my Brah. Was it the jealousy of an eighth grader I was feeling?
But the new Bro didn’t act like a proper Wingman. He didn’t zip it and vegetate or bum a cig from a stranger to share. Or squeeze into the back seat of an Uber and ride to the Little Dipper in a near coma. He didn’t really Hang & Chill. I’d have to call his unorthodox method of socializing the Crash & Dash. He’d show up, squint over the bartender’s shoulder at the tall wall of bottles, and order a top-shelf bourbon, neat. This was the Crash—his way of crashing me and my Brah’s bar crawl. Then, after a sip or two, he’d say something a little dubious like, “I’ve gotta get back to relieve the nanny.” Then he’d leave his virtually untouched drink on the bar, wish us both well, and Dash.
My Brah was fine with this behavior, and so was I, I guess—sort of. Once, when this charming new Bro was making his Dash, all three of us wound up Dashing together—we hopped in the guy’s Tesla, which had been left double-parked outside the bar with the hazards blinking, and off we went in the ominously silent car. I wondered, Am I being abducted? We arrived in seconds at a boutique hotel bar we’d never been to before. On went the hazards, and my Brah and his new Bro jumped out and disappeared inside the bar, leaving me more or less trapped in the back seat searching for a knob, lever, handle, button—anything to get the goddamn door open. A Tesla rookie, I spent, like, eight minutes fumbling around in there until my Brah finally returned to open the door for me.
As the Bro’s unannounced Crash & Dash began to happen with increasing frequency, I began to wonder how he always seemed to know exactly which bar we were drinking in and when. How had he achieved such timing and precision? Of course, my first thought was that my Brah was simply texting him and inviting him to join us without first consulting me. Which would have been fine, I guess.
But my Brah denied it. And in would come the Bro, in this navy beanie (looking a little like the Edge), squinting at the top shelf—generally being a cool low-key pre-empty nester. My jealousy must have gotten the best of me one night when I began to question all of the after-hours serendipity. It would appear the failing poet, with his failing grip on reality, had become borderline delusional with male jealousy.
And after debating whether or not to reveal my unappealing suspicious nature to my Brah, I finally decided to broach the topic: “Why is Beanie Baby (this was the best nickname I would come up with at the time for the Bro) always wearing that navy beanie?” I asked. “What’s with his Crash & Dash, anyway? Have you noticed he’s always hinting at his ability to obtain the purest molly on the planet?”
“What, do you think he’s gonna roofy our drinks?” asked Brah sarcastically.
“I wouldn’t rule it out,” I said sheepishly (keep in mind, it was not typical protocol for the Wingman to demand my Brah’s full undivided attention, not to mention concentration). “Maybe he’s in Mossad,” Brah said, even more sarcastically. “He’s keeping tabs on you because you write for Tablet.”
Neither Brah’s homophobic or Heb-bro-phobic explanation worked for me. I didn’t see it as a laughing matter. And, just for the record, I have never mentioned “Palestine,” “the Gaza Strip,” or “the West Bank” in any of my Tablet articles, so it was highly unlikely that any Mossad agents would be personally stalking me.
Still, something wasn’t kosher. But what? I began to do some research. And after reading a very reliable article in Vice, which is a highly reliable online news source, I arrived at a theory that seemed to make sense. Next time out, I told my Brah, “He’s not a spy working for Mossad, or the KGB, or the CIA, or the FBI, or the Secret Service … but that doesn’t mean he’s not a spy.”
My Brah was now staring down at his phone on the bar, looking a little worried, as if he were being infected by my conspiratorial germs.
“My hunch,” I continued, “is that Beanie Bro is the new type of spy—the recreational spy.”
Brah looked intrigued.
“He’s the spy who can’t help it.”
“How do you know this?” asked my Brah. Maybe he was enjoying the threat of being roofied. Perhaps the violation of our shared and fundamental human right to privacy was of no real concern to him.
“I’ve done a deep dive on the internet and discovered this stuff called spyware,” I explained. I picked up my device, went into my settings, and demonstrated exactly how I was switching onto something called airplane mode (supposedly deactivating its link to cyberspace). Now feeling confident that our iPhones weren’t being used as portable bugging devices, I went back into my old-time lecture mode. “Your new Back Door Bro has hacked our phones!”
“He’s done what?”
“Seriously! I think he can read all our texts and emails, view our pictures, listen in on our phone calls, and can even see through our cameras and observe us right here, literally right now.”
“That’s insane. You’re saying he’s back home in his Bat Cave right now spying on us?” Brah was now looking at me as if I’d completely lost my marbles. This is when I began to tell (nay, teach) him about the perverted Orwellian totalitarian age of auto-surveillance that we are now living in. I had read the article in Vice. I had also listened to a random but smart-sounding podcast about people with this exact type of voyeuristic kink. Moreover, I had read an article in Forbes (of all places) about global tech companies having these giant yearly conventions showcasing products that aggressively capitalize on the common guy’s indefatigable urge to spy—to watch and listen to others, sans consent. “The hackers who purchase this spyware are now rampant!” I said. “They’re addicts!”
“And what do they want?” asked my Brah. “To steal our identities and empty out our bank accounts?”
“No, they want to enjoy whatever degrading things we have to say about them from a safe distance—it’s a form of debasement-entertainment.”
My Brah was cringing now, as I continued. “It’s old news. The article in Forbes was from way back in 2017, and it explains exactly how this technology came to be so popular, and it names the companies who sold (and probably still sell) this spyware.”
“To whom, a bunch of harmless computer geeks?”
“No. The demographic is men—men with enough in their possession to fear how much they have to lose. They are suspicious of everything and everyone. And so they’re becoming increasingly reliant on malware or spyware in order to stay one step ahead. Apparently, they were initially suspicious of their babysitters. You remember there was this creepy product called a Nanny-cam?”
“Of course,” said my Brah. “I had one of those.”
I continued. “Then the industry grew, as the consumer’s suspicion grew, as the consumer’s children grew and became more independent—”
“—Very conscientious parents, like myself, wanted to track their kids on their personal mobile devices. Of course.” Brah was being defensive. “I have that app on my phone right now. It keeps my kids out of the hands of pedophiles.” My Brah began scrolling his phone, until I reminded him it was still in airplane mode.
“Then these suspicious dudes all directed their suspicions toward their wives, believing that they were all cheating on them. Spyware became rebranded as something called spouseware.”
“This is legal?”
“Spouseware is 100% legal. And shockingly affordable—it only costs like 50 bucks a month.”
“So you don’t have to be in Mossad.”
“No. All you have to be is the average insecure Bro on your laptop. These Bros snoop all night long. To them it’s like porn. It’s becoming so all-consuming that it’s slowly replacing professional sports.”
Brah just nodded in disbelief bordering on contempt … for me (I guess) and my overactive imagination.
“It all began after 9/11,” I explained. “After W signed in the Patriot Act giving major intelligence agencies carte blanche to fish for jihadi terrorists presumably plotting to fly airplanes into our skyscrapers. By 2017, it had become a $5 billion industry being marketed for home use.”
“You’re saying this spyware stuff that was designed to spy on terrorists is actually marketed to husbands obsessed that their wives are cheating?”
“Exactly. They wanna see if she’s staying late at the office to catch up on a backlog of busywork, or if she’s gone off to some swanky hotel in Midtown for a quickie with her favorite fuck buddy. Maybe some of them get off on watching.”
“That’s dark, man. You’re postulating that when our new friend is on break from spying on his nanny and his wife, he uses this spyware to see where we are drinking, jets over just to stir the pot, and then retreats to the privacy of his own home to listen in on our juicy conversations and to hear what we are saying about him.” My Brah paused to think. “You sound like Maxwell Smart on acid. Your hypothesis is totally outrageous.”
We then both just sat stirring our fresh cocktails listening to that really smooth Bill Withers song “Lovely Day”:
A lovely dayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy…
A few nights later, my Brah and I were closing one of the dive bars in the Little Dipper. It had been a long night. Brah informed me that he had texted a few times with his Bro, who had expressed interest in joining up. “He asked for you man. I think he’s the spy who loves you.”
“Me? I think he’s the spy who loves you, Brah!”
The bartender came over and set us up with another round, and my Brah and I fell into the kind of talk that makes a Bromance worth having. “Remember that film? It was undeniably the best Bond film.”
“Of course I do,” I said. “The Spy Who Loved Me.”
“Remember when Bond drives that Lotus off the dock into the water, and as it sinks it transforms into a mini-submarine?”
“Yeah. And there’s that really terrifying giant henchman with these artificial steel teeth nicknamed Jaws. Remember him?”
“Do I ever!”
“I was maybe 10 when it came out in 1977,” I said. “I vividly remember sitting in the theater with my dad, eating buttery popcorn, trying to see over the head of whoever was seated in the row in front of us. There was this unforgettable ski chase scene. The film opens with Bond—
“Played by Roger Moore,” added my Brah, who was surprisingly clear for a guy who had put down 10 or more vodkas.
“—and he’s, like, just finished having sex in this remote mountain cabin with this gorgeous woman.”
“—and he zips himself into this unforgettable canary yellow one-piece ski suit, straps on a red backpack, bids his ski bunny farewell, and hits the powder. But the minute he exits, the ski bunny (who is also a spy—a Russian spy) signals to this team of ninja ski assassins that it is a perfect moment to ambush Bond. And Bond skis off to this perfect Bee Gees disco beat (baw, baw, baw, baw, baw). And then it sort of morphs into the famous 007 theme with the surfer guitar riff:
My Brah then went into detail about the most visually compelling stunt ever filmed in a motion picture. I paused as he googled it and dropped down his magnifier reading glasses from his forehead: “According to Wikipedia, it was, like, a $500,000 shot,” he said. “The idea came from an ad in Playboy for Canadian Club whiskey. And the filmmakers tracked down this ski-bum stuntman who brought them to the ledge of Mount Asgard in Canada (elevation 6,611 feet). And after waiting out treacherous conditions for a week, the skies cleared for like an hour, and he made the impossible leap into the void. Says here that the film crew, by some miracle, managed to catch it all in one perfect shot.”
“I remember,” I said cutting in. “Bond skis right off the cliff! And descends in free fall for like eight or nine seconds of silence, which is eternity in a motion picture. And then his skis detach, and out pops a giant British Union Jack parachute.” I continued, “And then Bond lands gently in these giant superimposed female hands, and it’s the beginning of the famous-montaged Bond title sequence.”
Brah was riveted to his phone: “That montage is a work of art. It was made by the regular Bond title designer, this guy Maurice Binder.” Brah then reminded me that it was no longer the Sean Connery era and that the score had not been composed, as it normally would have been, by the legendary John Barry, with the voice of a lounge singer like Shirley Bassey and the dangerous punchy horn-filled orchestration. He then sang, “Goldfinger. The man with a Midas touch.”
“Yeah, this title sequence has a really different vibe.”
Brah described how Bond comes into the screen as a silhouette, but you can still tell he’s in formal attire. And he bends his knee, rotates his hips, points his gun right at the camera, and “Bang!” he shoots off a round. But Binder has placed him in a world of monochromatic colors, switching from red to blue to green. And we see another silhouetted Bond launched onto the screen, as if he’s bounced off a trampoline into slow motion. And he’s greeted in midair by a silhouette of a naked Bond girl who also has a cocked sexy little pistol. And they both gently float across the screen in this mesmerizing hypnotic sequence.
“It’s a burlesque,” I said. “It was the first perfect perky bouncy boob I’d ever seen. I can even remember the erect nipple.”
“I bet you can, you sick-o,” said Brah in his usual condescending, older-brother tone.
“Then another naked Bond girl appears in silhouette, stepping out onto the barrel of Bond’s Luger, as if it’s a balance beam in gymnastics. And she does this surprisingly elegant cartwheel. And we feast our eyes on her curves.”
“Yeah, and for one quick second you can even see the outer edge of her ’70s bush.”
“Look who’s the sick-o!” I yelled before pausing to reflect about whether Brah’s memory was accurate or not.
Brah then surprised me: “Someone once said that all you need for a movie is a gun and a girl?”
“That was the French director Jean-Luc Godard. But this opening credit has a secret weapon that is even more deadly than the gun and the girl.”
“It’s the most epic ballad of all time. It starts with this simple piano riff: “Glang. Glang-a-lang-a-lang-a-lang-a-lang-a-lang … glang-a-lang, da de da da da …”
“Of course. I love that song!” said Brah, and he joyously belted out “Nobody Does It Better.”
And I joined him, a bit drunkenly, “Makes me feel sad for the rest!” And then, in unison, we continued kind of conducting each other with invisible batons: “Nobody does it, half as good as you. Baby you’re the best.”
“God that song is epic!” Brah yelled.
“It gushes!” I said. “I know that Carly Simon sings it. But I don’t think she wrote it.”
Brah was already back on Google, glasses down, just like Bond’s ski goggles. “This could be a Tablet piece for you, man,” said Brah in total earnest. “Says here the filmmakers brought in this A-list dream team—a bona fide Jew Crew.” Brah looked right at me. “You better get crackin’.”
I looked it up on my own phone and pulled my Brah’s reading glasses off his face and stuck them on my own. “The composer, Marvin Hamlisch, was as Jewish as they come. He was a child prodigy, son of Viennese Jews, born in Manhattan, attended Juilliard. And he teamed up with another full-on Jew—the lyricist Carole Bayer Sager, who later married Burt Bacharach. And there was also a third genius (with a J) involved—the producer Richard Perry. Hamlisch had just won all these Academy Awards and Grammys for composing the theme song for a Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford movie called The Way We Were.
Brah kind of hummed the tune: “Memories. Light the corners of my mind.”
“—But Carole Bayer Sager was this unstoppable hit machine. She co-wrote (with Peter Allen) that mega ballad ‘Don’t Cry Out Loud.’ And she wrote the lyrics for that Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli flick, Arthur. She co-wrote that one for Christopher Cross.”
“Ahhh. The soft rock ’70s. Doesn’t get any softer,” said Brah, as he sang, “When you get caught between the moon and New York City.”
By now the bar was empty except for the bartender, who was cleaning up. It was past last call. I got up to go to the bathroom, with the Spy Who Loved Me theme song stuck in my head.
As I stood at the urinal, I thought how the song was living in me. And in my Brah. It had defined us. It was part of our cultural foundation. But what was it really about? I could hear Carly Simon’s voice:
Nobody does it better
Makes me feel sad for the rest
Nobody does it half as good as you
Baby, you’re the best
I was now standing at the sink looking into the mirror and running my hands under the hot water: The song is about the glory of succeeding for once at sex.
I pushed my way out the squeaky bathroom door and swerved back to my barstool, anxious to tell Brah about my realization. “You know how, after sex, you wonder if you satisfied her? Like after all that moaning and groaning, you wonder will it instantly be forgotten. Or did I make a lasting impression? This is what all men want to know. Was my performance epic, or forgettable?”
“But then this reassuring voice comes soaring in saying, ‘Baby you’re the best.’ And you believe her! And when she says ‘Nobody does it better,’ you believe her again.” Brah was on a roll.
I kept going. “Then she sings, ‘Makes me feel sad for the rest’ when she remembers all the others who have tried so hard but haven’t quite found the right spot.”
And guess who came through the door at that very moment. Before I had time to express my shock, Brah said, “I texted him earlier and invited him to join us. You’re cool with that, right?”
Jeremy Sigler’s latest book of poetry, Goodbye Letter, was published by Hunters Point Press.