We were sittin' at Dizzy's, half a pizza before us, a couple of empty pitchers. A really great song was on and I took that as a sign. Suddenly I just got up and made my way through the smoke and crowd. I stopped in front of a table in the hazy distance, stood there for a second, then bent down next to a girl and said, "I was sitting over there," I pointed behind me, "noticing you, through the smoke and darkness, and I was wondering if I could get your phone number? ... I don't wanna bother you, I just ... Sitting over there, ... I just had to say hi. I'd really like to talk to you sometime, I don't know, you just really interest me." I half wanted to say something like: "And I'd really like to see you naked. Just very very naked." But I didn't.
She leaned in close to me, as I crouched at her side, and she slowly whispered, "Drop dead and blow away with the wind, you creep."
I sat there in that mighty crouch of mine, considered this for a moment, got a far away look, looked down at the floor, smiled, nodded slightly, slowly stood, waved goodbye to everyone at the table, turned back to my friends and started back across the room through the smoke and crowd as distant lights flashed colorful halos in the smoke that swirled at the ceiling. As I turned away and took that first step, I could feel that girl turn back to her friends. I could hear her groan, "Pphhfff, ya see... I never meet anyone nice."
After returning through the smoke and crowd, I found my friends had left. They were just gone and some other people were sitting in our booth by the window, talking and laughing like hyenas. One of them turned to me and reached out and handed me our bill. "They said you'd take care of this," a guy in a backwards baseball cap said as he dropped the bill in the air and turned back to his laughing friends. I had to crouch and flap both my arms in order to catch the bill as it spun before me.
I paid and left. It was dark out now. It was still warm though, and the air felt fresh and clean. Activity hummed in the near distance. I stood and listened for a moment to the buzzing static of night. It had been a long week. I had to work late again that night. On the bus ride home the bus stopped at the light in front of Dizzy's. I was so tired I could barely raise my eyelids and turn my head. But then I saw them through the large storefront window. It was either continue on the stuffy bus ride with the rattling windows and go home and sleep the week off, or join them. So I got out and joined them.
I had passed them a hundred times on nights like this and never got out to sit with them - always too busy, too tired, too many other places to be. But I wanted to make some changes in my life, get out more, and thought this could be a good start.
I stood on the sidewalk. It was either wait for another bus home or try to find the guys at a bar. I thought for a moment, then I turned and started walking down the walk. Someone whipped a beer bottle at me from a passing car. Some rednecks. I heard one of them yell "Faggot," although I don't know why anyone would yell that at me. The bottle whizzed past the back of my head, arcing in an unusual trajectory and passing right through a garden level apartment window with a soft crash. Someone opened the window next to it and began screaming at me in a language I had never heard before. It was like a jumbled combination of Hungarian and drunk talk. But it wasn't that sweet sweet slurring drunk talk, it was the meanie kind of nasty, accusing drunk talk.
The guy was shouting and pointing like I had thrown the bottle. For some reason, ill-advised curiosity I guess, I turned and watched him for a moment as he yelled and gestured at me. Slowly I turned and resumed my slouching bounce down the street toward the bar we had talked about.
About two blocks later someone else threw another beer bottle at me, this one sailed down from a brick apartment building. I'd say it came from a loud party about three stories up. It whizzed down and landed in the bushes next to me, about three feet away. It made a metallic thunk sound as it disappeared into the bushes.
I looked up. There was a crowd in the window. I lot of people up there having fun, meeting girls. Suddenly someone called down to me: "Hey moron..." I couldn't hear what else was being said due to the roaring crowd and distorted music. For some reason I waved, gave a gleeful "Thanks!" and turned and continued on. I heard a 'ffppphh ffppphh ffppphh' sound behind me, and knew they were throwing food down to me, or at me.
I know I should've just ignored them all, let them sink into that everyday background static, that blinking white noise, but I must admit they made me feel a little empty, a little lonely, as I walked alone, as I sunk into the darkness.
I thought I could catch up to them. I didn't want to get on another bus and go home. I was tired and all, but I don't know, I was almost too tired to sleep. Home seemed depressing about now, nothing there but a t.v. with old shows, old and depressing--a big, fat empty. I wanted to be out and about and alive, I guess. To be meeting new people. To recharge my batteries. To be new. To be fresh. To just be moving.
I headed down to the 300. A bad move I know because I always get hassled there, and for no reason really. I bet it was the only place in the world where you could get hassled by the bouncers and other patrons for just standing there drinking your beer and nodding your head to the band along with everyone else. It was one of those things you knew was coming, but I didn't care - it had been that kind of week. I shook my head and laughed to myself. I just wanted to be out.
Maybe they were there, maybe they weren't. We had talked about hittin' that place hard, standin' 'round, drinkin' our beers, noddin' our heads to the band along with everyone else, hell yeah, that kinda shit. That kinda eggin'-on-the-bouncers shit. That kinda standin'-'round-mindin'-our-own-business kinda shit. That kinda eggin'-on-the-apocalypse kinda shit.
I needed to cut through the lots diagonally for about a mile or two. The city is unusual at these angles, unexpected. You perceive things differently from this perspective - all jagged saw tooth corners and angles instead of smooth, flat facades. As I was hiking through a parking lot behind a long brick apartment, traversing the backwards urban wilderness on my journey through the night, I happened across a small ceremonial gathering in a clearing. I stopped before them and looked around. It was the corner of a parking lot, several gray figures standing around a dumpster in silence. I stood and watched in curiosity. No one said anything for a while. At first I thought they were just helping someone throw away an old couch or something, but then, with their heavy vibe, I thought maybe it was a pet, or a body--a friend, an intruder, a back-stabber, a cut-throat. Finally one of the gray figures looked over to me and muttered, "The ceremonial throwing-out of the porn."
"Oh," I nodded, "So a girlfriend's movin' in, huh."
A guy 'bout my age lifted a worn cardboard box above his head, everyone bowed their heads as he slowly marched forward, stopped before the dumpster, and then let the box drop down into the darkness. They stood around somberly, and then slowly drifted off. I turned and wandered away, down through the tree lined alley into the twilight landscape of shadows, myths and mystery. A couple of people circled a tiny fire in a little grill in the distance. Several dark figures hunched over a barbeque. As I approached, one of their clan turned and looked over to me. "Git outta here, punk," he grumbled, his face an orange, distorted glow from the fire.
I knew I faced an indifferent world, people who don't even know me trying to judge me, change me, implementing secret agendas, but I felt free of them here in this blank nothingness of night, in the back paths of urban wilderness. The night was fresh and clean, unspoiled other than the mean drunks and us floating, random souls.
Things began looking up on the way as I caught a couple getting it on in a second story window. I stood and enjoyed them for a moment. They were silhouetted behind smoky, silky drapes--candles flickering from their floor, kissing, rubbing themselves all over each other, sharing one another. The best kind of sex is silhouetted sex. It leaves a lot to the imagination. At least they had something to share, something to rely on.
A few windows over a man was throwing a tantrum, ripping a door off his cupboard, raising it above his red-faced head, then repeatedly slamming it down onto the sink in his kitchen, or, well, somebody's kitchen, until it splintered in pieces on the faucet.
As I wandered down the sandy alley, I came upon an imposing shadow. It turned out to be a large sculpture. It was Jesus on his cross, carved out of a large log, twelve feet high, planted in the tall weeds and skunk cabbage above some beat-up garbage cans next to a leaning garage. The paint was peeling terribly on the garage. A robin nested in the wound on Jesus's side. I stopped and watched the bird. Finally the bird took notice of me and twittered. I waved and continued on.
A block later a girl flashed me from a third story window. Her window was open and she stood as a shadow in the darkness. "Thank you," I waved up to her as I walked. And I wondered: is exposing oneself a sign of freedom, of beauty, of being comfortable with who you are, a new form of greeting, or is it a sign of immaturity, stupidity, a signal of even deeper idiocy staggering on the horizon?
All around couples were walking around, holding hands, embracing, making out, meeting, arguing, fighting, throwing things, making up, sitting at tables in restaurants, driving in cars, watching t.v., laying in bed together, hoping. People and lights seemed to swirl around in the darkness. I could feel them all twinkling in the sky, buzzing so far away. A t.v. glowed in an apartment, a flickering fuzz so far away, a distant haze throbbing shadows on walls. A man sitting alone, high above everything, a couple arguing, another embracing, a lone woman dancing in a smoke filled apartment, candles flickering, ghostly sheets waving, curtains, robes, sinking into darkness. Why is there nothing stable in life? Why is merit not rewarded? Why is there nothing you can count on other than bad t.v.? Why is everything my fault? Why am I always to blame? When will I learn? When will I get better, form into something else? When will I become complete, form into a solid? When will I get smart about things? When will I know what to know?
People milled about, distant voices fluttered, lights, noises, flashes. Finally I walked up to the bar. There wasn't even a line. The bouncer was sitting on a barstool under a tree in front of the side entry. I walked up to him. "I.D." he huffed. He sat up straight, arched his back, his big arms folded on his chest.
I slid my license from my front pocket and lazily handed it to him. He just glanced down and huffed again.
"What," I smiled, holding out a thin slice of proof that I was here.
"That's old," he signed heavily, his bald head glistening under the streetlight. He wore a stained muscle shirt. There were odd chunks of food in his long beard. Or at least chunks of what looked like food. Corn. Maybe peas.
"I been here a million times," I pleaded. "The new one's in the mail."
"That's a clipped I.D." he glared.
"Yeah, my new one's in the mail... My happy new one."
He continued to glare a dull stare, his eyes half open.
"This one's my old one. My spare. But it's still good... I mean it's not a faker."
He still stared.
"You want my business or not? Dude, I ain't gonna cause no trouble..." I pleaded. "I been here a hundred times," I shrugged a dramatic shrug for added effect.
Finally the guy said: "Well then you should know this ain't no legal identification... " he sighed, "...You should have your paper with it, college boy."
"My paper? That little pink slip of tissue they gave me at the D.M.V? I left that at home so I wouldn't lose it... That little pink slip is my life. I ain't takin' that out on a Friday night. Nnnooo waaaay." I stood there under the tree, the rusty leaves rattling dryly as they rubbed against one another above. "My friends are waitin' on me," I lied. "I had ta go an' make a beer money run. It was my turn," I hopped anxiously up and down. "Besides, there's girls in there, man. Girls. Girls an' beer. I get ta drink beer," I huffed as I hopped up and down. "I get ta drink beer."
Finally the guy just rolled his eyes and nodded to the door, seeing that I wasn't about ta go away any time soon.
"Thanks," I smiled and brushed the top of his leg with my fingers as I passed, as if giving his jeans a smooth low-five.
"Don't touch me," he reached out his big, pasty, flabby arm and stopped me, grabbing my arm with his meaty fist. "Don't...touch...me," he nodded instructively, squeezing my arm tightly with each forced word.
"O.K... Iiiii wooooon't," I agreed without looking at him, and he let me go. He squeezed my arm even tighter, felt like a boa choking me off, then pushed me away. And that's what I meant by always being hassled here. It was always something. And always something really small. Small and insignificant.
I walked in and the place hit me. The loud music, the ghostly faces hovering above flickering amber light from candles on tables, the smell of the beer and smoke, the girls, the freedom, the reckless abandon, the comfort, the camaraderie, the soft darkness you could get lost in. I had no valid reason for feeling as good as I did. No reason at all. No good reason other than I was alive. I had made it out of another week.
I tried to scope out my pals as discreetly as possible, glancing around, checking out the action, the babeage. Bad ratio, but then it was always a bad ratio in here, a veritable death-hole for gals. I'd say it was ten-to-one in favor of guys.
Girls parted as I walked. And that was the funny thing. They all say: "You can't meet anyone nice if you don't get out there." But you can't get out there if you don't have anyone nice to get out there with. If you're alone, people judge you. They assume you're a loser, damaged, no good. In here it seemed like people were avoiding me, looking away, the way they do when I'm sitting alone on the bus, eating alone at a diner, walking alone down the sidewalk. Everyone else is always too busy, t.v., work, girlfriends, too bored, too apathetic.
I sat at the end of the bar as usual. No one notices me here. Some girls flickered in the distance in golden glows of candle light and I wondered what they where thinking about, if they ever thought to consider me, what they would think: axe murderer, baby seal clubber, drunken lawyer, wife-beating-used-car-salesman, baby-sitter-chasing-divorce. Yeah, that's about right. I'm sure it's all true. I wonder how they see me, what they'd say if I approached them. It was too bad, really, I mean in college you could up and say hi to anyone, now, a few years later, try an' you're some kind of monster--they just laugh at you, get all snippy about it. And if you don't talk to them they'll tell everyone what a stuck-up jerk you are. Yeah, I'm a pretty bad guy, better stay away from me. And I have no good reason for feeling as good as I do, other than the girl dancing by the stage as the opening band finishes up. That's about all I need right now, about all I have - a cold beer and ghostly figures moving in fog. How could I dare hope for anything more. Where would I muster the audacity?
Gradually I made my way over to the stage as the headlining band started up. I stood and nodded my head, sipped my beer as slow bodies turned around me. The girl who was dancing stopped and stood next to me, nodding her head and sipping her beer. Gradually we were pushed to the back as more people joined the dancing. Finally we were both leaning up against a railing that separated the stage and dance floor from the tables. In a break between songs the girl looked up to me and asked: "Why can't I find anyone nice?" she held out her hands as if pleading. "Why can't I stay with someone?" she shook her bottle in the air.
"I don't know," I replied, looking down at her in sympathy, then up at the stage where the drummer and bass player began pointing at one another accusingly. At first they were just jawing, but soon they started yelling.
"Time and time again they rip me off, yet I still stay," she continued, turning to catch the action. "I stay until they leave me. They say they don't like me anymore because I put up with them being shitty to me... Then they leave. All that work just to get my ass handed ta me."
"Least you're loyal. That's a big deal. Everyone I like always ends up moving away. Now I figure: 'why bother.' ...Sounds like you really liked them," I watched the base player walk over to the drummer, still pointing. They stood at arms length, shouting.
"And when I get on their case about it, they get on me for not being supportive or seeing their side of things."
"Maybe you're not meeting the right kinds of people for you." Soon the drummer reached over and grabbed the bass player by the collar and pulled him closer. The base player swiped at a beer bottle on top of some equipment behind him and swung it in one motion onto the drummer's shoulder. They began trading punches, the base player finally diving into the drummer, knocking them both into the center of the drum kit. So much fighting in this world. I looked down at the girl. She was really cute--her round face, the hurt in her eyes, the way the smoky, weak light drifted onto her from above.
"I mean, I don't feel like I'm asking for so much. To just be treated with respect. Is that too much to hope for?"
"Yeah, I know. I hate that too. You think you've got everything goin' good, then wham! It turns to shit. The people at work are all 'why aren't you done with the stuff I haven't givin' you yet,' and my friends could care less. Why do I even bother trying? And girls. Just brickin' on me all the time, sayin' they love me, then movin' away and all..."
"Yeah," she nodded as the other band members tried to separate their fellow musicians. A girl stepped up and stood beside the girl next to me and watched the spectacle on stage. The girl beside me and the new one started talking. It was obvious they knew each other, that they were friends and all. They were both brimming with cuteage.
Another song started, the two guitar players singing and strumming without backing from their rhythm section. The two gals next to me looked at each other and shrugged and bounded onto the dance floor. They were dancing to an up-tempo little ditty and really living it all out. They were good dancers, and all I could think was, well, I won't be talking to her again, thinking she'd drift off, but after the song they both walked back and stood right next to me again.
Then the bouncer from outside came over and started hassling me, looming before me and pokin' me in the chest. "Away from the railin,' pal," he shouted into my face.
"Huh?" I responded, puzzled.
"You heard me. Stop standin' there like that, college boy," his breath was sharp and vinegary.
"How should I stand?" I shrugged in confusion, trying to be helpful.
"You'll stand where an' how I tell ya, ya got that, ugly?"
"Yeah, sure, I'm just enjoyin' my cool refreshing beer here."
"Ya tryin' ta be a smart-ass, huh college boy? Over there. If ya gotta stand, ya stand over there, punk," he pointed to an area on the other side of the dance floor.
I looked at the girl and shrugged and we both wandered over to the other side. We stopped and turned as the band began playing again, this time with a different drummer. I turned to her and said: "I miss that, though, when a girl looks at me and everything washes away to become bright and fresh and new again. That's what I need, that's what I miss--a new world, a new feeling. To have a girl look at me like that, like I'm her whole world, the only thing that matters. When she touches me and makes everything else in the world disappear, and it's just me and her and her warm, soft touch and it's like the whole world becomes new again..."
And then the lights snapped on. Brightness slowly formed and then jolted into realization. Suddenly the mysterious, dark bar changed into something completely different--into the opposite of itself.
"Everybody out," a thick voice coughed. "Go home. Closin' time. Come back tomorrow." A bottle crashed behind me. A couple made-out in the corner. Their arms moved enthusiastically, their bodies swayed. A person lay slumped on the floor, face down. A guy was standing alone in the middle of the now empty dance floor. He held his face in his hands. He was crying. Two girls hugged and cried by the bar. Another girl was yelling at no one a few feet from them.
I turned to the girl next to me. "Hey, can ya help me with somethin'? I think one a those bouncers is gonna bust my balls on the way out. They're always buggin' me. I think they're jealous 'r something', think I get all the gals 'r somethin'," I reached and touched the bottom of her arm. "An' I'm not even like that... It don't make no sense."
"Yeah, sure," she smiled and nodded happily.
"Just follow me out... An' if he makes a move ta bother me, do me a favor and grab his ass 'r somethin'," I looked down at her and she nodded up to me. You know, the funny thing, I wasn't really thinking about her, not directly and all--I had my mind on other things I guess--work, bus rides, rattling windows, stuffy air, friends leaving, people throwing things, girl famine, robins born from Jesus' wounds, and listening to her troubles--I guess I was just content to lose myself in the moment, standing there and talkin' ta her that I hadn't really noticed her. I thought about this as we made our way to the side door. I hadn't even gotten her name. Maybe I could get her number? She was cute. I wasn't totally geeked or drunk in love over her, but my arms did begin to get all light and tingly. I didn't really know her, but she seemed perfect--loyal, sensitive, supportive, a good listener, calm, girl-next-door-type pretty, and she was new. New.
We got to the door and the weird mean bouncer was sittin' on a bar stool handin' out flyers. He thrust one out in front of me, blocking the door with his meaty arm. I slipped around his arm and he all but fell onto the floor trying to stop me. He leaned so far he slid right off the stool. I jump-stepped outside, figuring he was working so he couldn't follow me too far. I took a few steps, off the sidewalk, into the gutter, and turned to get the girl's name, maybe her number. It was fun talking to her, and she was cute. Hellacute. The more I thought about it, the more I started to like her. Or at least I liked the idea of her, the idea of liking her.
I turned and sure enough, that bouncer was stomping out to me, red-faced and hulking. She had followed me out and was standing between us. She looked up at me, and noticing I was watching someone behind her, she turned and saw the bouncer marching directly to me. She turned and lunged at him, wrapping him in a great hug. Her friend was walking out the door right at this time too, along with a lot of others, and soon I was lost, engulfed in the crowd. The girl spun the stocky bouncer around in a great embrace, then let go and began rubbing his burly stomach. You could tell they didn't know each other. The bouncer began smiling. She hugged him tightly again. One more for good measure. Then a noise rang from inside, a crashing of chairs. He turned, looked, then walked back in. He stood in the doorway and gazed back at her for a moment, smiled, then stepped in to attend to the crashing. I took a step to ask 'er for her number, and as I stepped up onto the curb she turned to her friend and...they both embraced. I stopped and thought, oh, well, no big deal, girlfriends hug all the time, especially on nights like this. It's kind of nice actually--something friendly and inspiring. But then I took another step and they kissed, and I mean a romantic, girlfriend-making-out type kiss. I stopped again, watching them kissing deeply.
I sighed and looked away. I was so tired. So tired of a lot of things--of days like this, of crushing moments that obliterate you, of looking and seeing, of all the great things other people have, of all the good things that happen to everyone else, of all the people who are smarter than me, prettier, of having things just disappear. Why even bother trying to hold on anymore?
I didn't know what to do. There was no place left to go, nothing left to do. I guess I'd just go on home, get busy doin' nothin' again, get back into the nothingness. There was nothing there--no trouble, no girls, no bouncers, just the catho-teet, the vast wasteland, just me and the t.v again. Just me and some old books. Books are more reliable than people after all.
I turned and walked away. I didn't want to be reminded of anything like kissing at that moment. I wanted it to all go away, to start over, to live in a new world. I guess I just needed some rest. I guess some days are just downers, if you look at them the wrong way. I had no simple truths to soothe myself with, only hope--hope that time has that hint of optimism about it, that seed of better things, each day stacked onto the last, each experience elevating you so that eventually you can see more, that if you worked hard, worked to make things happen, kept looking, kept moving, that hint that some mysterious magic can sweep in at any moment and rescue you from what ails you.
I stepped into the first alley that presented itself, into that back alley world, that blank void. I turned and disappeared into that beautiful, clean, fresh darkness.
Copyright 2003 by Tony Rauch. All rights reserved.