Eventually, I'll get to the story about the time I cockblocked my friend Hack with a head of cauliflower but you'll have to suffer through Sunday before I start into that.
It's Saturday night and I'm in Virginia because Hack's girlfriend said yes to the diamond ring and promise of pregnancy and it feels like I haven't seen him or Don since Don got married some five years ago. We're in a strip mall dive bar where the air is hot, thick, and stagnant; smokier than I remember those places being since Maryland prohibited tobacco everywhere people tend to gather. Bars, restaurants, sports arenas. Any place anybody might be remotely inconvenienced by someone else's exhalations.
"I found your web thing," Don tells me over beers poured into tall thick glasses longer and wider than my forearm and, at first, I'm not certain whether to panic or care less. The room is hot and I'm flushed since I feel the heat in my cheeks and forehead from either booze or embarrassment. Don found it, someone found it, it was inevitable
. I tell this to myself until the room cools, the blood just beneath the surface of my skin boils a little less and I choose to not to not give a fuck since I never wrote a bad word about my friends and I'm done with panic after Jeremy drunkenly admitted that Don's sister found my posts through his MySpace page.
Nothing is ever private on the internet.
"I like the thing you wrote about Burlington
," Don drawls a bit now. The side effect of living further south of the Mason Dixon Line than I'm comfortable visiting. "You should write more about that kind of stuff. Y'know... the things we've done."
Hack nods agreement and I know where they want this conversation to go. The book idea, excuse me, The Book Idea
that Don and Hack ambushed with me a year ago about journalizing our coast to coast adventures in the run down cars we drove into the ground and, later, the rental cars we prematurely aged at weekly rates. The kind of book that only sells if the protagonists are glamorous or depraved or lie to paint themselves as glamorous or depraved. The kind of book that might get me on Oprah's show once, then twice, and then nothing ever again.
"I don't think I want to do that," I tell them as I watch a girl at the table next to ours rub a cold pint glass over the stiff right nipple poking through her tank top. "I don't like writing stuff about people I know because you never know if they'll read it."
"But you write about us all the time," Hack watches me watch the girls host an abbreviated wet t-shirt contest for a group of attentive dudes that look glossy and two dimensional like the clean cut boy-men from American Eagle Outfitter's magazine ads. They jostle for position -arms over elbows over arms- around the small table as one girl pours foam from her tallboy across the front of her sheer camisole top. "You did write that thing about Kiera."
"That was a mistake." I watch one of the Abercrombie tank top girls drape herself across one of the American Eagle guys. Why doesn't that happen to me? Why don't random bar skanks put on public displays of lesbian affection for my benefit? Do I not look Gap enough?
"It didn't bother her." Don talks to me but watches Radhames Liz stare down a batter on the big screen television. "You wrote something about something she told you in confidence but she never told me it bothered her."
"Yeah it did." Hack says it like he doesn't want to be heard even though I know he does. The girls at the table next to ours know we're watching them but that doesn't stop them from sloshing beer all over their tits. The blond one on the far edge of the table makes eye contact with me as she extends her empty glass towards one of the admirers. Beer doesn't buy itself
"Whatever, Hack, it's a start." The Orioles broadcast switches to a commercial break and Don turns to us. "What are you guys watching?"
"Nothing." We say in unison.
I'm not so secretly ecstatic that Hack is finally getting hitched since it means my chance of bagging chicks in his presence will increase exponentially. Some time ago, it was unofficially understood that, given a room with one hundred single women, Hack and I invariably found the same one attractive. It didn't matter if she had an identical twin with an identical personality and identical mannerisms because we both went after the same one. To this day I'm not sure if this was unintentional or planned, if we chose the same girl because we share identical tastes, or if it was done with malicious intent but I do know one thing: One way or another, Hack always took her home.
A few years back, Don, Hack, and John (not pictured in this installment) invited me to a party in the private room of a Capital Hill dive bar called Politiki's. I'm not sure if that place is around or if the untapped market demand for Polynesian-themed taprooms blocks away from the Legislative Branch ever came to full fruition but I went there that night with my best friends to bid goodbye to a girl who never liked me. Her name was Lydia or Linda or Leslie -something la
-sounding- and it was her next to final night in the District. She, like all the girls we knew back then, served on the Hill as a staffer to some congressman or women in some limited and temporal capacity. They worked until their representative lost an election and sometimes sooner than that. Maybe she decided to leave on an odd-numbered year or maybe it was her year to leave. I don't remember anymore...
I do remember meeting Lydia/Linda/Leslie's friend Mary; a coworker she reluctantly introduced to Hack and me. She had a familiar look to her -a look I like- with her dark hair and dark eyes, thin limbs, athletic frame. She looked like a girl who got up early on Sundays to swim or ride her bike around empty District side streets despite the number of beers she drank the night before. She looked like my type.
And Hack's type too considering the way we both watched her look back and smile as she turned to wade into the crowd gathered around the bar. I like her
, I confided to Hack as I watched her walk away from us, I'm going to go talk to her some more
. "You can't," He said as he handed me his empty pint. "It's your turn to buy the round."
He was right.It was my turn to buy so I retreated to the back bar and the bartender we already overtipped once that evening where, despite my best effort to defeat myself, I somehow wound up standing next to Mary and I stood there leaning with my back against the mahogany counter, elbows propped on the bar top, as I talked to her over my right shoulder. My good side. The profile I can use to smile so my grin looks a little less crooked.
That's the part I always fluster. The approach, the icebreaker, the opening line in conversation that doesn't come off rehearsed or refurbished like I practiced stealing it from someone else. That's the part of the pick up I fumble as my tongue runs circles around sentences my brain can't quite decipher and I somehow forget the anatomy of the joke and the way the punchline comes after the setup. But not this time. She laughed when I laughed and smiled when I smiled and listened to the roundabout way I tell a story and looked me in the eye until I wanted to turn away but didn't. Everything seemed scripted; ad libbed but rehearsed.
It was going great until Hack punched me in the crotch.
I don't know how he did it, how he stole through the crowd unnoticed and walked near enough to us to stay anonymous but drew close enough to backhand me below the belt. I call it a punch but it wasn't quite that. More like a determined slap. A smack with enough force and pressure to ascend my testicles into my pelvic cavity and, in two seconds, revert me fifteen years into puberty. I doubled over in pain and nausea and barely made it the fifteen feet to the bathroom before puking in a floor-length urinal.
I rinsed my mouth in the sink before going back to the party. Hack was already in my spot, chatting up Mary, reclining against the bar in the same back against the railing elbows on the counter lean I was using moments before he doubled me over with a clandestine shot to the nuts. I walked to the other side of the bar, ordered a shot of something strong and medicinal, something to wash the taste of bile out of my mouth, and watched Hack entertain Mary. I watched them laugh, watched her smile at the same jokes, the same conversation I watched him have with dozens of other girls I've liked at other bars we've frequented. I tossed the shot back. It tasted like licorice or oak barrels. Cinnamon or burning. It sat in my empty stomach and churned. Gravel in my gullet. Acid in my belly. I paced between the back bar and the buffet watching Hack put his right arm behind Mary's back. I moved left to right, between the bartender and the vegetable platter, ordering whiskey, throwing back shots, watching Hack whisper lines, stories, fables in Mary's ear, I like to run the trails at Rock Creek Park
, when I know he only runs when chased. I ordered another drink. "What do you want?" Anything
. Anything you pour, bartender, I'll drink. Anything to work the nerve to take back my chance, my moment, my opportunity. I stood next to the finger food. The vegetable platter. The plastic tray of carrots and broccoli and cherry tomatoes. Ranch dressing. Celery.
Cauliflower. I picked the first piece I saw. A white clump two thirds the size of my fist. I felt the weight. Solid. Half a pound? Unlikely. One half the weight of a baseball. Something else I wasn't good at. Baseball. Talking to women in bars and baseball. I thought of the little league teams where I rode the bench. Called in to hit but never field. I thought of four years of high school tryouts. Four years passed over for the class before me. The stalk felt right in my hand. More than any baseball. Molded. I tossed it up and caught it. Tossed it up and caught it again. I watched Hack lean into Mary, nuzzle against her neck, whisper something that made her laugh. I tossed the head one more time, caught it overhanded, and flung it, sidearm, across the room. It sailed across the room -seconds that passed like hours- spinning clockwise towards me. Stalk over head, stalk over head, spinning right round in a slight straight arc before striking Hack in that perfect spot directly between his cheek bone and his nose.
I've never made the cutoff throw to home plate. I've never fielded a ball to make the quick cut to first base. I've never made the arm to glove connection in any baseball variant from little league to high school to intramural softball but I made that shot. That one perfect shot from fifty paces that earned me an ass-whopping hours later. The perfect shot with perfect impact as cauliflower exploded against Hack's face and showered Mary in little bits of white curd that stuck to her hair, face, and neck. She didn't speak to either of us again that evening.
"Shit," Don puts his empty mug bottom end up on the table. "I forgot all about that."
"That's because it's ancient fucking history," Hack slumps back in his chair like a kid sinking into his father's chair. "Why you wanna bring that up?"
I want to say it's because it's one of the few times I got one over on him but instead I tell him it's one of my favorite stories. It's true either way.
"That's what it's like, Bro." Don says as he flags the waitress to bring another round of beers and shots. "We might not get together for months but it always feels like last week when we do."
I wake up early on Sunday feeling dried out and dessicated like a plush toy left in the sun too long and let myself out while everyone else slept. The early morning traffic past the Mixing Bowl from Virginia to Maryland flows uncharacteristically light and before I realize it I've turned on the automotive autopilot of long familiar roads. The soft plink of rain on metal. The soft hum of tires slowly unraveling over asphalt. The prismatic glitter of headlights in the mist kicked up by cars that pass me in the fast lane. What should take ninety minutes passed in what seemed like nine when I turned the world off thirty miles south of the District and woke up fifteen short of Charm City.
My brother's home, sprawled out on the couch in fatigues at his usual spot on the chaise lounge in the living room, and I'm more than a little annoyed since the weekends he spends at the unit are the weekends I use to catch up on the big screen television I bought but never watch. What the hell are you doing here? Don't you have reserve drill this weekend?
"Staff Sargent sent us home early." He talks to the television. "We're supposed to get affairs in order."
For those of you still in the dark, this is how good weekends go bad. A rainy Sunday morning. A single sentence in a dimly lit room. They're sending me back to the desert in November.
The random chatter of early cable programming. We won't talk about this again until he's gone.
Tags: shit better left unsaid
Current Earworm: Death in Vegas / Rocco (Sing for a Drink Mix)