“‘Boom-boom-boom ‘shhhhhha… ‘boom-boom-boom ‘shhhhhha… It’s the time ‘shhhha… of the season. darr-darrrrr-darr – when love runs high-yee. And this time, ‘shhhhha give it to me easy. And let me try with pleasured hands!!” Tim sings.
He makes an attempt to go for the high note on the last word but his voice breaks in a really pubescent way. “To take you in the sun – to promised lands. To show you every one! It’s the time of the season for lov-ING!” He’s belting out the song by this point, slapping his hands on the steering wheel to the beat.
“Man Tim, will you shut the hell up? You’re ruining the song.”
He shrugs and goes back to eating his pizza burger. He’s also chewing on a long strand of his hair that blew into his mouth while he was singing but I think I’ll let him figure that out for himself.
The Zombies “Time of the Season” blares out over horn shaped-speakers onto the parking of Chuckaburger, the last 1950′s style drive-in restaurant left in St. Louis. It’s an amazing little place – kind of like driving right back into the 1950′s or 60′s or onto the set of Happy Days. The illusion is nearly complete. Cars line the curb with trays of burgers and chili-fries attached to their driver’s side windows and waitresses fly around wearing poodle-skirts, saddle shoes and pink oxfords.
I guess the illusion would be a little more complete if the mini-van parked in the space next to us hadn’t just started the engine and assaulted us with the sound of screaming kids and the soundtrack to “Pocahontas” blaring out of the windows. Finally they pull out of the space and take a right. Thank god.
I take a swig of my Cherry-Coke and grab another bite of my Chuckaburger.
“So what’s Laura up to tonight?”
He shrugs again, pausing to finish chewing. “She was going to a baby shower or some shit. We got in a big fight about it.”
“Over a baby shower?”
“I was supposed to go but man, after sitting in that meeting all day today, by the time the day was over I was kind of dead-set against wasting anymore of my time. You know what I mean? For once I wanted to do something that I wanted to do.”
“Well I can sort of understand why that would cause a fight if you told her you were going and then backed out at the last minute. Is that why you went out and bought the shirts tonight?”
“No, that had nothing to do with it.” He dabs up some chili with a fry and sticks in his mouth. “I had a lot of time for daydreaming and thinking in that meeting today…”
“You mean when you weren’t staring at Tarah’s tits or elbowing me under the table to point out how the air-conditioning vent was making her nipples hard?”
He ignores my comment. “I realized today that it’s been like a year since Laura did something I wanted to do. You know, she doesn’t come out drinking with us anymore. She doesn’t go to my family gatherings, and when she does she complains the whole time and wants to leave every hour or so. But if there’s a baby shower… Oh! Well holy shit! God forbid old Tim shouldn’t go. It’s a really a one-sided relationship. I guess it always has been.”
“You want the honest truth Tim and I’m not just trying to be a dick here or anything. But she was really kind of a drag even when she did go out with us. It always seemed like she didn’t relate to any of our friends, like she always wanted to be somewhere else.” I say, wiping up a small spot of ketchup that dropped onto his floor mat.
“Yeah, she wanted to be at home having sex. It’s one of the few things we really agreed about back then. But anyway, I told her I wasn’t going tonight and it caused an instant fight. If it had been the other way around and she’d backed out on my plans – well never mind that. It’s perfectly acceptable for her. And never mind that it was a fucking baby shower and I would’ve been the only guy there.”
“That wouldn’t have been so bad,” I point out, trying to look at it from a positive angle.
“You ever been to one?”
I chuckle. “No.”
“A bunch of women sit around cooing and making giggly noises about the cute little gifts and children’s clothing. They bring in a truckload of cookies, fudge and chocolate cake batter and when they’ve exhausted the supply they resort to playing sappy baby-themed games. Then by the end of the evening they all sit around and drink foo-foo drinks and talk about their anatomy and their experiences with childbirth. And I gotta say Craig, it’s a complete blast. It really is.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad.”
“You wanna go fucker?!” He ditches the remains of his burger onto the window tray and reaches for his back pocket. “I have the invitation right here. You wanna go? C’mon, we’ll go. Both of us will!” He makes a mock turn of his keys in the ignition. “I hope you’re ready for hours of fascinating conversation about cervixes…”
“Alright, alright! I agree with you!” I motion him away from his keys. “It does sound pretty shitty. Now just calm down and eat your burger.”
He grabs his burger off the tray and takes another monster-sized bite. “I gavvve upp my band forrrr her maan. I gave up a wotttt of things…” He chews some more. “She doesn’t give an inch, non na ‘innncheech”
“Your band sucked Tim.”
“Whhah? Why did my band suck?” he asks indignantly.
“Two words, ‘singing drummer.’ It just doesn’t work.”
“What about Ringo…”
“Ringo didn’t sing every song and if he had then I think history might have played out a bit differently.”
I watch the fry cooks inside the restaurant constructing double cheeseburgers and waitresses dash between tables in the dining room lugging trays of chocolate malts and vanilla sodas. I imagine this place must of looked pretty similar long before I was born, long before the Beatles played their last sad concert on the roof of Abbey Road studios in London and even before the astronauts landed on the moon.
This isn’t some crappy novelty restaurant approximation of the fabulous 50′s, it’s the real thing. Chuckaburger was slinging burgers long before my parents even met.
The wind picks up and blows a few stray napkins across the parking lot.
Tim grabs a hold of our tray and the window as our condiments and napkins start to take flight. The light in the Chuckaburger sign near the street starts to flicker and blink as the wind sways it.
“I can’t believe Sarah hasn’t called yet. It’s dark and we haven’t made plans with her. That’s a crisis situation for her,” I say. Sarah is really big about plans. Everything has to be set in stone no matter how casual the event. “Lemme borrow your cell phone there, Tex. I’ll call home and check my messages.”
He goes horizontal in the seat to reach into the front pocket of his jeans.
“Oh, thanks,” I say, taking the phone from him. “You warmed it up for me. How kind of you.” There’s nothing like trying to make a call on a phone that’s been riding next to some guy’s crotch all day. We’ve seen technology enjoy some astounding advances in the past couple of years. So why can’t they come up with a crotch-proof cell phone or something?
I call my machine and listen to my voice on the message. ‘Hi this is Craig, I’m not around to take your call at the moment. And if you’re the bastard who keeps calling and not leaving messages – I’m after you man, I’m gonna get ‘cha! Leave one now.’ BEEP. I key in my security code and after a pause…
“You have THREE new messages,” my answering machine responds in its annoying pseudo-robotic voice.
BEEP. I can hear someone breathing on the phone but they hang up after a few seconds. I hit the ’1′ key and replay it but there aren’t any clues. I wonder whether that was Elizabeth or Dawn.
BEEP. I can hear car noise and techno music throbbing in the background before she says anything.
“Hi Craig, this is Elizabeth. You’ve probably been trying to call me for days now. I haven’t gotten any messages from you but I’m sure you’ve been trying to reach me,” she says in a slightly sarcastic tone. “I was just cruising around tonight trying to scare up some trouble and I guess you seemed like a likely candidate.”
I can hear that Porsche rocket whining and humming along in the background. Then she accelerates and for a few seconds I can’t even make out what she’s saying there’s so much engine noise. I wonder how fast she’s going. “…a call later on when you get the message. Zzzzt…we could have….. zzzZzzzSsccchzzzzrrrrrrttttt!!… number is 555-3473. Call me and… Zzztt.” Click.
[Zzzzztttt. Houston, we've lost communication with the Porsche rocket. We'll try to re-establish communication in point five seconds… Zzshhhrrt.]
“You have no more new messages,” my machine says. I hit ‘end’ on the phone and set it on the dash.
“…she call?” Tim asks, finishing off his burger and licking his fingers.
“Yeah, remember? That’s why you were checking your messages genius.”
“Oh. No. She didn’t.”
Tim laughs and wipes his face crosswise with a napkin. “Well then who did?”
“Huh?” I say innocently.
“Don’t try to pull one over on me. You’re sitting there with that ‘Class-A dumbass Craig sort of look’ on your face. Which one of them called?”
I wonder what a ‘Class-A dumbass Craig sort of look’ looks like. It must be one of those “thinking” expressions. You know, when you’re thinking really hard about something, you’re deep in thought and without warning your facial expression goes all goofy and decides to start practicing for a part on an upcoming episode of “You’re on Comatose Camera”?
“C’mon dumbass, snap out of it!” He claps me on the shoulder.
“Dawn called. I mean Elizabeth.”
“I guess I don’t really need to tell you that’s not the sort of mistake you want to make when you’re out with one of them. What’d she say?”
“She was looking for something to do tonight and said to give her a call.”
“Well call her. Invite her ‘upstairs,’” he says, naming our favorite Friday night bar. “Here.” He grabs the phone off of the dash and shoves it in my face. “You gotta call her, I have to meet this little sizzler.”
I try to remember the number. 555-347… The phone beeps back at me as I dial ’3.’
It rings a few times and then…
“Zzzt! …hold on for a second,” I hear Elizabeth say. “Gotta swing past this guy!” I can hear the Porsche in high gear in the background. “Ok, Craig?” she says finally.
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“Where are you?” she asks.
At the mall buying a book.
“Me and my friend Tim are tossing down some dinner at Chuckaburger up in North County. How ’bout you?”
“I’m heading over to my friend Jennifer’s in U City. What’re you guys up to later?”
“Well, we were thinking of heading ‘upstairs’ in a bit.”
“zzzt…upstairs?” she asks.
“Yeah, have you ever heard of ‘Upstairs at Eric’s?’ It’s over in the theater district downtown, on Cherokee.”
“Is that that place above that really sleazy bowling alley off of 5th?”
“Yeup. You wanna meet us there later?”
“Yeah… Hold on!!” I hear tires squeal loudly.
“Jesus! What happened?!”
“Nothing…. Just an off-ramp. What time are you guys going to be there?”
I look over at Tim. “When are we heading upstairs Tim?”
He shrugs. “Whenever you want.”
“We’ll be there…” I look at my watch. 10:30 PM. “Well be there about eleven or so.”
“Alright, well maybe we’ll see you later then.”
“Talk to you later sweetie,” she hangs up.
Tim raises an eyebrow and ties his long nappy hair back with a rubberband. And we start gathering the empty fast food containers onto the tray.
Sweetie. I’m not sure I like being called sweetie. It sort of implies she thinks I’m a nice guy. And when it gets right down to it, no woman is ever truly satisfied very long with a nice guy. I’m going to have to correct that perception – pronto.
We cross Cherokee Street from Tim’s parked car, heading towards the nondescript doorway next to bowling alley with the glowing ‘lounge’ sign flickering above it.
A bum shambles towards us out of a doorway to the right.
“Heyyyyy man, can you cats spare thirty-seven cents?”
Bum logic as I figure it, must draw heavily from some Eastern philosophy no one has ever heard of. Like there must be some parable that says, A wise man that only asks for thirty-seven cents is likely to get a dollar. How else can you explain the thirty-seven cents thing? Maybe he has $1.12 and a forty-ounce of Colt 45 costs $1.49 at the gas station down the street. I don’t know, your guess is as good as mine.
“I don’t smoke.” I brush him off. The bum looks puzzled.
When you’re getting hassled by beggars or bums on the street, always respond with something that’s the complete opposite of what they were asking for. In other words, if they ask for a cigarette then you respond, ‘My watch is broken, I don’t know what time it is’ or ‘I’m straight man, I only dig women.’ This tends to throw them completely off balance and by the time they recover you’re already in the door or halfway up the street.
I follow Tim through the door. The sound of an Al Green song and frenzied conversation grows louder as we climb the stairs. I turn the corner at the top of the stairs not knowing what to expect. It’s never the same. There’s no regular crowd that hangs out here. You never see any of the same faces and you can’t even count on them still having your favorite beer on tap. But there’s no other place like it.
It’s a bar but at the same time it’s sort of like going over to someone’s apartment. There’s a long bar at one end that would look completely out of place in anyone’s living room. But the couches, the TV with a couple of guys playing Sega Hockey, the guys getting stoned in the corner? The dog you see wandering around from time to time?
I think they have a liquor license, they’re in the phonebook under ‘nightclubs and bars’ and they advertise in the Gutterfrump Times. But any resemblance to a real bar ends there.
Sarah finally called. She was of course, already well on her way to the wonderful world of intoxication for the night. But luckily her roommate Cindy was driving. They threatened to stop by in a little while.
It’s really going to be interesting if both Elizabeth and Sarah show up. Sarah may drink like crazy and act like a nut a majority of the time but if you want the truth, it’s all a big snow job. Anyone who really knows her has figured out that she’s as sharp as a tack.
Elizabeth won’t even need to hang on me at all and Sarah will home in on what’s going on. Her radar will pick up on it and then the judgment will begin. I’ve had a lot of trouble with her in the past when it comes to girlfriends. I don’t know why but she gets really possessive.
Of course, she’s right a lot of the time. She hated Beth with a passion and I never could get her to admit why. Pressed to say what she didn’t like about her, she’d just insist she was a bitch. And as it turns out, she was absolutely correct, but I didn’t figure that on my own until much later.
I wonder what she’ll think of Elizabeth.
Tim grabs a table in the corner. It’s covered in beer bottles and ashtrays people have ditched off onto it from other tables, but hey, it’s open and tables are kind of hard to come across at this place on weekend nights.
I grab a couple of pints of Guinness from the bar and weave my way through the crowd. I peer around the darkness of the place trying to make out faces in the crowd. Sarah or Elizabeth could be here already for all I know.
Tim’s watching the guys playing Sega when I walk up to the table.
“Man, why didn’t you flag someone to clear all this shit off?” I say to him.
“I was watching Hockey, this guy that’s playing the Blackhawks is really good.”
I have to put my hand in the air to flag someone. Kind of embarrassing really, I haven’t developed any waitress/waiter telepathy at this joint yet. I’m working on it though. I tip them like crazy. Finally a busboy comes over and clears the giant trash dump off of our table.
“Quit watching the TV Tim.”
“We’re at a bar, quit watching the TV.” Finally he pries his eyes of the hockey video game and makes eye contact.
“Sorry about that. I just got sucked in. Get me near a TV and I can’t help but watch.”
“Funny how that happens isn’t it? I guess it’s a symptom of just how brainwashed our culture is becoming.” I say. “Put a TV anywhere near us and we drop into zombie-mode. It’s really pathetic. Why do they put them in bars anyway? What’s the point? Places like this are supposed to be about interaction and meeting people, not about staring stupidly at the tube. It’s like, have you ever gone to the zoo and watched the Prairie dogs?”
“Yeah, I guess I have. And hey, now that you mention it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen ‘em watching any TV,” he says.
“Most of them will be chowing down on the grass and rooting around for bugs and stuff, but you know, one or two of them won’t have any part of the feast. They’ll be reared up on their hind legs keeping watch for the rest of the pack. Even though they’re all nice and safe and bored in the public Zoo, there’s always at least one of them on guard watching out for the predators.”
“So? Is this gonna be another long drawn out analogy that goes nowhere like that stupid Monopoly one earlier?”
“Give me a second man, I’m getting to my point,” I down a wonderful mouthful of blackish Guinness and wipe the froth off my lip. “There’s no required guard duty where Prairie dogs are concerned. They do it completely out of instinct. It’s burned into their genetics to watch out for the rest of the group.”
“So what are you saying here? That watching TV is becoming instinctual for us?” he asks.
“Exactly. You called it just a minute ago. You said, ‘Get me near a TV and I can’t help but watch.’ And that’s exactly it. I really think that’s a big part of our quickly weakening genetic heritage. We don’t look out for ourselves much less the pack. We watch the closest TV instead. I don’t know why none of our country’s enemies have figured that one out yet.
“If they wanted to invade it would be as simple as kidnapping the cast of Seinfeld, taping a special episode, and then parachuting TVs down to every army base and street corner right before they aired it. We’d all sit around passively watching the tube as their troops invaded completely unopposed.”
“Yeah, but…” Tim eyes suddenly go to the door and he stops talking. I start to spin around to see what he’s looking at but he motions subtly for me to stay put.
“Shit. Don’t turn around. Your past just walked in the door.”
My First grade teacher? The little girl who made me touch the electrified cattle fence at that picnic when I was five? Ben Kedrick, the guy who stole my Space Invaders game in 3rd grade?
“Motherfuck-bucket!” Whoops, sorry about that. At times like these when I’m under extreme duress or pain, weird nonsensical curses have a tendency to fly out of my mouth. I should really start keeping a list because sometimes they’re kind of humorous. One time I stubbed my toe really good on the coffee table and “Pimp-fucking-whore-son-of-a-bitch-salami-sandwich!’ was the first explanative out of my mouth. I don’t have any idea what that means. But at the time it meant, ‘God dammit that hurts!’
So what does ‘Motherfuck-bucket’ mean? I think it means, ‘Ex-Girlfriends have an annoying tendency to show up at the absolute worst times.’ You’ve put them in your past. You’ve filed them under ‘Complete Psychos – Do not Revisit’ in your filing cabinet. And yet here they are standing in the doorway of one of your favorite bars where you’re meeting a date.
I don’t turn around. Instead, I start doing the math in my head.
Beth + Elizabeth + Sarah = yeup, I’m fucked.
“She’s with some guy,” Tim says.
Cool. This is a relief.
“See if they’re wearing the rings. I heard a little rumor she got married.”
“Married? Are you kidding me Craig? What kind of idiot would marry her?” he asks. “Hey, you’re right! They have the rings.” He smiles.
This solves everything. I’m saved. I spin around on my seat, give her a nonchalant wave and make a little show of my best sardonic grin. She waves back, squinting through the darkness of the bar to see who I’m with. We haven’t talked in a year or so, ever since the long, drawn-out possession exchange finally drew to a close.
The guy hasn’t figured out who I am yet. He bends down to hear what she’s saying over the music and when he comes back up he’s staring at me in an almost curious sort of way.
Yes, that’s right Mr. Beth Husband. I’m that Craig guy you’ve heard all about. I’m just another guy like you and not the complete asshole she’s probably made me out to be.
He gives me a slow nod and you know, I kind of feel sorry for him and a strange sort of kinship all at the same time. I know what she’s like. I’ve walked point through her PMS Vietnam and survived the SCUD moodswings of her Gulf War and I have the medals to prove it. Good luck to you my friend, Semper Fi or whatever…
I nod back to him and spin back around in my seat.
“Poor guy.” I smile.
Tim grins conspiratorially.
Suddenly neither one of us knows what to talk about. Ex-Girlfriends have an interesting way of stopping conversation in its tracks.
“What were we talking about?” I ask.
“Prairie dogs I think.”
“Oh fuck the Prairie dogs. Prairie dogs suck. I don’t want to talk about them anymore. Let’s talk about…”
“How about the World Cup? That’s coming up this summer.” He smirks. He knows I’m not into sports.
“Fuck the World Cup.”
“How ’bout the Clinton scandal?” he asks grinning. He’s intentionally bringing up topics he knows are going to piss me off. It’s working. You know, if I fell off my bar chair and broke a leg I’d get plenty of sympathy from him. But where women are concerned I get none.
“Let’s talk about that really awkward write-up Russell did for Fox video. Did you read it?” I ask.
“That’s against the rules, man. We can’t talk about work when we’re at the bar.”
“Ok, then let’s not talk about Russell specifically. Let’s talk about writers like Russell who use ten-cent words like ‘prescient.’”
“Heh, did he use that one?” he chuckles.
“Yeup. I quote, ‘In the film Bladerunner, a prescient Scott demonstrated his ability to retrofit traditional society with…’ blah blah blah.”
“I have a pretty good command of the language but I’m not exactly sure I know what that means,” Tim says. “What was it again?” He lights a cigarette.
“Prescient,” I enunciate.
“Yeah, but what’s that?”
“It’s graduate-student-speak for knowing things are going to happen before they do, for being able to anticipate where human events will lead.”
“No, not really. It’s less psychic ability and more, I dunno. I guess the definition leans more in the direction of intelligence or brilliance.”
“Why didn’t he just say Ridley Scott was ahead of his time?” he says.
“Exactly. That’s what pisses me off, like our average reader is going to know what it means. I can see some guy walking up to the counter at one of stores saying, ‘Hey, where’s that movie Bladerunner? I heard it was pre-censored.’”
“Well, the copy editors are just as much to blame. They shouldn’t have let it get by.”
“Half of those sentence-cutting bastards are graduate students anyway Tim. They’re used to that sort of nonsense. You just know that every tenth word in their thesis is some cheap-shot word like ‘predilection’ or ‘indeterminism’ or ‘pontification.’
“It’s bothered me for years and I never could put my finger on the reason why. I mean, I have the vocabulary to match them, I can keep up. I guess what it really boils down to – it’s just two different types of artists. One that gets up on stage in their spandex pants with their axe-shaped guitar and perform endless guitar hero feats. And then the other that performs the sort of stuff that anyone can…” I just lost my train of thought.
Beth and her husband walk past, heading in the direction of the dartboards in the corner. She gives me the eye contact thing, that look of aloofness she was always so good at.
The Al Green CD ends and the sound of conversation around the bar fills in the gap. I glance up at the bar. The bartender is arguing with a few guys about what to listen to next.
I’m taking downing another mouthful of Guinness when:
“Alright you bastards! Who wants to get their ass kicked first?!!” a familiar drunken female voice screams from the direction of the door.
Tim smiles and I spin around again. It’s Sarah. Her roommate Cindy peers sheepishly around the corner behind her. They have the attention of just about everyone in the bar. All conversation has stopped, which of course, was probably Sarah’s goal in the first place
She acknowledges me with some brief eye contact and then I can tell she’s staring over my head. She must have spotted Beth.
“I can’t hide this anymore lover,” she says, shouting to me across the bar from the door.
Now I’m on stage and everyone in the bar is staring at me as well. Oh, this is going to be priceless. I react slowly, slowly pointing to myself, “Me?”
She nods. “I think about you all the time. I know it’s wrong. Rick would absolutely kill me if he found out.” She flips her hair back defiantly. “But I can’t help it Craig. I really can’t!” She walks slowly towards me, not breaking eye contact. The crowd parts as she walks across the room.
And then she’s standing right in front of my chair. She looks a little sad for a moment. She hesitates… and then she jumps up on my lap, straddling my legs and pulling me into a kiss by the back of the head! And here I am, kissing Sarah again – not an altogether unenjoyable experience mind you.
“You’re mine,” she says finally.
Suddenly Tim is on his feet with a look of horror painted across his face.
“She’s your stepmother for Christ’s sake!! Your father’s wife! That’s deplorable Craig! How the hell could you go through with something like this?! This is the filthiest thing I’ve ever seen!!” He shakes his head in disgust.
By this point the audience’s heads are moving left and right, raptly following every line of the dialogue.
I was taking another drink of beer but it gets interrupted when Sarah lays another one on me. I open my eyes a crack as we’re going at it and the crowd is watching transfixed.
“Will you be my little sugar-shorts?” I say, breaking the kiss and putting my hands on her ass. “Will you give me backrubs and help me with my homework?”
“I’ll be your sugar-shorts forever,” she says lovingly. We go to kiss again but it never happens because all three of us bust into laughter.
A few clapping hands echo through the bar as people realize it was all an act. After awhile the rest of the crowd gets it and the place erupts into applause. Sarah curtsies. And then Tim an I rise to our feet and give a quick bow before sitting down again.
Over the years, we’ve not only come to expect these impromptu Jerry Springer episodes out of Sarah, but we’ve become willing participants and skilled actors. Sarah has tears streaming down the sides of her face she’s been laughing so hard. She gives me another kiss and a hug before sitting down next to me.
Cindy edges up to the table with a of couple beers. She hands one to Sarah and pulls up a chair. It looks like it’s a Sapporo night tonight for the two of them.
I don’t know how I’d describe Cindy. She’s younger and pretty attractive in her own way. I guess the operative word would be ‘innocent.’ She’s constantly blushing or looking nervous at some of the topics we get to talking about. And with that in mind, I really don’t have a clue how she can be roommates with someone like Sarah. As the story goes, she’s a sister of a sorority sister or some weird affiliation like that, and because of some weird duty or sense of obligation, Sarah has taken her under her wing.
Tim and I are long past calling her ‘Sarah’s roommate.’ Instead, we alternate calling her ‘Sarah’s little sidekick,’ ‘Sarah’s henchman,’ and sometimes ‘the Sarah fan club president’ – which is not to be mean or anything. In fact, it’s really a pretty valid description. Cindy follows Sarah everywhere she goes but she’s never at the forefront. Tonight is typical of her, peering sheepishly around a doorframe while her roommate turns the whole bar upside down.
“‘The bitch’ is here,” Sarah alerts me.
“Yeah, we noticed. That’s her husband with her by the way,” I say.
She snorts. “You should have seen her face when I had my tongue down your throat. I thought she was going to storm out of the bar.”
“Beth jealous? I doubt it Sarah.”
“Oh yeah, she was jealous. Didn’t you ever notice how she would always try to keep us separated when you two were going out?”
“Yeah, how could I miss that? If I talked on the phone with you for longer than ten minutes I had to take a lie detector test when I got off.”
“That’s because back when you guys first started dating I took her aside and told her that if she took even one step away from you that I was going to steal you away and move to another country with you,” she says with an evil grin.
“Heh. You did not.”
“Yes I did. And you should have seen her tonight. The look on her face tonight was… what’s a good word? Not hysterical… I think it was historical.” She smirks.
“You’re really something else, Sarah.” I laugh. “I always thought she was so paranoid around you because of that time you got really drunk on tequila and kept trying to box with her. I guess now I know the truth.”
“Yeup,” she says, looking proud of herself. “So am I really your little sugar-shorts?” We all start laughing again. “Where the hell did that come from anyway? Sugar-shorts?”
I shrug. “Dunno, the heat of the moment I guess.”
“Oh, by the way, we have some big news tonight,” Sarah says. Immediately Cindy starts to look embarrassed so it’s safe to assume the news is about her. “Cindy’s got a boyfriend, Cindy’s got a boyfriend, Cindy’s got a boyfriend!” she sings in a schoolyard chant.
“Oh yeah? Well good for you Cindy,” Tim says. “Let’s raise a toast to.. What’s his name?”
“Randall,” Cindy says.
I nearly drop my pint glass.
“To Randall then,” he says. We all raise our glasses in the air and drink.
“Cindy and Randall sittin’ in a tree, K – I – S – S – I – N – G !” Sarah sings.
“So what’s this guy do for a living?” I ask.
“I think he’s in telemarketing or something like that. I’m not sure,” Cindy says.
Shit, it’s got to be him. How many guys are there in this town named Randall? Can’t be too many.
“So when do we get to meet your new home squeeze?” I ask.
“Oh, he’s supposed to meet us here when he gets of work at eleven-thirty.” Cindy looks at her watch. “He should be here any minute.”
Well, if Cindy’s Randall turns out to be Mr. Human League then it’s going to be a very interesting evening. Not as if it hasn’t been already. But now the cast is all set for a really swank soap opera. We have Elizabeth the hottie who’s going to show up later, Randall the date broker, Beth the ex-girlfriend, and Sarah the… I dunno… Sarah the girl who’s just a friend but kisses me all the time.
Maybe some unshaven, really intense looking guy with long hair and a patch over one eye will show up and hang out with us. Soap operas always seem to have one of those characters on staff.
“Who wants to boogie with me on that old whisky train?” Sarah says, snapping her fingers from side to side. I’m not sure but I suspect ‘the whisky train’ must be some new Sarah-ism for doing shots.
“I’m game,” I say. Tim and Cindy nod.
“What’s our brand tonight?” I say, following her up to the bar to help her carry them.
“I’m a recent convert to the wonders of Maker’s Mark,” Sarah says. “Jack’s always great, but this stuff has it’s own little ‘thang going on.” She orders the shots from the dreadlocked guy at the bar, who noticing me and apparently remembering my practice of over-tipping, pours us four heaping shots.
We tiptoe back to the table doing our best not to spill them, and digging through the crowd, I notice that we have some company. There’s a guy standing at our table. It must be Randall…
The guy must be seven feet tall! Standing next to a tiny Cindy who’s no more than 5’5, he looks like he could put her on his lap and read her a bedtime story. Even at my six feet, I bet he could pick me up and crack me over his knee like an egg. I think he’s even bigger than that Steve guy I met last week!
If I ever win the lottery I want to hire a guy like this to follow me around everywhere I go, you know, to serve as my personal bodyguard. Not that I’m ever in too much danger or anything but I’m certain it would come in handy from time to time. Like you’re at McDonalds and the kid wearing the stupid looking visor at the register is telling you they stopped serving breakfast ten minutes ago.
And then the seven-foot giant steps up to the counter next to you and you say, “Roll him, Eddie.” You can just bet you’d be eating an Egg Mc’Muffin and drinking orange juice faster than you could say the words ‘unthrottled violence.’
“Craig, this is Randall. Randall, this is Craig,” Tim says. We shake. This can’t be him. A guy this big with a voice like a teenager? I doubt it.
“We just bought a round of Maker’s Mark man, you want one?” I ask him.
“Uh, no thanks,” the guy says in deep, husky voice. “I’ll run up and grab a beer in a little while here.”
“Yeah,” he booms.
It’s not him.
“Ok then, alright you guys. What’re we drinking to now?”
Sarah raises her shot glass. “Let’s toast to summer right around the corner, to sun-darkened skin and swimming pools and the sting of whisky on our throats!”
We trade glass-clinks and down our shots.
Man, I’m beginning to get a paranoid in my old age, I’m thinking as the sweet and tangy, roasted liquor swishes around my mouth and down my throat. The guy just happens to be named Randall and immediately I jump to the conclusion that it’s Mr. Girlfriend-Express. What’s up with that? Maybe there have just been too many coincidences in my life lately. I guess when that happens you get to assuming everything has some sort of connection.
Turning the glass up in the air to down the last bit of whisky, I almost feel like if I just closed my eyes and concentrated for a few minutes, the synchronicity, the pattern of connections and coincidences in my life… It would all emerge from the static like one of those magic-3D stereogram pictures.
But with my luck though, I’d stare intently at the picture and it would end up looking like a rare butterfly or Santa Claus or some weird shit like that. And then I’d go absolutely crazy trying to figure out what significance a blurry picture of Santa Claus might have to my life.
Isn’t that the way things always work in life?
“Man, you and Sarah really had some dirty dancing going there at the end there,” Tim says. We’re on Highway-40. He’s taking my drunk ass home.
“Jesus man, I didn’t need that last beer. I’m totally drunk.” The headlights of the oncoming cars on the other side of the highway turn into stars and comets across the rain-soaked windshield. The traffic ahead of us kicks up a tall wake of water that’s almost worse than the rain itself.
“I think people were getting a little weirded out when she started rubbing her tits in my face,” I slur.
“Nah, they were fine with it. I think a few of them still thought she was your stepmother.” He laughs. “That whole Springer skit tonight was hilarious. I’m kind of bummed though that this mysterious Elizabeth character never showed up. Didn’t she say she was coming?”
“I guess she never said she was coming for sure,” I say.
“You’re sure you’re not making this girl up? After all, you were whining about how you’d love to go out with a twenty-one year old at happy hour that one night. And then less than a week later, boom, you have one. What’s next Craig? Are you gonna have an imaginary wedding in this fantasy too? Maybe exchange some soda pull-tabs instead of wedding rings?”
“She’s real,” I slur. “You should see her. I should just marry her before someone else does.”
He laughs. “Eliza-Beth I hear you calling!” He starts singing the Kiss song ‘Beth,’ imitating Peter Chriss’s gravely voice. “But I can’t come home right now. Me and the boys are playing and we just can’t find the sou-ounnd! Just a few more hours and I’ll be right home to you. I think I hear them calling. Oh Eliza-Beth what can I do?! Eliza-beth what can …”
“Will you shut the fuck up!” I snap. “I won that bet last year and you said you wouldn’t sing it anymore. I heard enough of it when I was dating Beth. Every time she’d call me you’d start singing that fucking song.”
He laughs and slides the car into the exit lane for Brentwood Blvd.
“You swear she’s real?”
“Hey, screw you Tim. I may be a little insane but I’m not to the point yet where I’ve spawned multiple personalities or imaginary girlfriends. I think that’s still a few years off yet.”
As we’re heading down Brentwood, for some reason my drunken focus shifts to the street signs on the side of the road. Suddenly a sign flies by on the right, ‘Sounds Right: Custom Car Audio Store.’ I’ll be damned! That’s the place that advertises in the back of the Gutterfrump Times! Their ad was pretty close on the page to Girlfriend-Express.
Coincidences aside, wouldn’t it be ironic if I was staring out the car window and saw a big lit-up sign for Girlfriend-Express? They have the same phone prefix as my number so it only stands to reason they’re somewhere in this neighborhood.
Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, Randall said to me. So is there any harm in looking for the whole gift horse, mouth and all? Sitting in Tim’s car, drunkenly staring out the rain-soaked windows, I realize I have this strong urge to try to track down this Randall guy in the flesh. I don’t know why. Maybe I just want to thank my mysterious benefactor in person.
Randall’s probably right about one thing, I’m making things way more mysterious than they probably really are – but I want to meet the guy. What’s wrong with that?
I’m on the Internet and I have some friends at the phone company. I could do some poking around. How much you want to bet I could track him down? I’m caught up thinking about the possibilities as Tim pulls into the parking lot of my apartment complex.
“Check that out!” he says suddenly, pulling to a stop.
I look up and there in the headlights, parked right next to my garishly green car… is a red Porsche 911.
Neither one of us says anything for a few moments.
I cough. “You believe me now?”
“Guess so, and even if I didn’t, there she is in the flesh,” he says.
I follow his glance. Elizabeth comes walking out of my building’s courtyard. White t-shirt, black pants. No umbrella. And the rain is coming down in buckets.
“Thanks for the ride Tim, I gotta run!” I start to open the door but he stops me.
“Here, impress her. Take this.”
I jump out of the car and open the umbrella, and she runs to get underneath it.
“I went to that bar but I guess you guys had just left,” she says, throwing her arms around me underneath the large multicolored circle.
“Sorry about that. We got pretty drunk and it was getting kind of near closing time. I didn’t think you were gonna show.”
My eyes focus on the clouds of her breath visible in the headlights. Kind of weird thing to see that sort of thing in the middle of the Spring.
She twists her T-shirt and squeezes a stream of water out of it. She loosens it up a little around the chest and smirks when she realizes where my attention has fallen.
“You want to come up for some drinks?”
“What do you think idiot?” she says.
As we walk into my building’s courtyard, Tim pulls out of lot and gives a brief beep on his horn. I wonder what that meant?
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