Every night, the same scenario. Last call happened along unexpectedly. No music. Bright ugly lights. Big ugly bouncers, moving through the bar like human cattle prods, whistling and shouting obscenities. When only a select few remained, someone would pull the grate down and lock the door, signaling the moment when the evening shifted gears into a higher octane world. Candles were everywhere. Soft music drifted through the air like chiffon. There were plenty of drugs and whatever else anyone wanted. It was beautiful and morose. And then it was over. Eventually the grate went up again so everyone could stumble back into the full-fledged sunlight and the traffic and their day jobs and the rest of their lives.
This was the pit-stop I made on my way home, sometimes several times during the week. It was my way of unwinding so I'd be able to relax when I got to my apartment, which was no Shan-gri-la. I just got a roommate, a skinny French girl named Claudette who apparently had never heard of deodorant. Instead, she would douse her armpits with expensive perfume and wonder aloud as to why Americans bathed so much. The funk that followed her out of the bathroom whenever she bothered to take a hot shower was enough to make my face twitch involuntarily whenever I thought about it.
Of course, Claudette didn't smell a thing. Lucky girl.
It wasn't just the smelly foreign white girl. It was everything. My life had glazed over into a series of hapless misadventures that left me feeling restless and unsatisfied. I didn't know how to undo any of it so I numbed myself out with cocktails and dead-end relationships and waited for some kind of an upheaval. A cool guy. A new job. A decent haircut. The Lotto. Something that would change things so drastically, my present scenario would be a distant memory, like things that happened to me when I was very young. Something to think back on and remember with such clarity, it's almost as though it happened to someone else.
The bar was clearing out as I arrived. I bumped into one of the regulars on my way to the backroom. She was bobbing back and forth gently, buoyed by a steady stream of drunken freaks who were making their way towards the exit. She had a pink dress on and she was so high she just stood there in her strappy sandals, her eyes rolled back in her head, her yellowy hair all over the place. If she had been lying down, I would have assumed that she was dead. Nice shoes, I thought and I began to wonder if they were my size.
I slid into a booth and put my feet up, exhausted.
The DJ cranked into that song "American Woman". In my head, I turned up the Butthole Surfers' version and began to sip my first drink.
Bouncers laughed and exchanged war stories. Some guy across from me was smoking something that was making him cough violently. Two girls in the corner were making out and giggling. That blonde junkie was standing right where I left her. Some guy had come along and put his arms around her, at first it seemed to steady her, but then as it turned out, to steady himself. They both began to sway slowly to the rhythm of an invisible metronome, lost in the clicks that seemed to emanate from their bodies. When the clicking noises fell out of sync with their movements, I realized that the sound was real. Somebody was doing it in the bathroom.
Somewhere in between the coughing and the clicking, someone let Jake inside. He was pale and dark, a writhing tangled mass of bucolic imaginings, of venom and sickly sweetness and vomit and flowers. Jake liked me but he didn't know what to do about it. Neither did I. We'd been having a kind of Mexican stand-off of a relationship for awhile now. No commitment. No emotional responsibility. The fact that we were deeply in love was a big secret to everyone, especially to us. It seemed to augment our friendship and make us abnormally happy.
Jake was drunk and he was high and in high spirits. He made his way toward me, spewing one rollicking non sequitor after another, filling the place with spontaneous combustions of laughter. He paused in the flow of action that swirled around him to slide into the booth and kiss me intently on the mouth. Wide-eyed and startled, I pulled away. Although he smelled like a bar of soap, his clothes had a slight odor to them that I recognized instantly. It was my roommate. Clearly, she had been all over him. From the smell of it, she still was. I could barely stand to share an apartment with her and now she was in my bed, putting her smelly body all over my precious Jake. And there I was, squished in between them, fully dressed and unable to escape.
As he held me in his arms, I felt the weight of time and familiarity between us. It frightened me. He was a dead end. And yet I clung to him, struggling to hold on to something that wasn't really even there. He was my situation personified: the day job I wouldn't leave, the roommate I wouldn't get rid of, the myriad of issues I wouldn't face. I saw the world I created in his heavy-lidded eyes, beautiful and arcane, making love to my worry. Did I know him at all? How could I.
I knew that he'd have the smell of that girl on him, no matter how clean he was. That was the last straw. It was over. Somewhere in me, the night had finally ended. Instinctively he held me closer but I was already gone--out the door and into the sun that was waiting to shine on me.