After Brad and I hug goodbye (while halfheartedly making promises to see one another more often), I stand next to my locked up bike, trying to assess my current situation. I’ve had 4 or 5 cocktails in the last two hours. So yeah, I’m definitely a little drunk-ish. But then again, it’s still daylight, so riding my bike home might not be so dangerous. And my only other options are the El or walking.
Taking the train would require dragging my bike up hundreds of stairs to the platform. Then I would have to ride all the way down to the Loop to transfer to the blue train out to Wicker Park.
And my apartment is at least fifty blocks from here. My brain is feeling too hazy to calculate the actual distance.
I’m supposed to meet Cheryl at Gold Star–a bar on Division with free popcorn–in about thirty minutes.
The bicycle ride is amazingly fast. As always, alcohol allows me to break speed records. Or at least, my own speed records.
Cheryl already has a whiskey sour waiting for me when I plop down at her table.
She passes me a cigarette. “I’m sure you need this after another summit with THE ex-boyfriend.”
“Argh…I’m such an idiot!. As always, I drank too much and then I started babbling about Ryan. “
She laughs. “Good for you. I mean, you wouldn’t want to surprise him with some new kind of behavior.”
“Fuck! How am I supposed to seem as if I’m winning? I used to tell myself that all the ‘’life experiences’ I’ve had since we broke up made me emerge as the victor. But look at him, he’s all healthy and calm and happy.” I’m fumbling with a book of semi-damp matches, trying frantically to light my cigarette, growing more frustrated with every second.
Cheryl leans over with lighter. “Well, you’re happy, too…right? You’ve done some cool stuff and met some interesting people.”
I take a long drag, exhaling as I shrug my shoulders. “I don’t know. Mostly all I can list is drinking too much, getting wrapped up in drugs, and sleeping around.”
“Well, there’s something to be said for all of that. I mean, you’re an artist…you need to do those things to develop your work.”
“I guess that depends who you ask. Bukowski and Miller might agree. But Joyce Carol Oates would just laugh at me. Who decided that general foolishness breeds good art?”
She says nothing.
I look around the bar. It’s mostly empty, probably because only the truly self-destructive individuals go out before 9 pm. One requires a head start in order to truly achieve a meltdown by 2 am.
A semi-cute boy is trying to charm a girl standing next to the jukebox. Her body language is shouting “come hither.” Pigeon toes and pelvis thrust forward. Left hand unconsciously twirling her hair. How many drinks will be consumed both of their goals are achieved?
My mother and women’s’ magazines have told me that no one finds true love in bars. But casual sex is always easily procured in these dim smoky establishments. Alcohol! The most effective social lubricant!
After Brad and I broke up, I became obsessed with racking up sexual conquests. Fear of Flying and my shelf full of Henry Miller books had told me that this was required. And furthermore, careening through Wicker Park while waving my sexuality like a flag seemed like the best way to prove my commitment to feminism. Maybe I should have read The Female Eunuch sooner.
My technique was flawless. Costuming was important: super tight jeans, pigtails, and surprisingly trampy undergarments. Meeting boys at shows was mostly impossible. But if I went to the Rainbo alone, armed with a book and a wallet full of drink money, I could guarantee I wouldn’t leave alone. Drop the names of a few appropriately obscure albums, work in a charming story from my childhood, and then challenge him to a game of pinball. It was easier than I would have ever imagined.
Ten strangers later, I hadn’t discovered anything new about myself. But I did notice that I had a predilection toward fellows with dark hair and ironic eye wear.
After the fifteenth, I realized that I hadn’t learned any new tricks or secrets. But I did learn to always go to HIS house. Fake sleep for a while, and then sneak out after he was unconscious. This process guaranteed no awkward mornings.
I was getting bored. As far as I could tell, I was gaining only some brief sexual gratification. But I never woke up feeling as if I had won anything. I knew that I could never fall in love with any of these individuals. I could determine that within five minutes of meeting them.
Some people pretend to enjoy sleeping around, because they assume it will lend them an air of coolness. Others hope that eventually a one night stand will lead to true love. Most want a temporary cure to the suffocating sensation of loneliness.
I’m trying to remember the motivation behind any of my actions in the past year, when Cheryl breaks the silence.
“You made a lot of new friends. You took risks. You spent time in Mexico. And–even though it might sometimes seem like a bad thing–you met Ryan.”
“I’m just telling you that you haven’t been wasting your time.”
This isn’t the last time I’m going to need to hear this.