Another rise of the red velvet curtain. Marie’s Riptide, an old man bar on Armitage. Bucktown. Chicago. Illinois. The U.S. of A.
I traced the shape of North America–as seen from outer space–in the condensation on my glass, while I tried to talk some reason into myself. I needed the guidance of a friend. Or at least the presence of someone I could trust to prevent me from saying stupid things and giggling too much. My mental Rolodex revealed few options. My only true female friend, Anna, was far away in the District of Columbia, most likely reading self-help books in her empty queen-sized bed. And Stephen, my closest male friend (and honorary brother) was a virtual shut-in. Luring him out of the house seemed unlikely. He was probably writing a paper correlating two unrelated objects. The Velvet Underground vs. Tract housing. Or Dr. Dre meets Oscar Wilde at Hardees. Further examination proves that all things can be connected with enough effort.
I decided to enlist the help of Ian.
I tiptoed off to the bathroom to make the call. “It’s just REALLY important that you come out tonight. There is a lot going on that I NEED to talk to you about…IN PERSON.” And so on. I extolled the various virtues of this particular drinking establishment: Patsy Cline and Conway Twitty on the jukebox, stiff/cheap drinks, and YEAR ROUND Christmas lights. He was unimpressed.
I promised him an unlimited number of free drinks. I offered to bike all the way up to his place in Andersonville and bring him back on my handlebars. I dangled the possibility of french toast for breakfast. Nonetheless he declined my invitation, offering to take me out for lunch the next day instead. I couldn’t turn down free food and a car ride to the comic book store on Belmont.
We chatted for a few minutes, mostly because I asked a litany of pointless questions solely to stall for time. “So how was work? What did you have for lunch? Have you ever dabbled in Tibetan Buddhism?” I peeked out through the ladies room door, secretly hoping that Davy and Henry had wandered away to another bar. Or maybe a freakish tear in the space/time continuum had swept them away to the Jurassic Era. But Henry was staring my way. He wasn’t even trying to disguise it. Meanwhile, Davy was probably in the midst of a soliloquy about the sacredness of Native American burial grounds. I stuck my tongue out at the scene, which amused Henry.
Back to my seat. For some reason, we declined the opportunity to sit in a booth. And so, instead, I found myself sitting between Davy and Henry at the bar. This created the surprisingly disappointing illusion of being on a date with both of them. Ideally I would have found myself sitting at the other end of the bar, entertaining only myself and a never-ending pack of light cigarettes. Perhaps I could have read a book. It would have been best to separate myself from this weird situation.
I stuffed my mouth with cinnamon gum while I listened to the boys talk. Davy pointed out that it was April 1st. Otherwise known as April Fool’s Day. (Years later I will laugh bitterly about this coincidence. Tragedy and comedy are separated by only the finest, faintest line).
He pointed at me and practically shouted, “Abbie is a writer. She wrote a PLAY! Can you believe that we know her? That we’re sitting here with her?”
I shrugged my shoulders in a guise of “Aw, shucks,” but really I was just embarrassed. I was a fraud. Yeah, I wrote a stupid pretentious one act play. And it was performed by equally stupid pretentious actors in a rodent-infested storefront on Chicago Avenue. But I was fairly certain that this only happened because the self-appointed director of the theatre group wanted to sleep with me.
And in the past few months, the only thing I had written was several notebooks detailing my various reasons for wanting to fuck the dishwasher at Earwax and that one bartender at Rainbo (not the bald one, but the one with the startlingly weathered baby face). A tedious retelling of my ever-growing list of random sexual encounters. I had this foolish idea that someone might want to publish it someday. I hoped it was existentialist or something.
I was so busy trying to steer the conversation in a safe direction, I didn’t notice how much anyone was drinking. Specifically: the volume of drinks sucked down by Davy. When he stumbled off to the bathroom, Henry leaned over to whisper something in my ear. I was hoping for something along the lines of “Well, now that he’s gone, I’m going to take off your underpants with my teeth. Stay calm. Don’t make a scene.” But instead he stated the obvious. “I think Davy is really drunk!” He counted five drinks. Whoa! We had only been at the bar for an hour or so.
A plan was hatched. We would take him back to my place. Maybe we could get him to eat some food to soak up the pool of gin in his stomach. Because this was the sort of thing that kind, selfless adults–with no intention of ever seeing one another naked–did for their friends. I closed our tab while Henry retrieved our wobbly companion.
When I opened the door to the apartment, Ashley was waiting in the kitchen. “Where have you been?” She made no attempt of hide the accusation in her voice.. I pointed out the note I left on her bedroom door. She shrugged her shoulders. And then she saw Henry.
“I ring you up for paint almost every day,” she exclaimed. I winced, worrying that she was going to try to hug him.
“Oh yeah, you work at Pearl Paint,” he responded enthusiastically. It wasn’t even fake.
They talked while I tried to convince Davy to eat a tofu sandwich. He declined this offer, and opting instead for a bottle of Beefeater hidden away in the freezer. Suddenly he was making gin and tonics for everyone.
I went into the bathroom to check for potential cosmetic touch ups. Perhaps it was time for another round of dental hygiene. Ashley squeezed in the door after me.
“OH MY GOD! I can’t believe that Davy is friends with that guy Henry! I’ve been in LOVE with him forever! Seriously…ask anyone else who works at Pearl….”
And so on. This monologue professing her undying love continued for no less than five minutes, while I decided to brush my teeth again (whiskey breath). Despite her alleged “drowning in the sea of LOVE,” she was still able to help herself to my bin of makeup. Her speech ended with “…And I think it’s totally fate and PROOF THAT WE BELONG TOGETHER that he is here right now in our apartment. And the fact that is the first day of the month just means that we are destined to spend April together! You have to help me win him over. Should I change clothes?”
And then I was swept into her bedroom to watch her try on scarves.
When we emerged, I needed another drink. In a flash, I was cutting lime slices and coaxing ice out of the tray. I sat on the floor next to the dishwasher as I lighted a cigarette. My head was spinning. Too much social intrigue. I considered various escape plans. Sudden, excruciating menstrual cramps (handy, because boys are always confused and frightened by menses). A blinding migraine headache (hard to prove otherwise). Food poisoning from an ill-advised Jewel-Osco sushi purchase? I was mentally rehearsing the most convincing faux-vomiting noises, when Henry sat down next to me. “You look too healthy to be a smoker.”
I explained that while I did smoke quite a bit, I just couldn’t get addicted to it. And so, I would usually smoke for a few days or weeks, and then I would stop for a couple months. At the age of 22, I was filled with illogical logic like this. “I know it’s a bad habit, but you have to admit that I look cool when I do it.” I didn’t add that I just needed something to do with my hands. Smoking was a legendary cure for fidgety and awkward mannerisms.
Somebody decided that we were going to another bar in my neighborhood. Davy seemed less drunk, so it didn’t seem like a bad idea to me.
As we walked down the street, Ashley was talking Henry’s ear off about something or another. I overheard the word “destiny.” He was smiling, convincing me that he liked her. This was a relief. For one, it would have been obviously weird if I tried to make a move on him that night. And I was too tired to spend another evening deflecting Ashley’s wrath.
We were drinking purple cocktails (some odd drink special) at a table when Davy announced that he didn’t feel well. I wasn’t ready to call it a night. Suddenly I was in it to win it. I wanted to be the last person in the bar. I planned to stumble to an after-hours, where well liquor would transform ugly boys into Rhett Butlers. “Fiddle dee dee,” I would declare as a beautiful semi-stranger tossed me down onto his incredibly affordable Ikea bed.
I gave Davy my keys, telling him to go back to my place. “It’s only a few blocks away. I don’t think you should make the long walk back to your place. Chicago Avenue is far away!” Ashley had her keys, so we would be able to get in the apartment later…if I came home at all.
I went to use the ladies room. When I returned, Ashley was sitting next to Henry, wearing her best “Belle of the Ball” mask. It looked like they are cozying up to one another. A powerful wave of boredom swept over me. I had a headache. I was selfish. Foolish. A nice girl would have escorted her drunk non-boyfriend back to her place. She would have treated his self-inflicted illness with doses of ibuprofen and orange juice, before crawling into bed next to him to rub his back. “I feel like I should go home to check on Davy.”
Henry shook his head like “No, no.”
Ashley was more like “Yes, yes.”
Henry grabbed my wrist. “C’mon…I haven’t learned anything about you tonight, other than that you own lots of books and you smoke light cigarettes.”
And so I stayed.
Ashley tried to make conversation with Henry, but he would’t stop talking to me. I tried to include her, but he shut me down every time. Her dirty looks were burning away my body hair. I feigned innocence. Every time he asked me something, I replied with something like “Oh, yeah…well that reminds of something Ashley said. Oh, Ashley…you should tell him.” And so on.
Henry was not interested in Ashley.
Eventually she stood up and said something about working in the morning. Exit stage left.
I remembered an important detail. “Don’t forget, Davy has my keys. You will have to let me in.” Oh, of course this wasn’t a problem. She would be awake for a while doing stuff. As long as we came home in an hour, everything would be fine.
She waved goodbye. “I hope I will see you again soon, Henry.”
The moment she stepped out the door, I realized I had made a mistake. I had no doubt she was pissed. The “Push Your Roommate Out of the Moving Taxi” variety of anger. Maybe not quite at the level of “Feed Your Roommate’s Cat Rat Poison.”
Henry and I were talking about Chuck Close when he announced his intention to move over to my side of the table so he can hear me better. A few minutes later we were sharing a drink and laughing at the word “snatch.” I found myself consciously trying to be charming. He really was the cutest boy I had ever met. It was not even how he looked, it was more about the really lovely energy he exuded. I laughed at my own thoughts, because I was definitely not the sort of person who talked about “energy.” I was clearly wasted. I was giggling and nervously wiggling my fingers, when he leaned forward and kissed me.
I pulled away because I was shocked. But I tried to assume the role of “Well, I never!” I reminded myself that I was intrinsically a good girl. I stood up, brushing imaginary ashes off my dress. “Well, I guess we should go home, because I need to get back before Ashley goes to sleep.” He nodded his head in disappointed agreement.
We started walking back to my apartment. I found myself leading us on a roundabout path. I knew I was just stalling because I actually wanted him to kiss me again.
“I think Ashley has a crush on you,” I said coyly.
He nodded his head.
“And I just feel weird about this.” I stopped walking, leaning against a tree. “I mean, she’s my roommate. And you know, I’ve been hanging out with Davy.”
He put his hand on my shoulder, as if he was trying to comfort me. But then we were kissing and I was pulling him closer and I felt like I might go into some dramatic swoon. We might have been doing this for minutes or hours. High tides, low tides, sunrises and sunsets. Time did not matter.
I was on the verge of defiantly ripping off my dress when I remembered where we were.
I stood up straight, trying to compose myself. Reminding myself to breathe was surprisingly difficult. “If I don’t get home, I won’t be able to get in the apartment tonight.”
I noted (with pleasure) his googly-eyed demeanor as he managed to consult his watch. “Don’t worry, it’s only been 45 minutes.”
We held hands as we walk back to my house. Yes, Davy was waiting upstairs. But we didn’t mention this.
We started kissing again in the gangway of my building, next to the panel with the buttons for the apartment buzzers. In the midst of this, I rang the bell for my unit. No response.
Another ring while Henry was biting my ear. Still nothing.
We started giggling nervously. I tried holding the button down for a long time. Nothing.
Ashley was not going to be buzzing me in that night.