Closed/Thank U/Fuck the World ~amt © 2017
Needle Park ~amt © 2020
The Shoreline ~amt © 2018
Closed/Thank U/Fuck the World ~amt © 2017
Needle Park ~amt © 2020
The Shoreline ~amt © 2018
It’s a schitzo kind of morning in a hotel room on the outskirts of town. Despite how thick the blinds are, the sun manages to shoot across the unmade bed. Beside me lies a snoozing male companion. Um, what’s his name? No, seriously…what was his name?
I jump out of bed and tiptoe across the carpet, following an adult-Hansel and Gretel trail of various items: a leather slip-on loafer in mens size nine; crushed pack of Kools; plumping lip gloss in the shade “Inflamed Desire”; a clear green lighter; hotel-sized Neutrogena lotion, squeezed; a pink, lace thong by Jessica Simpson brand; one 50 ml bottle of Acqua di Gio; and a Trojan, still wrapped. I open the door to the bathroom, examine my face in the mirror then splash water on it, leaning over the sink.
What’s-His-Name walks in the bathroom. He’s 5’ 9’’ and has a Matt Damon in Rounders vibe, or maybe it’s Christian Slater in Heathers. Either way, he’s got chest hair and clear blue eyes, and something tells me he’s not totally innocent. Something about What’s-His-Name and I sparked last night. It wasn’t just those Kools we smoked in front of the hotel at 5 a.m. If only I could remember…
When What’s-His-Name gets out of the shower, I’m face down on the couch.
“I’m a mess,” he says, buttoning a wrinkled dress shirt.
“So?” I sob, gasping for air. “What’s the point? I can’t believe I slept with a total stranger.” I blow my nose dramatically in a paper towel, and take a good look at What’s-His-Name. He’s cute.
“No offense,” I say.
“None taken,” he says. “I need to stop drinking. I need to take a break.”
We check out of the hotel and call a taxi. What’s-His-Name’s company paid for the room. He’s the boss and sells mortgages, from what I recall. But right now, we need to get back to our cars, back to his Cadillac and my Pontiac, abandoned last night outside the Batavia casino.
“Hey, how do you spell your name?” I say in the backseat of the cab. “So I can put it in my phone.”
“You already have it,” he says.
“Oh,” I say, noticing a missed call from a (585) area code. It’s saved under the name Lawrence Jacobi.
The cab grinds to a stop in front of the downtown bus station. Three skinny smokers are congealed in the threshold. Our driver is an old Italian guy in a leather newsboy cap. “$16.85,” he says.
“Thanks,” says Lawrence, handing him a twenty.
I push through a revolving glass door into the white noise of the bus station. Lawrence follows me, overflowing gym bag on his arm. A big group of Amish people are waiting at one of the gates. I scurry into the stainless steel bathroom to douse myself with Strawberries & Champagne body spray and pop a couple Excedrins.
“Gold chains, gold chains,” says a hyper black man outside the bathroom door in a camo print bucket hat with chains draped elegantly over his forearm.
I walk past him, towards Lawrence, who’s easy to spot since we’re the only non-Amish patrons in the bus station. We walk side-by-side up to the Greyhound counter with our sunglasses on.
“Two tickets to Batavia,” Lawrence says. He removes his Polo shades, squinting in the fluorescent light. The woman at the counter is wearing dangly earrings with big gold triangles on them.
“The next bus leaves at 2:04,” she says. “$18.”
Lawrence pays for the tickets. We walk outside into the hot sun. It’s only 11:45.
“I guess we have some time to waste,” I say.
We sit on a bench on North Division. I drape my legs across Lawrence’s lap. He lights a cigarette.
“Change, change,” chants a woman with a shopping cart who looks like Whitney Houston.
“Let’s get out of here,” I say, giving Lawrence a seductive glance.
We walk down Ellicott Street towards a daytime watering hole. I hear Seabar is open this time of day. When we get there, we sit at the bar. Businessmen on lunch breaks eye my attire: black shorts, huge Rage Against the Machine tee, snakeskin strappy heels. Lawrence seems to be in the same boat: wrinkled dress shirt, leather slip-on loafers, and sunglasses totally askew. I have a dirty thong and half-smoked joint in my overpacked tote, and Lawrence reeks of Tanguaray. This is what an extended walk of shame looks like. This is what it looks like to be approaching age 30. Or in Lawrence’s case, age 35, from what I recall.
“So, Lawrence,” I take a dainty sip of Bloody Mary. ”You live in Batavia?”
“Yes,” he says, drawing a straight line in the condensation of his Corona. “That’s where I’m from.”
“You don’t look like any country boy I’ve ever met.”
He grabs my hand under the bar, and gives it a squeeze. The businessmen are watching us, since we’re obviously more interesting than the news on TV.
“To the couple at the end of the bar,” slurs a drunken white collar-type, raising his tumbler of scotch in the air. His tie is loosened, and it’s just past noon.
“Thanks, guy,” says Lawrence, with a twinkle in his eye.
“A shot!” says the white collar-type. “Let me buy you two a shot. What are we having?”
“How about Patron,” I say.
The unfazed bartender pours three Patrons, with limes on the side.
“Cheers!” we all say.
Before I know it, my cell phone says it’s 1:45 and we need to go back to the bus station.
“Ciao,” I say to the white collar-type, taking Lawrence’s hand as we make our tipsy exit from Seabar, which I’m sure won’t be our last.
Outside, the sun is hot, hotter than before. Lawrence lights two Kools. We reach the bus station, dripping with sweat. The bus to Batavia is boarding. The Amish are nowhere to be found. We sit in the back of the bus. Lawrence gives me the window seat. We lean against each other, and take a nap.
This is the scene I observe, while peering into a vacant Ridge Road bar called “Cherry Stone”…
A television broadcast of the Miss America pageant flickers down upon a bedraggled bartender. He’s perched upon a stool, hunched over, gazing at his reflection in the lacquered bar top. No customers are in to dirty its surface. The clock on the wall tells an incorrect time. Miss America accepts her crown, drips Absolut Raz tears and grins her angel dust smile.
“This is the Lackawanna scene?” I ask my co-worker and companion ,S.
“Let’s go inside. Clear our minds. Decide our game plan,” says S.
“But this guy probably won’t give us any drinks for free, since we’re his only customers,” I reply.
Earlier today, I sarcastically mentioned to S. that I’m suffering from a dating dry spell. Also, that I need a change of scenery.
“Every man I meet and date has a beard, tattoos, a bicycle, and emotional baggage,” I said. “I mean, does anyone else exist?”
“Come over later,” S. casually invited. “We can go out in Lackawanna.”
“Go out…in Lackawanna?” I stopped walking. “I’ll pack an overnight bag and be over by ten.”
I’m already a familiar degenerate within the Buffalo Scene, the Cheektowaga Scene, the Hamburg Scene, and definitely the Tonawanda Scene… so it’s time to penetrate the Lackawanna Scene.
So here we are, at the wood-paneled pit with a questionable smell known as Cherry Stone.
“Well, we’re here,” I say, coming through the entrance and sitting down with a sigh. “Do you have any wine?”
The seemingly-intoxicated proprietor – sitting on the stool next to me -shakes himself from his stupor and runs behind the bar. This man – short, with a snowy mustache, ripened age of 60-something – removes a Barefoot bottle from the top shelf. It’s empty, except for maybe a quarter-ounce. He gives it a swirl, and pours the remains into a plastic cup, offering it to S. as a sample or something. We look at each other.
“I’ll get a new bottle from the basement,” he says, and disappears. S. and I settle into our chairs, and I brace myself for a potentially boring night. A night free of chaos and lawlessness, unusual in its usual-ness…? Shit. I might even be in bed by midnight.
The tipsy barkeep returns from the wine cellar. He fills two glasses with ice and pours wine up to the brim. Us girls whittle away some time, kind of ignoring the ceaseless stare coming from the bartender/owner guy.
“So, is there another joint around?” I inquire.
“I don’t know, I’ve only lived here two weeks,” says S.
“Around the corner, on Electric, there’s the old C2’s,” Mr. Cherry Stone says with an ominous look, eyeballs drifting in divergent directions. “That’s where all the real weirdos are…”
We close our tab and set sail for C2’s.
Coming around the bend, I see a man in a motorized wheelchair zipping away down the middle of the street, away from a tiny brick shack. A Labatt light illuminates the threshold of “the old C2’s.”
We enter; the place is packed with sloppily-dressed, dirty, and drunk white guys in their thirties and forties. Some lean against walls like moths; some are engaged in an infinite game of pool. Many linger around the lengthy bar, with a stumbling 40-something behind it.
I sit down at the end of the bar.
“I”ll just have a chardonnay,” I say to a drunken dad in a baseball hat.
He hands me a giant goblet brimming with wine. I begin to hand him my credit card.
“We’re cash only, though,” he tells me.
“You are? Shit.” I take a slurp of chardonnay. “ I don’t have $3…” I look around the room.
“It’s fine, I don’t care. There’s an ATM over there but whatever. I’m the owner too.” I’m realizing the bartender/owner thing is popular within the Lackawanna Scene.
“No, I’ll get $3 before the night is done. Don’t you worry!”
I revolve around the room and start talking to the Lackawanna lads.
“Hi!” I enthusiastically squeal, running up to a skinny, discolored man in a gray Marlboro tee .
“Hey there,” he says.
“So, what’s your name?”
“Is this the happening scene or what? I haven’t been here in gosh…ages! So what are you drinking?”
“Uh, just a Bud.”
“Wow! You have great taste. I didn’t know it was cash only, and haven’t even paid for this yet…I just don’t know what to do.”
“Uh, there’s an ATM right there.”
I immediately bail on Steve and strike out with a few more bar flies. I’m surprised they don’t interpret my frenzied advances as an offer of sexual favors. Please. They can’t afford my sexual favors.
Turning around to the back of C2’s, I find myself at the pool table. Three sturdy gents with beer bellies are standing around holding pool ques, although I’m not sure if a game is actually in progress.
“So what’s the story here guys, are we the gambling sort?”
I can tell that one of the guys – a blonde, full -figured fellow in a plaid scarf -is Top Dawg of C2’s.
“Nah, we just come around here and act silly!” The guy with the scarf bellows, grabbing his friend and putting him in a headlock. “Can I get you a drink?”
“Sure! But actually, I haven’t paid for this yet. I’m in debt.”
“I got you, girl!”
He runs up to the bar and throws a wad of singles at the bartender/owner, who shakes his head in mock exasperation.
“I’m going out to the back patio,” this fellow declares, raising a hand to his lips to insinuate smoking a blunt. His green scarf trails behind him elegantly as he strolls outside. He beckons me to follow him.
“Oh, that darn Schmitty!” The owner jeers, drinking a shot.
I follow Schmitty outside, and despite the freezing temperature, there’s a group of maybe 15 people chilling on picnic tables. A couple more guys – Schmitty’s pals – sit down at our table. One of them pulls out a Seneca and removes half its tobacco. Schmitty unearths a plastic baggie from his pocket – cigarette pack cellophane with weed inside, lighter-sealed shut. Quaint.
Our crew – yes, I was adopted into the C2 crew – stroll inside with a new vision. An emaciated guy, obviously same-sex orientated, is twirling around the room in a Fruit Loops hoodie. From the looks of his pupils, he’s eaten some pills. I’m accosted by a man with a ‘stache and a margarita glass full of ice and Pepsi. He divulges that my wine glass inspired him to get his drink in a wine glass, too.
My night with the triple OGs of C2’s is turning out to be pretty great. I wouldn’t necessarily be caught here again, but would definitely rate the Lackawanna Scene four stars in terms of hospitality.
I look up from my wine glass, eyes landing on a mustachioed guy I sort-of know. It’s 10 p.m. at The Gypsy Parlor, and a hip-hop show is going on.
“Yeah, I did. You read it?”
“I was deeply moved by the article,” this mustached guy, whose name is Eugene, says.
The comments to “Movie Date at the Video Liquidators Theater” have been pouring in. I love it, readers – thank you! “Joe”s confession that he’s “been there alone a few times” moved me… as did his invitation to a potential orgy. I’m sorry I couldn’t come, Joe! (That’s what she said). It has found readers in Brazil, Australia, Germany… and other awesome countries! I wish “Tom” luck with taking his girlfriend there for the first time. How did it go?
“Oh, ok.” I say, surprised.
“I feel that I am your soulmate to accompany you on your next journalistic expedition.”
Eugene wanders away and begins pumping his fists to the emcee on stage. He looks attractive.
It’s the following Saturday. Eugene and I are drinking wine in Delaware Park. It’s pouring rain. We each have our own bottle in a brown paper bag.
“So I was thinking we could pretend to be swingers and infiltrate the Buffalo Swingers Scene,” I say. “It would be an undercover investigation.” I take a swig of my Drama Queen Pinot Grigio from Gates Circle Liquor. “I’m talking with an editor who is potentially interested in the idea.”
“Great, awesome!” Eugene raises his brown paper beverage to the rainy sky – an offering to the gods. “Yes, there’s definitely a Buffalo Swingers Scene. I’ve been to a few things.”
“Things…?” I ask. But then I decide not to ask too many questions. I kind of have a crush on Eugene. “Yeah, swingers… cool!”
“I can be your research assistant,” Eugene says.
We are steadily sipping our vino beneath the Casino in Delaware Park, wandering around aimlessly whenever the rain lets up. Eugene strokes his mustache, as rainwater patters down on his arm tattoos, making them glisten.
I slow down to a halt. Screeeeeeeeeech. I do not want to imbibe all of this wine and do stupid things that I’ll later regret. But do I ever regret anything, I’m thinking to myself? Suddenly, Eugene’s voice breaks my meditative cloud, my foggy wine haze.
“Let’s go to the Video Liquidators Theater!” Eugene yells. It echoes.
“Oh, I was just there,” I say, exasperated. Did I really just say that? “Yeah, I mean, why not? It could be interesting…But we’ll have to sneak this wine in.”
I look at my miniscule metallic evening clutch. There’s no fitting wine in there.
“How are we going to smuggle wine into Video Liquidators?” Eugene asks, truly perplexed. Raindrops on his face look like tears.
“Why don’t we go back to my bungalow? I’ll transfer everything to my most giant purse, and we’ll be good to go.”
That’s exactly what we do. We travel the short drive in Eugene’s rugged truck.
“This is the largest bag that I own,” I’m rushing over to my shelf of bags, fetching an obnoxiously large, embroidered, boho-chic Lucky Jeans bag. I throw it on my kitchen table.
“Ok. I’ll be in my bathroom.”
I run into my bathroom, grab some Nars lipstick in a shade called Damned, smear it on. I’m spraying myself down with strawberry, coconut oil-based mist when I hear a commotion. I peek into my apartment, and spot Eugene standing completely naked in the middle of my kitchen.
“Is this the first time someone has decided to take off their clothes in your kitchen for no apparent reason?” he asks.
“Actually, no -” I reply. “My downstairs neighbor Kurt did the same thing last winter.”
We hop back into Eugene’s truck and drive to Video Liquidators. I‘m drunker than Mary Tyler Moore at the corner store in 1964. We arrive at Video Liquidators, and stagger through the grimy concrete corridor. Familiar fluorescent lights jar me awake; one bulb flickers and my eyelid twitches. It all seems more foggy, more pastel colored, than I remember. .. Bimbos on the covers of smutty mags cast judgmental glares. We wander to the back of the store, looking for the entrance of the seedy porn theater.
“Where’s the theater?” I shriek. “Could’ve sworn it was over here. I was only here once, after all.”
“You’re supposed to be the expert,” Eugene mutters under his breath.
“What?” I’m disturbed. I’m a Video Liquidators expert?!
I push open the metal door, and lead Eugene into the depths of darkness. About 20 guys are loafing around inside the grimy theater, which apparently is showing gay porn this evening. I tip-toe down the center aisle, trying not to attract attention…but that is impossible, since the two wine bottles are clanging around in my bag.
“SHHH!” I turn around. Eugene is obscured by the shadows. “Let’s sit over there.”
We sneak down to a vacant aisle and collapse – drunkenly, wearily – into our seats. The wine bottles rattle and clank obnoxiously. I stifle laughter, and uncork my wine…until I look around and realize that some of these guys are staring at me. I slump down low in my seat and hide under my bag, knocking over my wine bottle in the process.
It’s a cool, crisp night on Eugene’s roof. We just picked up some wine from the bulletproof liquor store on Ontario Street. Eugene’s face is illuminated by the glow of his iPhone, as he scrolls through Casual Encounters on Craigslist.
“What kind of shit can we get into?” Eugene wonders, mustache twitching.
It never really worked out with the swingers. So I thought that Craigslist could provide journalistic inspiration.
“Oh, here’s one,” Eugene stops, tapping the screen on a recent post. “Sexy young couple looking to set up NHL-theme swingers club.”
For those not familiar with Casual Encounters – reading it is more entertaining than an entire season of The Wire (sometimes). I’m sure the majority of these folks make everything up. I know this because Eugene and I have been sending them e-mails. In the mw4mw section, a couple is “desperately seeking” another couple, for, I don’t know, whatever. It’s never clear. I don’t personally get it, but thing is – lots of Buffalo people are posting these things up. I’m sure we pass each other on the street, maybe every day. What does it all mean?! What drives such a covert preoccupation? And who the hell is Craig?
“Well, I’ve been involved with these types of things before,” Eugene says.
“You…you have?” What kinds of things? But I decide not to ask too many questions.
I’ve been hanging out with Eugene for a couple of months now. Like I said, I have a crush on Eugene, despite the fact that he went on a drunken diatribe about “relationships being pointless” and “never wanting to be in one, ever.” The only thing he ever wants to do is snoop around the Casual Encounters section. Randomly, when I’m at work, my “research assistant” forwards me messages/pictures from these Craigslist Creatures.
“OMG – look at this weird guy,” Eugene writes.
“Thug Nigga in2 Spankin House Party. Age 25.”
Only problem is – most of these Craigslist ads are accompanied by completely X-Rated, bad quality photos. One time I accidentally opened one at work and let out a terrified scream. My boss was like, What now? I was like, Nothing.
———————————– It never did work out with Eugene. I think he was more into Craigslist orgies than he was into me. But I’ll always have fond memories of the plans that we made, plans which never manifested. I guess he was just my number one fan.
“Never speak to me again,” I hiss through gritted teeth in the Crabapple’s parking lot. “Because you are immature and insincere.” I hang up my cell, hang up on Dan and his stupid voicemail message – “I don’t know why you called this number, but you did.” I send a hectic text – “I never wanna see u again! :(”
I stand in the middle of the parking lot, alone and abandoned. Dan and I were supposed to go to my downstairs neighbor Michael’s show at Nietszche’s. But when I arrived at Crabapple’s (of all places) to pick him up on my way home, he was drunk and stoned and went to “close his tab.” He rushed off and left me with his friends. Twenty minutes passed. I checked my phone; I had a text from Dan which said “I had to go.” He ran off down the street. But why?
A month has passed. It has been a month without a peep from Dan, a month devoid of an apology or explanation. I lay alone in my bungalow, attempting an early night’s slumber.
My phone ring-a-dings, announcing the arrival of a late night text. Maybe it’s a sext. It’s from Dan.
“I am not a monster.”
Ignoring the text, I turn over and close my eyes. My phone dings again.
“I’m not a harmful person.”
I turn over on my other side, put a pillow over my face. My phone dings once more.
“Can I bring you food?”
I toss and turn and pull the sheets around my body. Another text arrives.
“I’m outside your apartment.”
Bolting upright in my loft bed, I nearly knock myself out on the slanted roof ceiling. Climbing down the ladder, I rush into my bathroom and peer out the window. Sure enough, I see some fool clamoring out of a Liberty Cab. It’s Dan, hair in a wild explosion around his head, shoes dragging across the pavement in drunken irreverence.
“I missed the way you smell.”
“Well, it’s been a month…What was that whole disappearance about, anyway?”
“I double booked,” Dan says, clomping down my basement steps. I situate myself upon a bar stool. Dan removes a marijuana stash from his pants. “Friends came from out of town, but we had plans too. I got overwhelmed.”
“Why didn’t you call me and apologize?”
“You said to never speak to you again.”
“When a girl says that, it means you should apologize.”
It all becomes water under the bridge. We make out upon the moldy washer-dryer unit while a silverfish watches.
Another year or so has passed. Dan and I have grown into true friends. This sometimes veers into FWB territory. I now see Dan with a sense of maturity. There’s a gentlemanly aura in his eyes.
He has taken on the role of proprietor at a new Cheektowaga speakeasy, and has seen it grow into success. Recently, Dan bought a school bus. It’s one of those half-sized white buses. He painted it with the logo of his bar and is the DD/chauffer to his friends.
I yearn to take a joyride on Dan’s bus. Dreaming of the bus, I fantasize about the bus at night. I’m staring out my window and remembering that night that Dan showed up in a Liberty Cab. I wish he would show up in his bus.
I’m walking down Elmwood when I learn that Dan is headed my way. It is a warm Sunday morning, with the sun sending down the perfect brunch-friendly rays. We decide to fetch bloody marys.
I wait for Dan outside. He rolls up in a giant black truck. Not his own white Toyota, or the beloved bus.
“My car battery died last night,” Dan calls down from the towering truck. “I borrowed John’s truck.”
I climb up the passenger side and give Dan a smile.
“So where should we go to brunch? Bloody marys…”
“Well, it would be cool to go someplace around here, but John needs his truck by 6, so I was thinking we could go someplace in Cheektowaga, get my car jump-started first, or else we’ll have to leave here at a certain time.”
“Oh, yeah, let’s get out of here for a while. I’m so sick of the same-old same-old.”
We go a reasonable 55 miles per hour down the 33. I blast Metallica.
“Why the heck are you going so slow?”
“I’m never in a rush to get anywhere.”
We pull up the gravel driveway of the speakeasy and spot Dan’s petite white Toyota, depressingly dead by the dumpster. Dan whips out the jumper cables.
“Will you show me how to jump start a car?” I ask. Dan adheres the clamps to some parts under the hood.
“Now, when these are attached,” he says. “It means they’re live. They will spark.”
The cars create a medley of vroooooms and sputterings and smolderings. Dan’s car comes alive, and we climb inside. We travel a meandering route of side streets I’ve managed to never go down, even though I’m from this town and lived in it for 20 years.
“What the fuck is this street, Floral Ave.? Isn’t it a dead end?”
“No, far from it,” Dan says. Sure enough, it turns out to be a shortcut to the gas station. While driving down Floral Ave., Dan extends a fancy pipe full of weed my way. I take a hit.
“Well, you could at least wait for that guy to cross the street.”
“Oops, my bad!”
Dan takes a hit himself.
“Well, you could at least wait to be out of eyesight from that woman gardening,” I say.
After getting some gas, we head to Otto’s.
Otto’s has been located on the same Cheektowaga corner my entire life, a stone’s throw from the house I grew up in. Up until today, I’ve only crossed the threshold of Otto’s once, five years ago. It turned out to be an Italian restaurant, with a bar in the back. Dan tells me that they have the best bloody marys in town. Their flickering marquee declares the Patio to be Open.
We head through the bar, get two bloodys, and go out to the patio. We wait for Dan’s friend Ben to arrive.
Ben shows up in a red muscle shirt with an older guy in tow. The older guy is scrawny and weathered-looking. He says his name is Bob. He sits at the end of our table. I’m baked, and keep my sunglasses on even though we managed to find the least-sunny patio in this hemisphere.
“Who’s working at the speakeasy tonight?” Ben asks.
“I think Kimberly Wieners is bartending,” Dan answers.
“Wieners?” I exclaim.
“You’d like Kimberly Wieners,” Dan says.
“She doesn’t look like a wiener,” Bob speaks for the first time.
“Well, I’ve never seen one, so whatever.” I roll my eyes.
“I could put mine on the table if you want – ”
“No, thanks. It was a joke, obviously.”
I move my plastic lawn chair close to Dan.
“Oh, I need to drive John to his truck at the speakeasy,” Dan says suddenly.
“I’ll come with you -” I say, getting up.
“No, stay here,” Dan says. “John is operating on two hours sleep. We don’t need to shock him awake with more people than necessary.”
I’m left alone with Ben and Bob. It’s cooled down and I’m chilly. We head inside; there might be some rap music emanating from the bar. I just finished the bloody mary. It was good.
“Car bombs!” Ben yells. A round of car bombs manifests.
“I haven’t had a car bomb since college, wow, I feel old.” I take a sip, but put it back down.
“Shots!” Bob yells. The young bartender pours shots of Jaeger. I decline. It’s all going on Bob’s tab.
“Do you think I can just have some wine? It’s really all I drink.”
“Ooooh, fancy-prancy!” Bob turns to me, points a finger in my face. “I’ll buy you shots, but I ain’t buyin’ you no wine.”
He ends up buying me a pinot grigio anyway.
“Hey, wear your hair down,” Bob says to the bartender.
“Um, wow, just because you gave her a dollar tip, you think you can dictate how she wears her hair? You’re a prick.”
“You’re crazy, you’re fucked up,” Bob responds, pack of Senecas rising out his breast pocket. I take a large swallow of wine.
“So you’re a wine drinker?” Ben asks calmly.
“Yeah, it agrees with me, and it’s good for you in small doses I guess.”
“Nah, dude, a glass of wine a day is like one cigarette a day,” Bob ignorantly declares.
“What? No, wine contains antioxidants and resveratrol.”
An argument ensues and only rises in intensity between Bob and I, despite the fact he continues buying me drinks and bumming me cigs. He refuses to acknowledge the medical journal article that I pull up on my phone. I’m about to pull my hair out. Dan returns and sits down next to me.
“Thank God,” I throw my arms around him.
“She’s crazy, dude.'”
“He’s a dick.” I say.
“You better be careful,” Dan says, “She might write about you on her blog.”
Bob looks truly scared for a second, then brushes it off.
“Go ahead – write it! Just make sure you spell my name right. Bob Zielinski. Z-I-E-L…”
After a while of getting nowhere, we leave Buzzkill Bob getting Skittles from the quarter machine.
Ben, Dan, and I embark on a short, tipsy stroll to the speakeasy. We are on busy Union Road in broad daylight.
“Please, guys, can we walk down a side street?” I’m power walking ahead. “I do not need my parents to drive by and text me asking why I’m walking down Union Road in the middle of the day with two guys. My mother will question what I’m doing with my life. I do not need it right now!”
We get to the speakeasy. The bartender, Wieners, keeps the wine coming. I load the jukebox with Britney Spears and Trina. I’m smearing on a lipstick overdose and dancing around the bar. Dan appears to be having an awkward convo with the other bartender; it seems like they used to date or something.
Stumbling up to Dan, I’m ready to get my bus ride on.
“Let’s role play Forrest Gump and Jenny on the bus,” I say in an intoxicated whisper. “I’m fatigued, let’s go!”
Dan is still mid-conversation. He hands me the keys to the bus. I wander out of the bar, locate the bus, stumble aboard, and lay down sideways on a seat.
After a little bit, Dan gets on the bus. I left the keys in the door. We sit down side by side.
“You don’t hate me?” Dan asks.
“Hate you? Why would I hate you?”
“I always mess up.”
“Nonsense. You are great. The bus is great. Everything’s fine.”
Dan starts the ignition and we pull out of the parking lot. We cruise back to the city.
(Dan and Michael were introduced in my first story “Names Have Been Changed to Protect the Innocent,” so read that first if you haven’t!)
It’s Saturday night. Jaclyn, an acquaintance who I work with occasionally, has invited me to a party. The party is being held at a well-known gay bar. Jaclyn has been dating the gay bar owner’s brother for quite a while. It’s the owner’s birthday. There is a celebration being held at his club.
I take this as an opportunity to encounter some new people, to immerse myself in a completely foreign scene. I’ve started to see the same faces, been ending up in the same places. I need something new, something… unorthodox. An investigation into the gay nightclub underground seems apropos.
Around eleven, Jaclyn and her boyfriend Sal, the owner’s brother, pick me up from my apartment. We head downtown. The club’s neon sign glows radioactive pink. The bouncer welcomes us inside with a nod. We meet up with Jaclyn’s friend Kate and her boyfriend, Keith.
The four of us sit down in a booth area while Sal goes to get us a bottle of Absolut. There is a large open area around the bar – not many patrons have arrived yet. Another dance floor/stage area is in a curtained-off, adjacent room. The place is mostly black spray paint and concrete with hot pink accents. We are enclosed in a dark sitting area behind the bar.
A middle-aged transvestite woman descends upon our booth in kitten heels. She sits down across from us without speaking, looking at us. Five minutes pass, then she asks –
“So, what brings you guys here, a bachelorette?”
“No, just her boyfriend’s brother’s birthday,” I reply. We’re getting antsy for Absolut.
“Ooh, is it a party?” She asks, fiddling with her reflective clutch purse. She wanders away before we answer.
“Was she about to offer us drugs or something?” Jaclyn asks me.
Sal returns with the vodka, some mixers. We drink for a little bit until Sal suggests we take a walk down to the basement of the club. We head through a back door, down concrete steps covered in flecks of glitter. Once in the basement, there are racks of sequined costumes and props left over from the drag queen shows. Guy stand around smoking cigarettes. I stick a fake rose in my hair, from a drag queen of yore. Abandoned stage scenery is scattered about; speaking of which, one such performance is about to commence. I pop a Tic Tac and feel a revitalizing rush.
We head back upstairs to watch the show. It was advertised as an Underwear Competition. A drag queen is standing on stage, with a pretty decent crowd gathering around. The crowd is mostly young, very young, gay boys – this club allows 18 and up. The Queen is speaking into a microphone, shimmying around in a fringed figure skating outfit. A young blond boy is staring up at her in awe.
“What do we have here, hmmm?” The Queen Bee is purring down at the blond boy, stroking his hair. “Is that because of me?” She is acknowledging the boy’s raging hard-on. I’m surprised at this, because I never thought drag queens were sexy, or even really trying to arouse people with their theatrics. I always thought it was just about an artistic performance.
The Queen calls up the two finalists of the Underwear Competition. We missed the early rounds, I guess.
“Our first finalist is the luscious, lascivious, Damian!”
An early-twenties black guy in a purple Diesel thong struts onstage. He’s pretty buff.
“An the sumptuous, sexual, Stephen!” Stephen looks about 18 with a septum piercing and tattoos. He’s nervous and dripping in sweat. I wonder where his parents think he is.
A booty-poppin’ jam blasts out of a speaker. Damian and Stephen make their ass cheeks clap like strippers, directly in the faces of front-row spectators. They bend over, drop it low, twerk. We’re in the way back, and the crowd is getting riled up in a crushing horde. I’m reminded of that French short story from 100 years ago about some strangers having sex at a public execution.
What’s the prize for this competition anyway? Young and doe-eyed boys wander around in various states of undress. Are they gigolos for hire?
We walk back to our couch and bottle of vodka, amid applause for our young exhibitionists. A half hour or so passes. Then, we hear the DJ start his set. We make our way through the curtain, onto the dance floor. Jaclyn and Sal are dancing together. Katie and Keith are dancing together. This leaves me getting groovy by myself. Obviously, none of the men in this joint want anything to do with me. Should I have brought a date to this shit? I continue to dance alone in the middle of the room. Whatever. I’m not a total loser.
An overzealous black kid in short shorts bends over in front of me. I think he feels sorry for me. The feeling I’m experiencing is the loser at the school dance, and this guy must pity me. It’s kind of embarrassing. I swivel around – a gloomy looking brunette kid starts swinging me around. At first, all’s well and good. Then, he starts inching his way closer to my face. This boys smells like ass. Ass. It’s unbearable and nauseating.
“Excuse me, please, I have to go throw up.”
I run away into the other room, hunch over the couch, gasping for fresh air. Inhale, man, inhale. What the fuck was up with that?
The drinking continues. Now, the night is not so young and my body is not so sober. I am swept up in my own thoughts. A dark tunnel opens up in my mind and I follow it through, down down down into the foggy abyss.
A bespeckled guy sitting to my right starts talking to me. He comes off as kind of straight. Straight and alone at the gay bar. I tell him a little about what has brought me here, and I’m sure that he knows that I’ve never been here before, because I’m sure everyone else here is a regular. It just gives off that type of vibe.
He takes my phone from my hand, and puts in his name and phone number as “Master Jeremy Dollar$.”
“What’s up with your name?”
“It’s because I have coke,” Master Jeremy says. “About four grams.” That makes sense – who else but a drug dealer would be straight and alone at a gay bar?
The two of us embark on a teeter tottering walking tour of the club. Master Jeremy bursts into the bathroom after I head inside what I thought was the girl’s bathroom. “The bathrooms are unisex,” Master Jeremy informs me. I suppose it wouldn’t make sense to separate guys and girls in a place like this, where the girls become guys and the guys become girls and the girls who are guys like the guys that are girls.
“Would you…watch me while I pee?” Master Jeremy asks. “That really turns me on.” He’s unveiled his arsenal of coke with the bathroom stall wide open. He is sputtering and coughing and sniffing like a broken snow blower. I stare at my own face in the mirror, but can’t really see anything. I’m chain smoking Marb Red 100’s and foaming at the mouth. It’s after four in the morning.
“I need to find my friends,” I declare. “What if I can’t find them? What if they left? In ninth grade I got left behind at the Lincoln Memorial. Will you drive me home, if I got left behind? I need to go find my friends. I don’t want to get left behind.”
“Yeah, babes, I’ll drive you home,” Master Jeremy says. “You are beautiful, you have a perfectly-symmetrical face, and great eyebrows.”
“Hmmm…thanks.” I wander back out into the bar, and quickly spot Sal and Jaclyn on the same couch we were on earlier. Katie and Keith left long ago. We head out into the crisp air of dawn, and I am ushered into the backseat to be taken home at long last. What a night.
Then, Jaclyn exclaims – “Ahhh!!!”
I look out the window, directly next to me to my right. Master Jeremy Dollar$ has his face down at eye level, looking into the car, at me.
“Ahhh!” I shriek. “This is some Twlight Zone, creature-on-the-wing of the plane shit! Peel away!”
Sal accelerates; the tires screech. We are off, speeding away from the notorious club, from Master Jeremy Dollar$, from the smell of ass.
Any resemblance to an actual gay bar that really exists is purely coincidental.