I have a bad habit of “boyfriend recycling.” As soon as one romance fades away, his predecessor twice-removed comes out of the woodwork. That’s exactly what happened with Murray. He slid into my emails, asked me to go to a “strip club in PA,” and of course, I couldn’t say no.
Murray’s living room
It’s sunny inside Murray’s living room, for once. Probably because it’s mid-July, the perfect moment of the year when one’s perpetual drunkenness is enough to make time stand still. I study Murray’s coffee table like a map. What cards does tonight hold? There’s a bottle of Fisheye Pinot Grigio, a bottle of Evan Williams Green Label, copies of Playboy that I unearthed from Murray’s bathroom, and an ashtray of smouldering Senecas – some of them lipstick-stained.
“We should probably head out soon,” Murray says, squinting like an old man. He’s wearing those dangerously-skinny jeans again, but he’s not exactly “thick.” I guess skinny jeans for a skinny man are okay.
The Echo Club
In the backseat of a black Nissan – why are all rideshares so generic? – Murray and I gaze out the window. We’re buzzed. Smoke stacks reeking pollution pass us by, and that’s not even counting what lies beneath the surface of Niagara Falls.
The Nissan pulls to the curb of Burt’s house, which sits among shot-up bodegas. At one, you can score stolen appliances, hookers, and some bomb-ass pizza. But you didn’t hear it from me.
“So are ya ready for a funky-ass night?” says Burt, who’s wearing lobster-print shorts. He and Murray record music together. Last weekend, they wound up at the Echo. Since Murray and I have been hanging out regularly again, he invited me there. We all joined together on this shadowy, Saturday night.
“Do you really think it will be open?” Burt asks, popping open a Michelob.
“It’s gotta be,” says Murray, sauntering around in his worn oxfords.
We pile into Burt’s van and search for the Echo along the pitch-black road. I’ve got a blunt danglin’ from my mouth; Murray’s on his twelfth Seneca. Finally, I perceive a dim yellow light.
“There it is!” I squeal. “The Echo.”
We walk onto the Echo Park Mansion’s giant wraparound porch. A cat scampers off. It’s got a William Faulkner, “A Rose for Emily” vibe. It’s a relic of a more prosperous time, when the grandeur of this stately mansion wasn’t overshadowed by run-down wreckage surrounding it. Rumor has it the owner kept debtors in a basement jail cell. We climb the steps, and peer through the bars of a steel storm door. There’s a sign flickering inside – “Karaoke.”
“Hello?” Murray walks in, and I follow, and so do Burt and his finacé, Noelle.
The wood floor is buffed and polished. At first there’s not a soul. But then, a middle-aged brunette rises from behind the bar. She’s got a Scrunchie on her wrist and a gray tee shirt on.
“Hey,” Murray says, already taking a seat on the vinyl barstool. “Dina, right?”
“We were here last week,” says Burt, standing behind him.
I sit next to Murray, who’s got his denim shirt half-unsnapped.
“She’s going to have a pinot grigio,” Murray says to Dina, ordering my drink of choice.
“I’ve got some right here,” Dina says, stooping down. “Wait – what happened to the pinot? It was right here. The other girl must’ve put it somewhere.” She leaves.
“Spooky,” Murray says.
“Look what I brought in,” I whisper in his ear, and look down so that he notices the clutch purse open on my lap. “Kinky Liqueur.” I pull out the tiny bottle of neon pink liquid, and take a sip while looking him dead in the eye.
“Hmmm….” says Murray. “Let’s go on a tour of the place.”
I agree, even though this punctuates the seductive moment. The four of us walk through a dark, dusty banquet room with black-and-white portraits on the wall. Murray leads the way – since he’d been here with Burt – and takes us on a tour through the mansion’s three floors, via a peeling “Yellow Wallpaper” staircase, past end tables of porcelain dolls and hand-painted china, up to a diseased-looking bedroom with wedding dresses hanging all around.
“We could be up here later, Burt,” Murray says, pulling a curtain aside to gaze at the moon. “To watch the sunrise.”
This captures my attention. How come Murray didn’t invite me to watch the sunrise? I look to Noelle, but she’s off in another room, apparently. We return to the bar and Murray continues to buy me drinks and bum me cigs and do all the things I like men to do for me (that pretty much covers it) and then a whole bunch of Murray and Burt’s pals start to show up. So I call my girl, Trixey, who’s often driving around The Falls for no apparent reason.
“You guys seem really cute,” Trixey tells me at the bar while Murray does a rendition of Brian WIlson’s “Good Vibrations.” We’re the only group in the place, besides Dina, the ghosts, and a karaoke facilitator/DJ. “I can tell he’s into you.”
“Really?” I say. “I’m really into him, too. Although, if I continue hanging with him I’ll get cirrhosis of the liver.”
“Do you want a Valium?” asks Trixey.
“Yeah, sure” I say. “I’m knock knock knockin’ on Heaven’s door and I really don’t give a fuck.”
After that, I decide to sing “My Own Prison” by Creed as my karaoke debut. Court is in session, the verdict is in. Then we all go on the porch to smoke. Shoulda been dead on a Sunday morning banging my head. Murray and I are seated on the concrete ledge, overlooking the front lawn.
“I only take people I trust to the Echo,” he says, inhaling his final drag.
“You trust me, Murray?” I say, hoping this will become one of my more memorable functioning blackouts.
“Whoa…WHOA!” Murray falls sideways and takes me down with him; we fall completely off the porch and into a patch of bushes underneath.
“Are you guys okay?” Trixey calls down. “I’ll drive you back to Burt’s.”
On the way back to Burt’s, Murray’s not the only one who’s passed out in the car this time around.
“Hey, hey,” Trixey is shaking me awake. “We’re at Burt’s.”
I head upstairs to brush my teeth, then crawl into Burt’s guest bed and wait for Murray. I’m wearing a fishnet outfit from the porn store. I’m sure our makeout will happen any moment now…
Before I know it, sun is streaming through the open window. It’s morning. I’m on top of the covers in the same position as when I got here. There’s no trace of Murray. I get dressed and go downstairs.
Murray and Burt are slouched on the couch alongside an almost-gone bottle of whiskey.
“Oh, hey,” I say, nonchalant. “Good morning.” I sit in a chair on the other side of the room.
So wait….we really didn’t make out?
“You guys drank all that whiskey last night?” I say. “When?”
“We just went to bed two hours ago,” Murray says, scratching his chest.
I look from Murray, to Burt, from Burt, back to Murray. They are two peas in a pod. I guess this is how sexual frustration feels.
“You don’t remember?” Burt sits up. “You came downstairs, took the whiskey bottle from Murray, went up and were cuddling with it.”
“What?” I say. “I was sleepwalking?!”
“You really don’t remember?” Murray says. “You were cuddling with the whiskey bottle.”
Probably because that was the closest thing to a make out as I was gonna get….I drag my weary body out the back door and sit on Burt’s dock, overlooking the river. After a few minutes, Murray comes out, still in his dirty, all-black clothes from yesterday, and lights a cigarette. I look at him, but don’t say a word.
“I’m not boyfriend material,” says Murray, exhaling a smoke plume. He’s pale, sweaty, and totally unhealthy in every way. And we didn’t even make out.
“You know what, Murray,” I finally say, “You say that all the time, but I think it’s just an act.”
“No,” he says. “It’s the truth. I’m honest about that part.”
“Well then, let’s just get an Uber back to town,” I say. “I have some weed I need to be smoking.”
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