Ebb

It was a fantastic Saturday evening, so I decided to climb
down into the Quarry House, one of the last of Silver
Spring’s neighborhood bars.
It was located beneath a Chinese restaurant, down a flight of concrete
steps.  One window allowed a small amount
of natural light to seep through, but it was pretty much obscured by a large,
grumbling air conditioner and a few band flyers.

In the dungeon, three or four locals were drinking and
reading, all of the tables clear and empty.
A heavily inked waitress reading a book titled Fetish met my eye and winked.
She always remembered me, probably because I always asked for a tattoo
tour.  There’s nothing quite as erotic as
following the hummingbirds and roses and hearts right down to the panty line.  Or right up, as the case may be.

She had the tables so I did her a favor and hit the bar with
the other locals.  The bartender was a
tough looking demon of a man who laughed too much, talked too fast and had the
kindest heart I’ve ever known.  He broke
the bad news:  No Yuengling.  Down to Heferweisen or the sub-par Snow Goose
porter.  I went porter because I’m, on occasion,
a homophobe, and ordered a pitcher and two glasses.  Number two was for my old college buddy,
James, who burst through the door as soon as the pitcher hit the bar, one of his
many uncanny knacks.

In a retro suit, James looked as if he’d been belched out of
old Silver Spring, before the gentrification
and the yuppies and the money.  Maybe
he’d crawled out of the ashes of the decrepit Silver
Spring train station, featured in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train.
Perhaps he was an exec at the old Canada Dry plant, now a shining art
nouveau office building.

Like a starving man, he grabbed the second glass, sloppily
poured the porter, then drank half a glass of head in choking gulps.  He turned to me, stared at something just
over my shoulder, then snapped into focus.
“Met a girl.”  He said, then
refilled his glass.

“Is that what this is about?”

James had scheduled this Quarry House meet earlier in the
day.

“Her name’s Tabby.
Like the cat.”

“What cat?”

“Like the cat.”

“What, from a show?”

“No, like a tabby cat.”

I nodded, then waited about three minutes, nursing my
beer.  Finally:  “So?”

James leaned back, nearly toppling off the stool.  “So she’s great.  She has, like, 19 piercings.  I met her through my little sister’s AOL
message chat thing – ”

“Woah, there, Jimmy boy. Claire’s 17.”

“No, no, this chick is 29.”

“And she’s talking to Claire?”

“She’s her teacher or something.  I don’t know what the fuck stupid fuckhead
Claire is into.  Anyway, we started
chatting because she thought I was Claire – ”

“She thought…?”

“I was using Claire’s computer to download porn because I
spilled beer on mine.  I told you that
story two weeks ago.”

“I was out of the country two weeks ago.”

“Fuck you!  You’re
always so fucking negative!”

I put my hands up and forced a smile.

“So we chatted for about five minutes and I found out that
she’s right here, local.”

“Because she’s Claire’s teacher.”

He glared at me, sipping his beer.  I returned to my own glass and kept my eyes
downward.

“So,” he continued, “we agreed to meet at the Royal Mile for
a few drinks.  Like, right then.  I’m there 15 minutes later, she shows up and,
man, she’s like alternagirl.  I’m rock
hard from the start.  I am fucking drunk
on cock!”  The bartender dropped a glass
and James tilted his head to the side, “That sounds wrong.  Well, anyway, there she is.  We talk and drink for a bit then she’s, like,
let’s fuck!  Not like that.  More like we’re soul mates and don’t you feel
the chemistry and I likes me a quiet boy and I know you can give me the deep
dicking of a life time.  At least, that’s
what I read in her eyes.

“We head to her place – one of those fucking soulless new
condos in Wheaton
– and as soon as we’re in, she’s popping out of her clothes.  She made me take every goddamn piercing in my
mouth and tongue it.   Total fetish
bitch.  Wild and wooly Wheaton, baby!”

The pitcher was empty, which I think was my fault.  I ordered another.

“Now we’re supposed to meet for a picnic tomorrow.  I’m totally stoked.  I think there is some chemical thing between me and this bitch.”

“So you found a girl.”

“Yep.”

“Named after a type of cat.”

“Well, no, it’s Tabitha.”

“Right.”

“So what I’m thinking is that we should have, you know, a
pre-dating party tonight.  Drink
ourselves into the ground and murder a few children or something.  Because once I start dating, I have to stop
seeing you.”

I shivered and turned on him, “What?”

He put his hands up in apology, “Well, I mean, Nacho…”  he shrugged, “I mean, you know.”

“What do I know?”

“You’re not, you know, liked by women.”

“Women like me.”

James shrugged again, “Okay.
We’ll just ask the string of cocktail waitresses and neo-pagans who have
entered into emotionally abusive relationships with you over the years.  See if they agree.”

“Like you have room to talk.
Remember when you doped Monica and put her on a bus to Toronto as a practical joke?”

“Oh, go ahead, I’m a bad person. I’m the naughty one.  That’s fine, say it if it makes you feel
better about your own empty life.”

The pitcher was empty again and James wasn’t really
drinking.  I decided to check myself and
order a coke, but the bartender brought another pitcher along with it.  I stared at it with darkness in my heart.

“Finish that pitcher,” James said, “Then we’re going up to
that Bolivian dance club.”

“We’re not allowed in there…” I slurred.

“The gloves are off!
I’ve found a girl!  We’re
returning to all the places we’ve been banned and atoning for our sins.”

 

* * *

I don’t know if the Bolivian place has a name, but it’s not
officially a “bar.”  It’s more an
unofficial hangout for a handful of local Hispanic émigrés.  I’m not even sure if they have a license,
because, the night we got banned, we had to do lots of talking to get them to
serve us beer and, then, it came from a standard refrigerator in the
kitchen.  A family of four runs the place
and any Anglo is treated with suspicion.
As James and I, in our drunken state, are less twitch and suspicious and
more idiotic and psychotic, we earned their trust simply through an avalanche
of karaoke, arm-wrestling, homoeroticism and, finally, knife games (James has
total nerve loss in his left thumb). Earning their trust led to their greatest
mistake:  Serving us beer.  It was 13 hours into a strong drunk for us
and you always know when we’ve reached the plateau because we start to crave Heineken.  It’s the come down drink for the true
drunkard.  James and I killed a case and,
much to the surprise of the patriarch, we started asking for scotch.  That was when the Star Trek karaoke began –
Next Generation episodes dubbed in Spanish and folks had to stand up and get
the lines right.  James went crazy and,
well, our chopper went down into a hot LZ and I can’t talk ‘bout the hit we
got.

Returning five months later, the place was deserted except
for the main family.  The patriarch
recognized us and, perhaps sensing renewal in James, he served us Heineken as
soon as we asked.  I took a stool,
suddenly aware that much of my body had turned to liquid, and tried to keep the
spin away.  James slammed one bottle then
another, comfortable now that we were out of porter country.

“It seems strangely hopeless,” he said.  “Like I’ve jinxed it.”

I knew the feeling well.
Fall fast, fall alone.  There are
some men who just can’t understand women or work through those crucial first
steps.  The early dating phase is a
hopeless mess for certain personalities.
It’s not really nervousness or social ineptness.  It’s more like exhaustion.  A hard thing to describe to those who don’t
feel it.  When something does happen and,
once again, a woman enters orbit, there’s hesitation.  Fear.  Even
resentment, sometimes.  A reminder that
the routine is, in fact, empty.

I kept quiet and continued drinking, watching James out of
the corner of my eye.  Tonight wasn’t
going to end in violence or comedy, it was going to end with the two of us
going home and wondering about our path in life, once again.  The dark and humbling reality that seemed to
accompany the mind now that we were in our thirties and –

“You drunk?”  He
asked.

“Yeah,” I replied grimly.

“Let’s go drive around the Beltway a few times!”

Ah, well. Maybe I had made a miscalculation.


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