On Day 2 of classes, we were all assigned Buddies from another group of writers that had seniority, someone to answer questions and help us on the peer level.
My Buddy was late, and when she showed up, she was irritable. I immediately thought she was pretty, with severe bangs, heavy eyeliner and a very, very petite figure. My questions were fairly limited, but after the Buddy lunch and a lecture or two, we all collected out in the courtyard, now full of smokers and non-smokers, open notebooks with blank pages blowing in the wind and students spinning around each other, finding old friends and making new ones. Most of the students looked to be around my age, which was a relief. I didn’t want to be swimming in young people after working alongside them the last few years.
A few guys in my class stood around me, one asked, “So, what are you doing now?” I shrugged and said, “I don’t know.”
My Buddy came up and said, “We are going for drinks, do you want to come?”
I said, “Yeah”, I turned to him, “I guess that’s what I am doing now.”
She introduced me to a few other students, two men and a girl around my age, maybe a little younger. The girl was incredibly warm and friendly, but the men kept a distance.
To one she said, “This is David, David be nice.”
He was shorter than me and made some polite conversation, but I was weary. I wanted them to like me and more importantly, I didn’t want to be classified as a film person, but a literary person.
We all crammed into a small car and drove to a dive somewhere I have never been. We walked in and were the only white people in the place. The tables by the windows were set up for a party of some kind, a single musician was practicing in the corner, and a long mirror stretched behind the middle-aged bartender, with dramatic eyebrows and sagging breasts.
Sweeping through the front doors with my purse slipping off my shoulder, I said, “This is my kind of place.”
The others weren’t certain and hung back. The Bartender said, “Don’t be scared. Come on in.”
We sat in the middle of the empty bar, balloons and bows on one side, and blues on the other. I got comfortable, making the legs scream on my chair as I kicked it under a few, adjoined, small tables, awkward but set up so we could face each other.
David and I easily slipped into a conversation about France, he had gone with his fiance. He mentioned Toulouse and I said, “I have a lover in Toulouse!” His small smile kept surfacing and hiding throughout conversation. The others took turns chain-smoking outside, and after a martini or two, we went to a liquor store and picked up more alcohol.
David was staying at a hotel near the school and invited us back to his room. As the sun set, we hung out in his room, each with our own bottle of choice, laughing and scrubbing the world out through a fuzzier window. I sipped off a bottle of cheap champagne, and set up my mini-laptop on his bed. David and I took turns playing music for the girls.
In a vodka-champagne-sugar haze, we stumbled to a bar called the Tattle Tale Room. The only bars near the school were a half a mile away, two dives almost right next to each other, one called The Scarlet Lady and the other called The Tattle Tale Room. Both bars share clientele, mostly mechanics and laborers done with work at the end of the day, a few white kids in their twenties who were looking to hook up with anyone. They were shitty, but they were open, serving reasonably priced drinks and had a great classic rock selection on karaoke.
The evening was a fog, I remember singing “Emotional Rescue”. God I love that song. As usual, I incorporated the Jagger moves from the original music video, not that I expect anyone to appreciate that.
David was a Doors fan, and took his turns on Doors music. I am sure you loyal readers can understand what that means to me, though I alternate Stones favorites, my true love, my life blood is and always will be The Doors.
I sat in the booth, on the circular bench facing the girls, and men would alternate next to me in conversation. First it was David, then Miguel appeared because I was able enough to communicate via Facebook, I guess.
Around this time, I sang, “Back Door Man” from the Doors. I kept it as loyal to the original as I could, with the growling and howling, though Miguel claims people were covering their ears in horror. Later, I played him the original so he could appreciate how faithful of an adaptation it was.
You men eat your dinner
Eat your pork and beans
I eat more chicken
Than any man ever seen, yeah, yeah
I’m a back door man, wha
The men don’t know
But the little girl understand
I may have thrown in a little Morrison leap at the end, and as I made my way back to the booth about four truckers high-fived me. Miguel’s argument is they just wanted to “fuck me”, well . . . golly, I thought I killed it.
Miguel left shortly thereafter, and I was a little bummed. I can never read if I scare them off or if they are just being responsible. I also noticed that David was avoiding me now. The classic rock, sugar and alcohol had me high, and I am not sure anyone knew what to do with me.
I turned to my left, and there was someone new in the seat next to me. I call him Huck, for “Huckleberry Finn” because of his cut off, denim shorts. If he wore his jeans, he rolled up the bottoms as if wading in a creek with a stick and fishing line.
I didn’t need to cling to him in conversation, but I did. He stared at me seriously, while mechanically sipping his drink. I can’t recall if we wasted time on introductions, but the couple on my other side told me his name, and said he had a drinking problem.
The first thing I remember saying to him was, “Your drinking problem is making me fall in love with you.”
In his face, I could see he was younger than I was. His skin was soft, his blonde hair was cut as if his mother took him to the local barber the day before class and his color caught what little light there was in the bar. He had all the makings of an innocent. The giveaway was his eyes, there was a darkness in them.
I asked him if he was straight, he said he was. Then he said, “But I gave a blowjob once.”
My eyes widened, and I smiled, pushing for details. He smiled for the first time, but tightened up his mouth, and looked down shaking his head, “No, I like girls.”
He was tall, taller than me. The bar was loud enough that I had to lean in to hear the answers to my questions. I could feel the warmth of his arm over the back of our seat. The more we spoke, the heavier it fell over my shoulder.
I asked where he was from. He said Milwaukee. I huffed a cloud of revulsion, then said, “I hate Milwaukee.”
He stood up suddenly to step outside for a smoke. I asked to bum a cigarette off of him.
He said, “No” and I asked, “Why?”
He leaned down and twisted his smile again, “Because you told me you quit.”
I said, “I did?” That’s true.
He walked out. I was left alone, and excited by him. He was paying closer attention to what I was saying than I was. He also had a fearless honesty about him, not the kind people use to disarm you in conversation, the kind that challenges you to meet them on the level.
When he returned, I asked him for a ride home. The conversation is murky here. What I remember most was his arm, the arm I was leaning against, almost draping around me. There are the strange arms you accidentally brush up against or bump into, those you immediately pull away from, apologize and turn away. There are the arms you warm up to, as you are pressed against someone new in a forced moment and try to ignore the fabric touching your skin or the weight of their body against yours, and you reluctantly surrender that half inch of air that was once yours. Then there are the arms that feel familiar for no reason, they are warm and seductive, drawing you closer in to the stranger’s body, you don’t know why him but a circle forms around you that feels safe- it almost feels like home.
I quipped, “Me too.”
Turning back into his arm, he said he was going to leave. He read the disappointment on my face and said, “Another night.”
Whether he was responding to a proposition I made about breaking off from the party or he just picked up my cue, I am not sure. I remember mention of cheap vodka back in his room, but he was staying within the double yellow lines with me for now. He left, and for the rest of the night I kept repeating, “Another night.”
The alcohol and boys made me silly, but I could sense that my Buddy and the two men in her group no longer liked me very much.
When David sang the Doors, I was encouraged to go flirt with him, and dutifully I ran up to the microphone and acted like a rabid fan on the Ed Sullivan show. David refused to look at me and I realized I was making him uncomfortable.
The other girl from that group was always nice to me, but somehow I had set myself apart. It didn’t matter much, as long as I could find that arm to lie on.