Continuing/concluding chapter 7 of the serialization of The Homecoming Game…
….. ….. ….. ….. …..
I pull out my smokes, and start to shake one out of the pack when Michael stops me with a tut-tutting noise and a shake of his head. “Nope, not inside man.” I stare back, mouth agape. Honestly, truly stunned. “What??!… There’s no smoking inside a bar. In Idaho?! Are you serious?!” He nods grimly “Yep, been that way for a while now.” I’m shaken. Rattled. Like a friend died.An expected “No smoking in a bar in Idaho… the world is completely ending. There’s the proof. Last time I was here, I got asked if I wanted ‘smoking or non-smoking’ in a restaurant! Not being able to smoke in a bar in Idaho is like trying to imagine California without convertibles, or Texas without cattle and oil… The world is upside down, man.” I need a drink. Badly. Now. I need that waitress to do a bump in the back room and get her ass in gear. Michael shrugs “Yeah… but the last time you were here was over 16 years ago, dude. Shit does change, even in Idaho.” I look at him with a wry twist to my mouth “Yeah, but I bet the Highway speed limit is still 55mph, right?”
He can tell I’m losing it a bit, and motions toward the bar to hurry it up. The bartender responds by getting in the waitress’ face, angrily pointing over towards our booth, before giving her a hard slap on the ass. Giddy-up little doggie, there’s booze to sell. As she trudges over, holding the bottle in one hand, with the glasses dangerously balanced on a tray in the other, Michael confirms my suspicions. “Of course it’s still 55mph… safety first!” She plants her cargo on the tabletop with a crabby gesture that threatens both the stability of the table, and the integrity of the glasses and stomps away with a sour look. I’m the kind of person who normally tips servers and waitresses very well. I know how shitty and hellish and exhausting it can be slinging drinks, serving food, busing tables. I’m silently pondering what would have more impact with our waitress… not tipping at all (which she is likely used to), or tipping an idiotically generous amount. Would getting a $60 tip make her second-guess her behavior, or would it just reinforce her habits and patterns. All of the variables of how it could play out are running through my head as Michael cracks the metal seal of the bottle’s cap, and pours us each 3 fingers of mid-shelf scotch. I guess we had to specify ice. In all likelihood, it’d melt to water by the time we got it anyway. We silently toast each other, the thick glasses clicking together, and I slam half of mine down in one gulp. There’s the fire down the throat… rising up out my nose and ears on the exhale. The warmth blooming out from my center… slowly expanding to my chest. Another swig and the glass is empty. Michael’s looking at me wide-eyed. He’s drained a finger’s worth of his glass, and I can tell by his expression as I refill my glass that… while he was expecting to drink tonight… he didn’t think we were going to be doing this kind of drinking. The kind teenagers and college students do before they learn better. The kind you do at parties when you don’t know anyone around you. The kind you do as a form of passive suicide.
The kind you do when you’re trying to shore up the dam of denial.
I ease back a bit, recognizing the concern in his eyes. I want to talk with my friend. I want camaraderie and brotherhood and laughter and tales. I don’t want him concerned about me. I don’t want him to wonder if I’ve started back down that road. That won’t help me here, and whether I’d say it aloud, I need all the help I can get. “So… other than the usual monkey business of hoping planes at the last minute to go to see Mt. Fuji or attend the Electric Daisy Carnival, what’re you doing?” I clarify myself “…besides agitating the locals for amusement, that is.”
He drains his glass, fills it again, with less this time. “Doing promotion and support for a satellite company out of Portland. They are doing a big push into the “rural” northwest in order to try and beat the cable companies to the punch. Washington State just approved some initiative that’ll lay fiber optic across the state… every home by 2014… so who knows how long it’ll last.” He takes a sip, shrugs “The work’s easy, I get to travel, mostly on my own schedule so I can go see gigs in Seattle or Portland if there’s something worth seeing. It works for now.” He looks around… slowly… as if really examining our surroundings for the first time. “Whenever this gig is over though, I’m thinking of moving. Head to Seattle or San Francisco.” He takes another swig and grins at me “Hell, maybe I’ll move to LA, and you can hook me up with a Fahncy Johb in Hollywood with lohts of Mahdels and ACTresses.” He draws the syllabels out like he’s a stereotypical society man seen in a million B movies. Dan Akroyd in Trading Places.I sip from my own glass, then hold it in both hands, looking down at it as I roll the short cylinder back and forth between my palms. “Dude… I hope you know, you ever decide to get out of here… whether it’s two years from now, or two days from now… I’ll help you in whatever way I can.” I drain the last of the second glass, reach for the bottle, pointing at him with one finger as my hand pulls the bottle to me. “You’re too smart to be here. You’ve got too much potential to just exist here.” The caramel liquid splashes into the glass and I look him in the eye so he knows this isn’t me joking or pulling his leg. “You’re smarter and more capable than 90% of the assholes and morons I deal with on a daily basis, so yeah… if you want to come to LA, please do.”
He takes the bottle from me, filling his own glass “Thanks. Maybe I will.” A sip taken, he holds it in his mouth for a moment before swallowing. Perhaps reconsidering the wisdom of recommending this locale as our drinking destination. “It’s something to think about.” He nods, toasting me with his glass, letting me know that he understands I’m serious, and acknowledging in kind that he is as well.
He pulls out the hammer. Tapping the ice. Trying to crack it gently. Not send shards flying that would cause injury or trauma. “So… how’d it go with your Dad?”
I drain my 3rd glass. Pour another. Look around the room. Deflect. Misdirect. “I can’t believe how… I know I grew up here, it should be second nature, it shouldn’t surprise me… but it doesn’t matter.” Another sip. Cover the stuttering. The stammering. I mean to talk like this. “Every time, I can’t believe how people talk here…”
Michael reaches for the bottle. His glass still half full. He’s not needing to pour… to top off… his own glass. He’s trying to get me to slow down without being a dick about it. Breathe, man. Relax. All these things said in gestures. Shorthand communication between lifelong friends. “What do you mean, how people talk…?”
I take an oversized breath, Like a diver that’s been down to long, trying to oxygenate the lungs. Trying to clear the head after having been down in the depths and the dark. “You know… ‘Sure thing sugar’… I actually had a nurse at the hospital say to me with a straight face, ‘good heavens son’, completely unaware of how it sounded. It’s like stepping in to an episode of Green fucking Acres.”
Michael snorts, and points toward me, injecting a critical note of clarification “If Green Acres was written by a meth head living with 5 kids by four different fathers in a trailer, using a bucket as a toilet.”The analogy is scary in its precision, and underscores just why I really would like Michael to move to LA. Work with me. If you have any pride in your work at all, you always want to work with people who are smarter than you are. I laugh. Hard and loud, tears rolling down the side of my face. It’s stupid to do so… it draws attention from the cluster of rednecks in the back corner, but I can’t help it. “Dear God… exactly. Dead. Fucking. On.”
He smiles and waits. Letting my laughter and tears die down. Watching amused, sipping his scotch, as I slowly pull myself together. The tension that’s been building since I first stepped on the plane at LAX this morning… less than 24 hours ago… a lifetime ago… has been broken. I’m feeling pleasantly buzzed. Warm around the edges. No longer brittle and fragile, capable of shattering at any moment. The cracks established in the hard surface, Michael tries again. “So… speaking of trailer park life… your Dad?”
My head goes to the side as I look at my glass. Resigned now to being “in this”. Accepting that the only way out is to go through it. “Well, on the plus side, he isn’t living in a trailer home anymore… not like he was when I left.” The corner of my mouth twists, anticipating the completely inappropriate humor in what I am about to say “The down side is that he’s shitting in a bedpan and dying. Hardly ‘movin’ on up’, y’know?” I get the giggles. Exhaustion. Scotch. The release of tension. Being here. Being in the presence of one of my dearest friends. No other way to put it, I’m fucking loopy.
Michael isn’t laughing. His isn’t even smiling. He purses his lips, looking at his drink while my hysteria subsides. He finally looked up at me, squinting. Measuring. “You had anything to eat today?” This is the flip side of having a friend that knows you so well. They can read… usually without error or flaw… between the lines. It’s annoying as fuck sometimes. In other moments, it’s what you truly need. Like now. I sigh, shake my head. Caught out like a kid caught sneaking a cookie before dinner. “Nah, I…” I snort in self-contempt, knowing how idiotic I sound as I say it “I had some pork rinds before I went over to the hospital.” Michael’s up, pulling his jacket on, and motioning me to do likewise. “Well, no wonder you’re acting like a 15 year old with his first beer… c’mon buckaroo, let’s get some food in you.”
I fumble to get up, miss the sleeve of my coat as I try to put it on. Miss a second time. Manage it on the third, avoiding Michael having to put it on me like I just rolled off the short bus. I’m patting my coat… OCD habit, checking twice that my phone, wallet and keys are where they were put last. I’m patting a third time… just to make sure… when I notice Michael throwing four $20s on the table as he starts to turn to leave. I grab his arm, clumsy. Unstable. “Dude… I… I gave you a hard time, bro… but… I… I’m getting this.” Looking over his shoulder, he cocks an eyebrow. The look of an babysitter annoyed that their charge has proven to be more trouble than initially anticipated. “Jack… c’mon. You can buy the food if you’re really determined to prove you’ve got money.” He watches me try to process the words. All clever thoughts gone. Dribble-drabble-drop. Down the drain. Finally he puts a hand on my shoulder and gently… but firmly… propels me towards the door. “Now, young man… food. Jesus, didn’t we learn as young hooligans? ‘Always eat at least 2 hours before going swimming in Lake Drunk’?” I nod, numb and dumb. Eyes heavy, room turning in slow… slow… motion. He steers me out the door and the drunks and barflies, rednecks and washouts, watch intently as we step out into the cold.