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Archive for March, 2010

Havana

28 Mar

There were reasons not to walk alone down High Street.

Some of those reasons were unwashed, unemployed and armed with Styrofoam cups labeled “Fill Me!” Threateningly, they shook these in my general direction with a menacing clink of quarter on quarter. An indigent dwarf who lived near the Newport used to have a habit of bursting from concealment, beard and rags flying, to demand change from passersby. Refusal earned you curses and a kick or two in the shins. I’d heard (with some relief) a rumor that he’d passed away, but it’s the sort of thing you never know for sure. I made sure to walk on the other side of the street as I passed.

Beth wanted me to meet her and her friends for karaoke at Havana. Havana was a bar in the Short North that I knew vaguely: the name, really, and nothing else. To conserve gas, I decided to walk the two miles from my house to the bar. Panhandlers accosted me every quarter mile or so. The implicit assumption that I was somehow less unemployed than they were offended me, but I suppose it was understandable. I had not yet abandoned the visible accoutrements of middle-class living: cell phone, tinted aviators, etc. Also, I wore the best of what remained of my fraying finery. Of all my corduroys, these had worn the least. I’d pulled the knot of my Italian-designed thrift-store tie down a careful and casual inch. I’d bought my messenger bag in Tokyo. I’d chosen the glasses because they covered most of my face.

Not that I mind my face, but it’s bad for poker. Somehow I had an instinct that I might need the glasses.

Here is another rule of internet dating: trust your instincts.

Beth had suggested eleven as a good time to meet, so that is when I left the house. I reasoned that she might have actually arrived during the half hour it took to walk there. As I walked up to the bar, knots of young men moved slowly about outside, smoking and talking. Since the Ohio smoking ban went into effect, the immediate outside of bars has in some respects become more social than the inside. There is always something to talk about, with an immediate and apparent point of commonality. I envy the society of smokers.

I pulled the door open, and for some reason, I thought of Tony.

Inside, the bar was long and open, surprisingly well-lit, with the bar itself to the left and a raised, carpeted area with tables and couches to the right. A small, empty stage with a microphone was located in the back of the bar. Two men played pool in a small room beyond the stage. An unfamiliar song played on the music system, but the singer was unmistakably David Bowie. I scanned the room. No Beth. No loud, laughing clot of girls that might be concealing her. No girls at all, actually.

I checked my phone to see if I’d managed to miss a call or a text, but I had no messages. My remaining options were leaving or whisky. My legs hurt. I leaned on my elbows, resting my foot on the foot rail, and ordered a beer and a bourbon. I played idly with a coaster while I waited for my drinks. Someone ran an inquisitive finger down the crack of my ass.

Oh.

 
 

Skully’s, part 2

24 Mar

Dimly, I gained a growing awareness that something was upsetting my stomach.

Beth had greeted me cordially, coolly, and mercifully by name. She and San Francisco had gone back to talking to one another, trading witticisms, laughing and shaking their heads. Their hands were empty, used only to cover their faces or support themselves on their knees as one or the other of them leaned back or doubled over with laughter. I smiled, pretending that they had invited me into their jokes, that I was somehow participating. Beer sloshed near the bottom of my emptying bottle.

A few years back, my insides had rebelled against me such that respectable people with respectable titles suspected I had Crohn’s disease. Incorrectly suspected, it turns out. Instead, I’d been diagnosed with chronic irritable bowel syndrome. While Crohn’s and irritable etc. are equals in their potential for physical comedy, the latter disease lacks the funereal dignity provided by the potentially fatal character of the former. IBS won’t kill you, but you’ll wish it had.

Pain stabbed my guts. I twisted my grimace into what I hoped was a smile and drank more of the beer that I knew was making things worse. Beth smiled in my direction, looking past my shoulder at something else. “You know,” she said, “I don’t think I’ve ever asked you. What do you do?”

Dave saved me.

He hugged me from behind, all sweat and sideburns. He’d just come from the dance floor. I was glad to see him. I had no time to explain the situation to him regarding either the girl or my guts (or, rather, the unfortunate intersection of these two situations). I hoped he’d back my play.

“This is Dave Espionage.” I sipped my beer. “He’s the DJ.” I said this with the nonchalance granted only to those who are concentrating very, very hard on something else.

Being a DJ is cool. Standing next to people who are cool is cool. Ergo, I was cool: QED.

Inexplicably, Beth ignored my logic, turning her attention back to San Francisco, who for her part had yet to acknowledge my existence. Dave soon disappeared back into the humid interior of Skully’s. The sound of something that had been popular twenty years earlier reached us faintly.

Beth grabbed her new friend’s hand, tossing another brief and manufactured smile in my direction. “I love this song! We have to go dance!”

I panicked, thinking only of what could happen if I were made to dance before I’d found a restroom. “Sure, but I have to go check on something. I’ll meet you out there in a few minutes.” Placing the empty bottle to my lips, I took a casual swig of imaginary beer.

A few minutes turned into a few more minutes. Someone (not Dave) had made the unfortunate choice to play Milli Vanilli and cleared the dance floor. Beth and S.F. were gone.

My phone buzzed in my pocket. I had a text message.

“Good to meet you tonight. Had to run, sorry. Karaoke at Havana Tuesday?”

Queasy, I went back inside to find the restroom again.

 
 

Skully’s

14 Mar

Once it’s been paid, a cover charge becomes something called a “sunk cost.” That means there’s no getting it back, no matter how much you regret the decision to pay it. Often, sunk costs lead to decisions of the “Well, I’ve paid for this, so I might as well try to enjoy it” sort. Some invariably excruciating experience ensues, ending only when you’ve decided that you’ve “gotten your money’s worth.” That shifting value, such as it exists in a club with a cover charge, is defined by the following equation: Money’s Worth = Misery – $5. Somewhere, an economist weeps.

Well drinks cost another five dollars. Drinks are perhaps more important as props than as drinks. They give you something to do with your hands besides fidget, and they’re useful for plugging that hole in your face once you’ve realized it’s making stupid noises. For the employed, these two roles do not conflict. The bar always sells more. However, I only had enough money for one, and whatever I bought had to last me the rest of the evening.

Imports cost four dollars. Domestics, $3.50. I bought something vile in a dark brown bottle and wandered the club looking for Beth.

At ten thirty, the outside smell of patio sweat and close bodies was still kind of sexy and not sour the way it would be by one. Beth remained elusive. People, by which I mean strangers, by which I mean drinking and drunk people in bars, talk to each other in these situations. Prior acquaintanceship is irrelevant. I know; I’ve seen it. As far as conversation starters go, “hi” has a reputation for effectiveness. I’ve never been able to get the hang of that one, though. I murmured directionless apologies as I shoved through knots of people, leading with the bottle.

Explosive laughter erupted from a particularly large clot of people.

Beth stood in the middle, head thrown back, wide mouth laughing, hands loosely in pockets, conspicuously picturesque. I stood on the periphery, passively interacting, prophylactically holding my beer between me and everyone else. If anyone besides Beth tried to talk to me, I could use it to buy myself a few seconds.

Another woman, tall and aggressively fashion forward, teetered on high heels as she spoke to Beth. Her imbalance seemed the result of enthusiasm rather than drunkenness, but those qualities would become progressively more difficult to separate as the night went on. Her bangles bangled.

“Beth, I’m so glad you found me on Craigslist,” she gushed. “I’ve just moved to town from San Francisco and you’re the first person I’ve met here. You seem like really beautiful people!”

Oh.

Reevaluation had become necessary. I sipped a few precious and finite milliliters, silently agreeing that yes, Beth did very much seem like beautiful people. Instead of responding, Beth laughed again, firm and unwavering in her heels. In some cavernous mental recess, it occurred to me that between their height and their heels, together these two had something like ten inches on me.

Here is another rule of internet dating: When women say, “When I go out with my guy, I want to be able to wear heels,” they mean what men mean when they say, “No fatties.”

Some new joke passed between them, but I missed it. Beth and I made eye contact.

 
 

Bethslist

08 Mar

Beth was from Craigslist.

Among other things, Craigslist lays claim to the highest per capita population of local hookers on the Internet. Also there are people looking for casual sex, for a third for their threesome or a fifth for their fivesome. “Serious photographers” troll for models with the potential to undress and be photographed. Genuinely serious photographers post naively, looking for the same thing. It is impossible to tell the difference between the two.

Apart from these colorful denizens of the list, there are also actual people looking for dates. Dates of the real, traditional type, where potential transactors barter sex for meals and conversation rather than crassly purchase it for impersonal cash. There is a gamble: that after betting dinner for two and an irreplaceable weekend evening on the possibility you and someone else will like each other well enough to try to talk each other out of your clothes, you’ll be left with only an indistinct sense of embarrassment and another number in your phone you’ll never call again. The gamble enhances the thrill, and losing encourages you to go double or nothing. Craigslist enhances the experience by blindfolding you. There’s no way to tell whose ad you’re responding to, and there’s no way to tell what they want. Some of them want you to take your pants off. Some of them just want to pants you.

Beth had given me her Myspace page, so I decided she was legitimate. I don’t know why I decided that. Probably it was her photos. They depicted a tall, blond woman with clear skin and slender limbs. She laughed in her photos. A caption to one of them helpfully informed me that she and her friend (unnamed in the caption) were laughing at a gentleman (off screen) who she had met at a club and to whom she had given a false phone number. Somehow, this seemed entirely justified to me. After all, she was so interesting.

At this point I remained unwilling to admit to myself that by “interesting,” I meant she had a hot ass.

We’d talked a few times over the phone. Her voice was an alto of the sort that knows it’s sexy. She worked in construction, an occupation that appealed to my bohemian pretenses. She talked about what it was like to be the only woman on a construction crew. She talked about harassment perpetrated by her coworkers. She talked about drywall and paint. I listened, rapt, imagining what it would be like to be in the presence of the lips that issued this voice. I imagined it in great and holistic detail.

After our third or fourth conversation I suggested we meet.

“Sure,” she said. “How about Skully’s tomorrow night?”

Skully’s was a retro nightclub in the Short North. 1950’s diner aesthetic with mirrors, a dance floor and a patio. Upstairs was a pool table and DJ booth. Tomorrow night was ladies-80’s, and a high school friend spun sets there under the name Dave Espionage. This was a detail I casually mentioned. If you do nothing actually cool yourself, having friends who do is nearly as good. It seemed like an ideal opportunity. My only mistake was believing it was a date.

 
 

acoustics

02 Mar

I walked home. It’d be more atmospheric to say that it was raining, because then I could talk about how the rain trickled down my face and through my beard. I could mention individual drops smacking painfully into my scalp through my thinning hair. While that is in fact what happens to me when it rains, that isn’t what happened then. Ohio summers are hot and damp, and sweat instead of rain trickled down through my whiskers. The sun hadn’t set yet. I walked on the west side of High Street to block the sun, but mostly that was futile. Late afternoon ninety degree humidity does not care whether you are in the shade.

Andrea’s car stopped next to me at a red light, where we made brief and awkward eye contact. Her car took off before the light turned fully green, and I made my sweaty and shuffling way after her. By the time I got to the house, my t-shirt had soaked through to my sport coat. No one was home.

Another rule of internet dating is this: do not wear clothes that cannot be fucked up.

Blackula wanted to be fucked.

She was Cory’s cat, I think. She was ex-pet store, unfixed, and consequently bat-shit insane. House policy on feline contraception followed the same general principle as herd immunity for vaccination. The three other cats were two fixed females and a cranky white eunuch named Chardunk. We’d thought Char was a girl until he mounted Blackula but then couldn’t figure out what to do next. Blackula, in heat and indifferent to his difficulties, screamed her kitty lungs out. This happened every month.

I sympathized with and hated her.

In our house it was impossible not to know whether anyone was getting any and, if so, exactly who it was. Our hall had narrow floors and awesome acoustics. My bedroom was bracketed on one end by Jason’s bedroom and by the shower on the other. Sex noises transferred themselves with remarkable fidelity through both walls. Cory and Molly’s room could echo from the end of the hall to the bottom of the stairs. I hadn’t had a woman visit since I’d moved in.

However, I did have an external hard drive containing, among other things, a modest collection of the most tasteful and artistic nudes the medium of film had to offer. These gave me some solace. I had been living there for months before anyone let me know that the alley between our house and the next resounded such that anyone on the front porch was privy to the most subtle nuances of the performers’ vocalizations, many of which were quite boisterous.

I didn’t know that then, though, and my immediate plans were to take the edge off, shower, and drink until I ran out of bottles. First, though, I checked my email.

There was a new message from Beth. She was gorgeous. I didn’t really pay much attention to the rest of the message.