Issue 008: Today I Will Like You,
Tomorrow I Will Love You or,
It's Easy to Hurt
27 November 2011
Sponsored by the love I have for my two cats, whom I am forbidden from seeing for an undisclosed amount of time. (Forever?)
—with generous amounts of love provided by—
Leila W. W., who drank thirty-dollars worth of margaritas at Matt’s El Rancho Mexican restaurant. (I love you, Leila. I say that a lot later on.)
—and solid advice from—
Nick Pacifico, who suggested Leila and I eat at Matt’s El Rancho Mexican restaurant, despite having never been there before. Thanks, Nick. (I’ll thank you again later in the story.)
• • •
“It’s Easy to Hurt”
There’s this girl who exists. She doesn’t want to see me right now—maybe never again, I don’t know. She has a good reason.
I’ll say it again: She has a good reason. I did some rotten things to her. I deserve the death penalty.
• • •
Come to think of it, I used to do a lot of rotten things to a lot of people. I never did them on purpose, and never to hurt anyone. But of course people got hurt. I got hurt.
I was just plain cruel sometimes.
• • •
This thing is so complicated. I wish I could explain it, but I think it might upset me too much. I’m writing chapter four of this novella I’ve been working on. I have titled this particular chapter “He Loved Until He Was Told Not To”. It’s partly about this girl. It makes me so sick to write it. It really hurts. That’s why it’s taken so long—that’s why I can’t finish it.
See: I used to go out of town quite a bit—to get away from pain for a little while. I ran away so I wouldn’t have to hurt so badly. Every time I left, I would draw a tombstone on my dry-erase calendar. I would come up with different epitaphs each time I left. I’ll bet that really upset her. I regret doing that now.
One of them said this:
“He Loved Until He Was Told Not To”
So there’s a mystery solved. I was childishly communicating that everything I had ever done was done out of love, and that she had told me not to any longer. There is some truth in there, I’m sure—about being told, in so many words, that the love I was offering was wrong. But it was still a dumb thing to say. It was selfish as hell.
I’m truly sorry about that, whomever you are, wherever you are.
• • •
Why didn’t I just write down events on that calendar? Why didn’t I write down dates? It’s because I had nothing to look forward to. I erased it all. Sometimes I would draw an arrow from one day to another, usually a week or two away, and write “Texas!” or “New Orleans!” or “Virginia!” Sometimes I would write “New York City!” or “San Francisco!” That meant I would be in that city or state from one point in time to another. But I got sick of looking at it. It was information I didn’t necessarily need to know. I mostly wrote it down for her—so she’d know when I’d be back.
And here’s why she needed to know where I was and when I would be back: She was in the care of our two cats, Dante and Virgil.
I sure do miss Dante and Virgil.
• • •
Here’s another one:
“Sometimes It Was Worth It”
That one kills me. I mean it really cracks me up. That should be my actual epitaph. Can someone inform my family? I wonder if they’d find it just as funny. I doubt it. My family doesn’t think I’m funny at all. They think I’m depressing as hell—even when I’m joking. I guess my jokes are just that sad.
“Mom, Give My Jokes A Chance”
• • •
I’ve been vague about a lot of different things. Why did this girl jump ship? Where are my cats?
I can only answer one of those questions. But as I’ve said: I can’t tell you why this girl left. It would really shred me to think too deeply on the subject. It would turn me into dust.
Recently I had my father speak to her about the big issue, which is the cats. See, she won’t talk to me. She’ll only talk to my father.
My father, incidentally, is a really terrific guy. He’s a real champ about the whole thing. Lord knows it must be awkward as hell to wear the intermediary cap.
God bless him.
He asked her how Dante and Virgil were, and if he could have some pictures to send my way. He asked if I could see my boys again.
She replied. We were all very surprised.
She said the cats had been eating and sleeping and playing with toys. That wasn’t news, really. But she said she’d moved, and that they’d adapted well to their new environment. She sent pictures. In them, Dante and Virgil are eating and sleeping and playing with toys. Dante’s winter coat is coming in nicely. Virgil is just as sleek and lithe as ever.
Man. I sure do miss Dante and Virgil.
• • •
Really, I’m an inch away from losing my shit. Is that okay with you?
I’m actually hesitant to write about the cats going away, because I want to use it someplace else, but here goes (I’m doing this):
I came home from California to find a note taped to my dining room table. My cats were nowhere to be found. The note said, among a lot of other sad things, that what was done had to be done. It said that I was too sick to care for anyone but myself—and that at present I couldn’t even do that.
That was true. I was sick. I was sick as hell.
But imagine coming home and having your God damn cats go missing. Or, hell, your dog. Or your parakeet! You’d be pretty upset, too.
What really killed me was that she’d vacuumed the apartment. All of their hair was gone. For God’s sake, I thought, at least leave the hair.
And their toys were missing. The cabinet by the microwave, which was once filled with cans of delicious cat food, was completely empty. She even took the carpeted cat towers. I’d been robbed blind.
Dante and Virgil were gone for good.
I balled up the note and threw it across the room. I sat down and felt sad and angry at the same time. Once I’d calmed myself down—once I’d returned to a state of feeling okay—I scooped up the note, which had become a ball, remember, and smoothed it out on the kitchen counter. I folded it in half twice. It became a little square. I put it in a drawer that I don’t regularly open. And there it has rested since that horrible day. There it is waiting for no one to read it.
I’ll throw it away when I feel ready to.
• • •
Yes, and it has been three months since I saw their furry little faces. It kills me. I mean it really kills me. I feel so rotten about the whole situation. I want to vanish when I think about it.
And how could I not think about it?
Every night, no matter where I am, be it couch or loft or bed—I am inundated with bad feelings which conspire to destroy me. An invisible hand reaches inside my chest and takes from me whatever it wishes, which is usually any sort of will to continue doing any of this dumb bullshit.
By dumb bullshit I mean “being alive.”
Sorry. I know I’m not supposed to say stuff like that anymore. My therapist tells me it’s bad for the soul. It’s bad for the mind.
But I wouldn’t say that unless it was absolutely true. And boy is it true.
• • •
Most everyone asks me these days, “So, when are you getting your cats back?” I never have an answer for them. They usually get upset that I’m not being more proactive—that I’m not trying really hard to right this wrong.
And before we continue, let me again say this: This girl has every right to never want to see me again. Boy, was I rotten.
This is kind of slimy, though—this whole cat thing. It was done very strangely. I didn’t even get a say in it. There was no discussion of any sort.
Hell, you fly to San Francisco and you have a ball, you feel really great for once—only to return and find out that your little babies have been taken in the night.
What a world.
• • •
Oh, I tried to think about this rationally. I tried to be reasonable. It was quite hard, mind. It’s hard to get over those little faces and those little paws and those little furry tails. People were always saying things about those tails. “My, what furry tails!”
“I know, I know!” I’d say. No more.
I sure do miss those furry tails.
• • •
If I were with Dante right now, I’d be so happy. Dante always loved his papa. I would go away on vacation, and every time I would get back, there would be Dante. He’d get so happy. He’d chirrup and purr and ask me, in his own little way, if I wouldn’t mind holding him.
And Virgil would be slightly angry at me for leaving him for so long, but he’d get over it.
I can only imagine how much Dante misses me, and how mad Virgil would be at my being away for so long.
Dante might have a little cat heart attack when he sees me again. He might freak out. “Father!” he would think in his little cat brain. “Father, you’re back!”
“Hmph!” Virgil would think. “What a fucking dick.”
I would embrace them and cry. I would say, “I’m home, I’m home! I love you both more than anything else on this planet.” And then we’d all roll around on the rug together. We’d be like a little family again.
• • •
“All He Wanted Was His Little Family Back”
• • •
I think about this every night here in the great state of Texas. In fact I think about old problems at home more than I care to admit. Whenever my sister or mother or grandmother or whatever gets in touch with me, it reminds me of who I used to be, and where I came from. Oh man, does it make me feel all twisted up inside. So long, Virginia, I’ll think. I used to love you. I can love you no longer.
You make me feel horrible about myself.
I would be a different person if they let me. I would have a different face and a different name. I’d open up my chest and rip out all the old. I’d empty my brain into a dumpster. I’d be a different sort of human being.
I’d be better off. Maybe then I’d get my cats back.
This is what I would say to the girl who took my cats away: “Look, I’m different! I’m not Ryan anymore. Now you can trust me.” And I would smile—I would smile! There’s no way she could deny me then.
How can you deny someone who has, God’s honest, changed forever? How could you keep them away from their precious little cats?
God damn. This sure is hell on Earth. I’d sooner be drawn and quartered. At least then I wouldn’t have a care in the world. At least then I couldn’t think about anything anymore.
Give me some relief here.
• • •
How does one escape the lingering fucking miasma of an old life? How does one start again?
I have tried. I’m trying now. I try so very hard to. But still I am reminded still of old faces and old love; I am reminded of little furry tails and little happy families. I cannot escape the man I used to be. I’m stuck with him.
I hate him. He is a vicious monster and a base fiend. He is a fell creature. Fuck that guy.
• • •
Before anyone suggests it, I must say this: I am not going to get new cats. Really, if one more person says this to me, I may blow my top. And I never do that.
My mother said this to me. She said, “Maybe you should just get a new cat.” I nearly swore at her. I have said “fuck” to (not at) my mother maybe three times in my life. Had I not reined that shit in, it would have been the big Number Four. Lord knows I shouldn’t be using that word in a casual conversation with the woman who gave birth to me.
Instead I broke out into a cold sweat and said this: “No.”
Yes, I refuse to “start over” without my little boys. I refuse to forget that, somewhere out there, in a townhouse in Baltimore which I am not allowed to visit, there are two cats who are my children. I cannot forget this.
And if you’re thinking to yourself, “They’re just cats“—oh, God. I sincerely hope you’re not thinking that.
You know, I’ve never really gotten anything I’ve wanted out of life. And I haven’t really asked for much. Is it . . . so hard to let a man keep his cats? It seems like every time I end up in the care of little animals, they are taken from me. It’s usually feline leukemia that takes my babies away. It’s usually disease. I haven’t been able to keep a cat past five years old since I was a little boy. And here I am a grown man—a grown man without cats. Gone! Taken! I don’t even know where they are.
Where are you, Dante and Virgil?
• • •
I’m going to suggest we talk about happier things after the next scene break. I’ll say something like, “Let’s stop talking about these cats; it’s depressing.” You’ll see. And now three little dots and it’s happier times ahead. Here we go!
• • •
We can stop talking about my cats for a little while. I realize it’s a little depressing. We can talk about other things. I’m happy to. Hey, for instance, let’s talk about sentences. Sentences are great. I love them.
Just the other day I wrote this down. It is not for anyone in particular, I don’t think. Probably not. It is just an idea:
“I wish I could be someone else so you could love that person.”
And I saw this written on a locker at the University of Texas at Austin while I was carrying Chantal’s art supplies:
“Nobody cares enough.”
I’m trying, stranger.
• • •
“Nobody Cared Enough”
I’m a riot.
• • •
“Leila Comes To Town”
Last week my dear sister Leila Wylie was out and about here in Austin, Texas. She was here to visit me and to see my new home.
No, she was actually here for work. Leila couldn’t care less about me or where I’m living.
But we had a ball anyway. I’d picked her up from the airport with Chantal late Sunday night. We picked her up in Chantal’s sap-covered car. It was hilarious.
Yes, and her hair was braided and wrapped around her head. She looked lovely. She looked, maybe, a little like a Swedish girl.
Chantal and I—see, we were sitting on these leather chairs by baggage return. We would point at elderly men or obese women and say, “There’s Leila!” It took a while for that one to get old. (Sorry, Leila.)
We waited for maybe twenty minutes. And wouldn’t you know it, we never did see Leila descend the escalator. We got all giddy and adorable. We forgot why we were there in the first place. Our eyesight betrayed us and our brains failed to listen. We just wanted to act cute in the airport. We wanted to say and do funny things for our own amusement.
Leila appeared out of the fog. She approached us with big beautiful open eyes.
“Hi,” said Leila. She did that thing she does when she’s idle, which is twitch her lips just a little bit. Something inside of me melted a little. I was so happy to see her. I stood up.
“Leila!” I hugged her. She hugged me back. We hugged each other. It had been three and a half months since I’d wrapped my arms around that girl. God, do I love Leila. I let her feel it, too. I wanted there to be no question as to who loved her and how much.
• • •
An aside: I love Leila. I love Leila this much:
The asterisk indicates how much I love Leila. It is resting at “100.” That is to say, yes: I love Leila as much as a human being can love another human being. She is my sister. She is my good friend.
She would fight people for me.
• • •
Chantal drove Leila to her hotel in the Arboretum. I was there, too, of course. All I did was sit in the passenger seat and get us lost. I told Chantal to go the wrong way. We got lost. Leila chastised me. If she didn’t call me an idiot or a fool, she was surely thinking it.
Eventually, without my help, Chantal pulled into a dark and spooky lot. There was a mall and plenty of nondescript office buildings. In the center of it all was an enormous stone cube. The cube had a name. It was called “Renaissance Austin Hotel”. It looked as inviting as the hotel from The Shining.
Yes, and there was what appeared to be smoke damage near every window. “Was there a fucking fire here or something?” said Leila.
We pulled around near the lobby. A man in a hilarious suit opened our doors. Chantal opened the trunk. The man took Leila’s luggage. I got out of the car. I hugged Leila tightly. “Good-night,” I said.
“Good-night,” she said. She told me to pick her up the next evening. I shrugged. She walked towards the doom-hotel and disappeared into the lobby. I figured she’d be murdered by morning.
Chantal and I spent the next half hour getting lost in the Arboretum. I ended up giving her directions that lead us out and then back in to the same parking lot we’d just left. It was funny as hell—to me.
• • •
Leila worked the next day. She did her job as a marketing analyst for an enormous health care and pharmaceutical company. She typed on a thin slab which was also a computer, and which was made of glass and aluminum.
I honestly cannot remember what I would have been doing during those same hours. Sleeping, maybe—and forming sentences and paragraphs in my mind like it was a game.
I do remember that I ate at Torchy’s Tacos. I convinced them to create a custom meatless burrito for me. They replaced the meat with three fried avocados. I felt like a real champ about that. I ate it in less than five minutes. The other restaurant patrons were made to feel mildly uncomfortable at the speed at which I eat food.
At some point in my grand day out, Leila told me to pick her up at 7:30. I said, “Okay.” And then I said, “Can’t I come get you earlier?” She told me she had work to do, God damn it. I frowned. I couldn’t remember what exactly “work” was.
I sent Leila a message saying I could score us a bag of blow. She told me she was too busy to do cocaine. And then she made a dinner suggestion prefaced with “for your information.” It was a very Leila thing to do.
“FYI,” said Leila, “I want some good (not shitty) Mexican food tonight. So you’re in charge of that.”
This is what I said in response: “Sure, there’s a Chipotle on the main drag and a Taco Bell near the airport.”
“Shut up,” said Leila.
• • •
“OK,” she said around 6:30. “You can come mow if you want.” “Mow,” of course, was simply a typo for “now”.
She wanted to eat and she wanted me to be prompt about taking her somewhere to make that happen. I would soon ruin any chances of us eating in a timely manner. I would soon be lost as hell.
I hopped on my bicycle and rode like a madman down Duval St. I raced down the hill near Double Dave’s and nearly crashed making the big sweeping turn onto San Jacinto. Leila was hungry, and it was my head on the line.
I should have let myself crash.
• • •
“He Died Because Leila Wanted To Eat Dinner”
• • •
But I didn’t—I corrected. I sped into the entrance of the University of Texas at Austin to meet Chantal and her friend Karina at the art building. I locked my bike up and removed my front and back lights. I didn’t want some crooked fucker to take them.
Chantal was still on the fourth floor. She had finished painting and was putting everything into two enormous plastic tackle boxes which store art supplies. Karina was seated on a couch. She was laughing like a psychopath. She said, “Hello!” I was tired as hell. I said, “Hi!” in a breathy voice.
Here I will provide the reason why I was in the art building with Chantal and Karina: I was borrowing Chantal’s car. I promised to take good care of it. She said that was fine, and that I could have the key that, when placed in the ignition, would allow the car to take me to Leila so that she wouldn’t track me down and rip my head off my body.
When it was time to go, we left. We had to get back to the car, which was parked at an ancient mansion in West Campus—where Chantal and Karina lived. I raced there, huffing and puffing, with Chantal and Karina lagging behind. At one point I heard Karina say something about the rate at which I was peddling. “He’s got motivation,” said Chantal. She meant, of course, the avoidance of pain and dismemberment at the hands of my best friend.
We arrived at the house within a few short minutes. There it was: yellow and old and slightly spooky. The conical turret was lit up like a Christmas tree. The front porch welcomed us. “Come in,” it said. “Come in, you fucks.”
We went inside. I rested my bike next to the stairwell and tried to catch my breath. Chantal gave me the keys to her car. I dashed out the kitchen door and hopped in the driver’s seat. I had fifteen minutes to drive fifteen miles.
My pocket vibrated. I pulled my phone out and was greeted with a bone-chilling message: “Please get in the fucking car and get over here.”
• • •
I sped through yellow stoplights and cut corners. Leila had given me a lead foot. I turned into an erratic and unpredictable motorist. I was practically foaming at the mouth.
The car bounced onto Mopac and then to 181. It turned left on 360, and then right into the Arboretum. I pulled up to the ominous building that Leila had spent the night in. I told her: “Come on down.”
She did. She looked beautiful. She had on a dress and a thin cardigan. On her feet were nice shoes. I wasn’t surprised. Leila has great taste in everything.
“All new clothes,” she said. Her house had recently burned down, and with it everything she owned.
“Oh, wow,” I said. It was a stupid thing to say.
I turned out of the Arboretum and made a U-turn on 360. I was feeling fine. I was going to take us into Austin, and then to Matt’s El Rancho Mexican Restaurant, which had been recommended to me by Nick Pacifico. “I hear everyone loves that place,” he’d said.
Yes, and we were on our way, hand-in-hand, ready to embrace the future—ready to embrace delicious and moderately-priced Mexican food. And then we got lost for the next hour.
• • •
My first mistake was failing to get back onto Mopac. After that it was all downhill. We went the wrong way down 181, and by the time I realized it, it was too late to undo the damage. Leila chastised me playfully at first. “You fucking idiot.” We laughed.
“Oh, oh, 35!” I said. “I’ll get on 35. I know how to get into Austin from 35.”
Twenty minutes passed. “This is the wrong way,” I said. “I have no idea where we are.” I couldn’t make out city lights anywhere in the distance, only an infinite screaming void of gas stations and fast food restaurants and hateful darkness.
Leila checked her GPS. “We’re going in the exact opposite way.”
“Oh, whoops,” I said. Leila sighed.
I turned around. I got on 35 South, which would eventually take us to Lamar Blvd., which is where Matt’s El Rancho Mexican Restaurant awaited us.
When we finally got into Austin, nearly an hour had passed. Leila’s stomach barked angrily. She translated for me: “Jesus Christ, just find this fucking restaurant.”
I made a ballsy move. I turned onto 38th St. and rode it all the way down past Duval and Speedway and Guadalupe. “I sure hope you know where you’re going,” said Leila.
I lied without realizing it: “I’ve got this,” I said.
• • •
I had briefly looked at a map before leaving the house. I knew that Matt’s El Rancho Mexican Restaurant was somewhere near a Half-Price Books and a Goodwill. I knew that much. I also knew it was, of course, on Lamar Blvd. So I turned off of 38th onto Lamar going the wrong direction. We ended up in a backwards-ass ghetto-fied nowhere. When we passed a Half-Price Books and a Goodwill, Leila’s hunger turned to daggers. She berated me ferociously.
“Look—” I said. “The God damn directions said it was next to a Half-Price Books and a Goodwill. It said it was across the street from a Sonic.”
“Well, I don’t see a fucking Sonic anywhere around here,” said Leila.
Leila whipped out her phone. It looked like a pistol in her hand. My bones rattled around in my body. I was terrified.
She swiped and poked at the screen. “God,” said Leila. “You didn’t look at any directions.”
“I did!” I protested.
“If you had, you would have known that there are two Half-Price Books, and two Goodwills. We’re going in the wrong fucking direction.”
“I mean, what are the odds of there being two of everything?” I said. Leila rolled her eyes.
“I’m starving,” she said. I turned the car around. I began driving in the right direction.
• • •
After twenty more minutes of driving, way the hell up South Lamar Blvd, finally, finally there it was, the beautiful thing: Matt’s El Rancho Mexican Restaurant. It was lit up in neon. It may as well have been Heaven itself.
The parking lot was packed. I was relieved that Matt’s El Rancho Mexican Restaurant was both popular and an actual building with chairs and tables. I was nervous, you see, because I half-expected us to pull up to a closed-down taco truck resting on four cinderblocks.
We went inside. The place was yellow with soft lighting. There were paintings and flowers and news clippings on the wall. The whole place looked like an ranch-style adobe. El Rancho, indeed. When the gentleman behind the podium asked us if we wished to sit inside or outside, Leila excitedly turned to me: “Ooo!” she said. She clasped her hands together and held them up to her chest. “Can we sit outside?!”
“Yes,” I said. “Sure.”
• • •
We were lead out two wide wooden doors and into a stone patio. There was a splashing fountain full of koi in the center of the place. There were metal tables and chairs. Smiling happy faces were all around. Some talked and laughed while others sipped at wine or took bites of quesadilla. The whole place was lit up by twinkling yellow lights strung from the roof. There was a slight carnival atmosphere, but not in a spooky way. It was a terrific place to be.
“Would you care to sit by the fountain?” said the man seating us.
“Yeah!” said Leila. We were lead to the koi pond. Leila was practically jumping off out of her skin. She wanted to eat so badly. She wanted to see oversized goldfish act bored in a tub of water.
Our waiter was eerily friendly. He seemed like an all right guy otherwise. He brought me an iced tea and Leila the first of many margaritas.
“Iced tea?” said Leila. “Are you serious?”
• • •
• • •
I ordered vegetable fajitas. Leila had chicken enchiladas. She was on her second margarita by the time our food arrived. Her cheeks were getting rosier than usual. She loosened up. She told me she liked Austin, and that she wanted to come back and visit for what those with real jobs call “a long weekend.” I wanted to explain to her that my whole life was a long weekend. But I didn’t.
I wolfed down my entire meal in minutes. I felt a little guilty for having eaten Mexican food twice in one day. This feeling quickly subsided after my second iced tea. It changed everything. It was a life-changing tea. Leila’s beverage judgments didn’t interfere with my happiness.
She ordered another margarita. Our waiter pointed to her plate, which was still heavy with rice and refried beans. “Are you still playing around with that?” he said.
“Yes,” she said. He walked away. She scrunched her face up. “‘Are you still playing around with that?’ What a fucking creepy way of putting that.” I shook my head. It was an extremely creepy way of asking if someone intended to finish their dinner.
• • •
Eventually we were given our check. Leila squinted her eyes. She did some calculations in her head. Something heavy was weighing on her mind.
“Maybe I could explain that I had two entrees,” she said. She was referring to the fact that her company would compensate her for her meal. She was trying to cover mine, too.
“No,” she said. “No. I shouldn’t do that.”
I took it from her hand. She’d drunk thirty dollars worth of booze. I thought that was so funny. I teased her about it. “Shut up,” said Leila. “I’m not even that drunk.”
• • •
It was raining when we got back to the parking lot. I told her it hadn’t really rained in months—maybe longer. I told her my friends had said it only started raining in Texas once I showed up. She rolled her eyes. “I’d believe it.”
I drove down Lamar Blvd. in the direction of home. I took her to the place where I was staying, off of E. 43rd St. I wanted her to meet everyone.
Nick was in the shower. He didn’t hear me when I knocked. I took her into Colette’s room, where Cat, the three-legged cat, was sleeping soundly on her bed.
“Hey,” I said to Colette, hanging in the doorway. “Leila’s here. I brought her up to meet you.”
“Um,” said Colette nervously. “Where is she?”
“Oh, she’s right here.” I pointed into the hallway where Leila was drunk and waiting.
Leila came in. She shook Colette’s hand. She approached Cat and gave him a good scratch on his head. “My dad has a three-legged dog, too,” she said. I didn’t have the heart to tell Leila that Cat wasn’t a dog.
• • •
When it was time to leave, we left. Leila wanted to be back at her hotel at a reasonable hour. She had a conference call in Spanish the next morning, she said. I had her back at the front lobby in fifteen-minutes flat. I didn’t get lost or anything.
Just before she got out of the car, I turned and hugged her for a long while. I didn’t say it, but I felt it in my chest: “I love you, Leila.”
She got out of the car and disappeared into the hotel. I drove out of the Arboretum and down a dark highway somewhere in Austin, Texas.
• • •
“Today I Will Like You; Tomorrow I Will Love You”
Recently I discovered that I can get blitzed on Lone Star for very little money. First of all, the stuff is damn cheap—I’ve talked about this before. It’s just bubbly wheat water. Typically I’ll buy a six-pack of tall boys, which is six sixteen-ounce cans of liquid (temporary, illusory) happiness. I only ever finish four. The other two I give to Nick and/or Jacob. Neither of them seem to enjoy it much. It’s wasted beer. That’s something like $6.75.
But just the other day I accidentally found out that Lone Star also comes in a twenty-four ounce can.
Here’s how I made the discovery: Chantal invited me to a gallery unveiling at the University of Texas at Austin. I ended up not going. I really ought to have gone.
Why didn’t I go? I don’t know. I was exhausted that night. I did something I never do, which is take a nap. By the time I woke up, it was too late. The show was over.
I had gone to a gallery opening a few weeks prior. It was called “Looking For a Fight”. I helped edit the little pamphlet that was given out at the opening. I went because I wanted to see art and Chantal. I went for the free hooch.
I was expecting the same sort of atmosphere this time around. I knew there would be alcohol served in clear plastic cups, and the viewing of works which were important, and people gathered in little circles talking about anything and everything. There would be soft lighting and laughter. It would be a nice place to be. But I also knew I would feel just a little weird about it all. I would stand around in corduroy pants and a henley and look badly out of place. I would be a stray.
And I was exhausted. As I have said, I took a nap. I slept for forty-five minutes. At eight-thirty I informed Chantal of my intentions to materialize at the opening. She told me it was over. Well, so much for that, I thought.
But then she invited me to drink beer on someone’s porch. That sounded okay. I said, “Sure.” I said, “I’m on my way.”
• • •
I hopped on my bicycle and peddled over to what Nick Pacifico refers to warmly as “the corner store”—just off the corner of Duval and E. 43rd St. The man behind the counter recognized me. He waved and asked how my day had been. “Oh, just fine,” I said.
I bought two enormous cans of beer—two towering pillars of mirth and merriment. I could barely wrap my hands around them. I had at first mistaken them to be individual sixteen-ounce Lone Stars. I thought they were regular old tall boys. But these were big boys. These were a surefire way to remove hurt.
So I bought them. They were $1.79 each. That’s a hell of a deal, if you ask me. I wasn’t even carded. I thought that was great.
I walked outside and checked my phone. “We’re buying wine instead,” said Chantal. I felt a little ashamed. I was going to show up and everyone would be drinking red wine. I would look sloppy and stupid with my gigantic beers.
• • •
• • •
I took off down Duval St. with the beers in my little backpack. I peddled hard. I cut across 38th St. until it intersected with Speedway. I followed the numbers until I hit 32nd St. Then I cut over to Guadalupe. I was looking for 31st ½ St. I couldn’t find that damn street for the life of me.
I rested near Spider House, which is a fucked up coffee shop/cafe/bar-thing where college-aged people sit around for hours and talk about inconsequential bullshit. It’s dark on the inside. On the outside it’s lit up with Christmas lights. There are fountains. It looks like a tornado built it. For the record, it’s not a bad place to be.
Yes, and I was gazing at the lights and smelling the coffee while I readjusted myself to the world. I was both eager and nervous to drink alcoholic beverages on someone else’s porch. I was relieved to know that in twenty minutes’ time, I wouldn’t really care where I was at all.
When I felt brave enough to move, I moved. I spilled out onto Guadalupe going the wrong way. Traffic was bad. I was the only cyclist I could see. I somehow managed to swerve around and head in the right direction. It was exhilarating and terrifying to be so open and vulnerable.
I felt like a real bastard when I eventually found 31st ½ St. It would have been easy to find had I been on the correct side of Guadalupe, which I hadn’t been. I sped down the street and spotted a house with columns and a red door. It was The Place To Be.
There was a table and chairs, which people were gathered around and on. I knew three of those people. The rest may as well have been ghouls and apparitions, for all I knew. They were strangers. I felt my stomach swell. I knew I would have to participate soon enough. I knew I would look and feel like a fool.
As I rode past the house, I turned my lights off. I didn’t want Chantal to spot me. I needed a moment to collect myself at the end of the street. When I got there, I dismounted and looked up at the sky. I felt my chest. It was burning with the best kind of pain.
I willed myself to hop back on my bicycle. I peddled back up the street and steered my way towards the house. I rode through the front yard. I dropped my bike on its side near some bushes. I managed to say, “Hello, everyone.” Chantal waved. I was embarrassed as hell for this reason: My body was wet. I was cold with sweat.
(Chantal later claimed that I “stumbled” through the yard, but I contest her account. She believes I was drunk on arrival, when in fact it was just nerves and post-nap sleepiness that had me rattled. I was in fact as sober as a pineapple. )
I walked over to Chantal, who motioned me towards her. She told me to put my bicycle inside. I did. I returned to the table. I pretended to sit down. There was nothing to sit on. She went inside and got me a chair. I sat down for real.
I pulled from my little bag two enormous cans of Lone Star. I set them both before me. They were bubbling with forty-eight ounces of relief from existence. I cracked one open. It popped and fizzed. I took a long sip. I made a noise of contentment. Chantal rolled her eyes.
I was introduced to everyone I didn’t know. They were affable and sweet to me. I was relieved.
I finished my first beer in a depressingly short amount of time. The can was empty before I knew it. I set it on the ground next to my bag. Chantal made big eyes at me. She took the other can away. “Slow down,” she said.
“My God, you’re right,” I said.
• • •
The gentleman to my right was charming and wonderful. We talked about nothing and I loved every second of it. He eventually got up and wandered around someplace else. He was replaced by a swell fellow wearing a wool cap. He explained to me that the house we were at was suffering from a big opossum problem. He said they were living under the house and causing all sorts of noise at odd hours.
“You aren’t going to kill them, are you?” I said.
“Oh, no,” he said. “I’m borrowing some of those ‘Havahart’ traps from my mom. Then I’ll just, like, call Animal Control. And I heard if you put mothballs all over the place, they won’t return.”
I cracked open another beer. Chantal took a break from drinking red wine and took a sip. She made the face that everyone makes when they take a sip of Lone Star, which is one of vague unhappiness.
After a while everything began to blur and warp. My vision was all twisted and my face was hot. My veins were expanding. They were thick as earthworms. And inside of them a marvelous chemical reaction was taking place. I smiled. It was a genuine smile. I felt like a million bucks. I was happy to be alive.
• • •
“Happy To Be Alive For One Night”
• • •
The more drunk I got, the more comfortable I felt showing affection in public to the girl on my left. Eventually a hand was on her back, and then a full arm. A spark flared behind my eyes. That was my brain telling me it was confused.
“What?” asked my brain. “What? What?”
“I don’t know, man,” I said non-verbally. “I don’t know what I’m doing, either.”
“You don’t do this. You’re bad at stuff like this,” said my brain.
“I know! Should I stop?”
“God, no. Keeping going.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. Well, so long for now,” said my brain. “You’re on your own. I’m busy micromanaging this dumb fucking body of yours. You’ve gone and made a mess of it. It’s full of alcohol.”
“I know, I’m sorry,” I said.
“Hey, you know what? Don’t worry about it.”
“I love you,” said my brain.
“I love you, too,” I said back.
• • •
I urinated six or seven times. I was happy to get up and go to the bathroom, because it was such a nice bathroom within such a nice house. I got so giddy every time my shoes got to glide across that wonderful hardwood floor. And my heart exploded every time I got to flush the toilet, on account of the flushing mechanism being so alien. It was a button you pressed. I pressed it so many times.
Something strange happened, which was that people seemed all right with me, a stranger, being around. They were happy to talk to me. Getting up to use the bathroom meant I would leave. And then I would come back to people who seemed content to know me. All I had to do was relieve myself of all the fluids which had found themselves needing out of me, and hey presto! I’d return to happy faces. It was a neat magic track. I repeated it many times.
I closed my eyes on the porch and opened them in the kitchen. I was seated at a table. Chantal and Karina and two other girls were doing something by the sink.
“I like your pants,” said one of the girls.
“Yeah,” said the other girl.
“Oh, thanks,” I said. “They’re just brown corduroys.”
“Yeah, but they’re cool,” said the first girl.
“Yes, corduroys are cool,” I said. “They’re the best kind of pants.”
• • •
I closed my eyes again. I opened them. I was on my bicycle headed down Guadalupe. I told Chantal that I forgot my bag. We circled back around down a series of side roads.
“I’m just here to get my bag,” I announced to everyone on the porch. “And now I’m leaving. Good-night!”
“Good-night!” said the mass of beautiful people.
I struggled to climb back on my bicycle. I caught my balance. Chantal pointed in the direction we were heading. I peddled hard to keep up with her. I was drunk and stupid.
It was Friday night. Everyone under the age of thirty was walking around. They were laughing and saying dumb things to one another. The air was perfect and warm. It felt like a summer night nested in the month of November. I was fortunate to be doing what I was doing in the place where I was. I was in Texas, and I was a million miles from everything and everyone that meant so much to me. I caught myself thinking of home—and of my cats. I banished the thought before it made me crash.
“Very good,” said my brain. “You don’t deserve to be sad tonight. Now, follow that girl home, and do your best to be happy.”