"For the next month, eh? I'll have to make sure I get that in writing by the end of the day," I chuckled. It was Abby's turn to blush now. "Um, I, uh...want to ride the Tilt-A-Whirl! Let's go!" I laughed as she led me along through the carnival. The night air stank of mud and trampled grass, of machines dying for oil and sweaty carnies who'd sooner spit in their mother's eye than consider bathing, of cotton candy and greasy funnel cakes. The mixture was enough to make any normal man's stomach turn, but to me, still to this day, it smelled like butterflies in the stomach, shy blushing, fumbling hands, joy of the here and now and her. We snuck off into the shadows and made love quietly in a field of tall grass, chuckling occasionally at the sounds of the carnival off in the distance.
Afterwards we scurried back over to the carnival for one last ride on the Ferris Wheel. "Can we stay here forever?" she asked as the wheel slowly turned. I pulled her close to me, kissing her ear softly. "You'll always be here next to me, in my heart. This moment will last forever in my heart." And then we kissed and we cooed and we basked in the glow of each other's love. It was our 6 month anniversary.
"Keep'em coming, George, I'm getting dry over here!"
George just shook his head and poured another Irish Car Bomb. "Another un of them Joel and ye'll be lucky to make it to the pisser 'fore yer gittin sick on yerself." His words hardly hit my ears before I slammed the concoction down. "I can stomach more than you think George. I've been drinking like this for months now. I'm old hat, a pro, a...um..*hic*...oh cra..." The barkeep just laughed as I staggered to the bathroom. "Next time ye'll listen to me boy! No sense poisoning yourself like that over some girl anyhow!"
If life's not beautiful without the pain,Clarissa had been trying to set me up with her sister for months, but I wouldn't have any of it. "I absolutely HATE blind dates. Besides, what if she decides that she hates me? Our friendship aside, you and I have to work together. That's what partners in a business do. What if her and I hit things off, date for awhile, and then she decides I'm a horrible creep? That could put a serious damper on our business relationship, you know. I'm just trying to look out for our best interests!"
well I'd just rather never ever even see beauty again.
Of course, what I was really trying to look out for was MY best interests at the time. I wasn't ready to jump into a new relationship. It'd only been a couple months since She-Who-Shant-Be-Named took off to Maui with He-Who-Used-To-Be-My-Friend, leaving me with a Dear John letter as a farewell and good bye. Twelve pages of drivel and nonsense, extolling my virtues and beauty and all of it bullshit to make me think that she at least understood what she was giving up to be with an alcoholic who'd ditch her the moment something with a bigger bust size came along. It took four sittings to make it to the end of her letter. My neighbor came by to check on me shortly thereafter, concerned because he'd heard me laughing hysterically for the last 5 minutes. Sometimes you just have to laugh at how stupid life is. It was then that I decided I was climbing out of the dating pool for awhile and taking a bit of a sabbatical over in the sauna. A few months of peace and quiet while I let the heat bake the toxins out of my body couldn't hurt.
"I've a solution then. How about you come to my party Friday night? You can meet Sis and if you hit it off, then all I ask is that you pursue things. If not, then you don't have to worry about me finding out about how you're really a dirty pervert." Working with me in the record store for the last couple years had taught Clarissa that I can be easily convinced to do something mildly painful as long as the pain was under my control. I agreed to show and show I did. Typically her "parties" turned out to be an intimate get together with a dozen or so people, so I wasn't too worried. If her sister got on my nerves or turned out to be Solomon Grundy, then it'd be likely that Clarissa could keep her entertained. To say I was surprised when I walked in the door to a hopping house party was an understatement. I'd always thought the townhouse was pretty spacious, but I'd never imagined it filled with a hundred or so liquored up party kids. "JOEL!!! I'm glad you came!" Clarissa shouted at me as she half-hugged, half-tackled me. "Beer and whatever is in the kitchen. I've got a secret stash upstairs in The Lab. Stumpy's up there laying down some smoother stuff for the sophisticated crowd, he's got a supply of vodka and juices in the fridge with your name on it." "You always know how to take care of me, don't you dear?" Clarissa just laughed. "By the way, I think my sister is up there. Brunette, about 5'9", looks kinda like me. Introduce yourself, for me? Please?" she pleaded teasingly, making a puppy dog face at me. I just laughed and waved her away. "Go, grease the wheels with your people, I've got to see a man about a drink." I watched as she staggered off to a group of mods that came into our shop occasionally.
Typically I would avoid this sort of party like the plague. It wasn't that I didn't have a good time at them. If I wasn't with a girl at the time, I'd usually find myself with one by the end of the night. If I was with a girl at the time, sometimes I found myself without one by the end of the night. Neither seemed to bother me much. I simply felt awkward spending time around these people. More often than not, they were customers that I saw come into the store several times a week. I could look at some of them and pull up a mental log of the last 20 albums they'd bought from me, rattle off their top 5 favorite artists of all time, and tell you what kind of relationship they had with their parents and their first serious girlfriend through cross-analysis of the first two. Knowing what played between their ears while they tried to drown out their sorrows and joys and misery and dead-end job blues was my job. Like a depression-era bootlegger or a Texas dildo peddler, I knew what got their rocks off and what new album was likely to please them even more. You don't often see shrinks hanging out with their patients or bartenders with their drunks. It probably breaks half a dozen rules on doctor/client relations to just sit together at a party ignoring one another completely. You might as well set fire to your office if you decide to actually mingle with them. The moment either of you even vaguely refers to something that was shared in confidence, your credibility as a bastion of emo-laden secrecy is lost. "OMFG!!! You listen to Ace Of Base?! JOEL!!! How could you possibly let such an atrocity happen in this day and age?!?!"
After a few obligatory greetings, I made my way upstairs to Clarissa's in-house studio, appropriately named The Lab. While our record store was a means for me to force my music tastes onto others while making a small profit off of it, Clarissa took her share of profits and put it back into the music. After our first year, she had the attic of her townhouse converted into a comfortable studio space. You wouldn't know it by looking, but almost every item in the room had been recycled from elsewhere. The furniture had either been picked up from curbs or "salvaged" from liquidated businesses in our neighborhood. Combine them with an unhealthy interest in all of those reality remodeling shows on TLC and connections at a fabric store and she had turned a couple of ratty couches and chairs into chic coasters for human alcohol receptacles. Further in you could see various studio equipment on shelving units "purloined" from a shutdown K-mart. Stumpy had his gear plugged into the studio's overhead speaker system, DJ Shadow's "Blood On The Motorway" faintly audible over the conversation in the room. We gave each other The Nod as I moved to the fridge on a hunt for Courage Lubricant.
That was my final drink as a free man for quite awhile. It was while pouring my drink that I saw Abby enter the room. I'd seen her come into the shop a few times in the past, but she was always a tag-along, coming in with some tasteless kid who only bought trendy goth-rock albums. It didn't matter if it was quality work, as long as the internet buzz was there. I suspect that if Type O Negative recorded an album of nothing but the sweet sounds of a sweaty man taking a crap, he'd have bought it and thought it was the most artistic album ever made. You couldn't help but feel sorry for the poor girl. Once I caught her eyeing Placebo's "Black Market Music" album and felt a pang of sadness inside, knowing that her boyfriend or whoever he was would laugh at her for even looking at something from that band that put out "Pure Morning". He dragged her out of the store before she could give any more thought to the album. It was at that moment that I glanced around The Lab and noticed she was the only girl who matched Clarissa's description. The inner dialog kicked into high gear. "Oh crap. What was her sister's name again? Alex? Allison? Attilla the Hun? I think it was Andrea! Was it? She'd have introduced us at the store, wouldn't she? Please tell me that this beauty isn't Clar..."
"Hi there." Crap. There she was, standing in front of me. Talking to me. What do I do?!
"Um, this is the point where you say hello to me and offer to pour me a drink." She's smiling at me. Crap crap. She probably thinks I'm a total idiot. Crap crap crap.
"Uhh, hi. Would you like something to drink? The selection up here is kinda poor, either vodka or vodka and cranberry juice or vodka and orange juice or..."
"Just some orange juice, actually." She smiled shyly. "My name is Abby." I fumbled around for a glass and poured her juice, trying my best not to look like an idiot and failing miserably. "Haven't I seen you around? Maybe in my shop a couple of times. I own Spin The Black Circle down on 15th. Well, Clarissa and I...Have I seen you in there before?" It all just kind of oozed out of my mouth. The best I could hope for was that it came out intelligible. "I thought I recognized you! My roommate drags me along on his shopping trips occasionally. He listens to this awful goth music. It all sounds like someone let their kid pound away on an organ while they scream about wanting to die for the Dark Overlord. I can't believe stores are allowed to sell some of that crap." All I could do was laugh. "Oh my god, you have to marry me!" I quipped. She grabbed my hand, giggling in that oh so cute way that I'd learn to cherish more than breathing. "Not tonight, but I'm free next Friday night if you'd like to try again."
That night was one of the best nights of my life. Even now, after all that's happened between us since, I can still say that meeting her was one of the best things to happen in my life. We sat in a corner of The Lab, talking and laughing and being elitist snobs until the early morning hours. I woke up in the morning to Clarissa kicking me, a huge grin on her face. "What, my sister wasn't good enough for you, you had to pick up some random floozy instead?" "Huh? But...she was...she wasn't?...but you said...huh?" Maybe it was the alcohol or maybe it was the euphoria of the previous evening, but the words coming out of her mouth didn't make the least bit of sense. "That girl that you were talking with last night? She wasn't my sister Andrea that you were supposed to come up here and talk to. I know that because Andrea went home early with some stupid ex-boyfriend of hers. I also know that it wasn't her because Abby, the girl you were up here with, left a note for you on the kitchen table with her phone number on it and directions to her place so you can pick her up on Friday night. You sly dog!"
I stared at the note in amazement. "Apparently it wasn't a drunken hallucination. Hopefully I wasn't beer-goggling Solomon Grundy." Thus was the beginning of my time with Abby.
George had a tall glass of water and a glass full of peanuts waiting for me when I got back to the bar. "Drink up boy, it's 'bout time I sober ya up fer the night." I staggered back over to the stool and took a big swig of peanuts. "George, yer too good to me." "Just be careful not to choke, it's all I ask." The barkeep. I didn't go in for that psychotherapy bullshit. My misery had nothing to do with the fact that I wasn't close with my father or that my mom didn't let me pick my own clothes until junior-high. Psychiatrists were just as bad. Popping pills to kill your misery doesn't fix anything, it just leaves your brain tuned in to the Happy Channel. I loved a girl. That girl broke my heart. It's a pretty simple story, told daily throughout the world. 40,000 men and women everyday and all that Oyster Cult bull. Give me a couple shots and the ear of a friendly barkeep. If he can't cure what ails you through conversation, he'll get you liquored up enough that you'll forget about things for the night. Just because that "night" has lasted about 6 weeks now doesn't mean anything.
Hey, haven't seen you around in a while"Are you even listening to me Joel? Hello?"
I didn't go to work for a month
I didn't leave my bed for eight days straight
I haven't hung out with anyone
'Cause if I did, I'd have nothing to say
I didn't feel angry or depressed
I didn't feel anything at all
I didn't want to go to bed
And I didn't want to stay up late
When you're living your life, well, that's the price you pay
Three weeks earlier I found out that she had been sleeping with someone else. Apparently EVERYONE knew and they just assumed that I must have known about it. I didn't know until I found a bouquet on our doorstep from Jacques. On my birthday. Clarissa had offered to cover for me for the day so I could sleep in, but I found myself up and awake before 8 anyway. Instead of going back to bed or waking up Abby, I decided to slip out for a walk around the block. It was when I got home that I found out what had been going on. There on the doorstep was a vase full of yellow roses and a note. Thinking that it might be a gift to me, I picked up the card. It was possibly the biggest mistake of my life.
"Dear Abby: I'm sorry we couldn't spend the evening in each other's arms. By time you read this, I should be in Toronto. I wish things could have been different. Perhaps one day I'll come back or you can move here. Until then...Love Jacques"
Jacques was a social wanderer. More importantly, he was a loser and a poser. He'd showed up in town about 6 months ago, a couch surfer who was playing DJ for his friends in lieu of rent. People loved his sets because it was sooooo indie. Never mind that I'd been pushing the artists he was playing for months now, here was someone playing them in trendy yuppie clubs! It didn't take long for people with taste to realize he was just a chump who played what he heard was cool. Unfortunately he'd already garnered himself a regular gig at Revolution (soon to be known as Revulsion by hip scenesters and anyone with working ears). After a couple months, you couldn't distinguish his sets from anyone else. "The scene is in a slump," he'd tell people, trying to keep anyone from believing that he just didn't know what he was doing. By that point, he'd established himself in the city. Crappy studio apartment in a warehouse, crappy job as a delivery boy, crappy string of crackwhore scenesters who make it their job to screw every DJ they can. I'd have never imagined that Abby would become one of those girls.
"Joel? Please. Talk to me. You can't pretend I'm invisible forever..."
I couldn't find it in me to confront Abby, not at first. Like a cancer patient, I dropped immediately into the Five Stages of Grief. "This must be a mistake. I must have misread the card. Abby would never do that to me." It wasn't too hard to move beyond Denial. She'd taken yesterday off so she could run some errands, but was overly vague about what she had to do. When she got home, she was wearing different clothes and her hair was now in a bun. She never wore her hair in a bun unless we'd just finished fooling around and she didn't have a brush handy. Realization that my imagination was not getting the best of me led me straight into the Anger stage. Ironically enough, it also led to the vase going straight out into the street.
"Please? Joel...I...I love you. No matter what. You don't have to respond. I just want you to know..."
For the first week we did nothing but fight. She'd tell me that it didn't mean anything. I'd tell her that she was a bitch. She'd cry. I'd yell. She'd yell. I'd slam a door. We'd go to bed angry and wake up the same. After a week I decided it'd be best if she stay with friends for a couple days. That lasted 22 hours, 16 minutes, and 45 seconds. I know that because I sat in the same chair for those 22 hours, 16 minutes, and 45 seconds for the entire time that she was gone. Watching the clock. Thinking. Growing more miserable by the moment. Then came the time for Bargaining. I called her and pleaded that she come back. I sent her flowers at work. It only took two days for her to cave. I wasn't the only one that missed feeling a soft breath in the night (or the occasional loud snore). We sat up talking until well past the Witching Hour, talking, plotting, trying to figure out what to do to fix us. Identifying our problems came easily. Our issue was stopping for long enough to come up with a solution. All that we could do was point out our foibles.
"Fine. Be childish. Attention world: Behold Joel as he does a one-man rendition of The Wall! The part of catatonic Pink Floyd will be played by our resident catatonic, Joel Wagner! Huzzah!!!"
By the end of the second week, I sank into Depression. Scratch that, sank doesn't begin to cover it. "Climbed on the bullet train to Miseryville, population Me" is probably more appropriate. Communication between us had broken down into terse statements. "I'm going out." "We're out of milk." "You're a horse's ass." Ever the loving couple. My world was breaking down. I couldn't focus on anything at work and couldn't relax at all in my own house. Three days ago Clarissa decided that I should take some time to myself. She could manage the store just fine without me and if things got out of hand, I was only a phone call away. This led to another big fight with Abby who apparently felt that my not going to work was my way of copping out on the last of my responsibilities. Ironic, being lectured about being mature and responsible by someone who was cheating on her boyfriend and roommate. It was at this point that I conceded defeat. Not just to Abby, but to the world at large. I confined myself to my study, iTunes set to play my extensive playlist of depressing, emo-riffic, eat-your-heart-out-Morrissey, god-awfully sad songs. And there I sat, taking only the occasional trip to the bathroom or the kitchen for a quick bite while Abby was out. When she was in the house, I dropped back into my catatonic state. It was easier to just tune out everything in the world except for my music than it was to deal with being miserable.
"Joel? I'm leaving. If you decide you want to talk to me, you know my cell phone number. I'm...I'm sorry. I don't know if you can even hear me, but I'm sorry. I love you, but I have to go. I... *sigh* Goodbye Joel."
"You're too good to me George. You're like the mom I never had or something." I was rambling, but in that coming down sort of fashion. George just laughed me off. "Yer ma? I ain't yer ma! She's back at my place waiting for me to give it to 'er good, boy!" Always the wiseacre, that one. It was then that I noticed Clarissa come into the bar. "Joel, what am I going to do with you?" she chided as she came over to hold me up. "I don't know, but I think I'm drunk enough to drive you home now. I'll keep my mouth shut, under lock and key. Blah blah blah." She just laughed. "Don't go quoting that Death Cab crap at me, you know I never went in for their early stuff."
It was on our way down the street to her car that I saw Abby. At least I thought it was Abby, though I might have been a little too drunk to make a positive police line-up ID. She looked happy, as though we had never fought, never screamed, never hurt one another. It's said that men dying of thirst in the desert often see mirages in the distance. Heat causes the air to appear distorted, causing it to look like water. The mind of the delirious sees this and may build upon it, imagining an oasis in the distance. Was this my desert oasis? A mirage brought on by my drunken state? Then she turned to kiss some schmuck dressed in a PVC shirt/pants combo, almost as an afterthought. Then they got into a cab and rode off. And I laughed. And laughed and laughed and laughed.
"Clarissa? I'm sorry for how I've been lately. I can't explain my behavior except to say that I'm a stupid boy when it comes to love." She just smiled. "You're no worse than any of the rest of us. Perhaps even a tad bit better. I'd have slapped the hoe if she was my ex and I caught her smooching with some creepy guy in PVC." I just chuckled, staring out the window as we drove down the vacant street. Driving through the city at 3 a.m. is my idea of heaven. No people, no traffic, nothing but dim street lights, darkened shops, and the stars overhead. Call me crazy, but I wouldn't mind if hundreds of thousands of people disappeared from the city all at once, as long as it left me with those near and dear to my heart. A quiet, peaceful world where one can walk the streets at 3 a.m. and hear nothing but the gentle electric hum of street lights and the rustling of leaves in the wind. Clarity of mind and vision are easiest to find during the Witching Hour on the streets of the city. It's these moments that I treasure most, when I'm most at peace. Though maybe a little Radiohead in the background, something post-apocalyptic from Kid A, just to add to the ambiance.
I didn't die and I ain't complainin'.
I ain't blamin' you.
I didn't know that the words you said to me
meant more to me than they ever could you