The lesson here, I say to myself, head spinning and gut churning from a bad mix of cocktails and embarrassment, is that you can’t go home again.
I’ve thrown myself across the bed, wondering how a simple evening out could end up being such an ungodly waste of time. Even worse, never having had a reputation for anything, I feel like mine’s been ruined in so many shades of gray that I will never rise from the ashes in this town.
Imagine Mother phoning people at 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning. Phoning Susan’s parents was bad enough; at least they know me. But phoning Dave? Looking up his number in the local phone book and dialing this previously unknown number in the middle of the night to ask where I am? To be told that I had last been seen in the harbor’s –no, the town’s- only nightclub with someone who is known only by the enigmatic nickname of Owl? To have this pretty, preppy boy in chinos and deck shoes admit that he met Susan and me for drinks at the Bell Buoy, but that he and Susan both left without me?
Does Mother even have a clue of how tiresome Susan can be, how shudderingly boring Dave becomes after a half hour or so? Can she even being to imagine the underlying tension between Owl and me, who’d been shunting around each other for a year, teasing and not even daring to flirt -we were coworkers after all- when we suddenly found ourselves uniformless, timeclockless, dare I say shiftless, with rock and roll, alcohol and dim lighting to guide us through into the night?
What of the driving around on dark backstreets in the middle of the night? The excuse I gave to the brightly-lit kitchen interrogation was: he was a bit drunk, I wanted to wait until he could sober up enough to drive. Who was this person who needed to sober up? Owl. Who the hell calls himself Owl? What kind of a name is that? Who is he anyway? Just a guy. Nobody.
But he had gotten me home safely after all. After a silent car ride during which I shivered and smoked, having longed for a cigarette the entire time I lay under his dead weight on the semi-reclined passenger’s seat of his ‘72 Pinto, waiting not so much for him to sober up as to regain consciousness as I tried to gauge the hour, though there hadn’t been enough light to see my watch, and feebly attempted to wake Prince Charming while staving off the fear that he might not be done heaving and might even be comatose or dying.
Yet not even an hour would have passed since he had finally stopped trying to kiss me again after having opened up the passenger seat door and puked out onto the pavement of the Peggotty Beach parking lot. And that was maybe five minutes after I started wondering what I was doing out at Peggotty Beach after midnight with this oddball geek who was sort of but not really trying to instill passion in this gone-by moment. And who hadn’t been acting anywhere near as drunk as he unaccountably was.
He’d started the car without a hitch, walked a perfectly straight line down the four blocks to his driveway from the back lot of the Bell Buoy, even danced without crushing my toes in a surprisingly sensual slowdance to the perpetual 70’s mixer song, Stairway to Heaven, whose frenetic ending escorted us out the door, finally.
This was not long after Susan and Dave gave up looking at their watches and scowling, first at Owl’s mere intrusive presence, then at my brusque shift in alliances and finally at what had eventually become clear to them as my abandonment of our respectable threesome for the incomprehensible charms of just another disreputable townie. They’d both pursed their lips in their separate yet parallel ways when Owl approached our table, hung his arm over the back of my chair and, ignoring the rolling of their eyes, whisper-shouted in my ear “What’s this song?”
“The Doobie Brothers?” I offered insecurely, but smiling widely. I’d never before seen Owl outside of the store, and it was strangely intimate to be playing the game that entertained us both for hours on end at work, where he stocked the shelves and I rang up the customers’ purchases. Owl, like Dave, had graduated high school a year ahead of me but, unlike Dave, his was not a stop-gap weekend and holiday job, but a real one. Also unlike Dave, Owl had a profound knowledge of the 70’s pop radio we listened to at the store and he quizzed me mercilessly on the names of the bands and the song titles. I started out with a high recognition level of only Michael Jackson (my first love) and Elvis (who died that past summer, for which Sunday-bagger Roger, who was someone’s retired grandfather, offered me his condolences), but I ended up heading to college with a fairly good arsenal of rock and roll trivia under my belt, thanks to Owl.
I’ll grant that Dave and Susan had rights to be pissed. They had not been aware that they were remnants, substitutes for the wild, bright and fascinating friends I had begun making at college, and for the best friend I had in high school, who was now engulfed in an all-encompassing relationship that would culminate in marriage a year and a half from then and which obviously and necessarily excluded me. So when Dave, my bag boy from Curtis Compact, someone who looked like he ought to have been out playing tennis or skiing, depending on the season, but doing something that required his nose to sport a slathering of zinc-oxide and his lips to be coated in chapstick, casually suggested, when I ran into the store to say hi to Bob the manager, that we go out for a drink later, I called Susan as backup.
And when I was pulling on my coat in the hallway of my parents’ house, fresh from the newfound loneliness and freedom of college dorm life and checking for the newly legal ID that would get me past the bouncer at the Bell Buoy, there was absolutely nothing to suggest anything out of the ordinary in my mother’s voice calling after me as I breezed down the stairs and out the garage door:
“Have a good time, and don’t be late!”
Els Prats de Rei
1 day ago