liquid lunches and sparkly afternoons

Ike sat down just as mine and Shelly’s kiss was ending. I kept close to her face, her lips, letting the moment linger a little bit longer. She smiled at me as a tress of her hair fell into her face, tickling my nose on the way down. I then slowly turned to the left to see Ike sitting across from us, with a tremendously goofy-ass grin smeared across his mug.

“Hello kiddies!”

Shelly wrapped her graceful left arm around my shoulders and offered him her right hand.

“I take it you’re Ike.”

He clutched her hand exuberantly, “Ike I am. It is a very special pleasure to meet you.”

I thought for a brief second the fucker was going to try to kiss her hand but he just held it for a few beats longer than what seemed normal. She smiled at him, pulled her hand back and placed it on my lap. I felt my pulse jump. She made polite small talk with Ike, who was brimming over with conversation, and she ran fingers in small circles on the inside of my thigh. I felt completely relaxed sitting next to her and the uneasiness that had been flowing in and out of my consciousness began to dissipate under the influence of whiskey and a beautiful woman. As I alluded to earlier, if there is one thing I do well it is self-medicate.

Ike then looked over at Lenny Kravitz and gave him a nod. “Hey Lenny.”

Lenny was looking at his phone but looked up and gave an almost smile in return. Really Lenny was far too cool to speak to me in the first place but he was polite enough to at least acknowledge Ike’s greeting. Ike took it in stride, as he did almost everything.

“Where’s our waitress?”

I looked over at the bar, trying to find Heidi but instead saw the other girl coming our way – the scary, angry girl.

I started to give Ike a head’s up warning about our server, but then I became curious as to what might happen once the two of them saw each other again. I decided to wait and observe. Sometimes you should just let shit happen.

The scary, angry waitress dropped a plate of something off at the table behind us and then made her way to our table. Ike had his back to her as she approached and stopped next to him.

“Can I get you guys anything?”

She sounded decidedly more pleasant this time with no sign of her previous vitriol, but it was, of course, only latent until her situational awareness caught up.

Ike immediately replied he would like to order a round for us all and was in the midst of turning to face the waitress when a cold pallor of recognition slid down his face, as his eyes met hers.

Her eyes immediately widened, “Holy shitballs – I was wondering how long it would be before we crossed paths!”

Again, the shift in the woman’s tone was instantaneous and chilling. Equally impressive, however, was Ike’s immediate regathering and laconically cool demeanor.

“Good to see you again so soon, gorgeous. I forgot you worked here.”

“That’s funny you remember anything before you went home and fucked my roommate.”

I felt compelled to chime in at this moment as the news that Ike didn’t sleep with this particular girl was somewhat startling.

“Wait a second, Ike – you slept with the other girl, the blond?”

Ike flashed me a quick look that spoke volumes of ‘shut the fuck up‘ and the turned back to the server.

“Look, last night got messy but no one fucked anyone. She passed out.”

“I don’t know if I believe that, especially coming from a guy who makes out with me but goes home with my roomie”

This exchange wasn’t exactly going down in the most subtle of ways. We had several other tables’ attention at this point, including Lenny’s. There was a palpable sense of anticipation. We were all waiting to see what was coming next.

“Katie, I know last night I made a douche move and no amount of boozing can really excuse it. I also know you’re in town for the season from Minnesota and I’m here from LA and we don’t really have the luxury of time for a long drawn out reconciliation. Thus, I propose we skip the unpleasantries and you allow me to buy you dinner at Chimayo after you finish your shift. I know you want to try that place and I have the entire night free.”

Here’s something I may not have told you about Ike – he remembers just about everything. He can be downing cocktails with you all night and the next day recite nearly verbatim the conversations you had the previous drunken night. I wouldn’t have remembered where she was from, much less that she wanted to check out a local spot. You could actually see the ice in her veins starting to thaw.

Shelly’s melodic voice then pierced the  cold war thaw.

“I have an idea, Katie, why don’t you finish your shift and we’ll all grab drinks and dinner? When Ike turned toward Shelly she playfully winked at him and then beamed a beatific smile back at Katie, who was obviously ruminating over the last several minutes.

“Ok – I’m done in an hour. I have a change of clothes in back. So, what the fuck do you want to drink, Ike?”

“Tom Collins.”

“I’ll be right back.”

She was actually smiling when she walked off – well, almost. I was about to congratulate Ike when Lenny spoke up from the table next to us.

“Well played, my man.”

I looked at Lenny and laughed. It was well played indeed.

incredibly loud and extremely drunk

Any time one starts drinking before noon, the time-space continuum goes into an odd state of expedited flux. The passage of hours starts normally but the intermittent seconds composing that passage of time become increasingly shortened with each new round of spirits ordered and imbibed.

The level of flirtation between me and Shelly was also increasing in direct proportion to the volume of our conversation, which was being amplified by the string of whiskey and vodka drinks making their way to our table. Our laughter was increasing in occurrence and decibel. It’s amazing how amusing booze can make the world sparkle. Shelly then left her seat to put her long, sexy body next to mine on the bench seat against the window. Our thighs were touching and we had begun the play of hands emphasizing points on hands and arms, with each emphasis lingering a little longer. We were two magnets, being pulled into one another at a snail’s pace by a force we were unable to contest.

I could see a wayward glance from other patrons who were either eavesdropping on our conversation that fluctuated between the conspiratorial whispers of two people bound to become lovers and the full-frontal flirtatious laughing of two people enjoying the afternoon. I was leaning into Shelly’s ear, telling her about the time Ike brought hookers into my house, when two things occurred. The first was a lone man was seated next to us and the second was the phone in my bag that was sitting between us and the newly seated man began to ring.

Normally, I shy away from ostentation but on a rare occasion something pimpalicious catches my eye and I add it to my personal quiver. My phone is just such a thing. I have a gold handset – a YUBZ gold handset that attaches to my mobile. It is by far the most pimp thing I own. When I reached into my bag to retrieve my phone and pulled out the handset, Shelly began snorting with laughter and immediately cupped her hand over her mouth. Her snort however, was heard round the bar.

Her snort made me laugh as well and in the midst of my laughter I didn’t even check to see who was calling me. I just answered it to find Ike on the other end.

“Yo, sport, where you at?”

“Oh – hey Ike. I’m just out writing.”

I looked over at Shelly and raised one eyebrow to which she responded by making an astonished face of her own.

“It sounds kind of loud for writing, sport. You in a bar?”

“Yeah, Ike, I’m at a bar and I’m with a beautiful young lady who I need to get back to immediately.”

“Right, where are you guys? I’ll join you”

“Not going to happen buddy – entertain yourself.”

There was a pregnant silence on the other end.

“Fine, sport, be a dick. I am just going to head to Easy Street for their bloody mary bar. See ya later.”

Before I could interject he had hung up the phone. I thought about calling him back immediately and telling him not to come here but that would have only made his resolution to come here all the firmer. At least by not letting him know we were here, he might end up changing his mind.

I was staring at the screen on my phone mindlessly when Shelly asked me if everything was okay. I smiled and told her it was fine but that we might have company at some point.

Then the guy next to me asked if he could see my phone. I looked at him for the first time and realized it was Lenny Kravitz.

I immediately said sure and I disconnected the handset from the phone and went to hand him my iPhone but he stopped me.

“No, brother, I mean the handset.”

I laughed and handed over my pimpalicious gold handset.

“Where did you get this?”

“I ordered it online from YUBZ.”

Lenny looked at up at me,”From where?”

“It’s called YUBZ – like Why you busy – but it Y, U, B, Z.”

“Oh. Very cool, man, very cool.”

He then handed me my phone back and thanked me. I smiled at him and put it away. When I looked back toward Shelly, she kissed me softly on the lips. She was a fantastic kisser with lips that felt like they melted into mine.

I had just sort of met Lenny Kravitz and then made out with a beautiful woman so I really wasn’t upset when Ike came walking up to our table.

break fast, break hard

I ran through all the things I might say to Shelly that could either account for or contribute to the reason I left Los Angeles. I speak of LA the way a man might speak of a beautiful woman he loved once in his past. It is that tenderness and longing that cut through any attempts I make to mask the fact that I am a fish out of water.

I looked down and noticed I was unconsciously playing with my glass, spinning it slowly with my fingers. My gaze brought Shelly’s down to the glass as well and then she looked up at me again with her explosively mischievous smile.

“Oh my god! You’re really uncomfortable discussing how you got here! Now I am really intrigued.”

Fantastic. I have managed to pique her curiosity on a topic I wasn’t even yet comfortable discussing with myself. How do I talk to an extremely sexy stranger about the misgivings, the wildness, the desperation and the Caligula style overindulgences that drove me away from my home? I obviously didn’t fully have my own head around it.

I took a deep breath and laughed to myself. “Look, leaving LA was really hard to do but I was drowning under a sea of shit of my own making. I had surrounded myself with drama and gotten involved with a bunch of people and a bunch of things that really mired me in a gray world of blah. I sometimes choose my friends poorly and…”

I was about to expound upon the idea of choosing poorly when a different server, not Heidi, came over to refill our water glasses. Out of a habit bred from my tendency to have salacious and surreptitious conversations, I often pause when wait staff approaches the table. I looked up this time to see the girl I had been talking to last night when I decided to bail and leave her and her friend with Ike. She smiled at Shelly as she refilled her glass and then looked at me. I had my eyes on lockdown, hoping she wouldn’t recognize me. Hope is a shitty thing.

“Holy fuckers, it’s you – Mr. Houdini! Where did you go last night?”

I had to look up now. “I went home. I just hit that wall.”

“Well, good for you. I hope your friend Ike hits a wall too, hard. Tell him to go fuck himself for me, ok? Do you guys need anything else.”

It was actually slightly bone chilling to hear the vitriol brewing inside her when she talked about Ike and then have it tabled completely when she asked if we needed anything else.

“I will, uh, I’ll let him know.”

I locked my eyes back on my glass but could feel both Shelly’s gaze and her smile burning into my forehead. We were locked into a mortal game of chicken, each waiting for the other to flinch or give. I decided to own up.

“Yeah, so that was weird and awkward. I left her at the bar last night with my buddy Ike. I tried to leave Ike in LA but he’s sort of like herpes and tends to pop up all the time.”

“Are you telling me you have herpes, Jackson?”

I looked up and she was on the verge of convulsing with laughter.

“No, but I do have a disease called Ike that I cannot seem to cure.”

Right as I said that my phone, which was in my front shirt pocket, began to vibrate. I had received a flurry of text messages. I pulled out my phone and looked at the screen. It was Alex. He had been laid off from his job and had four months of severance. He had already packed his car and was heading my way to crash for a while.

Two of the reasons for which I left LA in search of respite were now going to be living with me. I put my phone down, face down, on the table and breathed a giant sigh, slouching back in my seat and closing my eyes. I could hear the worry in Shelly’s voice the moment she opened her lips.

“Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, everything has come complete fucking full circle. That was another friend. He is on his way to my place from LA right now. I have baggage – big baggage.”

Shelly’s eyes twinkled at me slightly. “I have a thing for guys with baggage. You could be trouble, Mister.”

“Shelly, how do you feel about getting completely shit-faced during the day with a strange man you just met?”

“As long as you promise not to be too strange, I think it is a great fucking idea.”

I raised a hand in the air to get Heidi’s attention and made the circle motion that often translates into another round. I then picked up my whiskey, gave Shelly a quick clink on her glass and tipped the bottom of my glass to the sky, letting it all slide down my gullet.

“Whatever twisted thing is wrong with you, Jackson Panic, I think I like it. However, if we’re getting drunk then I’m not doing it on wine. I’ll be right back.”

With that, she walked over to Heidi who was already at the bar register, ringing us in another round. They had a quick exchange and Shelly began to walk back to me. I studied the elegant grace with which she carried herself and then marveled at the fact that I always tend to drown my troubles in women. Ironic then that most of my troubles start with women. It’s my own vicious cycle.

Shelly sat down and took another sip of her wine. “What will we be drinking to today?”

I thought about it for a nanosecond and then replied, “Today we drink to forgetting yesterday.”

Heidi then arrived with our drinks and we toasted to forgetting and then began day drinking, like a couple of professionals.

easy writer

I put away my laptop and gathered up my power cord. Shelly walked outside and was wrapping herself in a scarf and gloves while I got all my shit together. The power cord, of course, was not being cooperative and so I ended up jamming it into a pocket and hurriedly grabbing my jacket, throwing on a one sleeve while leaving the rest of the coat dangling as I walked to the door.

What was my rush? Why was I hurrying? In a more honest moment I would say that my heart had been broken for the first time in any sort of recent memory and I perhaps was hoping for some respite from my own thoughts. I found memories of the girl everywhere I looked, like ghosts haunting me as I walked around town, and maybe Shelly was a means to exorcise some of them. In my more typical bravo-laden moments I would merely dismiss such questions as self-explanatory given the way Shelly had approached me.

They say the best liars actually convince themselves of their own prevarications. The physiological process of the brain would function identically if one were recalling an entirely contrived story as if one were tapping into an actual memory. Moreover, the more one told a particular lie, the more solid the synaptic connection would be, thus cementing a memory out of a fabrication. Despite all of this, I couldn’t convince myself of any truth other than the actual one. Shelly offered the potential of a momentary lapse of pain in what had been dark days.

And there is a dark days arc coming in which I will gladly recount for you the ways in which a man tries to pry himself from the grim clamps of melancholy, but once again, I defer to a later time.

For now, I happily joined in step with Shelly on the short walk to Easy Street. We chatted a bit about the town and where she lived and I pointed out to her where I lived and then we descended the steps to bar area below the restaurant. They had a fire blazing inside and there were a few scattered families, mostly looking like people in town on holiday for the snow and the ski.

Once the season starts to kick in crowds grow and change. The laid back local vibe is supplanted with a boisterous gathering of people in town to hit the slopes. They ski and snowboard all day and then imbibe heavily at local watering holes. Easy Street isn’t as bad in terms of the noisy post-ski crowd, but it certainly had become louder over the last few weeks.

We found a place along the window that looked out to the patio. Snow storms had shut down any outdoor dining in most places but it was still nice to look out onto the patio and watch the fat snowflakes fall.

The waitress came around, a cute girl I had chatted up in the past, to take our order. She somehow remembered my name and I remembered her’s was Heidi, although we’d spoken only twice before. She commented on not seeing me for a while and I asked if she were still crashing with friends or had found a place. It’s odd how some details wedge themselves in folds of gray matter.

Shelly ordered a glass of red wine and I almost fell in line with her before succumbing to my desire for a stiff whiskey with one ice-cube. Cold days with snow and nothing really to do lend themselves to whiskey more than wine.

Right before Heidi returned with our drinks, Shelly gave me a mischievous look with a Cheshire cat grin blossoming across her lovely face. It evolved into smirk of sorts before she said anything.

“So why is Jackson Panic here in Park City?”

I paused and studied her visage before attempting to answer but right as my lips parted to speak, she expounded upon her initial inquiry.

“Allow me to rephrase – most people come to a town like this to get to the slopes but you don’t appear to me a man too concerned with snow sports. So, if you didn’t arrive here because you wanted to come to a ski town, what was it you were trying to get away from?”

It was a pointed question from someone who barely knew me. I had been kicking around a lot of different things when I decided to move from LA to Park City but hadn’t really considered whether any one of them were something I was running from. Was I trying to get away from something? Or someone?

hard stop

I looked up and locked onto the sapphire eyes sparkling at me from beneath a swath of red hair. I grabbed the cold beer in my hand and stood up.

Here is the pause, a rest in the music. Did you ever have one of those moments that churn violently into a succession of other moments and suddenly you look up to find an unidentifiable slab of time has gone by? What happened to the red head? Where the hell was Ike? How did I get out of Dallas? These are all valid questions and everything is going to be revisited at some point, but this story has a pause, a beat in which there is a collective inhalation before moving on.

I opened my eyes this morning and my first thought was how cold the room was. I could feel the chill of the air on the tip of my nose as the rest of me was buried beneath two blankets and a comforter with a gray duvet cover. The light outside the window looked slightly hazy. I couldn’t tell if it was cloudy or possibly snowing.

I threw my right leg over the side of the bed and felt the immediate cold as if I had dipped it into a cool bath. I took a breath and slid out from underneath the covers, naked, and walked into the living room to turn up the heat. I then walked into the bathroom and turned on the small heater near the floor, stopping to crane my neck beneath the faucet to gulp down a few swallows of ice cold water. I raised my head up and stared at myself in the mirror. There were quite a few more gray hairs than there had been just a year ago. My beard, which once boasted a fiery streak of reddish brown on the chin, had given way to nearly white hairs. My eyes looked tired, weary from a lot of life being lived. Had I aged myself with the endless nights?

I splashed some water on my face, blinking into the mirror as the it dripped down my chin. It was a startling splash even though I knew it was going to be cold and I lazily toweled off my face then walked back into my bedroom. I found a hearty pair of some black sweats on the floor and put them on and then an old heather gray sweatshirt with moose on it. I walked back into the living room and opened the drapes to look over the mountains across the way. I was in Park City, UT – not visiting, but living.

I filled my teapot with water and turned on the gas flame on the stove, then placed the pot on top of it. I would start the day with fresh hot coffee. While waiting for the water to boil, I sorted through the stack of mail on the counter. There was an envelope addressed in neat, blue script to ‘Mr. Jackson Panic.’ It was her handwriting. She was the one person in my life who still insisted on writing letters. I looked over to the bookcase, at the frame that housed her photo, which was wedged between two books. You couldn’t quite make out her face but the red hair was easy to see, even from across the room.

Why was she once again in my mailbox?

leaving the big D

I looked to my left and to my right. The mysterious red-head was nowhere to be seen. I walked across the street, to the parking lot, and did a quick look around but she was not there either. She had disappeared between the time I had met her and the time I had paid my bill inside.

I crossed back over the street and peered into the bar.

peering inside the bar

Stephanie was now huddled up with her friend. For a moment, I thought of walking back in and trying to square things away with her. I already had a script playing in my head for what I might say but I lost the inspiration. Perhaps it was the night or being tired and perhaps it even had something to do with the magical red-head who flitted into and out of my life, but I gave up on chasing Stephanie. I gave up on the entire trajectory of the evening at that point.

It really wasn’t all that late, only midnight. We had begun so early that it felt as if days had passed since we’d started. Now, I found myself alone in Dallas outside a bar. Alex and Ike were somewhere else, nearby, but still somewhere else removed from me. We hadn’t heard from Ike in a while and who the fuck knows where he was at. I glanced one more time into the bar and then turned abruptly to my left and began walking.

I wasn’t entirely certain whether I was walking toward the hotel; I merely began walking.

Do you ever have a moment, like a seismic shift, in which the topography you thought you knew suddenly looks foreign and ominous? It’s as if you swivel your head left and right and nothing quite looks as it did just a few seconds prior. That was my moment as I was walking down the street but it had less to do with sidewalks and landmarks and everything to do with how I was looking at the world. Was it the margaritas or a day fueled by booze -maybe but not really. Something snapped between Stephanie and the red-head. My synapses began firing in different directions and my perception of my immediate world changed. I mentally wrapped up whatever I was doing up to that point and then something new began but it was so new I couldn’t tell what it was.

The ginger was a hard stop in my evening. I was entranced by her and she highlighted everything I was ignoring about what I was doing with Stephanie. It wasn’t love at first sight but it was a well-defined pause, a rest in the music. Somewhere within my chest some unidentifiable something had a moment of respite and took in a deep breath and it altered a course somehow.

  I wandered up the street and found a dive bar playing Rolling Stones songs from speakers mounted on the roof. I went in and found an empty seat at the dimly lit bar and gruff looking young guy with the makings of a ZZ Top beard came over and asked me for my order.

“What do you have that’s good?” I asked.

His gruff countenance went unchanged and he said, “It’s all good.”

I had a brief epiphany. He was right – everything seemed good. Everything felt ok. I smiled and ordered Shiner Bock on tap.

Everything was good. Everything is good.

The bartender returned and looked at me for a moment before saying anything. He still seemed comically unhappy but he muttered through his aggro-beard, “This round is on the red-head at the end of the bar.”

I looked up and there she was.

the end of dallas the beginning of…

Our drinks arrived and Stephanie continued to flash me the same sweet and slightly shy smile. She was beautiful but in a “I have been put away in an unhappy marriage and preserved” kind of way. She was definitely a stunner in her day and was easily one of the most beautiful women in the bar but she was full of self-doubt and dressed a bit like a hot mom of three who had been out of the game for a while.

Her eyes didn’t break from mine when she sipped her drink. I was holding mine, not even nursing it a this point. It merely gave my right hand something to do as I smiled and looked into Stephanie’s eyes.

Her gaze burned into mine for a bit in a fashion that tipped her hand as to what she thought she needed or at least what the barrage of drinks and her drunken friend had been telling her. There are lots of suggested quick fixes to the end of an unhappy life and she already seemed determined down a path of saluting it’s departures with an apparent unending succession of drinks leading to some kind of naked attention on her previously neglected body.

It amazes me the kind of women some men will choose to ignore. It amazes me the kind of willing body that blossoms in what another idiot of a man deemed infertile soil, where a beautiful woman springs forward with renewed vitality into a world in which she might have previously dismissed herself as a walking corpse with a perfunctory agenda, waiting to merely complete the steps and get off the ride.

Then at some point this woman has an epiphany in which she sees that she has more to offer the remaining years of her life and a vigor she had forgotten she possessed. These women are phases, or rather – you’re a phase to them. You’re a moment in passing in which they are freeing themselves from a cocoon of their former self and trying to reconcile their identity to a new reality. You are the moment, the merry-go-round. Just keep spinning until the music stops.

Alex walked over and chatted with me and the newly reintroduced into society Stephanie. Alex was a decent enough wingman to give the late-night situation its proper gravitas and allowed she and I enough distance to get to know one another. When the time came, Alex went back to the hotel without either Ike or myself, which I knew troubled him but Ike was engaged with an 8-ball and I was tending to Stephanie.

I walked Alex outside and shook his hand, promising I would check in the next day at some point. I had to since my things were in the hotel but nevertheless, he looked as if he wanted assurances. I told him to punch Ike when he saw him and we both turned away laughing.

My turn was a somewhat clumsy pirouette into a tall red-head with the most beautiful smile I had ever seen.

“Watch where you’re going clumsy boy!”

I apologized profusely, one might even say inordinately. She seemed amused with my embarrassment and sincerity and gave me another couple of heart stopping smiles. She then interrupted my antics.

“Why are you headed back inside if your friend is leaving? What’s waiting for you in there?”

There was something in her voice, all too knowing and too full of mischief. I was speechless for a moment but then gathered up my thoughts quickly.

“The only thing in there is an open tab and my phone, both of which I am not necessarily opposed to walking away from.”

She smiled again and I swear I fucking melted. Completely.

“So close your tab and get your phone and then take me to get coffee.”

I am not even entirely certain I acknowledged her, what with the speed I launched into the bar. I flagged down the bartender and gave him the sign for my check and then walked over to Stephanie. I grabbed her by the shoulders and kissed her deeply on the lips. I told her she was absolutely beautiful and I was sure to regret this decision, but I wasn’t in the mood for a mad fling this particular night. I told her I was tired and had an early flight back to LA the next day and I had to be going. I mentioned my living in LA and her being here and in essence added another tiny little break-up to the pile of heartache she was carrying around but I couldn’t worry about that at this time.

I tried to smile at her as I walked off but she was already angry and ignoring me. I bolted out the door and couldn’t see the redhead anywhere. Once again, I felt my pulse stop – but this time for all the wrong reasons.