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The Farm

   Evening in 11 Moves
By Matt McCarthy

Author's Note:
The characters and incidents depicted herein are purely fictional. Any resemblance to real people, living or dead, or any resemblance to actual events, is entirely coincidental.

In Transit
I'm on my bike and I'm furious. The Saturday afternoon traffic is conspiring to do me in, I swear to god. Things are tight. Every few seconds I'm inches away. Cabs swerving out in front of me then jamming on their brakes for a fare, busses hogging and clogging streets, moms with SUVs full of kids running red lights, teenagers on cellphones drifting lanes, people who've just parked flinging car doors out into my line of traffic. Everyone honking and bitching. No turn signals.

It's aggravating the shit out of me. Each time I get a rhythm going and start to move at a good clip I have to clamp on the brakes and downshift because some dumb lummox in an old Ford can't quite pull off the U-turn right in front of me, or yet another in the relentless parade of oblivious yuppies has pulled out so far in his attempt to turn that he's gone ahead and blocked off a lane of traffic heading the other way.

It's madness.

My rage has been building in my throat over the last few sweaty, crowded miles, and finally explodes. I'm hollering at them all. Cursing, pleading, screaming terrible things about their mothers, spitting in disgust in their general direction. I'm enraged at their absolute disregard for my safety, their very refusal to even acknowledge my presence on the road. It's sickening - sickness!

"WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE!?!"

I'm rolling through an intersection, still hollering, when a guy in a silver Saturn starts to make a left turn right at me, like he doesn't even see me. He sees me. I know that motherfucker sees me. He's just betting I'm gonna get out of his way and let him go through. He's in his leased, air-conditioned Saturn, probably listening to Peter Gabriel without a care in the world, and I gotta sweat through this intersection hoping I don't get killed by some guy who drives a Saturn. It just doesn't seem fair.

I slow down a bit, but keep coming. The light's about to turn yellow. I'm looking right at him and he's still coming. I flare my nostrils, come to a dead stop, and put a foot down just as it's dawned on the guy, now uncomfortably near, that if he doesn't stand on the brakes immediately he's gonna hit some guy on a bicycle.

There's a short, sharp squeal and skid, and the Saturn jerks to a stop. The driver throws up his hands and shouts some curse I can't quite make out. He looks real pissed. And then he starts in with the horn, still yelling, but I can't make out a word.

With my right hand I slowly remove the big, silver aviator sunglasses I bought from the drugstore for $8.99 just two days before. The Saturn's horn is still screaming and now traffic from either side wants to go, but can't because we're having this little stand-off in the middle of the intersection, so they start with their horns.

I take my nine dollar sunglasses and chuck 'em as hard as I can at the windshield of the Saturn, right where that little motherfucker's head is at. The glasses bust apart on impact and the pieces rattle down across the hood of the car. The driver blinks and sits back, startled, removing his hand from the horn. Now he's worried, kind of glancing around like he's looking for a witness.

I'm back to staring right at him, still breathing heavy:

"IT'S MY FUCKING TURN, ASSHOLE!"

The guy looks helpless. With a satisfied grunt I mount back up and pedal away. Traffic resumes behind me. I'm down a big pair of silver aviator sunglasses but feeling better now that I've scored a blow for our side.

Intro Jam
I lock the bike to a black wrought-iron fence and, wiping the sweat from my face and neck with the front of my shirt, let myself into Danny's unlocked apartment.

It's dimly lit with the blinds drawn, so I hover near the door a moment to let my eyes adjust. Laughter and coughing and bleary anecdotes are exchanged just above the sounds of some trippy bullshit electronica album I can't quite make out. Sweet, perfumey incense isn't quite covering the odor wafting from the pipe I now see being passed about the modest crowd of mostly familiar faces gathered in the living room.

"Lookatcha'all," (I decide to open playfully), "it's not even dark yet and you're starting in already."

This is greeted enthusiastically. There are handshakes and hugs and a few introductions that immediately fall out of my head as I rarely have the patience and dedication required to commit new names to memory these days. One of these women, whose name I've already forgotten, hands me the little pipe they've been passing around.

I reach out and take it. "Thanks."

She's smiling at me, still holding her breath, keeping the smoke in her lungs. I put the pipe to my lips and take a big hit, pulling smoke down my throat into my chest, close my eyes, and pass the pipe off to whomever's eager little hand is there waiting. I hold it in as long as I can, until I feel it in my eyeballs, my forehead, nose … then exhale a billowing cloud of white smoke.

"Where's the beer?" I ask the room in a soft voice.

Eddie, an old friend of our host, looks up at me with bloodshot eyes and answers for the room: "There's a keg out in the back yard." He takes a second to glance around. "I think Nate and Danny and Carlos are out there." He pauses a moment. "And Dallas is here. He must be out there too."

The Backyard Beer Scene
Before I even turn the corner I can hear Nate:

"It's $200. I mean, it's not like I don't have it - you know I had to pay a grand on the spot to get a boot off just this past March? - I got the dough, but that's not the point! I DIDN'T EVEN DO IT! I know EXACTLY where I was and EXACTLY what I was doing that day, and according to the fucking ticket I was downtown parked illegally IN FRONT OF A FUCKING POLICE STATION!"

Danny's sitting on his picnic table, looking very wise and buddha-like, listening to Nate, who's stomping around and starting to get really worked up. He's full of righteous indignation and wants everyone to know. Johnny Dallas and Carlos seem nearly catatonic, off in a corner on lawn chairs.

"Where were you?" asks Danny.

"WHAT?" asks Nate.

"Where were you actually when the city alleges you were violating parking laws?"

"The date on the ticket, WHICH I GOT IN THE MAIL, BY THE WAY, was a Sunday. I had a gig the night before, so I didn't even get home until like FIVE IN THE MORNING! So, you know, I slept until like at least like two or three. AND THEN - and this is how I remember for sure it was that day - IT WAS MY EX-GIRLFRIEND'S BIRTHDAY! And she lives in Kentucky, so after I got up I was laying around the house trying to call her to wish her a happy birthday. I didn't get a hold of her until like 8:00 that night. I NEVER EVEN MOVED THE CAR!"

Danny grins. "Your ex-girlfriend's birthday?"

"Fuck you, man." Nate scowls and turns away, then notices me for the first time. "HEY! What's up, kid?" We exchange the series of handshakes that constitutes our greeting and Danny and I trade warm hellos. I wave over to Johnny and Carlos, but they're still engrossed in their thing. "What took you so long?" asks Nate. We share an apartment south of here, and when Nate left a few hours ago I told him I'd be right behind him.

"Nothing," I tell him. "I didn't get moving for a little while and then the ride over here was a bitch." As the words crackle out I notice my mouth is absolutely dry. "Where are the cups?"

Danny reaches behind him, grabs a sleeve of clear plastic cups off the picnic table, and hands me one. "The keg's over there," he says, motioning toward the corner where Johnny and Carlos are. As I walk away from Nate and Danny, Nate starts right back in ranting about the ticket: "All I'm saying is, how're they gonna say I was in a no parking zone when I never even got in the car that day …"

I head for the keg and, by coincidence of proximity, Carlos and Johnny. When I get nearer I see that between their lawn chairs the two have set up a chessboard and are deeply involved in a match, conveniently just a few feet from the keg. I grab the tap and start to fill my cup.

"Gentlemen."

They both look up. I get a cursory hello from each then Johnny looks back down at the board because it's his move. He's squinting and rubbing his chin like he's plotting something devious. Carlos's left to chat with me as I fill up with beer.

"Glad you could make it, Matt," Carlos says politely. "How's it going?" Carlos's a hell of a good guy. He's Eddie's roommate, and also an old friend of Danny's.

"It's alright, man." The beer's almost there, and it feels nice and sweaty cold in my hand. "Who's winning?"

"It's pretty close - I'm up a knight," says Carlos. "We traded queens early and -"

"AH HA!" Johnny moves his rook in and takes one of Carlos's pawns. "Gotchya, suckha!" says Johnny, addressing the small wooden game piece he's just captured, taunting it. Carlos's attention is diverted back to the game. I take my first sip of the beer, which is a little foamy but tastes good, so I follow up with a big long drink. Johnny is done reveling in the brilliance of his captured pawn and ready to turn his attention to me: "McCarthy. Ya fuckin' jerk. Howareya?"

Jerks
Johnny's just at the start of being over-served and he's imparting his theories on chess and life to me as Carlos studies the board:

"You always want to be on the offensive - attacking stuff and forcing the action - but you don't want to leave yourself unprotected. Ya know what I'm saying?" Johnny pauses to light a cigarette. "Life is the same thing. The city is our chessboard man, it all relates back. You plan your moves and you make 'em and they're either good moves or bad." He feels like he's on a roll and takes a big drink of his beer, finishing off what's left in the cup. "Chess is more than just a game. It's about strategy. Each position we put ourselves in has immediate repercussions. You put yourself in a bad spot you have to work to get out of it. It's all about -"

"Checkmate," Carlos interrupts, deadpan, businesslike.

Johnny turns to face him "What?!?!?" He looks down at the board and sees for himself that Carlos's got him beat. "Awwe … shit! … I was just about to make things happen and - GOD DAMMIT!" Johnny throws his cigarette to the ground in disgust then cracks the empty plastic cup in his hand and flings that at the ground too. He looks at Carlos: "Jerk." Then he turns away and starts toward Nate and Danny over by the picnic table, mumbling as he walks away, "Why don't you buy some real fuckin' cups next time you're gonna have a party…"

Carlos looks up at me in the wake of Johnny's departure like nothing's happened. "You wanna play?"

"Yeah," I hear myself tell him, though I'm really not in the mood. It's a seat next to the beer I guess, if nothing else, so I refill my cup and make myself comfortable in the lawn chair vacated by Johnny as Carlos sets up the board.

We trade opening moves, both safely advancing pawns near the middle of the board. I'm considering my next thrust when Johnny returns, this time with Nate. "Yes … I'd like to apologize … for my all-around poor behavior," he says in mock regret as he fills his newly gotten cup with beer. "Nate and I talked it over and we both agreed - I'm a jerk."

"Well then I guess it's unanimous," I tell him without looking up from the game.

"HEY!" Johnny points at me with his beer hand for emphasis, spilling a little. "I'M TRYING TO APOLOGIZE HERE, ASSFACE!" Then he pauses, takes a sip of beer, and shakes his head, scowling. "YOU'RE JUST A FUCKIN JERK ANYWAY. I DON'T KNOW WHY I EVEN WASTE MY TIME WITH YOU LOSERS!" He turns and stumbles away without another word, presumably to harass some other poor, unsuspecting party-goer back inside.

I turn back to the chessboard and move out another pawn. You can't take Johnny too seriously. It's all an act for him. A game. He just likes to have his fun. All of us have our little scenes and imaginary moments we like to play out, our dramas (you're a liar if you say otherwise, or you're just kidding yourself). For Johnny it's the belligerent cowboy rockstar who drinks and guffaws and plays the jerk.

So now Nate, who came over with Johnny, steps up to the keg for another beer. I wouldn't know any of the people here if it wasn't for Nate. And Johnny's in the same boat too. Nate introduced us to this crowd a couple years back, and they took us in because Nate's such an all-around cool guy and he vouched for us. It's a good group, though; a moderate-to-heavy drinking crowd with a good sense of humor and a healthy appetite for mischief. We're able to fit in nicely.

Carlos moves out a knight, then looks up from the board to address Nate: "What's happenin' man - when do you want to set up the turntables?"

Nate and his several hundred records are our scheduled musical entertainment this evening; a party with a d.j., which hopefully begets dancing - a party with dancing is more often than not a good party.

"Soon," answers Nate. "I wasn't plannin' on getting started for a little while yet, though." He holds up his beer. "Wanna get a little drinkin' done first."

I move out another pawn, trying to establish a good presence in the center of the board. Carlos turns back down to the game.

"Hey man," Nate says to me. "Where's your girl at? Where's Annie?"

Annie
Sometimes I'll be doing something - anything (usually nothing) - riding the subway or lying in bed before getting up in the morning - and little wandering thoughts of her will start to play through my head. Suddenly I'm trying to remember the name of the shampoo she uses, or I'll think of something funny I've been meaning to tell her. Sometimes I'll all of a sudden just get this perfect vision of her sitting across from me, smiling, and I'll wish she was really there so I could lean in and kiss her.

It's absurd.

I've never been that guy before. I've poked fun at that guy and made jokes at his expense behind his back, swearing that I wouldn't want to be in his place for anything. I shook my head at that guy, unable to grasp exactly why he would allow himself to become a lovesick fool for some woman when there was still so much fun to be had out there. But then I met Annie and knew, within a matter of days, irrevocably, I was that guy.

Sappy, I know, but that's the way it is. I don't have any control over it. It's overwhelming. I've completely fallen for her.

It's true that, initially, I was attracted to her for the shallow reasons. She's stunning. Classic, sophisticated beauty. Clear blue eyes, blond hair; sexy, lithe, little body; a smile that makes you forget any problems rattling through your head. But after spending just a little time with her I knew right away that she was more than that, more than just another pretty package. She's brilliant. Also kind, warm, patient, giving. She has a great, twisted sense of humor, and helps me to laugh at some of the things I tend to take too seriously (like myself and my own ridiculous guffaws). She loves me, for some unknowable reason, some unbelievably lucky twist of fate, and I plan to stay with her for as long as she'll let me.

Johnny Dallas Makes His Move
It's a great party. Mostly everyone's drunk and dancing, myself included. Nate's worked the room into a sweaty, beer-slippery frenzy from behind the turntables, spinning a bunch of hip-hop and old funk he knows this crowd will go for. Carlos, who beat me in chess (it's alright, I can take a loss, and I took great solace in the fact that I gave a damn better showing than Johnny), and Eddie are side by side bobbing up and down across from their respective girlfriends, drinking and chatting back and forth as they dance. A group of women I don't know are wiggling in the center of room, dancing with each other and with any guy who wanders near. Johnny's off to the side dancing across from some woman who looks familiar, but whose name I can't remember, and he's holding his beer up between them, sort of dancing lovingly with his drink.

I'm just bouncing around through it all, dancing, but not with anyone, spilling nearly as much beer as I'm drinking. Johnny walks across the dance floor, abandoning the woman across from whom he was dancing without even the slightest word or warning, and points this out to me: "You're almost spilling as much as you're drinking there, jerk-off."

I stand still to address him: "That's because this particular dance calls for some beer to be spilled!" I take the gulp of beer I have left in my cup and throw it down all over Johnny's feet. "That's the big finish," I tell him, serious-like.

"Well I don't care for it," says Johnny, calmly, then immediately shifts the conversation like nothing's happened at all. "Where's your girlfriend?" he asks.

I tell him the same thing I told Nate and everyone else who's asked me that this evening: "She'll be here later. She's out at some club with some old friend - one of her best friends growing up, or something like that, and that chick's boyfriend. They're all gonna come by later." I wish she was already here. Not only because I miss her, but it's as though people are shocked to see me here without her. I have to keep explaining the whole thing to people who look at me skeptically and think maybe she's finally wised up and handed me my walking papers.

Johnny nods that he understands. Then says, slowly: "Looks like you're ready for another drink."

"Yessirrr," I tell him.

He pauses, gives me a pseudo-serious look. "I heard a rumor that Danny's got a bunch of high-brow whiskey socked away back in the kitchen …"

I know what he's up to. Immediately, I know. He's taken things up a notch - evil genius punk bastard - he's played the whiskey maneuver right at me.

"…I was thinking about getting in on some of that," he says, smiling. "Yer up fer it, ain't ya?"

I'm cornered. With all the beers already drunk the last thing I need is hard liquor, even if it is high-brow whiskey. But I don't want to be the one to back down. It may seem immature, but that's the game we're playing now. We've reduced ourselves to this. So the way I see it, my only move is to play it right back at him: "What are we doing standing here then?"

The party is still frantic all around as we make our way to the kitchen. Bass is throbbing from the speakers; dancers are swirling through the room, vibrating and shaking to the rhythms; simultaneous, unrelated outbursts of laughter erupt from different camps and corners; drinks, joints, and cigarettes are doled out and fired into with impunity. The room is practically shimmering with an altered, sort of disjointed energy. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves.

Things are calmer in the kitchen. There's food out, and nothing so utterly absorbs the attention of a bunch of stoners like finger foods. Johnny starts rooting around in the cupboards, looking for the hidden cache of whiskey. I spot Danny sitting by the food and walk over.

"How's the food?" I ask, thinking it might be smart to put something in my stomach to soak up the whiskey.

Danny holds up a finger for pause while he finishes chewing, then says, "Fucking great. Ya gotta try these things," he says pointing to a dish containing some manner of little ball of puff. "They've got crab in them. Amazing." He pauses a moment then adds, "Eddie made them."

Eddie's cooking exploits are the stuff of legend amongst our group, so I'm sure Danny's not lying when he says these little crab dainties are amazing. I reach down to grab one and pop it into my mouth. Danny was right - some combination of crab and cream cheese in a little pastry puff. Just as I'm about to grab another I hear Johnny's voice from behind me, excited: "Got it!"

I turn around to see Johnny examining the whiskey bottle. "This is good stuff, man," he says admiringly to Danny, then looks over to me. "Let's do shots."

The fiend! He's already searching for shot glasses. I turn back to Danny: "You wanna do a shot with us?" It's his whiskey, after all, and I could use an ally like Danny in this little operation.

Danny looks at me with a big smile and shakes his head. "Nah. I'm feeling good already." He's too smart to get involved in this game. Danny's more enlightened than we are. He's at a stage in his life where he's transcended the need for such buffoonery. Then Johnny returns brandishing three cocktail glasses.

"I couldn't find shot glasses," says Johnny. "So I just used regular glasses." He hands me mine. "I brought one for you too, Danny."

Danny's unwavering in his resolve. "No thanks."

"But I already poured you one," insists Johnny, stubbornly.

Still, Danny cannot be shaken. It's beautiful. He knows what's going on here, and he's not going to allow himself to become any part of it. "I'm alright. Give it to someone else."

Johnny tries to suck in some other poor, unsuspecting slob, but there are no takers. The kitchen's mostly full of women and usually the ladies are a harder sell for such things. I'm the only sucker here, it seems. Johnny sets the unwanted glass down on the table. "One of us will just have to kill it," he decides, then raises his own glass to me. "Cheers."

It's a big shot. I can't help but flinch a little as it goes down in far greater quantity than I expect. A brief wave of nausea hits me, I shudder, and steady myself. It's good whiskey, even my plebian pallet can discern that. There's just the faintest burning in the back of my throat and I can feel it warm my chest. Johnny finishes his with a snort and puts the empty glass down on the table. "Who's gonna have Danny's?"

After minor debate we decide to shoot for it - odds and evens, winner gets the shot. I take evens, and although this is one I'd secretly rather not win we each throw out two fingers. So I pick up the glass and once again down a ridiculously big shot of the whiskey. This time a slightly bigger wave of nausea rolls over me and I have to hold my breath for a second to keep it together.

"I think I need another beer," I manage.

"Fuckin' right you need another beer," agrees Johnny and slaps a hand down on my shoulder. "How's about I go 'n' grab us a couple a cold ones?" he asks in his best southern hick imitation, then turns and takes off for the keg. I feel like I can't wait though, so I grab a half-drunk abandoned beer off the kitchen counter and take a drink.

"You alright there, Matt?" It's Danny, still over by the food. I grab the beer and walk over to him.

"Yeah," I assure him, surprised to find that I really am feeling better. Pretty good, in fact, now that I've collected myself. I pull out one of my cigarettes and light up.

But Danny is unconvinced by my monosyllabic reply. "Get a little more food in ya, why not," he suggests. "You'll feel better once there's something other than beer and whiskey in your stomach."

This sounds reasonable. Danny's so reasonable. I grab a few more of the crab puffs, a hunk of cheese, and some sort of hard rye, devour it all, wash it down with the remnants of beer I stole off the counter, then return to the cigarette I left burning in an ashtray on the table.

For the first time since entering the kitchen I'm suddenly aware of the fact that I can still hear the music Nate's got working from the living room. I'd been so caught up with things I hardly realized. It's a James Brown beat now, with some soul singer crooning over the top, and it's creeping into my head a little bit. I start to bob up and down to the beat as I'm standing there, wagging my head, shoulders, and hips.

"Let's dance, jerk." I turn around to see Johnny Dallas with two beers. I grab one from him and head back to the dance floor with Johnny and Danny in tow.

Whiskeydance
Nate's got everyone moving. Arms and legs in motion, sweat rolling down the necks, happy writhing, cigarettes and joints firing out clouds of smoke, heads bobbin'.

We fall right into the groove, each doing our own thing. Danny bops over near Nate so he can check out the d.j. in action; Johnny, beer in hand, is doing a casual robot across from a couple of women who have wandered near him; I'm lost in the groove, shaking everything. Those James Brown records always get me. I park it in front of one of the speakers so I can feel the beat reverberate through my entire body.

I'm really not much of a dancer. I have no "hot moves" to bust, no formal style from which to build. My only real attribute is that I can usually find the beat. I feel like as long as I'm on beat I can't look too terrible. But I'm just awful dancing with a partner. I panic. I never learned to lead, which takes a hell of a lot more talent than just bouncing around to the beat (at least I assume it takes more talent to lead), so I'm none too pleased as these anonymous women come over and try to dance with me.

The only person I really like to share my personal space with is Annie. That two-foot radius 'round my body is sacred to me. I don't know where these two women get off rubbing their asses all over me. I'm trying to back away but the dance floor is too crowded. There's just no place to go without totally abandoning the floor, and I still feel like dancing. Just not with these girls.

I'm trying to stay cool but it's really frustrating me. Strangely, it reminds me of the trip over here on the bike. People in my way, not acknowledging my rights to my own space, forcing me into situations that make me feel uncomfortable. I can feel myself starting to get worked up. I'm trying to remain calm but it's freaking me out.

I turn away abruptly, knocking one of the ass girls with my shoulder (accidentally), causing her a stumble that nearly drops her. I'm clumsily stomping my way through the dancers when I feel a hand grab my arm. My head shoots around and I'm ready to give someone the business, but this immediately changes when I see that it's Annie who's got a hold of me. I give her a big, tight hug.

"I'm so glad you're here," I can't help but whisper into her delicate, little ear. She smiles that wonderful smile of hers and gives me a quick kiss on the neck.

"This is Maggie," she says, motioning to a woman behind her. I shake her hand then turn my attention to the guy standing beside her; Annie informs me he's Tim, Maggie's boyfriend. I shake his hand too, on my best behavior. They're all done up and shiny and I remember Annie told me they were going dancing at some chichi club before coming here. Annie seems glad to be here, her arm locked around my waist and her head on my shoulder. I can tell that Maggie and her boyfriend are a bit skeptical of the scene before them, they look nervous and fidgety.

"Let me show you guys to the drinks," I offer.

Maggie and her boyfriend both want martinis, so I lead them to the kitchen and the mixed drinks. Annie, bless her heart, wants a beer. I tell her friends we'll be in the backyard, then take Annie by the hand and lead her off toward the keg. I feel better now that she's here, safe, in one piece, with me. She's waving and giving out hellos to all the familiar faces we pass as we go. Everyone's glad to see Annie. She's wonderful.

We get outside, commandeer a couple of the last clean cups, and I get us a round of beers. We claim a pair of white plastic chairs that are right next to each other and get comfortable. It's a pleasant night.

Maggie and Tim return with their martinis. There's only one empty chair left, so I give up my seat to allow them a chance to get off their feet, trying to be as polite as I can since these are Annie's friends. I don't mind standing: it's easier to get to the keg that way.

We hunker down for a moment. There are a couple of joints being passed around and everyone takes a few hits, has a few drinks, and generally kicks back. The beers seem to be going down real easy for me now. I keep walking back to the keg to refill. It must be the shots - I'm running on super-whiskey power now and I'm invincible and powerfully thirsty. I can't fill my cup fast enough.

Now the boyfriend is up talking to me. Tim. He's prattling on about how he just moved into a condo, but wants to sell that so he can buy a three-flat somewhere in town. Like I care. He's droning along, chuckling at his own jokes. I'm trying not to pay any attention, just nodding politely and drinking my beer. But he's right there in my face and he's so amused and impressed with himself. It's annoying me. He's got a full beer, not even drinking it because he's so caught up in his own rhetoric.

I drain what's left of my beer, then hold the empty cup right next to his beer, but slightly below. Then I take a finger, and gently tip the cup so that its contents are pouring right into mine. He's still talking, something about property taxes, then looks down as he realizes what's transpiring. I've completely poured his beer into my cup.

Finally he's silent. I look right at him and tell him, "Looks like you're ready for a refill." He walks away without another word.

Checkmate, Dallas
This large quantity of liquid I've been ingesting is building up against the walls of my bladder. Pushing. I'm at the bursting point. I lean down and tell Annie I'll be back in a few minutes, give her a kiss on the forehead, then head back inside to the bathroom.

The change from outside to inside throws me off balance a bit. It's sweaty and crowded and loud in here. I suddenly feel super clumsy and conspicuous. I put a hand on the wall to steady myself and take a look around. They're all still dancing. The bathroom looks open so I stagger over, enter, and close the door behind me.

I'm losin' it. I have to pee so bad I'm about to cry, but my liquor-dumb fingers are fumbling with my own belt. I get the belt open and then, trying to hastily unbutton my pants, manage to rip the button clean off. The button, of course, falls right down into the toilet with a tiny, almost comical splash, and sinks to the bottom of the bowl.

Fuck it. Nothing I can do about it. I start to pee, and feel elated as the pressure in my bladder diminishes. It's a shame about the button but I couldn't hold it in another second. I'm teetering a little, standing there at the john, so again I put a hand on the wall to steady myself. Things are coming in really blurred; I'm having trouble focusing. My head's spinning just enough to make my stomach queasy. I feel like I need to lie down, but that's probably not appropriate. Then, suddenly, I'm hit with a really disturbing thought: My bike is locked up out front; I still have to ride home.

I have to pull myself together.

I finish my business and zip up. No button. I do my belt one notch tighter, then walk to the sink and take a look at myself in the mirror. I look terrible. My eyes look tired and absolutely glazed over with stupidity. I turn on the cold water and splash some on my face. It doesn't help at all - I think I look worse than before and just the sight of me is making me nauseous.

Fresh air. I need fresh air and silence to pull myself together. I need to sit down.

I exit the bathroom and, head down, make a break for the front door. I'm on wobbly legs. I make it out, shut the door behind me, and have a seat.

So it's come to this. Sitting on the sidewalk out in front of Danny's next to my bike, alone. I'm really in trouble. My stomach's churning and gurgling; I'm feeling shaky; my head's spinning and it feels like lead; I'm getting the nods, having trouble staying awake.

Dammit.

I lean over forward and I can feel it coming. Crab puffs, beer, whiskey. It burns and tastes awful in my throat. I gag it out, spitting, coughing, vomit dripping off my lips. Another one. More gagging, coughing.

I lay down right on the sidewalk next to my bike and my own sick. Fucking Johnny Dallas. I never shoulda had that whiskey. All those beers - stupid!

An Omniscient Moment
Annie begins wondering where I'm at. It's been a few minutes. She heads inside looking for me. She asks Danny first, because she knows him and likes him. Danny hasn't seen me. Then she spots Johnny, and asks him because she smells mischief is afoot and, smart girl that she is, she knows that he probably knows.

Johnny grins wide and takes her by the hand. "I'd better show you." He's reveling in his victory. And why not? He played me like a fucking guitar. He leads her out front like he's doing the victory lap, feeling brilliant.

They get outside and there I am. Annie surveys the scene and quickly kneels down by my side. Johnny busts out laughing. Annie tries to revive me but can't. She notes that I am in fact breathing, and comes to the correct conclusion that I'm just passed out hard. She strokes my head a few times, then stands back upright. Without a word she turns around and walks back inside, leaving Johnny laughing over me.

Annie slips behind the turntables and whispers the situation into Nate's ear. Nate considers for a moment. If he leaves the music to go out there the whole party is going to know what's going on.

"Tell Danny," he says.

Revival
I'm awake.

Danny's standing over me with the hose. Beautiful, nonjudgmental Danny. Just standing there with one hand on his hip, the other hosing my vomit off the sidewalk. I'm still lying there on my back.

There's a hissing in my ear: "Lookatchya!" It's Johnny. "Danny's standing here with a hose, man. You're lying on the sidewalk and Danny's standing here with a hose! You animal."

"Get away Johnny!" It's Annie. Johnny slithers off. "Are you alright?" she asks softly, concerned.

My head hurts. "Yeah … I'm sorry …" is all I can manage. My mouth tastes terrible. I feel like an idiot. Johnny's beaten me - the reality of it is sinking in. I'm lying here on the sidewalk next to a pool of my own sick and Danny's cleaning up after me with a fucking hose. This is defeat. Of all the depths to which a man can sink, this must rank among the lowest.

"It's kinda gross, Matt," she chides.

"I'm sorry."

"I called a cab," she tells me softly. "Can you stand?"

"But my bike …" Right. I can do that. Everything will fine once I'm on the bike.

"No," she shakes her head. "No bike tonight."

"I'm sorry baby."

"It's alright," she says as she pats my head. "But it's kinda gross, Matty."


In Transit II
We're in the cab and, actually, I'm feeling a bit better. Annie's got her arm around me. Maggie and her boyfriend, whose name I can't remember, are here too. I smell just awful. While I was lying there on the sidewalk, passed out, I got some of that vomit on my pant leg - it's pretty bad. I'm next to the window (for obvious reasons) sucking down the fresh air. Annie's a fucking trooper. She's not even flinching and couldn't seem to care less what her friends think.

"Where are we going, Annie?" I mutter, trying to re-orient myself.

"You and I are going to your place," she tells me gently. "The cab's going to let us off and then take Maggie and Tim home."

Tim! That's his fucking name. You dog, Tim.

"How are you feeling?" Annie asks me.

"Better. My head hurts a little." I can tell Maggie and Tom are disgusted with me. I look out the window and try to find out where we're at. It's late. The city's rolling by.

Fuck it.

I'm a jerk, there's no two ways about it. I should've kept it together. It was totally in my control and I blew it. I allowed myself to be sucked into some pointless, imaginary, machismo game, and then got beat. It's pitiful. I don't know why I keep up with the games. Johnny too. We're fucking adults. There has to come a time when we focus on real life. There must be some point at which what's really happening takes precedence, and we abandon the fantasies and games and realize what's really important.

I pull Annie closer and the cab heads toward home.


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