Friday, December 12, 2008

"Bar Talk" (pt 3 of 3)

Harbor House Hotel, Salt Spring Island, 1990-something

Anu's girlfriend arrives, Ivana, a real sweetie, young and cute as all get out. Her red-headed pretty girlfriend Zoe in tow with Devon a cousin of one of the island’s more prominent families, fresh from the oil fields of Saskatchewan with a wad of cash and a new 5-litre Mustang and a look and persona that says he is not like most of the other kids his age, he, I think, has a touch of respect, a touch of morality, not unlike his cousins who I know from the softball field. He is related somehow (everybody on this island seems related to somebody down the street or up the hill) to Dave, one of the nicest guys I have ever met and one guy who went out of his way to make me feel comfortable as the new guy on the team; his brother Chris, always friendly, always greeting you with a smile, and the youngest Drew, just like the others, though a little wilder as young kids of 18 or so are now. They have an edge now that has got to be a natural cultural phenomenon as much as anything else and if you think about it, the future is scary.

They sit then move to another table. I fly between the two tables, softball Fred and the two drunken ladies one minute, then Anu, Ivana, Zoe and that table, mad for conversation, caught up in the liquored atmosphere of Friday night Karaoke at the local bar, crowded, ages ranging from 19 to 60, all ages mixed together, just having a good time, no roosters in the barnyard posturing in here, no threat of fists and testosterone, just fun, I'm actually enjoying myself, knowing all the time my ex-wife is at home, my home, my old home, with the guy who came between us and I'm not dwelling on that painful thought, instead I'm deep in conversation with Zoe’s cousin, who has a darker complexion and I notice her and see beauty in an exotic way you don't often see out here in the farming/hippie/redneck community, and we waste our breath on religion as she tells me about the B'hai faith.

"We really take a lot of the good things from all the other religions...bla, bla, bla" she reveals in a serious tone that is purely the product of her young age, a tone that will surely diminish as she gets older and tastes life's illogical insanities that wait off in the dark, like a mugger waiting in the bushes, they will get her too, poor young thing.

I pretend to take her seriously and just wait to get my cynical question in.

"But is there consequence in the B'hai faith? Is there a hell of some kind that waits for those who don't pass judgment?”

"Yes, but no..."

Her explanation I cannot comprehend nor remember much of, except that she was kind and full of wonderful smiles. She did not drink and I regret not speaking with her further but we are interrupted as the Karaoke is over and the lounge is closing so we shuffle to the pub in the back.

Immediately the atmosphere is changed. Edge is prominent, menace hangs thick in the air. You can feel the place all over you. A band called "Auntie Kate" is jamming on the small stage and I recognize many faces among the crowd including the cute little waitress who looks a lot like a girlfriend I once had – a drop-dead gorgeous strawberry-blonde first love who broke my teenage heart, ah life - right before I met my wife (and whom I often dream about – a decade or so later - in the middle of my lonely nighttime tortures), who a few weeks back flirted with me, only to tell me she wasn't "wearing her ring", that she was married, and I said to myself what kind of man sits at home while his wife is out without her ring drinking with other men, many of them lonely, looking for companionship, teasing in an innocent way, some more direct, whatever I thought, how could they do this? Are they that secure? I think I once was but cannot be for sure it seems so long ago.

This place holds more drunks than the lounge and here people are openly inebriated. Many people look down and out, some sit open-mouthed, eyes shut, just passed out in chairs, others crowd the tiny dance floor, the band is almost mute to me as I blast conversation with Stan the "man with the van" who introduces me to what I think is a girlfriend and her friend, and I somehow feel the need to make the comment "he's just as degenerate as the rest of us," to which the taller, prettier one agrees, adding, "and he sells real-estate."

Seconds later, or was it minutes? I can’t tell in these frantic alcohol-fueled music-blasted moments time just accelerates, in any case I find myself face to face with a person who's been an irritation to me for a while now. Vern, a friend of the guy who stepped between my wife and me, and a guy who has become her friend and talks with her regularly, visiting her in my house often, until late at night, and who until this meeting made me really uncomfortable. I had nothing personal against him, just jealous of the time he was able to spend with her, and uneasy at the "friend" scenario, as it was used before and the results were catastrophic to me.

"Listen," he says, averting eye contact, "I don't know you but I think we should clear the air."

I feel immediately better in some weird way. Weeks before in a drunken haze I tried to instigate a fight with him in the bar by repeatedly bumping him, but he did not bite. And in a way I'm glad. With my luck I would have been sued, and my wife, ex-wife, whatever would have hated me even more, and for the little release I would have gotten from feeling the rush of participating in violence only people who do it regularly can explain, it would have backfired and caused more harm in the long run than any stupid "animalistic" release would have provided in the short term. Besides, maybe I get my nose broken or something even more painful and embarrassing.

"Really, I'm glad you came up to me because you know the other week when I was bumping you that was just the alcohol, I'm not like that, I was sort of at one point a long, long, time ago when I had things to prove and all that but I felt really stupid afterward and told her to tell you I wasn't like that and that I felt bad, really." And that was the truth, although my primal ego got off on the fact he wanted no part of me that night.

"I didn't even know it at the time," he says, which I think is total bullshit and a guy’s way of saving face, which he obviously feels he needs to do, being 25 and maybe not quite there yet, but I have no face to save I think to myself and he continues, "I just want you to know me and your wife are just friends, really, she's a great person and really her friend is the one I like."

Whatever, I think, but I'm happy to clear the tension, as I do not enjoy the negative aspects of male possessiveness. It is the center of my shit and I don't need it and spend too much time pondering it and asking the why over and over again, without ever getting close to figuring any of it out.

I try to shed some light and give this Vern some indication that really I'm an OK guy, so I continue, perhaps saying too much and even knowing it as I speak but I go on anyway.

"My problem is jealousy, I'm jealous of the time you get to spend with her, that was my time before and I'm still hopelessly in love with her and I'm miserable and shit happens...but I'm glad you introduced yourself, it'll make life easier for both of us, and maybe even her."

He agrees. I offer to buy him a drink and he says he can't because he's trying to find some people and that he'd catch up with me later. Fat chance. Off he goes. In my jaded paranoiac way I now wonder if it was a set-up or a contrived meeting designed with another purpose altogether. I think of the time a couple of months back when I made the mistake of talking to a girl, a cute little thing and a hell of a softball player - she made a catch on a line drive I hit that most guys would have ducked under, it was screaming and she just casually reached up and snagged it, thing of beauty - anyway, this was the first time in a while I just opened up and told my story, which was known around town anyway because this place is small and the grapevine active. This is something that didn't bother me until the humiliation of having to be felt for and told how sorry people are and the many "oh yeah, I thought so" comments and so on and so on until it began to tear me up and I finally got sick of it, so I tell her, and she immediately tells her best friend, Vern, who then tells my ex, who launches into a tirade about me and my mouth and how our business isn't anyone else's and all I can think of is hey, shit happens, you made the first ripple in the fishbowl honey, not me, and now you may not like, or agree with, or be able to control what people do, say, or think, just ask me about it, I know all about it, in fact if they gave out degrees for this shit I'd have a PH-fucking-D in the field.

So the evening gets more drunken and I see the guy who put together my car about eight years ago, Kyle, card carrying member of the Gunnit Church, and I just ask him out of nowhere about my motor to which he responds, in a complete drunken slur, "Fuck! Shit! Man I don't give a shit about nothin'. I got a 400 horse truck that'll blow the doors off..." the rest of which I block out. Here I stand next to a total drunk whose got an edge about him, and his mouth is moving and nothing's coming out, and I back away slowly until I blend into the blur the room most surely is to his glassed-over sad eyes, eyes that will never know anything but what little this place has to offer, but right now I want his sorry ass outta my face, and I move on.

I find myself talking to another girl I know from softball, a real nice girl who has a reputation people like to bring up when I mention her, and then suddenly my heart stops. There in the crowd is the guy who's A-listed my nightmares for the last nine months and I immediately feel sick, awkward, and a million other things all at once and I curse that someone can do this to me and I wonder what my ex-wife sees in him and wonder how he conned his way into her life. Earlier an older gentleman somewhat well-known in the community, with a high-profile job, told me it was “none of his business” but that he hated that "fucker, when I heard he was your friend and all that, man I just hated him even more...I know he's done this to other people too and the guy's as rotten as they come...bla, bla, bla negative bla."

All of this is blending and weaving now into a continuous stream of images and commentary. I can't think forward and I can't think back, I can't plan and I can't remember, I just move, everything automated, reacting to whatever ends up in front of me.

I appreciated the older guy's company on my side of the fence, but that didn't matter now. He was here now, across the crowded floor, talking to somebody who I like and consider a friend, and now we're in this awkward situation, in the same room, and there he is, the guy I really truly hate, the only person I have ever really hated and nobody knows hate until they are wronged by evil, and that’s him, the guy who makes me physically sick, who not only appears in my waking thoughts all day long but also shows up in my sleep, as my tortured mind wrestles subconsciously in the dark with his overwhelming presence in my life, he, the source of my misery, so what do I do? What do I god damn do? I walk up and blurt out something about buying him a drink. Yeah no kidding, I actually did that. I now know for sure that I am going insane.

I have reached a low so low it was unimaginable to me in previous lives. I realize this and walk away as he tries to explain that he can't drink with me or something like that, but I can't, don't, or won't hear him and walk away in a state of utter confusion.

And then the lights are turned on. Last call is announced. The sad reality the light exposes hits you like a wave of nausea. Sad, drunken people, struggling to the end of their evenings, shuffle about with rough faces and forlorn eyes. And I am one of them. I'm lost now, the evening hits me at once, and once again I am closing the bar and everyone there my age is there for awful reasons and I'm feeling like shit and once again I go home to my empty little place to spend the night longing for what was and remains impossible to recapture. The loneliness is killing me and I know it.

(c) AC James


Kaylee Mason said...

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This is definitely one great story and I love how you ended it.Very interesting and entertaining.

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