Monday, January 10, 2011
"I forgot about Michael and was delivered back to something crude and familiar, a time when my life hinged on maintaining an animal stillness"
First of all and most important to how everything went down, you can smoke in Pittsburgh. Getting to smoke inside, at the bar, is like Christmas every time. Every cigarette. Even the 20th one in a long day of drinking. Christmas Miracle. Also important to this story is the fact that every shot she ordered came in a full size glass, and was basically a mixed drink without any ice. Without knowing these two things ahead of time, one might wonder how she was persuaded to spend 48 hours going between bars, one after another.
To get to Pittsburgh, there is a long long stretch of darkness that comes first. There is a toll road. There are hours of black two lane highways that roll first across the flatness of Ohio, over a million rivers and creeks, and then cuts into the Pennsylvania hills as if the flatness gave the road speed enough to crash into the mountains and erode them like a glacier over time, the millions of cars chipping away at the hills as the young people drive back and forth between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, back and forth for shows and family and girlfriends and meetings and parties. There is the toll worker that will ask her if she's caused any accidents yet, and she will hazily (drugged by the driving) not understand if she's driving badly or if he's pseudo hitting on her, in that way that men do when stuck in jobs they hate, and as she drove away she realized her left breast was almost hanging out her dress, she's all dressed up for seeing people, and she'll try to pull herself together before the destination because even though driving is a still frozen activity it's impossible to arrive at a place unscathed. No matter how nicely you tried to look, you will always present the appearance of just rolling out of bed when you get where you're going.
But once the drive was over, Johnny had her meet him at this bar which was actually a club. The opposite of a place she might go or might expect, a bar with two dance floors and 25 yr olds grinding to Will Smith and Backstreet Boys, which is retro now, in the very clubbiest part of Pittsburgh which by all appearance (poor actual Pittsburgh, thrown against the hills in the shadows, while the downtown tries to glitter and shine) should not exist. But have enough college kids in one place and everything will eventually exist. There was a group of people she didn't know, and the one cute friend she sort of knew who was standing there watching Johnny and his girlfriend and shaking his head at being there as well, but what the fuck, if we're going to be here then I will fucking be here she thought, and she bought Johnny's girlfriend a shot, which was three shots in one glass, and sang along to Rhianna because that's what you do sometimes to get in with the girls, and accepted that tonight was going to be a night where strange girls motorboated her and she paid cover charges, and she tried to be the best kind of sport, but was still very relieved when they left for a real bar. One that was still crowded at close, but where there were less wanna be video dancers, and more girls in cute jackets with glasses, and guys actually talking to each other instead of escorting their conquests home. And the first night ended up in an attic after party, smoking in small groups, which was her thing anyway really. She does well in attics. She always ends up in attics.
In the morning, they went to the casino early in the morning, early for them anyway, by 12? Unheard of. Johnny won 50 on the roulette table immediately, within five minutes, and then walked away, and she appreciated the resolve, because the point was the casino champagne brunch, unlimited drinking oh and also eating. Casinos in the daylight are always fun to her, less hustle and bustle, more watching the old people eat away their retirement savings and this particular casino had more daylight inside than she had ever seen. Usually they keep it dark, so you don't know what time it is, and you lose track of yourself. But here it was bright and clean and the buffet area was just like any other breakfast place, only the old waitress named Patty kept bringing her champagne to fill up her lip gloss stained flute, and later gave Johnny's girlfriend an ibuprofen wrapped up in foil from her purse, which made her fall in love with the waitress and secretly hope the rest of the table gave her a massive tip. She tried french toast first, when that failed, the hottest stir fry she could get them to make, drenched in chili oil. The plates were hilarious. The girl with nothing but sushi and cornbread. The guy who tried everything seafood they had. The other guys, one with three plates of food at once, another with nothing but heavy Italian, and then finally when they all started on desserts, Johnny's insistence on a shrimp and dessert plate. And Robin eating it. Because at least it's pretty colors. At least it looks edible.
Then the bathroom at the casino, which appeared to tipsy her to be a portal. Not to heaven or hell, but some ambivalent dimension where there were some annoying ghosts, but mostly you just walked around alone, the Shining but for Midwest retirees, and sometimes you got your period while out of town and it caused you to give even less of a fuck than you normally would because that's what PMS does to her, when it's all said and done and there, then everything else, the hours and the people run together in happenstance, and she doesn't care about anything because there are shiny lights and new people and champagne and Kanye and tunnels. Hormones draining makes her gleeful. Sure she doesn't really feel like a girl, but she feels like a person. Johnny won some more roulette money, and talked about his system, which was not a system but a prayer to the power of everything on black. She tried to stay a quiet drunk, but then turned the music up loud in the car, because even around people she didn't know she tried to keep her mouth from running, especially the sarcastic things especially the strange thoughts that might make her seem too weird. Especially the kind of conversations she feels are inappropriate to have around other people's boyfriends, though she doesn't mean anything by it, she's just one of those kind of drunks.
The plan was to drive to Ambridge and see an abandoned building. But the plan was derailed pretty quickly when they realized they hadn't left the casino till 4, and the light went away while they were at the rugby bar, where once again they met people who worked at the casino, like they did at every bar. So instead of straight to Ambridge, they went to a cold snowy park at the top of a hill, and there were lights everywhere across the valley, progress glittering like stars, like her skin cells felt they must be glittering too, between the artic biting cold and the warm flush of discovery. It was the very prettiest park, and she thought about the difference between Lake people like her, and River Hill people, like him, which is snow tires and a sense of land bound ambition, where the views are not where the waves crash, but how high you can get up in the sky.
Johnny kept apologizing, because he didn't realize that the story she was after was the adventure that just sort of happened, not always the planned kind. And they drove in the dark on the Ohio River Blvd, above the valley, singing to Belle and Sebastian, then tapping fingers to bluegrass. He took her to another bar, the kind she liked so much more, where she finally got to talk to him a little, and make him tell her stories about breaking down in the desert and about childhood friends who were genius musicians. Things you can't get people to tell you when they are in groups of friends, the sort of things you have to drink with someone alone to get into, which were the conversations she liked most, she's a much better singular drinker because Johnny, it's not your loud bar singing or flailing hand gestures she wants to know, it's things like what makes you the most nervous, or which of your friends you like more.
Then they drove to the old stone inn house his parents lived in, and she had coffee with his mom out of dainty blue teacups with pink roses, and the house smelled lovely, like old wood and older paper. He showed her the cabinet full of buddhas, and when they left, she thought about how she missed her family, because his mom reminded her of her own mom, back in Cleveland on crutches because of a fall, and she felt guilty for not doing all the vacuuming last time she was there because she was running late for something else.
They stayed up late again, to drink more gigantic shots made with bright blue energy drinks and vodka, to talk to girls with eyes the same color as the shots, then eat smushy sandwiches with coleslaw that fell down her dress, the same dress she would wear for three days in a row now, and finally end up back in the attic talking about activism, plugging away at the hardness of the universe, and the point in your life where you realize what your role really is, the thing that you are, your true nature. She said she was an observer, he said witness, and it became boom fact yes that is what she is. And she said, you are a doer, but she had her contacts out by then, and his face was only a fuzzy blur across the smoke, and she didn't know if it took.