Know your surroundings.
If you look to your left and see an Irish version of Vernon Hardapple, be advised: things could get weird.
If you look to your right and see a girl built like a pumpkin sitting on top of the piano smoking two cigarettes at once, be advised: weird has entered the building.
“It’s a singles joint,” Vern said. “Give me a cigarette.”
Singles joint: a bar is intrinsically loaded, but this one was packed to the gills. Vern took off—said something about a masseuse he used to visit when he was still getting his disability checks from Microsoft—said she owed him a drink. I was left to my own devices, which are devices that really shouldn’t be left alone.
Propped against the plush wall, swilling some shitty tepid beer, I let the words roll around my mouth. Singles joint. “There’s something in these people’s faces,” I say to Saul, the henna-headed piano man, who’s on his break and doesn’t really look like he wants to talk.
“There’s nothing in their faces. They’re drunk—they’re just faces.” He throws back the rest of his Jameson. “Want me to play anything for ya?”
The invitation was tempting. “You know that number, ‘My mind’s telling me no, but my body, my body’s telling me yes’?”
“You’re crazier than you look, you know that?”
I was staring into my tepid fucking beer, looking for a response and wondering why my beer was warm since I’d only had it for what felt like a couple minutes. I guess they sell them too quick in these singles joints—tough place to get a cold beer.
“My date never showed up. I could kill match.com.”
I looked up, half expecting Saul to be standing there, but he wasn’t. Her name was Lorrie, which didn’t surprise me, although, if she said her name was Rita that wouldn’t have surprised me either. She was going on five years of being recently divorced and it showed. A lot of things “show” at a singles joint. To me, it looked like everyone was walking around with their pants around their ankles, humiliated and waiting to be taken home.
Sure, before the taking home their would be the obligatory conversation. The impromptu introduction received with joy, but masked with skepticism. Now this is where you tell a joke. Good, there’s a laugh. The ball is now rolling and the drinks have evaporated so it’s time for another and just as you think that, you’re taking a shot and ordering another one. Now that everyone has consumed enough to have an excuse for their bravado and maybe even enough to have an excuse for what happens next—the walls come in. It’s personal, you’re no longer looking around wondering where your friends are because, “This is why you came here, right?” Lorrie said, stroking my arm.
In front of me I see the mug of a neglected puppy waiting to be adopted. This singles joint is actually a little fence that single men and women walk into, like puppies on display at farmer’s markets looking happy and sad at once, waiting to be taken home. There are two sides of the fence. Two approaches. Five years of being recently single and she’s relegated to life inside the fence. Shit, Lorrie would go home with anyone—literally anyone willing to sign the papers and give her a place to call home. No matter how neglected she’d be there, disregard the fact that the novelty of her presence would wear off and quickly become a chore before you thought possible. Pretty soon you’d have to send her back to where she came from. She knows the way back to the fenced up singles joint with warm beer and jokes. She’s been coming for five years.
Vern taps on my elbow, he’s lost his wig. “Who’s your friend?”
She’s elated because Vern, whether he knows it or not, has added a possessive adjective to the equation. She once was lost, but now she’s my friend. Lorrie is smiling ear-to-ear because she thinks I’m about to sign on the dotted line. Which is about the time I remember where I am. Black Irish Vernon Hardapple to my right, he’s already slid into my place. She’s already laughing. She swills the ice in her glass because she’s ready for another. I am still holding my tepid beer and I still know exactly where this is going although I still don’t have the slightest clue how to get a cold drink.
“We’re gonna get another one,” Vern says. She takes his hand. Cute.
I want to tell them I’ll take something cold, need to whet my senses.
“What’d you think?” Saul’s grinning, but I don’t know what about. “The song?”
You played it? I thought to myself.
“The crowd loved it. My body,” he shouts, “my body!” He carries the note a little too long and we get a few looks. “I think I’m gonna add it to the permanent setlist.”
I look to my right, dishwater blond Vernon Hardapple cuts a rug with the real Dorothy Boyd of Hollywood. To my left, Saul sips a Jameson on ice, talks about the power of his music. He thinks he struck a proverbial cord with the crowd tonight. Babies are getting made tonight and it’s all because of Brother Saul. Or so he tells me.
A singles joint: warm beer, wigs, cortisol fat that’s just going to get worse, everyone used to listen to R. Kelly, now everyone listens to Brother Saul.
“Gotta anything else you wanna hear?” Saul asks, greedily.
“My mind is telling me no, but my body, my body’s telling me yes.”
“You already said that one, pal,” Saul’s not amused, but then again, it’s his job to entertain, not mine.
“I don’t wanna hurt nobody, but there’s something that I gotta confess.” I walk towards the door. Like puppies standing on their hind legs, would-be suitresses perk up, run their hands along my arm and down my back as I make my way to the exit.
At the diner counter, my waitress slaps down my bill. “Didn’t get lucky tonight, huh?” She gives me a sardonic smile, which makes me think she doesn’t realize it’s three a.m. and she’s serving me breakfast. “You must’ve of really fucked up.”
I keep shoveling my eggs. “Got any more Cholulua?”
–The Neapolitan Mastiff