The Past Twenty-Five Minutes

Twenty-five minutes ago I sat at the lower, fourth stage at the Acropolis, laughing and watching S. get dressed again (tiny little white sweater that barely covered anything, tiny white elastic thong under a tiny micro-mini-mini-micro skirt, tiny 8″ platform shoes) as she wadded all the dollars she’d collected over four songs into a big ball the size of my ambitions.

I set aside my drink, which I’d been nursing since Tonic had used the ice from it to both cool herself off and tease me during a private dance, after which I’d realized that I didn’t really know where her fingers had been, but I’d shrugged it off by thinking, “Oh, well, that’s what an immune system is for.”

I stood up and said to S., sadly, “I’ve gotta go.”

“You’re going?” she pouted. She pointed back towards the private dance area. “Go?” She pouted some more.

I turned to walk away and turned back. She mocked drying her eyes with her as-yet unworn skirt.

“OK, what the hell, one more for the road.” She hugged me and I followed her ass through the crowd to the private area.

Five minutes later, I tucked my next-to-last twenty into her stocking, both of us smiling. She leaned in close, eyes narrowing. “You smoke weed, right?” My face tightened into what I hoped wasn’t a patronizing smile and I shook my head. I tried to convey the idea that I was totally OK with other people’s habits but that I didn’t indulge. I probably came across in the same way that asshole Republicans talk about all their “black friends”, though.

She shook her head. “You don’t?” She looked down and continued getting dressed. A small smile came back to her face. “I think you’d be funny to get stoned with.”

Dammit, I’m funny all the time. I don’t need pot to be funny! One tiny lizard part of my brain was waking up and thinking that maybe that she was making an offer and I’d just blown it. I do that; it’s what I do.

I hugged her again, and shuffled out into the night for the 10-block walk home. It was just midnight, and it was a bit chilly but not bone-chilling cold. The stars were up there shining like they do sometimes. I shivered a bit and shuffled in the vague direction of Foster’s Market. I wasn’t sure how late they stayed open, since I’m hardly ever up this late, but if they were open, I thought I’d buy some munchies. I don’t even need pot to have the munchies, apparently.

From two blocks away I saw a woman who looked a little worse for wear hanging on the pay phone, and a muscular dude walk up, test the door, and walk inside. Dave was in there working. He was always in there. By the time I’d travelled the two blocks, Dave was chatting with the guy who was now on his way out with a forty of malt liquor in a paper bag.

“You’re open?” I asked. Dave nodded and then continued joking with the departing customer without missing a beat.

I bought a small bag of dark chocolate M&Ms and a bear claw. Standing in line behind another dude on a beer run, impulsively asking about a lottery ticket after seeing that the jackpot was up to $182 million. Dave shook his head. “Sorry, I just closed that machine out.”

“Oh, well, there’s always tomorrow,” the dude said, hopefully.

“Right,” I said, “it’s tomorrow. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.”

Dude laughed and left the store. The woman using the pay phone stuck her head in the door and thanked Dave, left again. My total came to a buck forty-nine. I peeled off two dollars from the wad of left-overs.

Dave said, “of course, lots of days when I should be wearing green, I don’t. My ancestors were the sworn enemies of the Irish.”

“Oh? Isn’t that when you’re supposed to wear orange, instead?”

“Oh, no, the orange and the green represent the Protestants and the Catholics. I’m talking about countries, not religions. My ancestors swore allegiance to QE2.” I pocketed my change, picked up my bag and started shuffling towards the door. I stopped. For some reason, tonight, I wanted to keep talking to Dave. I wanted to validate his often-random ramblings. He was an older guy, a guy who had seen a lot of wear and tear, gray in places, bright ruddy red in others, his eyes swimming behind the strongest prescription glasses I’d ever seen, lenses almost thicker than they were wide.

But tonight, Dave had run out of things to say. His voice trailed off, saying, mumbling, “…but that won’t buy a cup of hot coffee in the States.” A long pause, and I smiled and chuckled, and then walked out the door, thinking he was done.

As I was one step out the door, I could hear Dave starting up again. “She bought about a ba-jillion quarters from me for the pay phone.” I was already beyond the door and it cut him off as it closed.

Back into the night. Two more blocks to home.

I passed the Thai place, closed up. There was a light on at the coffee shop, even though the door was locked up and the sidewalk sign had been put away. I saw J. bustling around behind the counter in the back of the shop, counting out the money. I liked her for her quirky cuteness; shorter than me, black pageboy-cut hair, a bit of a wandering left eye and a lisp, but funny, and honest, and open. I paused and watched her work for a moment. I tore open my bag of M&Ms and dumped some into my mouth. I considered tapping on the glass.

She still hadn’t looked up. Sometimes if you stare at someone long enough, they will look up, as if responding to the pressure of your stare. J. hadn’t responded yet. I thought of offering to share my bear claw and candy with her. I envisioned her letting me come in while she counted out the day’s take, and I had a brief fantasy of kissing her, once.

I turned and walked the block and a half to home.

Walked past the new strip-mall storefronts right next to my apartment building, still empty, almost finished and ready for occupancy. I crunched through the gravel where the new sidewalk was going to go, where I wasn’t supposed to be walking. Since I was done with the candy I tossed the bag in the direction of my buildings’ garbage can.

I thought of my neighborhood. I thought of the lady and Old Barfy next door, telling me how much they liked my cat, Smacky. I thought of my secret thoughts of J., and of the random loneliness of Dave, and of S. being embarrassed by wanting to get high with me.

I see myself as a loner, a grump, a drunk. A secretive geek with a cranky cat, with a few close friends but mostly spending my time alone. And yet, I had all these connections to people in my neighborhood, people who, apparently, seemed to like me. At that moment, as I took the last few steps up to my front door, the rest of the building lights out…

…what do they see in me? Are we all alone, and all just reaching out for whatever human contact we can get, thankful for anyone who will stop and listen?

Shit… what if everyone else feels the exact same way I do?

How scary is that?

And then I came inside, nibbled on my bear claw, and wrote this post. Hello, out there.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.