Saturday, March 6, 2010

My Second-Favorite Valentine's Day

As I drowned myself in rum and coconut milk in my favorite South Pacific watering hole the afternoon before last, waiting for something to happen, occasionally stealing glances at an emaciated Pauly Shore as he danced laconically in an unlit, dung-encrusted cage in the corner, next to the photo booth, my long-lost friend Pierre--now a drug runner for a band of Filipino pirates and a snazzy dresser for sure, with a god-given gift for accessorizing--sidled up alongside me at the bar, out of nowhere, and we got to talking.

At one point during our grand revelry, Pierre reminded me of an interesting incident from our past that had somehow wholly escaped my brain. He was a bit foggy on the details, as was I, but I had to have a go at it anyway, so please excuse any potential inaccuracies, people of Earth.

Here goes, from the beginning:

February 14, 2002. Chicago.

I was living in the then-sketchy Uptown neighborhood with a good friend from college, Pierre. We lived steps from Montrose Harbor, in a lake-view apartment. Pierre had his car broken into at least four times, once on consecutive nights. I worked as a freelance production assistant in the local film industry. Pierre worked as an exotic dancer. We were young, handsome, and fearless. We had a great time.

We were both single and without plans for Valentine's Day (oh, no!), so another friend of mine from college--Alice--invited us over to her apartment in nearby Wrigleyville for a party.

Now, Alice is very attractive and a very good friend of mine, but she is definitely on the straighter side of the coin--she grew up in Wheaton, went to church every Sunday during college, etc. I don't recall her having a drink until her junior or senior year, despite all her friends being your typical college bingers, and I don't think I ever saw her drunk.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it definitely has an impact on whether or not I want to go to a party, seeing as I'm the sort of guy who likes to tear it up and I prefer the company of others who feel the same way.

This being the case, Pierre and I were not exactly in a hurry to get to Alice's apartment, didn't want to be the first ones to get there and get stuck talking to the kind of people who show up exactly when a party starts, find ourselves under a microscope, etc.

You ken the score.

Instead, we hit up a cool little diner near her place around 8pm--the official start time of the party--and devoured gigantic cheeseburgers, killed some time, discussed strategy, etc.

After dinner, we smoked some weed in the car outside her place and, now that we had our heads on crooked, prepared to casually slip into the dance party, scare up a drink, and see what was what.

When Alice let us in, I immediately realized she was wasted. Her face was beet-red and her movements were sudden and excessively forceful. She was thrilled to see us and gave me a big hug.

But something was wrong--I couldn't hear any music and all the lights were on.

What the...I noticed three girls sitting around the dining room table drinking wine and glaring at Pierre and I. There were six unsullied place settings.


It turns out it was a dinner party and everybody had been waiting for us for over an hour, hadn't started eating yet. Even though Alice didn't seem to mind, the other guests were supremely irritated. I searched my mind and could find no recollection of dinner being involved in this affair, but that hardly mattered now.

Adding insult to injury, the only other guests were Claire the Bear, Claire the Scare, a kinda-boring-but-kinda-sexy girl named Maria, and us. I had struck out with Maria once already and Claire the Scare and I, to put it nicely, had a rocky opinion of each other. To make matters worse, Pierre had a 'thing' with Claire the Bear not too long ago--a thing which didn't end so well.

How's that for a hit ratio? This was going to be ugly.

Alice announced to the room that she was drunk, that she had been chugging wine as she cooked, and that she hoped the food wasn't too burnt, too cold, etc. The other girls all shared intense looks as Alice brought the food out from the kitchen and slammed the dishes onto the table, one by one.

She offered Pierre some food--gentlemen first, I guess--and it became immediately apparent that he had disengaged his brain at some point:
"No thanks--I'm not hungry. We just ate a huge dinner...we didn't realize it was a dinner party..."
Every single girl at the table--not big fans of us to begin with--glared at us as if Pierre had just called them the latest in a long line of fat, diseased whores with no fashion sense and I smiled sheepishly, wishing Pierre had kept his fucking mouth shut and just picked at his dinner like a five year-old boy confronting a meatloaf, as I had planned.

As if I thought it would somehow help our situation, I took a generous helping of food and began effortfully piling it on top of my burger and fries, feeling my belly distend like the fat guy in The Meaning of Life (watch the whole thing), hoping I wouldn't explode in a hurricane of vomit.

Alice sat down with a crash, declared that she wasn't even hungry, downed some more wine, and, thankfully--since this was the toughest audience I'd ever encountered--started talking.

It wasn't quite a toast, but more of a 'casual monologue.' The gist of it was that it was Valentine's Day and she was, very suddenly, alone. She revealed that the older, married(?) man she had been secretly seeing at work recently broke things off, on account of his being really fucked-up about his best friend's recent death.

His best friend was Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal journalist who was beheaded in Pakistan a mere 13 days before this dinner.

The room was as silent as a cemetery, yet throbbing with discomfort. Pierre and I swallowed this fascinating fact with great difficulty, completely unsure how to respond, suddenly hyperaware of every molecule in our body.

How does one react to such an admission?

Apparently by gulping down wine, as that is what everybody at the table did--even the girls, who no doubt already knew the score since they were all thick as thieves.

I tried to change the subject:
"Hey, whatever happened to that guy you were dating before, the long-distance guy who lived in Houston?"
"Well, it's funny you mention that. It turned out he was dating somebody else the whole time. He was dating her before I even met him."
"The worst part is, I even met her once, when I was visiting him for a football game in Houston. I had no idea. Neither did she. But she found out about it and called me up."
Double gulp.
"I mean...and to think I wanted to marry him..."
The heart breaks for this poor girl. Again, how does one react to such news?

Pierre and I couldn't hazard a guess, and left not long after this admission, a bit sad, a bit rattled, lucky to be alive.

I still can't decide whether it was a good or bad thing that we were stoned during the entire debacle, but I certainly would not like to go back in time and repeat the evening with a clear mind, so I guess it's irrelevant.

Anyway, how's that for an awkward evening?


No comments: