The whole drive up I was sweating the liquor store situation. Did they have them in El Rito? Would they all be closed by the time we got there? That would be a severe drag. I would be stuck up there with this woman I hardly know, in a place I’d never been, and not have beer to make sure everything was going to be okay.
If I had beer, I could deal with anything. Without it, it seemed like I couldn’t. I know. Nutty.
This situation was made for beer.
I had agreed to spend the night with a woman I hardly knew, which was hardly new, but she was friends with my boss. So I could see shock-waves if this whole deal got ugly. It’s not like I could leave her at some Travel Lodge with nothing but a fake name and number.
She used to come into the photography bookstore I worked at. I was a shipping clerk who packed boxes all day for the mail order part of the business. She was a photographer and would drive down to Santa Fe to show the owner her latest work. We never really talked. I’d smile and say hello, and basically try to keep my distance so she wouldn’t smell the beer coming out of me.
She was cute enough, a curly-haired, skinny little brunette, but she seemed a little prissy–a little too wholesome for my taste.
One day, she just came up and asked me drive up and spend the week-end with her. Wow. What do you say? Yes, of course. Always. That’s the Zorba law. And my law. Look, if you didn’t like her before, finding out that she likes you, makes you like her now.
Enough for sex? Cross that Rubicon when it’s time to get the ankles wet.
She picked me up after work to save the wear-and-tear on my Olds Omega. She told me on the ride up that she had inquired about me to the owner of the bookstore, and that he tried to dissuade her from pursuing anything.
“He said you were a nice guy, but that you were a little… wild.”
I wasn’t too thrilled when I heard this. I knew what he was trying to telegraph to her. That whole italicized “wild” shit. Drunk, he meant.
“Oh did he? Huh. Well, that really hurts.”
“Are you? Too wild?”
“That depends on for what .”
I looked down at my watch. I’ll tell you what, if there’s no open place to buy beer in this one-horse town you live in, you will see some wild. Wild desperation. I should’ve brought a backpack full of beer. It just seemed like bad form on a first date sleepover. What was I thinking? This is exactly the kind of date you can bring a backpack full of beer to.
It’s a slumber party.
Everybody brings treats. You get the popcorn and the movie, and I’ll bring eighteen tall-boy cans of Guinness.
Now I had to play Coy Boy and coax out some hard facts.
“So will any stores be open in El Rito? You know, so we can stop at to get like potato chips and snacks.”
“Oh don’t worry, I have plenty of snacks for us.”
“Great. That’s great. Well that’s a load off.”
We drove in silence for a while.
Telephone pole. Telephone pole. Telephone pole.
“So do they have…like a convenience store there, or some sort of mom and pop type place?”
“There’s a little family-owned place. They have some groceries.”
“Yes, and some beer and wine.”
Oh sweet fucking glory! Holly-Rolly thank you, Mother of All Good Things, for being so merciful to your wretched children!
I took a deep breath. Wait. Wait. Wait. Look at the passing scenery. Wait.
“What time do they usually roll up the welcome mat?”
“I’m not sure, around eight or nine, I think.”
It was now 7:30. There could be a big difference between eight and nine. I don’t get people like this. If I lived out in the sticks, I would know what time the place opened and what time it closed–every single day of the year. I’d know which holidays they observed. What shift the grandma-who-closes-the-place-whenever-she-needs-a-nap works. I would have her schedule, and plan accordingly.
All I could do now was will the car forward, faster. Before the little abuelita’s eyelids get too heavy. I stared out the window. What the fuck was I doing here?
The fall sky can make certain parts of Northern New Mexico look extra bleak. Slate blue with smeared chalky clouds. Long shadows. High altitude light illuminating a coyote fence, a crumbling adobe wall, some tires stacked by some siding, a cluster of trailers. No wonder heroin is so big up here. If I lived in Truchas or Chupadero, I’d probably pick up a habit. On top of everything else.
Something to make staring at water dripping into a bucket more fun.
I love New Mexico. I think it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth. But there are parts of it that suck. Not just Albuquerque and the State Penitentiary, either. Some of the smaller, sadder towns. They seem to suffer from a crushingly depressive malady. Big sky fever, is what I call it. I don’t care if it’s the Russian steppes or Kansas, anytime you have a really wide expanse of sky, melancholy is going to oppress it. The sheer vastness dwarfs all human activity, and relegates it to the junk pile of eternity.
Telephone pole. Billboard for Indian Casino. A dirt field. Orange filter making everything look extra sad.
Think about death. Think about it for everyone, especially the people you love. All dead. We are all going to be dead.
“You’re awful quiet.”
“Just thinking about death.”
We rolled into town just in time. The little mom and pop store that sold beer was still open. Thank you, my sweet Lord. Once again, you have delivered me from my own evil. I got two six packs, hesitated, then got two more. I didn’t care how it looked. Fuck bad form. Good form just leaves you dying of thirst.
When we went back out to the car, I could see her trying to fight down the eyebrow that was trying to raise itself. Not to fear, darlin’, there’s a new fiesta in the making…as we speak.
All that oppressive melancholy and dread I was experiencing earlier, seemed to have lifted. Maybe it was the sun finally going down that did it. Certainly, having two dozen loyal troops, standing by to bodyguard me, made me more intrepid.
Let’s see what kind of weirdness we can cook up with this situation. New chick. Always weird. But you can always make it more weird than that. That’s kind of your specialty–taking an already weird situation and making that look normal in comparison.
Okay, so maybe at first I was apprehensive that maybe this chick was not my type. But she obviously likes me. Isn’t that my type?
Interesting change of attitude. A radical pivoting of point-of-view. And I hadn’t fired down a single beer yet. It’s all about morale.
Regardless of my new-found positive attitude, the date went the way in was supposed to. It was a disaster.
Not at first, but let’s not forget who was piloting this barge.
We ate cheese and crackers while looking at photos she had taken. They were pretty good. At one point we had moved to the couch. That’s when she told me about the guy that broke her heart. How she mourned over him for years. All the pain. The self-doubt. The loneliness. The bitter tears. The savage loss.
The major boner-kill.
Forget it. This mission just got scrubbed. Condition No-Go! Condition No-Go! Yes, I was younger then, but old enough to already be haunted by plenty of ghosts. I wasn’t exactly eager to pig-pile on top of all that pain. I also didn’t want Rixon’s warning to be right. I may be a drunk, but I’m not wild.
Now I had to evade capture. Duck and dodge. Play the clock. Play the gentleman.
What is it about that, that makes women act more horny and wildly available (definitely my type) than they ever would if you had given yourself the green light? It’s an amazing thing. Except you can’t fake it. Playing hard-to-get doesn’t work. You have to really have sincerely decided not to sleep with them. Cosmic Irony knows if you’re pretending. So do the women.
But, decide to do the right thing, and every form of succubus that ever crawled into a bed, seems to take possession. It’s strange. I don’t always try to do the right thing, but when I do, everything in Creation will try to get me to stop. I wound up fooling around a little, then stopped short. You’ve gone far enough. Time to balk and back up. I put it in reverse.
Well, all my back-pedaling started to hurt her feelings. I could tell when she said, “All you’re back-pedaling is hurting my feelings.”
How do you explain a sudden outbreak of conscience? I was pounding the pups, just shot-gunning them down, hoping I could impair my judgement long enough to excuse any transgression from my previous vow. But I couldn’t seem to get there.
I kept seeing a very lonely person. Someone needing somebody, and knowing that I was the last fucking somebody they needed. She was getting all hurt that I wasn’t engaging more, and I couldn’t seem to pull away fast enough. For both our sake’s.
I kicked myself for not buying two more six packs.
She went to bed that night while I stayed up looking through her monographs.
That next morning we had an uncomfortable breakfast at El Farolito. After that we walked around an empty field for a while. We came across a dead crow and she took a picture of it.
“Our love,” I said, trying to make a joke, but it fell like doom in a German opera. By then, it was clear nothing was ever going to happen. We were just hanging out, killing time–trying to make it seem like it was no big deal. Like this was all we ever expected. Just walking around taking pictures of rotting carrion. Not talking much. Waiting until it seems it’s been long enough.
Those minutes are murder. Long, arduous ticks. You start to envy the dead crow.
Eventually, it was decided it was time. It was a quiet ride home. Despite my gallant knight routine, or because of it, she was hurt and angry. I can’t blame her. I should have declined her invitation in the first place. But who does that?
I later heard from the owner that she really hated me from then on. Actually, I heard that from several people. She wasn’t shy about broadcasting what a bastard I was. She didn’t spare the stink-eye either when she came into the bookstore. Maybe it wasn’t for what I did or didn’t do that week-end. Maybe it was just for the person she saw. A drunk unable to cope with painful feelings–his or anyone else’s. It didn’t matter that I didn’t totally mislead her.
I had misled her enough.
And for that, Uncle Zorba, I know a woman will never forgive you.
Ain’t love crazy?