I laid in bed watching faces form in the popcorn ceiling. There was one that looked like Warren G. Harding, and another that looked like Moe. I rolled over on my side and felt something. It was a piece of fish. I didn’t know how it got there, but it smelled okay. It was half a piece of smoked salmon, the kind with all the pepper on one side. It was still in the package so I decided to eat it. I reached under my bed and found a bottle of beer.
I was sitting up in bed, enjoying my breakfast of salmon surprise and warm beer, when I looked over and saw myself in the closet mirror. I had four days of beard, bloodshot eyes, a gut that hung out over my boxers, and a very content look on my bloated face. “It doesn’t get any better than this,” I said to myself. It didn’t get any better, but it got much worse. Waking up to a mysterious piece of fish was getting off easy.
Mornings can be rough for the alcoholic. “Carpe diem” is rarely the rallying cry, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to hit the ground running. If it isn’t the baffling environment he finds himself in, or the strange company, it’s the sinking feeling that something really bad has happened. Something needs to be fixed right away, but what? What just happened? What do I have to fix? And why am I wearing this?
I had long ago given up trying to put together the events of any previous evening’s adventure. By studying the credit card receipts, matchbooks, napkins with numbers written in either lipstick or blood (hard to tell), bruises, shell casings, parking tickets, drug paraphernalia, condom wrappers, and damage to the car bumper you could come up with a pretty good picture and timeline, but why? You had a good time, and that’s all you need to know. If God wanted you to remember exactly what happened He wouldn’t have made you blackout.
I once went out on an entire date in a blackout. To this day I don’t know who the girl was. I don’t know her name or how I met her. I don’t remember asking her out, or even talking to her. I do remember us going to see my friend, Chris Linson, fight at the Sweeny Center that Saturday night. He won by a TKO. I also remember wearing my black suit, and getting cut off at The Catamount. Pretty much nothing else. The guy who got knocked out remembers more from that night than I do. I can only speculate how the date ended.
I came to that Monday at my girlfriend’s place. I don’t need to speculate how that went. It seems that while I was out on the town forgetting things all over the place, I forgot I had a girlfriend, too. She didn’t let me forget about that. We broke up shortly afterwards.
One morning the phone rang. It was Louise, a girl I met in Santa Fe, who was now living in Los Angeles. Louise was a delightful creature. She was a little eccentric and a tad thirsty. She spoke with an affect that made her sound like a socialite from a cornball 1930’s movie. It got worse the drunker she got. “Daaahhhling, you simply must top off my little-wittle drinky-winkeeeeee!” She was also a human wrecking ball. She liked to dance around the room, showing me the ballet moves she learned as a little girl. A shoe would go through the window, a chair would break, my collection of German beer steins would come crashing down from the shelves. I got a kick out her antics, and we had a lot of laughs. We were drinking buddies who should have stayed just that, but didn’t. The fact that we were the opposite sex seemed too convenient a fact to pass up, so we complicated matters. I was to complicate them even further.
“Oh darling, I am soooooo excited!” she said, “I’ve told my mother, and my sister, and they just can’t belieeeeeeve it!”
“What about? What are you talking about, Louise?”
“The wedding, my dearest, the wedding!”
I started jiggling the bottles next to my bed looking for a survivor. I didn’t like where this conversation was going. “Whose wedding, Louise?”
“Our wedding, silly boy. Don’t you dare tell me you don’t remember asking me to marry you last night.”
I didn’t, and I didn’t dare tell her. Wait, there was a distant, misty, almost dream-like recollection of some sort of vague phone conversation on the subject. Oh God. It was the red wine. Red wine always made me magnanimous, almost sacrificial. Get me drunk on red wine and I’ll step in front of a speeding car for you, whether it was coming towards you or not. I got sappy on the grape. The headache it gave me the next day was always accompanied by some big check my red-stained mouth wrote. I don’t know how many times I was ready to join the French Foreign Legion to escape the consequences of my “purely symbolic” gestures.
Now it was looking like I was going to be learning French sooner than I thought.
“Let me call you right back, Louise.” I hung up and called Dave. It was time for him to save my ass. We took turns.
“Dude! Major wine drunkage. I just asked Louise to marry me last night. I only sort of remember doing it, but she does, and she’s holding me to it. She already told her mother and sister!” I pictured them picking out the color of the Jordan Almonds that go into the little paper cups.
“Where did you get the wine?”
“Pablo came by with some he stole some from an art opening,” I said, “Fucking hell, if he wasn’t such a klepto I wouldn’t be in this bullshit!”
“I don’t know, Copeland-Rutherford.”
“It was the one for Delmas Howe?”
“Yeah, okay, probably.”
“He does the gay cowboy art.”
“Yeah, and really dude, who the fuck cares?! Listen man, I’m in a jam here! I need you to focus on me for just a half a cigarette of your time. Can you do that for me, brother?”
“Alright, relax. Did you ask her ‘will you marry me?’ or ‘would you marry me?’ ”
“I’m not sure. I think ‘would you?’ Why would that matter?”
I heard him put down the phone, and walk down the hall to his bathroom. I listened to him take an exceptionally long piss, flush, then walk back up the hall past the phone, towards the kitchen. I could hear him drop some ice cubes in a glass. The footsteps, now with clinking ice, started coming back towards the phone, but they passed by again. He was heading to the living room. Exile on Main Street, of course. Finally, over the strains of “Rocks Off,” I heard the ice clink back towards the phone.
“Saying ‘would you marry me?’ puts the question in the realm of the hypothetical. In other words, if I asked you to marry me, would you?”
“Then that’s what I said.”
I thanked him and hung up. Good old Dave. I called Louise and tried to explain our little semantics mix-up, but she hung up on me. I never heard from her again.
I had lost another good friend. Good old Louise. Rather than really look at what happened, I decided to just make it all go away. I wouldn’t have to join the Foreign Legion to escape. Kelly’s Liquors had a sale on Heineken that week. Murdering a few cases of Heineken would erase all the bad, for a while at least. It would be easier than shooting bandits on The Ivory Coast, but the way I was drinking, not necessarily safer.