Too much. She, was too much like a lot of people I had known. It was like talking to my friend John, my first ex-girlfriend, a teacher I admired back in high school, all at once. There was a humor that called to mind a gang of friends I knew in college, but then there was also that abdominal quiver you get when you’re 11, seeing a Playboy for the first time. Something just strikes a chord.
“Disqualified?! Why? I don’t even have my phone on me.” A lie, maybe the first. So I had it yes, BUT I was not actually using it to win.
“Yeah yeah yeah. Gah, too easy. Still disqualified. Even if you didn’t have it, which is bullshit because who doesn’t carry their phone everywhere — you could have just asked somebody. Ha!” She laughed the whole exchange off. In hindsight, the expression on her face was probably not worth risking the whole exchange.
“Hey, c’mon. Give me a little credit,” I called after her, as she went to the other end of the bar again. She shouted something back but it was lost over the music.
The night grew busy around me. People crowded in on either side, laughing, talking, jostling for space. It seemed odd for a Wednesday night. Zil stalked back and forth briskly fielding orders. I had the good sense enough not to bother her with another question. For the time being, I let the volley ball of conversation rest in the sand. Still, I had hoped I could steal a glance from here, but nothing. Even when she went for ice directly in front of me, it was if I was invisible. I began to drink quicker. After all, I was a customer too. She had to refill my glass eventually.
Gage was alternately bar-backing and helping grab supplies for the kitchen. It dawned on me only then that they were short that night. It’s what made the busy nature of the place so damn heightened. Looking around the rest of the bar, the place was fairly quiet. It was only the bar line itself that most of commotion had localized.
“Whew! Thank god, at last…” Zil’s voice was right behind me. I spun the stool.
“Yeah! Seems—” I started to say and immediately shut up. Zil wrapped a shorter, tattooed girl in a deep embrace. They hugged like little kids.
“Fuck it’s crazy tonight!” said the girl.
“Really. Ugh. THANK YOU for coming up here though. Bad enough Gage is running for the kitchen and me,” Zil said appreciatively.
“Hey lady, don’t you sweat it,” said the girl, swatting at Zil’s ass. I swallowed. “Where you want me? This end?”
“Sure. Thanks babe!” she said, and raced off towards the opposite end of the bar.
“What’s yours, sweetie?” asked the shorter girl. It took me a second to shake the stare from my my face.
“Um. Killian’s. Thanks,” I said, stupidly raising my glass, as if she knew.
“We don’t have Killian’s, hon,” she already seemed impatient.
“AH, right, um… fuck. Bells. The Bells, please,” I managed. Idiot.
“Ya sure?” she said, already filling a new glass.
“Thanks,” I said meekly, seeing what I intended to be my last beer poured.
Nameless short girl set it down and was off to other people. Their conversations rose around me again. I felt older than I was sitting alone amidst all that activity. There wasn’t even another sad bastard to converse with in my peripheral. I drank in silence. Shit, I was that fool.
Gage was running food now, while Zil and the other girl tackled the bar crowd. I did my best not to focus all of my attention on Zil while she worked. Aside from it being the epitome of creepy, I didn’t want to tarnish any of the little exchanges we had early. If I saw her laugh a certain way with someone else down the way, it would take from whatever I felt when she did with me. Christ, it was not good. I couldn’t start thinking that way. Not yet. Hell, not ever.
More and more people seemed to be making their way into the bar. Stage lights came on in one corner. A guy with a long goatee started checking levels on a mic. Nowhere on the building was there a post about a show that night… but then, the guy wheeled out a monitor. A karaoke monitor. The crowd started to make a lot more sense.
“Getting’ ready? Gonna dazzle us?” spouted Gage as he strode past me, carrying a few baskets of fried food.
“Oh totally, I’m just warming up!” I shouted after him. I didn’t hate karaoke, but I certainly wasn’t flying a banner for it either.
After running through the typical cadence of “checks” for the mic, the stage was set. I watched minutes before as eager patrons were filling out small pink cards, no doubt with what song they were going to attempt. The goatee’d guy called the attention of the bar, announcing yet another “Rockin’ Humpday Yokee” much to the delight of the people now crowding that corner of the bar. My stomach groaned. The name of this weekly event almost guaranteed a slew of butchered radio hits. Suddenly, the banana with glasses on the wall behind me, started to sadly make a little more sense. What would be up first? Britney Spear’s Toxic? Maybe Cumbersome by Seven Mary Three? The sad irony of my Wednesday was coming full circle when the opening music to Creed’s Higher cued up on the system. I watched as a gangly, indie-looking kid bound to the stage.
Gangly was an understatement. He was all white and wire, embodying the dorky traits of rock before it was something homogenized and trended. The kid was a million miles from the faded ball capped dude I expected to step up and belt this song out.
Seconds into the song, the indie-kid is thrashing wildly on an air guitar as if he wrote the song himself. When the lyrics run the screen, and it’s his time to sing, he grabs the mic in both hands, graveling in a 90’s era voice that teetered on the edge of not being English. By the time the first chorus hit, he had torn his buttoned flannel apart, letting his bony frame catch a stage light beam. I sat awestruck. It was single-handedly the best and worst thing I had seen in recent years. The crowd, who was a bit more accustomed to how things went down on Wednesdays, was simply eating it up. I was left to wonder if Creed had ever seen this kind of intensity, on either end of the song.
Next up was a buxom girl in a cut off t-shirt, worn over her shoulders. She could have eaten the first kid whole, which was not to say she was heavy-set, by any means. My curiosity piqued, I spun my chair completely this time to watch the show. Three notes into the song, the crowd roared — Marvin Gaye, Let’s Get It On. While the song itself is over-done in situations like this, it is by all accounts a great song in it’s own right — especially when held up against Creed. The Amazonian girl chose to approach the tune as if she was Janis Joplin having an orgasm. Once again, it struck the line between incredible and insane. I applauded along with the crowd that time.
“Looks like you’re in love,” she said in my ear.