*Originally posted April 27, 2009*
Madness. A determined and frenetic madness was now washing over me. Or maybe not. Surely, I felta little crazy, and after all, you can’t actually be crazy if you feel like you are… Joe Heller taught us that. By this time of the night, I was fully aware that what I was doing was hazardous, silly, and most likely to end in disaster. This sort of trip runs a very high risk of self-destruction. As I ran out of Toad in the Hole, dodging carloads of drunks like some real-life game of Frogger, this truth became increasingly obvious.
And while I’m on the topic, I find that when one is engaging in this sort of weird journey, it’s important to have friends on the alert, so they might contact the Proper Authorities if you happen go missing the next day. In the early hours of Saturday morning, I had several good friends calling and texting just to make sure I was still alive and kicking. I’d like to take the opportunity now to thank all of them here. You know who you are, and it was really, very sweet of you.
After a few minutes waiting in some transit shelter, a bus comes lumbering up the avenue, and I shuffle on board. Frost drips from my beard onto the floor as I speak with the driver.
“Hi there, do you know where to get off for Shannon’s Irish Pub?”
“Shannon’s. It’s a bar, right on this street somewhere.”
“I don’t know man, I just drive the bus.”
Something about the phrase makes me laugh aloud. It really sums the moment up nicely.
“You and me both, man.”
“You’re doing a great job, by the way. Really, you’re the best of your kind…”
I make my way to one of the seats. No problems here, I think. I’ll just ask around the bus, someone has to know where this bar is. I observe the surroundings. Two homeless men (that is, homeless by all appearances and aromas) are passed out in the back, and an Indian man and woman are sitting nearby. I sit beside the man and woman, making sure to wait for a block to pass before addressing them, to avoid seeming desperate. Which, by this point, I am.
“Excuse me, but do you know which stop is closest to Shannon’s?”
Christ, did everyone in this town suddenly stop drinking?
“Shannon’s Irish Pub. I’m supposed to be there right now, but…well, I’m not. Could you help me out?”
Neither of them knows what or where I’m talking about, and I realize that I’ve been getting that a lot lately… Still, they are friendly and try as best they can to help. Fine by me. I’m not used to relying on the help of strangers, and tonight I have been heavily reliant on many of them…and all have been happy to help so far. I believe it’s some karmic coincidence. I always give plenty of change to panhandlers (even if I ask that they spend it on cheap liquor)… The Indian woman jerks me out of my train of thought.
“Why don’t you ask these folks getting on?” she says, “They’re young, they should know.”
I turn around and onto the bus walks…Her. You know Her. She is the archetypal beauty. The golden standard to which all women are compared. The Perfect 10. I never even knew she existed until she walked onto that bus…She had always been a creation of the imagination, something drawn together and made up of only the most beautiful features. Of course, everybody’s got their own variation on Her, but for me She’s slender, taller than most girls, with deep blue eyes, pert C-cup breasts, soft pale skin, her hair down in loose curls…
And of course, She’s a brunette.
Talking to strange women isn’t a problem for me, especially when discussing such mundane topics as ‘Where-The-Fuck-Am-I-Going? …But then again, this was Her! She was wearing a black coat and lipstick. Not a very dark red, mind you, just enough to draw your eye to her lips. Two guys board the bus with her and sit on either side of her, but clearly neither of them is romantically linked to Her. Both of them probably made a move on Her at some point, but got shot down and decided they’d try again after being Just Friends with her for a while. Poor Damn Fools. Meanwhile, I am inches away from being confused with one of the homeless gentlemen in the back of the bus. Not one of my better moments. The point is, I had a hard time even getting up the nerve to open my mouth, and when I did, the words came out funny.
“Scuse me, uhhh…hi. Listen, I was just wondering if, uh…do you know when I should get off for Shannon’s?”
“Uhhhh, well Shannon’s… it’s this Irish pub somewhere on Pembina. My friend is having hi-”
She cuts me off, “There’s no Shannon’s on Pembina. You mean Dylan’s?”
“What? No, uhh…no, no I’m pretty sure it was Shannon’s…”
Where the hell am I even going? I think while my words trail off. Is this even the right night? Is it possible that when I get to…to wherever I’m trying to go, no one else will be there? A million million doubts set in.
“The only Shannon’s in town is the one at the convention centre.”
“Well, yeah, but I thought maybe they had like a…”
She cuts me off again, saying, “You want Dylan O’ Connors, its right before the stop at Bishop Grandin. It’s big, there’s a big sign in front, you can’t miss it.”
And she knows her bars, too! The bus slows down, She stands up, the two boys following her to the door. Looks like our time is up.
“Well, uhh…Thanks. Yeah, okay, but…hey wait! I mean, ah…wuh-what’s your name?”
She turned and looked at me and smiled…I tried to smile back, but it must have looked pretty pitiful. Then She said to me, in that soft, sweet voice, she said,
“Have a nice night.”
…And stepped off the bus, her boys in tow.
That was it. I met my dream girl, and she wouldn’t even give me her name. That didn’t bother me as much as it probably should have…after all, this is one of those way, way way-off nights. I don’t believe I would think as highly of her if she gave guys like that a shot. No, what bothered me more than anything was the smile she gave me, just before she walked off. Something was wrong with it. Her mouth twisted up like mouths should in a smile, but there was nothing in her eyes to give evidence that she was, in fact, smiling. There was no emotion, no…life in this smile. And suddenly, it occurred to me that I had seen that smile before. It was plastered on the faces of all the drivers, all the salesmen, all the bartenders, all the people who serve my food and handle my money, the dealers at Regent and the doormen and coat checkers…they all had that same expression that come close to showing happiness, but had no real spirit behind it. They all had on that same Hollow Smile. And as I sat there, lost in my own head as the city streets whizzed by, something dawned on me. It struck me, with sudden and terrible clarity, that somewhere along the line, that smile had become my own.
* * *
I decide to call Paul one more time while standing on the street facing Dylan O’ Connors, just to make sure I’m at the right place. I start off cool and collected…
“Paul, where in the FUCK are you?”
“RAAHHWWWB!! Come here! You should be here right now!”
“Paul, listen to me, WHAT is the NAME of the BAR you are in?”
“We’re…we’re at the Tavern! COME TO THE TAVERN, ROB!”
“The Taver—where the hell is that? That’s not Shannon’s, it’s not Dylan’s, it’s—it’s not even Irish!”
“We were at Dylan’s! My friend, her birthday’s tonight too…so we came over here…”
“And where is ‘here’, Paul?”
“We’re right next door. When you get to Dylan’s you’ll see it.”
I turn around and look across the street, and sure enough, THE TAVERN UNITED sign looks back at me.
“…See you soon.” I hang up on Paul, one final time for the night.
An overdue sense of elation sets in as I walk through the doors of the Tavern. I collapse into a booth next to Paul, and he introduces me to some of the other revelers. Among them is the girl I had called for a ride from the Club Regent. Let’s call her ‘Maria’. She and I are the only sober people here, and while we have never met before, when she tells me that Paul never called her about giving me a ride, I believe her. There’s also ‘Ivan’, the only person in the party able to rival Paul’s B.A.C. He is overjoyed to see me, which is odd considering I don’t know him whatsoever. Drunks can be the friendliest people. They can also be the loudest, crudest, angriest, funniest, and/or most likely to destroy public property. I am glad to be in their company again, especially one like Ivan.
“Last call!” cries the bartender, not five minutes after I walked through the door. I check the time; it’s almost two in the morning. The waitress walks up to the table, drops the bill and smiles – that Hollow Smile – before turning to walk back toward the bar. Paul takes one look at the tab and starts shouting.
“There’s no fucking way I’m paying this!” he bawls. The waitress stops and turns around. I shoot her my own little Hollow Smile to let her know that Paul is being taken care of. She turns back around, and I check the tab. It’s in the triple digits. This seems a teensy bit high, considering the bulk of the party’s drinking was done across the street…
Indeed, the bill is higher than it ought to be. The Birthday Girl, who convinced Paul and his party to switch bars, had been ordering rounds of Jose Cuervo like this was Tijuana all night. She wrapped herself around the porcelain shortly after Paul arrived. It took one of her friends on either side to carry her to a car. When the Birthday Girl left, her friends quietly snuck off with her, stiffing Paul, Ivan, Maria and the rest for the bill. The joke’s on her, I think to myself, I couldn’t even pay for this if I wanted to!
Paul continues making it known to everyone in the bar that he is not going to pay his tab. I tell him to quiet down before he draws the waitress again. Time for an escape plan.
“Listen,” I whisper, “we’re getting out of here now. Okay? You leave cash for the drinks you had. Then we’re gonna get up, and very quietly! — we’re gonna walk out the door. Got it?”
Paul nods, and we slide out either side of the booth. Then Ivan gets his first look at the bill, and the shouting starts all over again.
“We aren’t gonna pay this fucking tab!” he roars.
“I KNOW!” answers Paul.
“Shut up!” I hiss.
The waitress comes back to the table. Our party occupies two separate booths, and somehow we convince the waitress that Paul and Ivan are trying to explain that this bill is being paid by the othertable. She walks over to that table, and they start trying to explain all about the Birthday Girl and Jose Cuervo and Drinking and Dashing. A stack of change begins piling up on the table as they all chip in for their drinks, but still no sign of payment for the tequila. The waitress is getting more and more insistent by the moment. Indeed, she should be. If nobody pays this tab, it comes out of her paycheck.
One by one, Ivan, Paul and I go up behind the waitress, reach around her, across the table, and drop change for the drink fund; my contribution amounts to roughly sixteen cents. My cash resources are now completely exhausted…but just as I had planned, they were exhausted at the party, which was a victory in itself. I grab Paul by the shoulder, turn him around, and start heading for the door. Ivan takes the cue – I think he may have done this sort of thing before…
At two in the morning, the three of us burst out into the cold air of Manitoba in springtime. Leaving the bar with Paul on my right and Ivan to my left, both of them staggering and laughing and shouting at the night sky, I break into a smile which has not crossed my lips in a very long time. Maria, our Designated Driver, our savior, walks out of the Tavern and the three of us make our way to her car.
“Rob, I’m glad you came, man.”
“Wouldn’t miss this for the world, Paul.”
He looks at me and sees the fat, stupid grin I have on my face, and breaks out in one of his own.
“ROB MADE IT, EVERYBODY!”
The four of us duck into the car and Maria pulls out of the parking lot, back onto Pembina Avenue, and drives off into the early hours of a Saturday morning in early March.
“I’d been wondering, all week, why I was feeling so low and out of sorts…but it never occurred to me that a giant leech had been sucking blood out of the base of my spine all that time; and now the goddamn thing was moving up towards the base of my brain, going straight for the medulla…
…I would have to do two things immediately: First, deliver the sermon that had been brewing in my brain all week long, and then rush back into the room and write my lead…
…Or maybe write my lead first, and then deliver the sermon. In any case, there was no time to lose. The thing was about a third of the way up my spine now, and still moving at good speed…
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.
Who said that?”
-Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl.