Sunday, May 8, 2011

Taking a Gamble on a Little Sorrow

I did go back to the Pigpen, obviously. It took me two weeks to work up my nerve (it’s a big one, that’s why it took so long), but I did. There was nobody there again (there often isn’t; you’ll get used to that), so I played pool by myself for a while, and was sitting outside on the picnic table smoking with the Owner (who I don’t think I knew was the Owner at the time) when the Kid showed up.

“You’re back!” he hollered across the parking lot to me as he walked in from his truck. I don’t remember my reply, but I’m sure it was something wise-ass, and I'm sure he does.

“Watch out for that one,” said the Owner when the Kid had gone inside. “He sleeps with all the single women who come in here."

“Oh, don’t worry about me,” I said. "I’m a big girl; I can spot ‘em. Plus he’s like twelve. And even if he wasn’t – or I was – he wouldn’t be getting anywhere near this with that goatee.”

See what I mean? My ass is so wise it oughta have its own advice column.

I don’t know how much time passed, but I know we hadn’t finished smoking yet before that goatee got stuck back out the door.

“You shootin’?” it hollered.

“Which one of us you talkin’ to?” I hollered back.


“Yeah, I’m shootin’.” 

I tossed my butt in the bucket and stood up.

“Watch out for him,” the Owner said. “I’m serious.”

“Don’t worry,” I waved him off. “I got this. Kid’s in fucking diapers, for chrissake.”

The Owner laughed.

So I went in and the Kid and I shot pool all night. As far as I remember no one else ever showed up, and when I left he walked me to my car.

“I had fun,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. “I had fun, too.”

And then I got in my car and drove away.

It was a few weeks again before I went back for a third time (but it wasn't about working up the big old nerve this time: I just had Business to Attend to Elsewhere), and the same thing happened. Kid showed up, we shot all night, he walked me to my car.

“I had fun.”

“I had fun, too.”

“A bunch of us – the Guide and his Girlfriend and those guys, remember? – always come in here on Wednesday nights. You should come by, it's fun.”

“Oh, I don’t know about Wednesdays.”

I wasn’t trying to be coy. I innocently believed (as I still do, almost nine months later) that I was close to finishing the book, and didn’t think I should be going out on school nights.

“Well, what nights will you be here?”

“What night is this?”


“Probably Friday, then. But I don’t know...”

And I got in my car and drove away.

Yeah, you got me. That time I was trying to be coy. How did I do?

So the next time I went back it was a Wednesday, and—

Oh, shut it.

—the Guide and his Girlfriend were there when I arrived. I apologized for my behavior last time, they didn't think it was all that big a deal, and we hung out for a few hours before the Kid showed up.

“I almost didn’t come,” he said, “because you said you wouldn’t be here.”

Oh yeah, right.

So we played pool and got flirty, and at one point when I couldn’t decide what shot to take he said: “Shoot the two-six. It’s the perfect combination, like your blue eyes and my green eyes.”

Because the 2-ball’s blue, you see, and the 6-ball is green.

I lowered my cue stick, turned around, and gagged.

“Did you seriously just say that to me?”

He laughed.

“I bet you thought I didn’t notice, huh?”

Oh, yeah, that’s why I'm gagging. Cocky little shit.

“Twenty-two-year-old studmuffin,” the Guide’s Girlfriend whispered wryly in my ear. I don’t think she heard the thing about the 2-ball, but she'd been around him long enough. She knew.

“Is that how old he is?” I asked her.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Something like that.”

So the next time I went back his way, I asked him.

“How old are you, Kid?”


“Oh, well then,” I laughed over my shoulder and I went outside to smoke. But I came back, and at the end of the night he walked to my car again.

“I had fun,” he said.

“I had fun, too."

Then I decided it was time to end it.

"We do have fun together, you and I," I said. "And we probably would have a lot of fun.”

If you know what I mean.

“But do you have any idea how old I am?”

Because, not to toot my own or anything, but the Faustian bargain I seem to have struck with the universe this year is: you do your damnedest to bury me, and I will get younger- and younger-looking with every ball of shit you throw. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want to be 27 again – not for all the outsourced jobs in China. But getting occasionally mistaken for it is not a bad condolence prize when you're knee-deep in Satan scat. You know?

He shrugged.

“I’m forty-one.”

“So?” He shrugged again. “Not like it'd be statutory.”

I laughed. Hard.

And then I got in my car and drove away.

I stayed away on purpose this time. I knew what I was thinking, and I didn’t think I should be, so I guess you could say I was working down the big old nerve. But my sister and her family came to visit in the meantime, and I told my brother-in-law about the Kid and his statutory line.

“Well played, Kid!” he said, with a big grin. Then the family went to York Beach for the day, and when they came home in the evening he pulled me aside.

“You know, Erin,” he said, “I’ve been thinking about that Kid of yours, and I think you should go for it. You’re hot right now [thank you, Satan], and he’s obviously hot for you. You’re going to be fifty soon—”

“Excuse me!? I’m forty-one!”

“Well, you know what I mean: it’s out there [thank you, Sally], and then it will be gross. You might as well. A man would do it in a heartbeat, and he’d be getting high-fives all around.”

My sister came in at that point and we brought her up to speed.

“Yeah,” she said. “I know you, Erin. You’re going to do it eventually. Every time you see him will be a night of deciding not to, until one night you get drunk enough, or horny enough, and give in. You might as well take control of it while you still can.”


Well, in the absence of a mother, I guess that’s as close to Official Permission as a girl can get. Not that she needs it. She is almost fifty, after all.

All right, then, I decided that I would. 

But not that weekend. That weekend I had my motorcycle lessons, and I really shouldn't stay out late or drink.

So on Saturday—

Didn’t I tell you shut it once already? Shut it again.

—I got on a motorcycle for the first time and was too excited to sit still. I wanted to go to the biker bar (have I mentioned that the Pigpen is a biker bar? It sort of is) and talk about it. The Kid was there, we were very flirty, and everyone warned me to stay away. Even the Bartender.

“Hey Bartender,” I asked her once over a cigarette. “That Kid's hitting on me pretty hard. Should I hit that?”

“No.” she said. “He sleeps with everyone.”

“Okay,” I said. “I won’t.” But I didn't mean it.

When I went back in the bar and he came over, I said “I think you're a dog.” It was supposed to be a prelude to a conversation, but when he heard it he put his tail between his legs and ran away!

I chased him.

“No,” I said. “What I mean is, that’s a good thing. You are who you are and I am who I am: we’re obviously never getting married. But we do have fun together, so why shouldn’t we have more? As long as we both know that’s all it is.”

There was a lot more said than that, but the rest of that business is none of yours.

And so we did.

I was late for my motorcycle road test the next morning, but I passed it, which is why I'll never forget the date: September 4th. Just over eight months ago as I write this, and we still do have an awful lot of fun. We’re not Together, and we never will be, but he makes me happy. And although I don't presume to speak for him, eight months is a long time in dog-years; I don't think he would've hung up his collar if I didn't make him a little happy, too. Other people don't understand what we're doing, and the things they say sometimes come close to fucking it all up, but then we take a breather and start again. We make each others lives just a little less wild. For now, for as long as it lasts. Until he meets some tender sweet young thing who makes him happier, or I meet some rich old coot and decide to pull an Anna Nicole before Satan comes calling for his chips. Or else till I turn fifty and it’s gross. Because as my mother’s alter-ego, Janis Joplin, used to say:

And so while we can, the Kid and I, we do.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Of All The Gin Joints In All The Towns In All The World…

I walked in there looking for a pool table. Or at least that’s what I told the bartender. 

In my defense, it was 50% true. I was looking for a table, and they did have one, so that is why I stayed. But that’s not the whole kaboodle. And since I’ve never been a girl to hide an embarrassing detail about herself if there's any way I can turn it into a good punchline or a halfway-decent story, I see no reason to start holding my water now. Especially since I can turn this one into a whole box o' whoppers of ’em both. And my Dad doesn't know about this blog yet, anyway.

So let's try this one more time, then, shall we? From the top. With whatever I’ve got left that passes for feeling in this pruny little heart. Are you with me? Are you sure? Because I gotta tell ya, it ain’t all bubblegum and wallabies where we’re about to go. The road's prone to taking sudden hairpin turns through sour-patch and skunk-cabbage, and I won’t tolerate any sissy-ass boo-hoo-ing. Ain't like I didn’t hang a big fat “Here Be Monsters” poster on the door.

Still with me?

All right, then, we’re off. Buckle your chin straps and keep your hands and legs inside the cart, please. The ride's a little bumpy, and sometimes it has a tendency to roll.

A-one and a-two and a-three and a-four...

I walked in there looking for a pool table… and perhaps a taste of the local flavor, if you know what I mean. A little something-something to entertain me for the evening, on the off chance there might be any likely-looking thing-thing to be found.

There. Okay? I said it. And before you start lobbing your tut-tuts and your well-I-nevers at me, let me remind you of the Big Fat Honking Year I was still knee-deep in at the point this tale begins. If any newly-41-year-old, imminently-divorced, half-orphaned, and twice-shitcanned girl ever deserved herself a taste of likely-looking something-something, I was That Girl. And I will never, ever apologize – neither for the fact that I was looking, nor for what I accidentally found. So shutty, or I swear to god I’ll pull this ride over and put you out right here.

But I wasn’t about to tell the bartender I was Looking for something Likely. I’m not some last-call barroom hussy, thanks! And besides, it's not as if you can just order up those sorts of cocktails, anyway. So, no. I didn’t tell the bartender about the Looking. Not, at least, until five whole months later when, right in front of her and as a complete shock to us both, some sort of human something overcame me and these, like, drops of water fell out of my eyes because the—

Hang on. That was supposed to be a secret. My secret, which the Bartender has so far diligently kept. So I’m gonna ix-nay on the ater-way. For now. That wasn’t until January, anyway, and this was August. If I told you, I’d be getting ahead of myself by – oh, let's just call it an even eighteen years.

Now where was I? Oh yeah. So I walks in an’ I points to the pool table an’ I says to the bartender, I says: “That’s what I'm lookin’ for, right there.” Then I asks if I can have some quarters and what she’s got for IPA on draft.

“Oh,” the Bartender looks stricken. Stricken, I tell you! She’s blonde like me, with a wide smile and a big, bold, brassy voice. And she says:

“I’m sorry, honey. We don’t have any IPA at all. The closest thing we have is Red Hook ESB in a bottle. Would you like me to set you up with one of those?”

Well, I never. And, also? Tut-freakin’-tut.

“I guess,” I sigh. “But only because I like you.”

“I like you, too, honey,” she says. Then she hands me my beer and quarters, and I commence to drink- and rack ‘em up.

At this point it’s early, yet. I don’t know what time exactly, but I remember the setting sun shining through the open door, getting in my eyes, and ruining every shot I tried to take (hey, this is my story, remember? If I say that’s what happened, then it’s true. Now get your goddamn hands back in the cart.). I played by myself till well past sundown, though, and that other thing was Looking less and less Likely, because there wasn’t really anybody coming in. I was this close to giving up on the idea all together, when all at once the Wednesday Crowd appeared.

In my memory, at least, it was a crowd. But my memory is 41 years old and drinks a lot (it has to; the rest of me’s not legally allowed to since The Accident, and you'd shit if you knew half the things we've seen). So of however-many folks were really in there that night, my memory only held on to four. 

There was the Bartender, of course, who acted like we’d known each other always, and I wasn’t sure whether she really liked me or was just cranking me up to see if I’d put on a show. And there was the Maine Guide – for whom, I’m embarrassed to say, I did kind of put one on. Or take one off, as it were. But it was just a discreet peek at my Partridge Family tattoo, and it was at the ass-end of the evening. I don’t think he remembers it at all. 

Then there was the Guide’s Girlfriend, who was sweet as pie and wanted to exchange phone numbers with me and be friends, but I wasn’t sure I was ready for that kind of intimacy yet. And, finally, there was the Kid. He was Looking very Likely, I'll admit it -- and I was obviously Looking pretty darn Likely to his shiny green eyes, too. But since I'd make book on the Likelihood that I was out of college before he was out of diapers, I spent most of the night Looking away.

Most of it. 

Hey, I said I was a barroom hussy, not a nun.

Wait, what’d I say? Oh: I think I might’ve said I'm not a hussy. Well, potato/potahto, man. Whatevs.

But there were other people there, of course, and I decided that I liked them. I liked the place. And I needed a permanent local more than I needed a temporary local taste. I still wasn’t sure whether they really liked me back, or if they were treating me as that evening's floor show, but sometimes you just slap on the pasties and run with it, you know? So I put away the idea of that Other Thing, and although I can still see the Kid’s likely-looking little face smiling at me over everybody’s shoulders, I was careful to always keep at least one of those shoulders between it and the horny little devil on my own.

Always, mostly. Tomato, tomahto. WhatEVER! I may be having a hard time keeping track of my current standing in the Barroom Hussy Register, but I’m not even listed in the Book of Nuns.

I didn’t stay till closing, though. I don’t know what time I left (and no, I’m never gonna get myself a watch), but at one point I just suddenly decided it was time to go. I showed the Guide my tattoo, thought “Whoops. That’s it, sister. You’ve crossed a line. Put it away and take it home. Alone.” and me and the Partridge Family slipped ourselves quietly out the door.

Or tried to.

GOOD NIGHT, ERIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Bartender remembered my name. The Bartender remembered my name Very Loudly. 

And, from some safely-hidden sober corner deep inside my drunken ass, I pulled out hers.


 That's not really it, of course. But you catch my drift.



But, honestly, I really wasn't sure. I mean, even That Girl might not be brave enough to show her face again in a place I'll call the Pigpen, after she goes in there on a Wednesday night, slaps on the pasties, and shows her tattoo to a Maine Guide with a Girlfriend who is sweet as pie.

Especially when there are Kids running around.