Once she told me she was an Iraqi war vet, I was hesitant to meet up with her, but I was lonely and horny, so I invited her to join me at my neighborhood bar after work.
Back then I was more attracted to militant feminists. I liked my women brooding over gender politics, listening to Bikini Kill, tattooing their arms, and dressing in combat boots. You know the one: mohawk haircut, bone through her nose, and an anarchy patch on her black leather jacket. Studs intricately arranged as if bedazzled by a seamstress on meth. Let me see if she can hang. See if she can verbally spar with me and my boys. If she can drink with the best of us.
Directly after clocking out of the kitchen at work, I booked it up hill on Pike Street, but before arriving the watering hole where we were to rendezvous, I stopped off at The Comet for party favors, including but not limited to one gram of shitty-stepped-on coke. Dad may have been a functional alcoholic. Dad may have enjoyed the competition of NASCAR racing and ACC basketball. He may have wondered why I preferred painting and science. But over years of self-realization, I gained a competing edge, winning the battle of egos, when I one upped his substance prowess and graduated to the hard stuff. And the hard stuff wasn’t straight whiskey, rather my hard stuff was mainlining heroin and snorting eight-balls of cocaine on the back of toilets in Seattle’s dive bars. In dank holes in the wall, I found camaraderie. Guys who didn’t care about sports, stocks, jobs, life, or limits. Unlike my role model, Dad, we broached subjects like shortcomings, tattoos, and latent homosexuality. Fears and weaknesses. The unfairness of capitalism and racism. We even allowed each other to cry, sometimes.
When my date finally joined William and I at the bar, we had been there for a couple hours prior. You know, warming up. The more I drank the more loquacious and affectionate–the more human–I became, so theoretically it behooved me when trying to impress a potential lover to get a jump on the liquid buffet. A few bumps of shitty coke with William. A few beers, and I was worth being around.
“Don’t talk to that guy. He’s not friendly until he’s had at least three beers,” said Brad. “He’s a sensitive writer.” Brad said with a suggestive, presumptuous, indicative lisp.
“Fuck off,” I said. “Had at least seven since work.”
My date and I had only seen pictures of each other via email. When she walked in, I didn’t readily recognize her. A cotton candy-colored, asymmetrical bob with Chelsea fringe and a fatigue jacket was what I noticed. Warning signs in my flight manual. Yet she took to me like a duck to water, running her fingers through my greasy locks without invitation. I introduced her to William, and she said she could tell by our boyish giggling he and I had been sitting a spell and to pay her no never mind. By her calculations, she simply needed to slam a few tequilas, and we’d all be on the same level. Over her shoulder, I spied bulging set of blue eyes and plum-colored mug observing the entire mess. With Bukowski breath, Tim was not only a playwright, but also an actor and director. A literary movement was in the making. More than one of us artists would make it. I was positive.
After a few more rounds and very little equalization, a naked man waltzed into the room, past the row of bar stools, past the jukebox, past the big gay Indian who always became more affection toward me with each beer. At first no one batted an eye, for it was Friday evening in Capitol Hill, Seattle’s most odd neighborhood. Mr. Birthday Suit began pestering the bartender for drinks and said-bartender refused him service. All the while, beers were imbibed, and people made merry.
“How do I know I’m not gay?” said Turpin. Shaking my head, unsure I wanted his answer, I waited in kinetic anticipation.
“When I was locked up in NOLA, I let a guy fuck me in the ass. And didn’t like it,” Turpin said, laughing. William and I laughed, nearly spewing beer out our nostrils.
William was a barstool philosopher, an addict and an artist. Turpin was a cook, a junkie, and a tattooist. I was a writer, a cook, and a drunk. Were drunks attracted to the arts? Or did the arts attract drunks? Or did crushing self-doubt attract us to substance abuse? Who knew? Who cared? Not us.
True alcoholics we were. Nights when booze and coke absconded all our money Turpin and I, on occasion, popped in at The Man Ray or Sea Wolf to wrangle drinks from men. We cozied up to flamboyant, intoxicated patrons, gave a sly smile, and made small talk. Attention starved, these guys bought us beer after beer. If it worked for women, then shouldn’t it for us. And, brimmed of what we craved, Turpin and I parted ways and staggered to our respective beds.
How we arrived at this level of chaos was vague. The bar atmosphere here was jovial and thus conducive to heavy-handed pours and over-consumption. Feeding the jukebox quarters, the bartender, Bayonne Bob, was playing quintessential AC/DC: “Highway to Hell,” “She Shook Me,” and “Have a Drink on Me.”
At some point, not long after aforementioned Mr. Birthday Suit’s entrance, Bayonne Bob, nonchalantly locked the front door, trapping Birthday Suit. When someone phoned the authorities, my date decided to become a liberator. She took up the cause of freeing the imprisoned naked man. Like so many innocent Iraqi civilians, Mr. Birthday Suit needed liberation from a dictatorial bar staff.
About then two Seattle Police Department pigs rolled up, and my date was in a full-on donnybrook with bartenders and customers who were attempting to corral Mr. Birthday Suit. As the police entered the establishment, they inadvertently released the naked man while scraping with my date. She thrashed around and cussed at the cops. To no avail, implored them to release her war-torn ass. After a quick word with the bartender to ensure all was good in the business of intoxication, the pigs cuffed and stuffed my date into the back of a police cruiser
A time later, after the we stopped giggling and gasping for air, William and I slammed one last beer, paid our tabs, and staggered out into the dank air to say our goodbyes. And as I was walking away, I heard my name, disembodied, from the interior of a parked cop car, “Braxton, can I call you?”