. “There is a strain of unbeatable gonorrhea going around. I’m not hooking up with anyone tonight.” This notion is spit with a staccato finality, an informal request for someone to plead with her to reconsider. She slides back into the booth and hikes her chest up to her chin. They bungee back down into her exposed bra and she flicks her hair. No one seems to argue her point.
. “And where’d you hear this?”
. “Some girl in the bathroom,” the Department of Health’s new action plan; forget billboards and condom machines, the transformation of city employees into venereal disease newsies has finally happened.
EXTRA! EXTRA! France invades Mali! Ravens Beat Broncos! The Clap is Back! Hey Mistah, it’s Unbeatable Now!
. “How do you know it’s true?”
. “Because it’s New York. Of course, it’s true.” A few nods, a parade of snide glances and the conversation ends, allowing everyone to soak in the electronic fuzz curling through bar, whipping off the walls, tearing into you with higher and more permanent force until your brain feels knotted.
. A self-propelling momentum of anxiety.
. The girl sitting next to me is a Colombian Jew or a Jewish Argentinian or maybe none of those things. I haven’t been paying attention since she placed her hand on my stomach unprovoked mid-conversation, a movement that was deeply predatory and less titillating than intended. I wonder if this is what strippers feel — deadened nerve endings to the human touch. All grays and static.
. My buddy leans in and lets his scripted narrative unwind. I have no patience for this tonight.
. “Ya know, man, I’m almost thirty,” trailing off, a planned and meticulously forethought punctuation. He wants it to linger there, he wants his age to establish itself as universal truth, to be uncontested for the series of conclusions he’s ready to spill.
. I allow the silence, and he waves it off with his hand. My eyes are sallow, dead, unresponsive. I could be slipping into a coma, this is catharsis for him. Silence is complicity to his thoughts.
. There is a girl on the far end of the bar, dark red hair and a face so plain and alabaster that I yearn for it immediately. The enrapturement isn’t sexual — it exists because of her timelessness, an open chasm of eternal familiarity. She has the face of a sodden Dustbowl refugee, of an Irish peasant working the fields centuries ago, of any woman from any time period in antiquity. I want to grab her and lead her out of this bar and head west, to drift into nothingness, to time-slip randomly into another era under her protection.
. The Colombian Jew, maybe, with the face of Jimmy Durante touches me again. Her friend, with her tits pressed up again her windpipe squeals.
. “I want chaaaaampagne.” I want to stab you with your drink stirrer.
. My friend presses his face close enough that I can smell his dinner and drink selection.
. “Thirty, bro. Three- zero. Mike just got engaged,” the prologue is over, lets get to the meat of this.
. “Yea, yea, I heard,” I look over again at my earth-crafted object of affection, flattened against the DJ booth, her friend a garish, pear of a woman in deep conversation with the guy to her left. The DJ pokes her and requests more space for his IPod selection. Respect the ar-teest. He has a complete horseshoe of hair, and the pointed, sweeping stare of a tiger in heat. He is sexual lust from the Miami Vice decade. There is no doubt that this man drives a Thunderbird and has leopard silhouettes on all of his floor mats.
. “Dominoes, man. Mike. Joe will be next. Then Mark. Then Steve. It’s about society, and it’s killing me.”
. “Don’t get me wrong, I love my lady.” This is true, his long term partner is an agreeable, friendly attractive young woman. “Ya know, I just am going to have to marry her.”
. “Why don’t you just keep doing what you are doing. Seems to be working for now,” this forcibly drags out of me in a monotone lifelessness. All at once, I feel behind the 8-ball, prone to a sickening bout of reminiscence and regret reserved for the elderly.
. “Society, man. Marry or I guess I can get out, cheat.” He’s losing me, emotionally and otherwise.
. He wants me in agreement, but my ears are beginning to thud with the Doppler-swings of my own personal pendulum. Acridness builds on the back of my tongue.
. The girl across the bar meets my eyes, slipping, loose contact that sinks me. Her eyes are as socially unresponsive as mine. I want to grow crops with her somewhere. I want to know what her sweat smells like, tastes like. She has a small, shapely mouth and she cocks it slightly, momentarily to her right, creating a dimple.
. Jimmy Durante the South American Jew pokes at my sides. There is an impulse of violence that almost shuts all my circuits off.
. “And man, dude, forever is a long time,” a line he stole from a Bond movie. “Plus my job, my promotion is great and all, but being a manager is hard and people dislike you and I’m putting my foot down, and getting another promotion, or I’m walking, ya know? Less responsibility, more seniority.” He moves his head to intercept my gaze. I’ve been staring at this girl for close to a minute. I feel like Nosferatu, sterile and lurking, a premonition of disease and ruin — fundamentally sick and rotten.
. All at once, I want atavistic barbarism. To propel my fist towards something. The jaw will do. The solar plexus would be best, amputating his breath, ending this dribble. I want to feel my knuckles dig into something alive, a primitive movement that will crack the numbness encasing me.
. I want to hit him for all of his griping, for every luxury he takes for granted and in return, I want to be brutalized by some third-world youth. I want the pecking order reversed. I want indescribable beatings until the most down-trodden human on earth is breathing heavy and defiant. I want to physically implode in guilt and anger and shame, to swirl and drop in on myself until fluttering atoms disappear into a vortex. I want to destroy energy, to disprove Newtonian physics.
. He continues on, he graciously dishes out a fraudulent platitude. With the tone of a family sitcom from the fifties, he says, “Man, I sure am jealous of all the sex you have. Sometimes I think that could be me, ya know? I still got time. But the three-zero is closing in a bit. Man, I’m jealous.” He is lying and we both know it. He knows of the point where sex takes on a quality that abandons. The point where the presence of one night stands and anonymous women dully wash out of your bed sheets. Where the desperate rendezvous with ex-girlfriends in discount hotel rooms render you irreparably broken after climax. He doesn’t envy me, and I resent him even more for saying it.
. I pivot his shoulders and look for the girl. She has a coat on, and then she is swept away, back into the howling city, lost immediately in the foul smoke billows and rattling streets.
. Gulping down the last of my whiskey, I resign myself to sleeping alone tonight.
. The girl with the heaving chest and bleeding desperation stares at me, enough for me to know what to do. I’d come on slowly, pay attention to her useless career, ask questions, buy a drink, laugh, make innocuous contact, until thighs are touching. I’d play along, act the charade, until I grab her hips as the bars close and put my lips to her ear and talk, breaking the previous script and following a new one. With the slightest resistance, I’d take her home.
. I look at her again and am deflated. I wonder if one can get gonorrhea from tainted lime wedges or dirty glasses or soiled novelty umbrella stirrers.
I sure hope so.